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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Bully Thing - Thoughts for Lent

When LD was in middle school he came to me one afternoon and said in a tearful voice that the kids were teasing him a lot. Immediately I was swollen by the Wrath of Tigress Mother with Pointed Teeth of Sharpened Steel. Fortunately, my non-lizard brain had the reflexes to ask "what are they saying?" before the matching Razor Claws of Death sproinged out of the tips of my fingers.

"They say we are too poor to have a television" was his answer - the perfect prick to my balloon of Vengeful Maternal Fury. We had long ago decided that we were going to have television-free house. Mind now - this was not a judgement on other people's homes and I didn't care how much TV he watched anywhere else. This had to do with me and what I wanted in my home. I knew what a complete television addict I was - entire days of my life could be sucked into the vortex of TV - I had been known to rearrange my schedule around the evening television listings. I just didn't want something like that to be part of the equation of our family. I had many times promised LD that when he was 18 he could buy 20 TV's and turn them on all at once... just not here... and not at that time. Sometimes he complained about it. Sometimes he would square his little shoulders, lift his aristocratic little chin, stare down his nose and say "We're the Haile Family and we don't watch television."

But that day, as the grown-up portion of my brain took over, I thought "bingo - he's about to start high school. He needs to know how to arm himself against the peer pressure that will harm him. Here is a golden learning experience opportunity."

He had just had a rather luxurious weekend with friends who lived out of state, flying up and back all by himself. I pointed out that the cost of that plane ticket would probably have paid for several televisions. I asked "so, is it true - that we were too poor to have a television?"

This was obviously not what he wanted to hear from Fierce Tigress Mother as he answered with a low sulky "no". I then asked what if we really had been that poor - how would he describe a person who would make fun of someone too poor to buy a television?

Yeah. Low-life scum. We all know that.

I also pointed out that when someone says something mean to you, especially if he does this tortuously, repetitively, you have to decide if you are going to give away your own power by letting the barbs lodge. I asked if he wanted to give away his power to low-life scum, to let low-life scum determine how he felt about himself - about his day - at all? If so, then that was his business, but for me, I wouldn't let such people control me. And hard hearted mama sheathed her claws.

This is the stuff of children. It's a hard lesson to learn. And sometimes it even comes back to you as an adult just to be sure you really learned it. Recently, I have been the recipient of endless pricks from someone who - in a joking way, of course - consistently insults me in public .. oh it's all in fun, you know ...  I don't mean anything by it ... everybody knows I have a sarcastic sense of humor ...and I'm reminded of my own advice to my son. Should I really let this woman, so friendly behind the scenes, but making me the butt of her jokes in front of other people, ruin my day? Well. She just about ruined my afternoon yesterday and I do fear she'll be the object of my housecleaning mutterings.

But it is Lent and I believe I am going to work on letting go of resentment for the next 40 days. Mind now. I am going to avoid that woman. But I think I can siphon off the sense of insult by remembering that mean people are mean because of their own pool of inadequacy. 

1 comment:

  1. I was kind of a bullied kid in junior high school. But I remember an important lesson I learned. One of my friends in school - a nice girl, a decent student - lived with her family in a mobile home. This was uncommon in the place where I grew up. The first time I ever heard the word "trailer trash," it was applied to my friend.

    And I realized: the kind of person you are has little to do with what work your father does for a living, or how much money your family has. Or where you live or what you wear. I remember thinking that the person who made that comment was the one behaving in a 'trashy' way.

    But of course, so much of junior high cruelty seems to be done to try to avoid being singled out by the pack...if you don't pile on, or, worse, if you defend the underdog kid, you're an outcast too.

    The sad thing is, some people have not managed to outgrow that mentality.