Yesterday, while waiting for a birthday party to begin at one of those big trampoline places that gouge you with their hourly rates and force you to watch legal warning videos showing you, via stick figures, how your precious child could easily break every bone in his/her body, before having you sign a waiver saying you won’t sue them if the inevitable happens, I witnessed something that has left my head spinning ever since. And, no, it wasn’t from the trampolines.
I was waiting at the entrance with my 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. As we watched through the glass doors for his friends to arrive, we saw a group of teenage boys entering the building. The door opened, and they trailed in, one hormone-oozing kid after the other. There was a teenage girl perched on a bench directly by the door. She seemed to be their age. One of the boys, I didn’t catch which one, startled me enough to look up when he saw the girl and, in passing, as if he was not just brutalizing her with his words, uttered, “Hey, Sasquatch,” at her. She immediately got up and walked out of the building, through the same door this squad of boys had entered. I stood there, flabbergasted. I was torn. I wanted to run after her and say something consoling. To tell her that she didn’t have to take that. And I wanted equally to run after that boy and yell at him in front of his friends, in front of everyone and tell him what a complete and utter jerk he was. I wanted to make him feel as small as he was trying to make her. I turned to the left and watched him and his friends pay to get inside. I turned to the right and watched her get in the backseat of what I assumed was her parents car.
And I did nothing.
I contemplated my options. I thought of ways to get the boy to give me his mother’s phone number without letting on to my plan to call her and tell her how awful he’d just been. I thought of things I could say to him and his friends. Should I take the stance of outrage and have him pass me off as just some crazy mom? Should I try to level with him and tell him that what he says actually matters? Should I tell him that it’s kids like him that make other kids cry at night, take their own lives?
I did nothing.
I watched him pay. I watched his friends pay. I turned back to the right to see if the girl had already driven away. I wondered whether she’d cried or just added it to the list of times she’d been made fun of. I wondered if her parents would see she was upset. I wondered if she would open up and tell them.
I looked back to my left. The boys were gone.
I looked down. There was my 14-year-old daughter – not that different in age from the girl who’d just been dubbed, “Sasquatch.” There was my 11-year-old son – not that much younger the boys who had just cruelly called the girl such a name. There was my chance.
I asked my children if they had heard or seen what had just happened. I told my daughter never to take that. Never. To tell the kid to knock it off. Something. I never want her to feel what that girl felt. That rejection. That shame. That embarrassment. The same things I felt for years, at the hand of a boy in school who has taken to calling me “Old Yeller” for years. And for years, he and his cronies barked at me, just to drive the point home. I got it. They didn’t have to say it. I was ugly as a dog.
For years, I came home crying. My mother told me I should pray for him, ignore it. I did both. Nothing changed. He was a year older than me and, finally, in my 6th grade year, I was free of his tormenting when he went off to junior high. I had one blissful year. Until my first day of junior high. Bent over the water fountain, I felt him standing in line behind me. I stood up and he said it. “What’s up, Old Yeller?” No. This time I wasn’t going to take it. I was not going to start a new year, a new school with the same old pain. And before I could even think it through, I replied with the words that changed my future, “Wow. A whole year went by and you’re still using that same old material? Huh.” And I walked off. I changed my future. I took his power.
My daughter is in her final year of middle school. She comes home with stories, experiences and sometimes tears. Sometimes she opens up about what her classmates said or did. Other times, she doesn’t. I’ve always taken the approach with my kids of, “turn the other cheek” and “just ignore them.” But this. This kid and this one word, “Sasquatch” just burned inside of me.
“Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” I quote that scripture from James all the time to my kids. But this seemed like God’s righteousness. That one of his children was hurting – from the stinging words of another child.
My son is approaching the middle school years himself. He tells me on a daily basis what the other kids say and do. He’s still sharing, thank God. And thank God for my son’s spirit. He doesn’t take part in name calling… except to his siblings. But I wasn’t taking any chances. I asked him if he’d ever call someone that name. Of course, he said no. I pushed him further – if you ever hear a friend call someone a name STEP IN! Don’t just let it happen because you don’t want to look uncool. Say something!
I told my kids – this is the kind of thing that leads kids to kill themselves. Bullying. A single word that can cause so much pain.
My prayer is that her parents will see this. My prayer is that his parents will see this. That they’ll talk with their children about the words they use. They’ll make sure their children know that this is not right. And that the girl – who I know nothing about – will brush off this experience and stand tall, knowing that one word does not define her.