Last week was hard.
The hardest kind of hard. Not the kind of hard that wipes you out and makes you feel tired and worn out. It wasn’t that kind of hard. No, my friends, it was the other kind of hard. The kind of hard that presses your soul down and, in the process, crushes your heart open wide. I’d say it breaks your heart but it’s messier than that with lots more tiny shards scattered about. The kind of foundation-shattering-hard that rips open the gingerly pieced boundaries that normally keep the anxiety contained when you notice the display on your ringing phone spelling out the spectrum kiddo’s school name.
Lately it had been going smooth.
The kind of smooth and quiet you work hard for, for many years, and you expect it to last because, well, smooth is nice. Let’s face it….you want to believe smooth can last indefinitely because smooth is a good thing. I’m here to tell you, smooth is often not destined to last.
When the phone rang and the school’s name screamed up at me as though the letters were in neon, it was my son’s dean from the middle school. It was a dreaded phone call that no amount of kind voice from a kind man could change. From what the Dean’s voice was telling me, my boy had been in a tussle before school started that morning. Details were few but the yard aide informed the office my boy had gone after another boy with a stick. A STICK. Sounded like crazy talk to me but that’s what I was hearing the Dean say.
Absolute crazy talk.
I can hear his words. He is a kind man. I hear his words jumbling in my head but they are slow to settle. Aggressive and my boy are not often mentioned in the same sentence. So much so that when I put all three of my kiddos into karate classes, his siblings had no issues with sparring and tussling. But, despite his yellow and near orange belt, my spectrum kiddo took it personally every time anyone laid a foot or glove on him.
“Hey!” He’d yell to his opponent, not trying to hide his surprise, “That hurt!”
It never changed. His brother and sister excelled and easily attained their orange belts and sparred with belts two and three shades higher with vigor but not my spectrum kiddo. He never got used to hitting anyone or getting hit. It seemed ridiculous to him.
“Why would I want to hit anyone?” He would ask.
Listening to the dean speak, it just wouldn’t settle. My younger boy? Sure. A tussle for him would not surprise me at all but my spectrum kiddo? It’s just not him…unless he has been pushed VERY far.
“Are you sure?” I asked the dean. “It doesn’t sound right.”
“He had a coffee stirrer in his hand,” the dean explained, “and went after the other student.”
“That doesn’t even make sense. We don’t even drink coffee. Where would he get that?”
I obviously had more questions than he had answers. He assured me he was still investigating and that it happened right as school was starting and my boy did not know the two boys involved. He assured me he would get to the bottom of it all and if there were questions, he would get them answered. I like that there seemed to be very little ego involved in the Dean and the administrative offices.
At first I am sorry. Sorry my boy went after another kiddo. But then, just as quickly as it all sinks into me, the hard and the hurt that were crushing me just minutes before are replaced by my hackles rising up. Suddenly I am hackled up as bad as my Labrador gets whenever she sees something she feels could be a threat. I am suddenly pretty darn sure that everything is not what it seems despite the yard aide’s account.
When I pick up my boy, I ask him for an explanation.
“For Heaven’s sake,” I ask him, “why would you go after another child?”
My boy then begins to speak in his choppy speech that is often hard to understand but Mom always understands because Mom asks LOTS of questions. In his version of the event, the other boy who my child did not know was telling my boy they were best friends. Teasing him. My boy asked him to stop. He continued to tell my boy they were friends. My boy again asked him to stop. My boy takes his friends seriously, real friends are black and white. You are either friends or you are not. The other boy claimed my boy and he were “best friends” which my boy knew was wrong since my boy did not know him at all and told him so. The boy continued and even put his arm around my son’s shoulder. Another boy then handed my son a stick.
Ugghh. I think to myself…this is so much deeper than the yard aide can even fathom.
My boy did not know who either of the boys were. His brilliant sister, when we got home and repeated the story, asked if he had looked through his yearbook to see if he could identify the boys. Yes, she is brilliant in ways I am not. I never once thought of that.
Within two minutes, my boy has picked two boys out. They are a year younger than he is. They are seventh graders. He then informs me, “Mom, it had been going on for five days.”
Of course I called the principal and the dean to give them the names as well as the extended time frame. They let me know they will continue the investigation. I remark as to whether they have spoken further to the yard aide as to how she only took note of my boy in the situation and apparently let the more socially savvy boys scatter.
He says he is still investigating.
Later I get a call. One boy has been identified from the names my boy gave but the other one has not. The coffee-stirrer/stick-giver boy has been found but he was apparently just a timid boy who was trying to “help” my boy and witnessed how the other boy, still yet to be identified, kept on harassing my son. He was too scared to stand with my boy but wanted to offer “support”? Misguided perhaps but not mean spirited.
The dean and the principal, when I walk into the office that Friday afternoon for an update, assured me that even though they have not identified the harasser/bully, they will in time. They have even taken to shadowing my boy during the day to see if they can uncover the identity.
On Monday morning, when I drop my boy off, I give him the same speech as the previous Friday. If he sees the bully, he needs to go to the office to let them know. I remind him he does not have to fix this alone. The principal, the dean, the counselor, the secretary and all the teachers are there to help and support and all he has to do is let them know. I’m uncomfortable and nervous but he is 13, nearly 14, and does not want mom to walk into school or sit with him all day so I go to my classroom in another district and my boy goes to his school.
That morning my boy walked into the library, his favorite place on campus, before school started. He saw the boy, the boy who had been harassing him. Despite enduring five days of bullying from this boy, my boy was focused and undeterred. He still did not know the bully’s name so my boy, with his very black and white way of looking at life, walked right up to his bully and said, “What’s your name?”
The boy, becoming nervous, asks my son, “Why do you want to know?”
My boy then walks away but the bully follows him and repeats, “Why do you want to know?” The bully then turns it up a notch by saying to my son, “You better tell me why you want to know or I’m going to tell the principal on you.”
And, my boy, like only he can because his brain is wired more brilliantly than mine ever was, tells the boy who has been bullying him for five long days, “Oh, you’ll know why I want to know when you meet the principal.”
My boy then walks out of the library to go tell the school secretary who then verifies the identity of the bully. The investigation then revs up a notch as the bully is confronted. And, of course, like bullies do, he denies everything. Fortunately, the second boy my son identified has already corroborated the story which means there is no way out for the bully…despite his socially savvy attempt to lie through his teeth and shirk responsibility for his actions.
And that, despite my boy’s choppy speech and less than savvy social graces, is how you not only take on a bully but force the bully to stand down. It takes a village, it takes compassion and a lot of commitment to keeping a safe school environment. Have I mentioned how much I love a campus who steps up to create an environment where all students are equal, where there is a zero tolerance for bullying and where investigations are open until they are solved? The kind of place where sometimes the boy who is bullied can be the key to the whole investigation.
Two weeks later, there have been no further incidences. Four weeks later, I get a call from the dean saying my boy was “accidentally” hit on campus. It was the same boy. The difference this time? My boy chased down the bully. When he caught him, he put him in a head lock and neutralized the bullying. And, when you are in the right school, the administration applauds the head lock and resolve. Bullies, indeed, stand down.
Sparkle On, my friends, and be the kind of village where no bully can thrive 🙂