He Called Her, “Sasquatch”

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.

 

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Mean Girls

There’s a reason that movie with Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams is still watched religiously by some. It’s because it’s true. Girls can be mean. Boys too, yes, I know. But girls – particularly middle school girls – have this way of digging under another girl’s skin. They know what buttons to push. Which insecurities to target. And they can be just plain mean. Mean Girls should have been set in middle school. Except then it would be a horror movie, not a comedy.

My 12-year-old daughter is in her first year of middle school. So far this year she’s fallen face first into a bench in the locker room on the very first day (several people have asked me if she was pushed), been shoved to the ground and bullied by another girl on the school bus, and been called a “fuck face” by a teammate and once-upon-a-time friend of hers. Yes, it’s been an eventful year – and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

What I haven’t mentioned is how, in that same stretch of time, she’s been uplifted by friends who saw her saddened to lose a wrestling meet, encouraged by a friend who told her not to worry about bullies and invited over for a dance party in that same friend’s living room. There are mean girls. But, there are truly wonderful nice girls, too.

When my daughter called me during school earlier this week to tell me she overheard her teammate calling her a “fuck face” to another girl, I took the “kill her with kindness approach.” I told her how she shouldn’t let someone else’s actions impact her own character. I told her to continue being kind to this girl and, in the words of the great Taylor Swift, to “shake it off.” So far so good.

Middle school was rough for a dork like me. I had the big glasses, pulled up over your belly button pants and was 100% oblivious to the “beauty” needs other girls my age were struggling with. So, I made friends with other friends like me. Cue the Island of Misfit Toys theme… Yes, Perks of Being a Wallflower had it right. The trick was to find others who weren’t necessarily just like me – but liked me for the dork that I was. The dork that was okay with laughing at myself – better to point out your own flaws than to have a bully do it for you.

Mean girls aren’t going anywhere. In fact, the original  just celebrated its 10 year anniversary last month. A reunion of mean girls. There’s enough material there to bring you sequels in the vein of the “Halloween” movies for years and decades to come.

What do you tell your kids when they encounter mean girls (or boys)?

 

The Quitter’s Curse

I remember distinctly my senior year in high school.  The stress. The classes. The homework. The internship. The paying job. The homework. The college application essays. The scholarship applications. The little sleep. And with all the stress and the attempts to keep my grades up, I was eager to sign up for the easy elective. The slight glimmer of hope in my otherwise busy and stress-filled senior schedule. It was the equivalent of underwater basket weaving. It should have been cake. It was pottery.

Those first few classes seemed easy enough. We sat around the wheels as they spun. Our wet hands clasped around mounds of clay. Forming the grey mess, pulling it higher, slowly, and digging our fingers into the top, stretching out, carefully some piece of art to take form. A vase. A plate. A bowl. A cup. Something beautiful would emerge. Those first few days, we watched as our instructor so gracefully drew his hands up around the wet clay, a masterpiece emerging. Then, mimicking his moves, we tried this ourselves. Small, nervous giggles turned to outright laughter as several of us lost control of the wet canvas, the clay becoming quickly lopsided and flinging violently off our wheels. It was funny. At first.

Soon, the rest of my class was excelling, surpassing my still limited skills. Pottery did not come easy for me. I needed easy. While others finished project after project, lining up their As in the shelves for the kiln, where after they’d color them with beautiful designs, my projects had yet to leave the wheel. Not one.

As the stresses of my senior year weighed me down, the nagging applications constantly whispering a reminder of their incomplete state, I found myself more and more frustrated with the demands of what should have been my Easy A. Pottery was supposed to be my outlet. Something to take away the stresses of my daily life. And yet, here it was, reminding me of everything I couldn’t be. Everything I was not.

Maybe it was a rash decision. Maybe I’d thought it through the way a 17-year-old does. I walked down to the office and demanded to speak to my counselor. I’d never sought him out before, seeing him only in passing in the halls and on the days he’d sign off on my schedule for the semester. But now, here I was in front of him, asking, pleading, demanding that I be transferred out of pottery. I didn’t care what class he transferred me into, I only knew I didn’t want to be in this one for one second longer.

What he said at first surprised me. Like pottery I thought, this too, would be easy. Getting out of a class, something I’d heard of but never tried for my self, seemed like it should be a simple matter of paperwork and my life would get easier before I’d even left his office. But, it wasn’t going to be that easy. “Why?” he’d asked. Why did I want out of the seemingly easiest class the school offered? My response started with logic and soon let way to tears. I couldn’t take it. He gave me the speech I’m sure he’d given hundreds of students before me, the “don’t be a quitter” speech. He told me how quitting was a slippery slope, a dangerous path to allow myself down. He said if it started with pottery, where would it end? What if I quit every time something got hard? This logic only enraged me. I was not a quitter. I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing and I just needed to make this one really hard thing go away. After a few more canned speeches, he saw the twitch in my eye – the one that was birthed by late nights, little sleep and a pottery wheel that spun out of control in a way that summed up my teenage existence – he finally conceded. I managed an even easier class – late arrival, followed by helping out in the cleanup of a coffee machine. It was bliss.

Years later, at any given hardship in life – be it work related or a chore I really would rather not do, or even a diet, I would recall his words to me. About how becoming a quitter is a curse you set upon yourself. Tonight, I found myself the one handing out the canned speeches, the monologue of “what kind of life will you lead if you quit everything?” This speech is directed at my 6th grade daughter. Her spinning wheel is sports. She thought they’d be easy. She thought they’d be fun. And now, well, now she wants out.

How easily she must forget, it was just two weeks ago, she begged to quit basketball, just as her team was in the final week of the season. Now, she’s berating me with tales of how boring and hard wrestling is. Wrestling, the sport she begged to join. Just a week into practice, she says it’s too hard. Her coach is too stern. She’s not having fun. “But you made a commitment to your teammates,” I tell her. It is to no avail. She doesn’t care. She just wants to quit.

Speech after speech, question after question, she just pulled the covers higher over her shoulder, and rolled in bed away from me. I wasn’t giving her what she wanted. I told her to think about and I left her room.

I see now what my counselor was warning me about – a life filled with the easy way out. The road most traveled. He didn’t want that for me. And I certainly don’t want that for my daughter.

So, now what? What do I do? Let her quit? Let the quitter’s curse take root in her? I tell her about the scripture I have printed out and taped to my desk, “Do everything you do as if you were doing it for the Lord and not the people.” It has no impact on her. She can see no way of honoring God with her wrestling, just as I could find no way of honoring him with pottery, especially given the amount of profanities that typically streamed from my mouth as the unruly clay would fling off my wheel.

Molding another person’s character is a very difficult task. Lots of people quit that, too. But this is a responsibility that I will not falter on. Of this I am sure. What I don’t know, is what to say or do to convince my daughter that quitting is not an option.