“There is no gesture more devastating than the back turning away.”
Rachel Simmons -
Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls
This is what my daughter sees as she walks with me to the bus stop. Six backs to be exact. She receives no greetings, no saved spots or compliments on a new pair of boots. She reluctantly steps closer to the line of kids. More often than not she keeps her distance choosing to cling to me. Occasionally she'll put on her happiest face and try to mingle with the group; I watch from across the street my heart racing. What I hope to see is the girls inviting her to play tag. What I get is her being tagged "it." Every time.
So this is the way she starts her mornings. Endures the turned backs and the whispering until her best friend takes her seat next to her on the bus. Finally a short reprieve for the last three miles to school. The other girls relentless in their teasing lose interest; My daughter has her ally. Fortunately except for the ponytail pulling boy, she's well like in class. Those shallow, cruel girls disperse to their classes and are off her mind for the time.
I wait for her at the bus stop every single day. In fact, I'm the only mother to bother to see her off in the morning and greet her after school. The other parents watch from their windows or in their parked cars waiting to run errands. In any event I know they see what their kids put my daughter through. The also know that I'm the confrontational type; I've spoken to those parents about their kids' behavior. These conversations lead to heated arguments. I'm labeled the trouble maker. I've always been the outcast in the neighborhood. I'm the adult in my daughter's shoes. There is no reasoning with them. I'm used to the avoidance and I can deal with their turned backs. I'm used to being invisible. My daughter in eight. She's a sweet old soul; she can't understand why everyone else isn't nice.
My means of attack had to been to deal with the bullying on my own. My instincts as a mother are to protect her and put an end to it. I'm not so naive to think I can shelter her twenty-four hours a day. Being social and interacting is integral to learning. She needs to accept that everyone won't be her friend. I can tell her that all I what but she needs to develop skills to deal with it on her own.
So, I gave it my best effort. I tried civility with the parents. I was even brazen enough to scold the kids themselves. These kids are just their parents in miniature. Why should they listen to me if they dismiss their own parents? They are rude, self-centered and ruthless children. I'm not one for melodrama. Their disrespect is blatant and getting worse.
My husband's way of dealing with it is a little unconventional. Two of the rotten gang live next door. Twins. Double the antagonism. I wince when I hear him shouting, defending our daughter. Calling them out on the beasts that they are. No hesitation. He grew up in a school system where theft and fights were the norm. Defense is ingrained in his mind. It's funny, he's confronted some of the fathers. They seem entirely clueless. They feign shock and force apologies. They have all the symptoms of the "not my kid" attitude. So they change the subject to sports, offer a beer and call it a day.
There's a tattle tale culture in my daughter's school. Once you commit the offense you are labelled as such. My daughter stopped my heart the other day. She said "Mom, let me handle it." Here was my young, innocent daughter wanting the burden square on her little shoulders. She was afraid of the taunting and ever more of a snitch reputation. "Handling it" meant bearing it. Her classroom was a safe place. I imagined the dread she felt at lunch or at assembly when she left the comfort of Room 15.
I get it through my think skull that I am not Dr. Phil and fix everything on my own. I take off my cape and decide to try the school. I'm 99% sure that the Bus Stop Gang attends the same school so I start with my daughter's second grade teacher. She calls me back and sympathized with me. She said she'll keep on eye out on my daughter for any problems. I thank her and remind her that the problem is at the bus stop not her class. The Roll of Red Tape has begun to grow. I am referred to the Principal. Surprisingly I get a call back quickly. That day in fact. Only it's the her secretary who in a monotone voice of an answering machine tell me she's referred the matter to the Vice Principal. First knot in the Red Tape. A day or two goes by and I surmise the Her Secretaryship forgot to tell him. I call back and ask for him specifically. I guess he and the Principal share the same secretary because robo-voice patches me through to him. I explain the situation to him without sparing him any emotion I've built up. The Red Tape twists into a ribbon as he passes the buck to the Guidance Counselor. He is so sorry though and assures me that the school has a zero tolerance bullying guide. I'd said zero is more like 50% tolerance. To his surprise I ask him to transfer me to her. I can't take that emotionally void voice of that secretary one more time. I am transported to the voice mail box of Mrs. Thompson, Guidance Counselor at Large. The Red Tape is four feet long now and tangled more tightly than a delicate silver chain.
Mrs. Thompson checks her voice mail lucky for me and calls me the next day. To my surprise the chain of command has caught her up with the situation I was ready to blubber through again. I add a detail here and there then satisfied that she's well informed I wait for her response. She agrees wholeheartedly that my daughter's anti-bullying rights have been infringed upon. So far so good. I was given a copy of this Bill of Rights at the beginning of school and familiar with it. Not so fast. She has some fine print she needs to share with me. The Red Tape is a ball rolling and growing moss.
The fine print was more like a college application and tax form rolled into one. How naive I was to think that the counselor would just round up the little snots, give them a lecture and a warning. Any more nonsense would mean a note to their parents. Instead I had to fill out what I call a bully police report. She was kind enough to email it to me. I did not expect a four page Adobe Acrobat novella. I looked at it, thought for a second that it was her sense of humor. I scanned it, came to my senses and realized this was the real thing. I had to complete an official complaint. I was tempted to call her as ask if I needed a damned attorney! The tentacles of The Red Tape had reached the school district.
My kid was being harassed by a few pre-pubescent cheerleaders. She was not under investigation by Joe McCarthy or under siege by the British Empire. I had neither the time or the patience to complete this stupid form. Furthermore, I reasoned last I checked I wasn't faculty at the township of schools. I didn't mind naming the names that I could or specify their tactics but I was dammed if I was going to provide specific dates, times, and locations. How was I to know if my daughter has prior "altercations" with these kids? Addresses? Are you kidding me? I nearly fell of my chair when asked what grades they were in and what teachers they had.
In my rage I thought about telling the counselor that I was gonna spray paint BULLY on their houses. It was so much easier and I missed the old days of Mischief Night. My husband happily gave me his spray paint cans but lucky for them I changed my mind. He offered to do it himself having lived in an urban jungle but I resisted. My stomach churned every morning my daughter had to deal with the Gang of Six. I was determined to fix the problem but on my own terms.
No school was bad press. The smallest blemish on its reputation would mean major headaches from the Chancellor down to the lunch ladies. I channeled Michael Moore and decided to go to the top echelons in everything school. Technically there is no chancellor but their is a Board of Education and a Superintendent of Schools. Until I got the results I wanted I would tackle the bullies myself as I'd been doing all along. Also, in the meantime, I put my writing skills to the test and drafted a letter to the Board & Company.
Raritan Board of Education and Superintendentt of Raritan School District,
I've discovered that you have a lovely and succinct documented policy on bullying. Thank you for giving me a copy of it every school year. I thought it was clever how you incorporated it into the Students' Code of Conduct pamphlets. As a mother of three children in each of the township's schools I visited each one and its classrooms many times. I commend you on the posters, placards and notices regarding bullying spattered all over the walls. In other words, I, we, the parents get it. Teach out kids not to bully other kids. However, while zero tolerance looks pretty in print is falls short of its meaning. My daughter has been harassed since the start of school. Aside from sympathy and empty promises from the Principal down to the Guidance counselor I've had to "tolerate" quite a lot. More importantly, my daughter has had to endure distress as a result. I do not like my children to be distressed. School is hard enough. I realize education is the best thing in the world for her but I have a problem with her crying every morning because of a few bad apples. Pardon the pun. Since you are the top brass of our school district I'm sure you're aware of the "Bully Form." I like to call it a written deposition. I'm am not an educator but I can clearly see the ridiculousness of this document. Its more akin to an OJ Simpson murder police report than a resource for parents who need the school's help. So, with all due respect, I reject this pile of paperwork and demand that someone take action. I am dealing with a deeply upset child. YOU deal with the bullies and their parents. I am not the only parent going through this. I can happily provide you with a petititon for action, not stall tactics signed by more parents than you can fit in an auditorium. I'm sure the Hunderton Democrat would also be pleased to have a look as well. I think my piece would fit perfectly in the "In our Schools" section, don't you? So while I draft the petition I would offer you a few days to ponder my thoughts. I also implore to deal with the kids that are messing with my child. Since you seem fond of paperwork I imagine you would be delighted to provide ME with a document concluding your investigation and the outcome.
Hope to hear from you soon,
Mrs. Lisa Poltz
Well the squeaky wheel does get the grease it seems. The "Anti-Bullying Policy" was just amended. The founders of this document in their haste must have missed the "consequences" portion of their masterpiece. I won't bore you with the newly minted amendment but I will tell you that there is now a Bully task force. Yes it it tacky but it's a start. More importantly, the amendment affords parents with resources who are held accountable. In short, school faculty will actually do something other than shoot off policies in parents' email boxes. Now, my only responsibilities are to report the problem with as much detail as I can provide and anticipate results. The guidance counselor a.k.a. first off batter takes the case. Parent will be called, children will be questioned and like any other infraction, their will be repercussions. We're not talking jail time but I know writing apologies and essays has to stink royally.
I got a taste of what it's like to be a whistle blower of sorts. Not as dramatic as All the President's Men but I was still victorious, a little like Norma Rae. These days my daughter is much happier. The girls' efforts to be nice were obviously forced but in time they realized the err or their ways. They came to like her. Being the sweet soul she is, my daughter liked them back. Of course they're not the best of friends and I wasn't handing out any sleepover invitations but all was well at the corner of Grandin and Lenape Drives. Mr. Bob the bus driver put away the tissues he used to give my weeping daughter.
I know huge balls of Red Tape will be tossed at me going forward. Fine. I know I have the where with all and the skills to unwind them. A little more grey hair and upset stomachs along the way are nothing compared to my kids' happiness.
Mama Bear signing off.