We’ve had our first school bullying incident. Very minor, and it resolved easily, but it made me think a lot about how attitudes have changed.
Last week, while brushing her teeth before school one morning, Wildling suddenly turned toward me and said “I don’t like it when my friends call me mean things that aren’t my name.” I could tell by the way she said it that she had been thinking about it for awhile. I started to ask her about it, and she became very sad, crossed her arms over her chest, and sat on her stool with her head down. She was embarrassed. She told me a boy at school had been calling her a mean name. I asked if she wanted me to talk to her teachers about it, and at first she said no, but then, by the end of the conversation, she asked me to talk to them for her.
She was so sad, sitting there hunched over like that, it broke my heart a little bit. It took a little bit of prying to get her to tell me the mean name, and I had to promise I wouldn’t call her that, and she wouldn’t get in trouble for saying it. I had to guess a little though. “Wildling, what letter does the mean name start with?” “J.” “What letter does it end with?” I couldn’t tell if she said “M” or “N,” but they both left me confused. I asked her “Jon? Jan? Jam? Jern?” and then she nodded. “He calls me Germ.”
Poor poor girl. I’m guessing the boy was sick recently and was told that germs made him sick, so he decided that was a bad thing. I don’t know. But it was so sad seeing my little girl so miserable, I couldn’t even laugh about the ridiculousness of it. Germ? Really? But you never know what a kid will be sensitive to, and you never know how badly some words can hurt.
I’m glad that Wildling trusted me enough to tell me though. I know that, as a child, if I had told my mother a mean name that other kids called me, she would remember it and hang on to it, and pull it out to call me when she wanted to hurt me. And I know that when (not if, but when) my brothers noticed and started calling me that, she would sarcastically tell them not to do so, because I was ‘too sensitive’ and didn’t like it, and that would become my new family nickname forever.
When I dropped Wildling off, I left a note for the teachers to call me (that’s how they ask us to communicate – they won’t talk about the kids in front of them) and referenced the name-calling. By the time the school director called me, Wildling had already told two teachers about it herself, and they had sat down with Wildling and the boy, and made sure he understood that she only likes to be called by her own name. Wildling felt better afterward, and we had a nice chat about the importance of talking to her parents and teachers when she has a problem.
Here’s what I appreciate the most about this situation: nobody told Wildling to ignore it, that probably the boy just likes her and that’s why he’s mean to her. Nobody told her that at all. When I was a kid, if a girl complained that a boy was mean, they were told ‘he likes you,’ and nothing was done to rectify the situation. It is so ingrained in us that I heard a little voice in my head saying “oh, Wildling, he likes you,” when I was talking to her, but I recognized that as wrong and outdated, and I certainly didn’t speak it out loud. Somehow in our culture, at least in my generation, girls were being taught from a young age that boys being mean or picking on you was a sign of their affection and their stunted emotional development wherein they didn’t know any other way to express it. And I firmly believe that this ingrained notion is what leads so many women into abusive relationships: Sure, he beats you, it’s because he loves you. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t be so controlling and demeaning. And what does that teach our boys? That it’s ok to pick on others? That instead of expressing emotions, hide them behind false bravado and nasty behavior? That treating girls badly is a sign of affection? None of that is ok. We need to guide our children past those attitudes. If we want our children to grow into healthy adults with strong and happy relationships, we need to train them young and teach them how to have nurturing relationships, how to express affection without alienation, and how to express their emotions in a positive manner.
I’m so glad and relieved with the way the school resolved the minor bullying issue, and I’m happy with how it validated Wildling’s feelings and showed her that she was empowered to stop kids from picking on her, and that the teachers would help her. I do love her new school.
And, as a side note, the same day as this incident, there was an open house at school with a potluck. And about a minute after Wildling sat down at an otherwise empty picnic table to eat, guess who came and sat right next to her? Yes, that little boy. And he called her by her name.