October 1, 2009

In Which I Swear THREE, no FIVE, no EIGHT Times!

Rob and I went to the Fifth Grade Open House this week, and I seriously had to dry-swallow a TRANQUILIZER after seeing a little group of fifth grade boys going through a set of student-written poems displayed on the hallway wall and mocking each of them line by line. The poems were fill-in-the-blank style, and ranged from "I wish we were having pizza for lunch today" to "I wish my mom still lived with us" and "I wish there didn't have to be so much fighting" and "I wish my cat were still alive." The little group of assholes boys read the personal stuff aloud in stupid voices, and spent extra time on the poem written by a student with Down Syndrome. Fifth grade is, apparently, the year when self-revealing poetry should no longer be posted publicly.

So I was in a sensitive and not-yet-fully-tranquilized state of mind when, on the way home, Rob said, "I think I'm the chosen one." And I was glad it was dark, because SNORT. Chosen One. Hee! But I asked what he meant, and he said that every year, he's the one on his bus and in his classroom that the other kids choose to pick on. Oh. So he's noticed.

I was really glad I'd taken the tranquilizer, if this was going to be the evening's topic. It's hardly original to whine about "not sitting at the Popular Kid lunch table" (OMG, REALLY??? You and I were BOTH in the 99% of non-most-popular kids??? We can go to intensive psychotherapy together!!!), but my own unpopularity in school reached "counselor twice a week" levels, followed by "moving to a different school" levels, so this is not a shruggy "kids are kids" issue for me.

Rob asked if I had any strategies for dealing with it, and I was like, "Dude, you are asking the WRONG PERSON." The counselor gave me MANY strategies, and what I learned from employing all those strategies was twofold: (1) It is impossible to persuade people to like you if they don't, but especially if those people are in mob form, and (2) Adults, even adults who are experienced, educated experts in this area, know JACK SHIT about children and their social relationships. I'm going to repeat that, because I write a swearish post about once a year and when I do I like to make it count: JACK. SHIT.

Here's a school picture of me from that bad time. I don't like to look at it, and not only because of the overbite and the always-painful appearance of fashion from previous decades:

Is that the fakest of all fake smiles? Not only does the smile not reach the eyes, it doesn't even reach the LIPS. And I have bags under my eyes. Can you see from that picture that the meanness was constant? It did. not. stop.

This incessant meanness contained a valuable lesson for me, but I think I could have learned it a little later and a little gentler: that the world is liberally sprinkled with assholes who KNOW they are assholes and nevertheless persist in being assholes. They are GLAD to be assholes. They consider it their DUTY to be assholes, and to ladle out meanness wherever they see a lack. Children sometimes outgrow it. Grown-ups rarely do.

Does it make you want to start speaking very brightly and without blinking, as it does me? "Goodness, it must be WONDERFUL to have such a SINGULAR PURPOSE in life! There are so many people who harm others unintentionally, but YOU! You do it DELIBERATELY! That is how you SPEND YOUR LIFE, being mean to others and finding opportunities to do it! How does that make you FEEL, knowing that that is WHO YOU ARE?"


Well. I do have a survival tip, which I am happy to share: find the one kid less popular than you, and be friends with that kid. This doesn't generally result in a highly satisfying friendship, since it's a friendship based on nothing more than where a person is located on the Popularity Scale. But then, that's no different than the kind of friendship people are looking for when they pine for friendship with the popular kids.

And sometimes the most important thing is having someone---ANYONE---to pair up with when the teacher says to pair up (pairing up is an excellent opportunity for children to remind other children where they live on the popularity scale), and someone to sit with at lunch, and someone to go out to recess with, and someone to pretend you don't care about the meanness with. It's more of an alliance than a friendship.

My intended point is that I don't know if I have anything to offer Rob here or not. On one hand, OMG I am the perfect parent for this because I totally get it. Furthermore, I am more than willing to make changes to help: I will drive him to school if the bus is too bad; I will switch him to a new school if this one gets too bad; I will homeschool him if I have to (I am temperamentally a poor fit for homeschooling, but I would be ABLE); I will never ever tell him that he should just stop caring what other people think---what a stupid, ignorant, ridiculous thing to say.

And on the other hand, I am of no use to him. I never figured it out myself. My parents turned it around for me by putting me in a tiny private school where there were four children in my grade. I saw those fifth grade boys making fun of their classmates' poems, and the only strategy I could think of was kicking them hard in the shins and then running away and crying---maybe telling the teacher.

111 comments:

Christine said...

Oh goodness, kids are so freaking hard. I was picked on, I didn't get it the worst of all, but still, I hated it, but found a group of appropriate friends in middle school and then again in high school. I don't have a single friend from elementary school that was close then or is close now even though I was in the same school system the entire time. Sorry that Rob is going through this, and the one thing I think might help him is that if he has an interest to really get involved in it, and maybe find other friends who are basically in the same boat.

Good luck!

js said...

My heart aches for you and Rob. My daughter, who is 8, gets made fun of from time to time and I always feel at such a loss as to what to say to her. I noticed this behavior as young as kindergarten though. When at her sixth birthday party the girls were talking about who was more popular and "if don't stop being her friend, you aren't part of the cool crowd". At SIX!? It made me sick. It's good that Rob has you as a parent, you are familiar with how it feels. I wouldn't know what to do in your shoes. And, if need be, I will stand next to you and kick those boys in the shins!

Hillary said...

Oh dear. Yes, kids are ROTTEN. There was an "I hate Hillary" Club in middle school -- no joke -- comprising most of the girls I considered to be good friends. To this day, I have no idea what prompted it. None. But it passed and I lived thanks to you, as you point out, a couple friends with which to spend my time and pair up. Books and extracurriculars -- band and theater-type stuff -- also helped.

Whimsy said...

Oh dear Swistle, you ARE the perfect mom for Rob. Because you do understand. Because you're never going to tell him that it doesn't matter, that he should ignore it, that he MUST have done something to deserve all the negative attention (not that I'm speaking from experience OR ANYTHING). You are going to be able to help him purely because you've been there. And that is going to make all the difference.

(And by the way, I just want to HUG Little School Picture Swistle. HUG HER AND FEED HER COOKIES.)

Rah said...

Oh, Swistle, I am so sorry this happened. You just hit a hot button. What you saw needs to be addressed. Please, please call the school (or the teacher) and describe what you saw. This just BEGS for some sensitivity training and no, they are not too young to be learning that lesson. This won't necessarily help Rob now, but it will help him eventually, AND it will help those boys if they have it brought to their attention how cruel they were. Someone needs to help them learn perspective taking ["What would it feel like if YOUR poem was on the board and a bunch of people were standing around making fun of it?"]

In the meantime, the fact that Rob knows you love him and are in his corner will go a long way. Hugs!

Julie said...

Hey lady! You are so honest it hurts. It takes guts to write about stuff like this.

I hope it doesn't get bad enough to pull him out of school. Good luck, and keep up the good work! Your kids will always feel popular at home!

Whimsy said...

AND I think your idea of befriending an ally, someone who is going through the same thing, is brilliant. And might possibly turn into a real friendship. You never know.

Elizabeth said...

God, kids are such ASSHOLES.
Am hyperventilating at the thought of other boys being mean to MY BABY.

Also wish I could go back in time and give little Swistle a hug.

And for what it's worth, I think it's the bomb that you are willing to do whatever you can to make it easier. That alone has to help.
I was unpopular and my parents DID NOT CARE. If anything they made it worse.

Which is why I've always said - whatever it takes man. I WILL BUY YOU AN ESPRIT BAG IF YOU WANT ONE! YOU WILL HAVE THE COOL SCHOOL SUPPLIES ALL THE OTHER KIDS HAVE! HAVE A PONY!

Erin said...

It's heartbreaking. The whole thing. And I'm not just talking about Rob.

My mother always said something very similar to what you suggested: "You really only need one friend." It seems sort of bleak, at first, but it's actually very useful advice.

Nowheymama said...

Oh, GAWD. This is why the mothers on my street "joke" about forming Ourstreetname Academy.

I dread the day K. comes home and tells me people have been giving her sh*t about her allergy. It hasn't happened yet, but I fear it.

Thinking of you both.

Annika said...

Hmmm. The shin-kicking seems like a viable strategy.

LoriD said...

"I think I'm the chosen one." My heart breaks for your son and his situation at school. He's very lucky to have a parent who can empathize with him and offer him meaningful solutions and advice.

Sometimes a chat with the teacher can help - a good teacher should be able to discourage cliques and encourage compassion and inclusion. At the very least, the teacher should be looking for signs that the situation is affecting Rob's enjoyment of or participation in school.

Jen said...

Fifth grade is AWFUL. I moved to a new town in fourth and had a few friends. Then suddenly in fifth grade, boys from another classroom started BARKING AT ME and calling me a dog. In the hallways, at lunch time, etc. It was bad. My mom ended up calling the principal and it stopped. Though I don't know if that is the best solution always.

I wish I had advice on this too. And you would think those of us who were made fun of would. Or at least have some coping strategies. But I don't. I don't know how I got through it other than with a lot of tears. But your advice to have one friend helps. I did have like two friends, who, I don't know where they ranked on the popularity scale but they were friends nonetheless. And it helped to have a friend. Like I said, these boys were not in my classroom so I did get a break during actual classtime hours.

I'm so sorry for what happened to you and for Rob. I hope it gets better for him soon.

Minze said...

I was bullied and my mother didn't say anything. I thought she didn't notice, and I never expected her to care. We talked about it once or twice; all she said was I should grow a thicker skin. So, "simply being there" for your kid sounds like it isn't much... but it is.

And yes, extracurricular activities, oh my God, absolutely. I remember how astonished I was to see that there ARE people my age who behave in a civilized manner.

Sarah said...

I always remember elementary school when I hear people wax poetic about "the innocence of childhood" and "the purity of children". Right. Kids can be vindictive, mercenary little bastards.

I think your advice is right on--I had those friends in school, too.

And I think you're doing the very best thing by simply being supportive of Rob. He doesn't need to "tough it out" or "get through" it. He can find solutions that work for him. My parents made me put up with it and it always amazed me that we make kids go through things that we ourselves would never put up with.

Bitts said...

I had middle school friend trouble, too -- my family called it "Lunch Wars." It scarred us all and it is one of my biggest fears for my kids. BIGGEST fears.

ITA about having *one* friend. It works, about as well as anything does, which is somewhat. Hopefully.

The other thing my parents did was to get me involved in several non-school-related extracurricular activities. I did community theater, faraway summer camps and lots of church stuff with people who didn't know me from school. I got to feel socially successful in other environments, which helped when school was a social minefield. It was a great strategy that was a lifeline for me though those years.

My question is this, though: As adults, we all seem to look back on those times as so difficult ... If EVERYBODY seems to feel like early adolescence was so goddamn hard, WHERE are the people who tortured us all? How do they remember it? Because it sure didn't SEEM like they were struggling like I was. I still harbor a lot of bitterness toward those people ... when/where is it that they explain/justify themselves?

Chaya said...

Oh, poor kid, and poor kid-Swistle. I was bullied at the public school I went to for 5th and 6th grades. It was awful. What saved me was a combination of two things: transfer to a small private school, and finding a group I did like, at Sunday school at my synagogue. My friends from synagogue were solid through the end of high school, and some even until now.

Kids can really be lousy little jerks at that age, and I agree with you that there's not much you can do to change them. I know it's more driving for you, but could you find him an activity or a class he likes and is good at? He might feel comfortable there, and having that to look forward to could make the everyday stuff slightly more manageable. You know, give him hope that it's not him, it's them.

Good luck!

Amanda said...

When I started crying for the 5th grade poets, and Rob the chosen one, and little Swistle, I realized that I have some PMS going on. It breaks my heart that so many kids go through this and that so many adults remember exactly what it feels like.

I've always tried to teach my kids to think about what it feels like in another person's heart. Empathy is huge. Kids can suck.

Jewels said...

Oh man. Kids are so mean. When I was going through my haughty private school's brand of special torture, my sister told me, "the bigger your family is, the fewer friends you actually need." Insane but applicable.

Celeste said...

Sounds like your boy got the right mom. I hope some of the lesser strategies work well enough, but I really, really admire you for making a worst-case scenario survival plan.

Christy said...

Where were the parents when the kids were saying those things? My oldest is only in third grade, so we haven't reached the peak of mean yet. However, I have noticed that there sometimes seems to be a relationship/correlation between meanish/cliqueish (are those words?) parents and their kids. The kids whose parents ignore the comments keep doing it. Also, it seems to happen in certain waves of kids. There are lots of STRONG personalities and cliques already in my 3rd grader's class (with parent cliques to match, how nice). My first grader, not so much. I agree with the alliance forming. That's probably the best idea. He needs to find a buddy. Safety in numbers. Also, maybe there's a difference between actually having your feelings hurt and sort of pretending you don't care. A "whatever dudes" even though you're crying inside. Just don't give them the satisfaction. You are a good mom for Rob because you've been there.

Lizzie said...

We moved around a couple times in my formative years, and I was at the bottom of the popularity heap for - oh - ever? And it was bad. I actually dropped out of high school because that was better than going back there. BUT! I agree with the alliance point. I had a few alliances to get through the day-to-day.

It makes me sad for Rob. But it seems like he's super aware and intelligent about it. And proactive. All things I wasn't.

Banana said...

Oh man, this is so yucky. I wasn't bullied by a bunch of kids, but I did somehow chose to be friends with mean girls who had a good time leaving me out of things and chipping away very slowly at my self esteem. I picked the same sort of girl over and over again until high school and it sucked. My mother had a similar sort of childhood and she would get so mad at those girls and do everything she could to make me feel better... but nothing really worked.

I think what really helped for me was that I was very involved with theater and music. This provided an opportunity for me to be good at something surrounded by a bunch of people who also liked theater and music. And I built on those friendships when the ones at school weren't so hot.

It also helped that I went to a huge, diverse urban school for high school (and by diverse I mean, racially, socioeconomically, ethnically diverse). There were no "cool kids" because everyone was so different that no one cared if you were in drama, or band, or honors, or mock trial. There was plenty of high school angst and pimples and hormones, but no one was a "chosen one" (oh man, that just breaks my heart). I don't know if a large, diverse school is an option available to you, but if it is I highly recommend it.

Joceline said...

Ugh. Sixth-ninth grades were so hard for me, friend-wise. Fifth grade was fine. Tenth grade was fine. It didn't help that my family moved across the country twice--once before sixth grade, once before eighth grade, but really it just comes down to kids being so mean during that age group. I'm so sorry Rob is starting to go through this.

I used to teach high school (I had mostly Freshmen), and in every teacher training that talked about doing group work, I just completely tuned out. My own school experience with group work was twofold: either kids want to only be in groups with their friends, leaving that awkward left-over batch of kids standing alone, or kids get assigned to groups and allow the smartest/most responsible kid to do the work for them and then kick back and socialize. And as hard as a teacher might try to regulate this, there are too many kids and too much going on under the radar.

Try talked to his teacher to see if she has any ideas. She may be able to pinpoint the ringleaders and have a talk with them. It is really hard/impossible for the teacher to be everywhere (bus, playground, lunchroom, classroom, etc.) but if she can figure out who is starting the mockery (since there's usually one or two kids "in charge" socially), she might be able to alleviate some of the pressure Rob is feeling. Good luck.

marybt said...

Remember how Ellen used to have the dorky school picture segment on her show? (I don't know if she still does since I rarely watch anymore.)

I so wanted to send in my dorky picture from junior high (not that any of the others were much better). But I can't do it. Every time I look at it, I hear all those kids calling me Pat. And asking me if I was a girl. I still can't watch Saturday Night Live and that was almost 20 years ago.

Looking back objectively, I didn't look like Pat. I am a beautiful woman. But sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see Pat and I hear the other kids saying Pat Pat Pat.

I would dance with the devil through hell on a Sunday to keep my own daughter from having to endure even one half a second of that.

On the other hand, maybe it's part of what made me who I am today. For the most part, I can put it behind me. As long as there's no reminders like pictures or SNL reruns.

Anyway, poor Rob. I hope he figures out a way to deal with it. I think your suggestion of an alliance is good. Although I don't know how you talked to him about it without crying.

marybt said...

Remember how Ellen used to have the dorky school picture segment on her show? (I don't know if she still does since I rarely watch anymore.)

I so wanted to send in my dorky picture from junior high (not that any of the others were much better). But I can't do it. Every time I look at it, I hear all those kids calling me Pat. And asking me if I was a girl. I still can't watch Saturday Night Live and that was almost 20 years ago.

Looking back objectively, I didn't look like Pat. I am a beautiful woman. But sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see Pat and I hear the other kids saying Pat Pat Pat.

I would dance with the devil through hell on a Sunday to keep my own daughter from having to endure even one half a second of that.

On the other hand, maybe it's part of what made me who I am today. For the most part, I can put it behind me. As long as there's no reminders like pictures or SNL reruns.

Anyway, poor Rob. I hope he figures out a way to deal with it. I think your suggestion of an alliance is good. Although I don't know how you talked to him about it without crying.

Christina said...

Aww poor Rob!

As a much-teased child myself, with my own bags under my eyes photos to prove it, I have much to say on this subject.

However, I will just leave it at - major props to you and Paul! Seriously, it takes some great parenting and support for Rob to feel comfortable enough to tell you guys that he feels he is the chosen one and know you'll hear him out. I rarely told my parents about teasing and if I did I got the "sticks and stones.." pointless speaches.

Also, Little Swistle looks almost identical to my mom's and aunts little pictures!! Ridiculously eerie!!

Trinka said...

Every time I hear people talking about home-schooled kids not having "proper social opportunities", this is what I think about.

Yeah ... I would have lacked SO much if I'd missed out on the "social opportunities" bullying, and nastiness afforded me in school. :(

If home-schooling had been well known when I was a kid, I would have begged on hands & knees to avoid the "socialization" that school blessed me with.

artemisia said...

Oh, my heart aches for both of you! I think you are a better parent for Rob than you currently realize. Kids are assholes. And it is a tough thing to go through.

I was mildly picked on, but certainly didn't bear the brunt of the mean kids' attacks. and even that was HARD. I purposely "forget" middle school because that time was horrible.

You guys - the two of you - are not alone. And you will guide him through this in a very good way, I am sure of it.

But I am still sending hugs to middle-school Swistle and Mom Swistle, anyway.

Shelly Overlook said...

Oh god, this brings back awful memories of junior high for me. & my parents were so freaking clueless. I am not ready to have to deal with this on behalf of my kid. I don't know what to do other than beat the crap out of the offensive kid and I'm pretty sure that's frowned upon. I hate when I meet kids who are such little assholes and I can see what ginormous big assholes they are going to be when they grow up. It makes me sad that they have such shitty parents.

BTW, I love that school pic of you, even though that is the fakest smile ever. What is in your hair? I can't tell what's on the hair decorations.

Also, I totally think you are the right parent to help Rob with this. At least you aren't clueless, that's major.

Swistle said...

Bitts-- I WONDER THIS TOO. This summer one of the other moms at the pool was one of my classmates from this time. And she acted like...everything was normal. And she was perfectly nice, and chatty, and glad to see me, and WTF?

HollyLynne said...

Oh, Swistle, I was SO THERE WITH YOU. And I actually think the advice you could give to Rob about befriending the next least popular kid is STELLAR. That is exactly what I did in high school and I made it out without need for a lifetime of therapy. It is much better advice than 'ignore the mean kids' in any event.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

This post is heartwrenching. I can't stand the thought of this happening to my baby and I know it will, most likely, be a part of her life. It seems we all go through it at some point (or perpetrate it, I guess).

My time was a little later, late middle school. When all the girls were developing and I wasn't and boys and girls alike delighted in making my life miserable. All I can say is I would PAY SERIOUS MONEY to erase 7th and 8th grades from my memory bank.

The only thing that saved me was that I was in a church youth group that was awesome. It was tiny, maybe 10 kids total, most of us geeky in some form. But it was safe and no one there knew I was the lowest girl on the totem pole at school. That ROCKED.

Brenna said...

If I can offer one suggestion: if he isn't already, get him involved in an activity away from school, one that no other kids from his school are a part of, if possible.

Kids tend to give far too much weight to what goes on at school. If they are repeatedly and consistently put down in that setting, then it won't be long before they start to believe it. And obviously it's bad when a kid's self-worth is totally dependent on the opinion of his peers.

Having even one outside interest where he is valued (say, sports or music) or where he can really shine creatively (like art or cooking) can really boost a kid up and help him realize that he has worth, no matter what kids at school say.

Lawyerish said...

Oh, this makes me all KINDS of sad. Sad for Rob, sad for little Swistle, sad for all of us who were persecuted so mightily in school. It just sucks so, so much.

I was amazingly lucky to have a best friend (who is STILL my best friend) with whom to pair up and commiserate and also just BE with and DO things with like friends DO. Without her, I don't know what I would have done.

So yeah, finding one friend -- even if they don't turn into his best friend, but can at least be an ally -- is such good advice.

Ooof. This is hard.

minnie said...

Finding one friend is great advice!

I think my advice would be to always be nice and to make sure the people being mean know you DO NOT CARE ABOUT THEM and to get involved in things you do care about. RISE ABOVE and then they will be sorry they are not friends with an interesting awesome person like you.

God, I have no idea how to talk to kids. Jack is do0o0o0omd. and of course non of that helps that moment when all the mean kids have you cornered on the play ground and are screaming obscenities at you and pushing you.

There is a TON of kid fiction about this very subject. Judy Blume, anyone?

Have you looked at the Can I sit With you Website?
http://www.canisitwithyou.org/

There is swearing in some stories but still could be a good read for a kid.

my being bullied story is in the first book.
:)

Anonymous said...

I amen the idea of a different setting of some sort. For me, the lifesaver was youth group at church. At school I was shunned as if I had the black plague. Grade 9 was a nightmare, I was new in town. I had no one to eat lunch with. I had no one for group work projects. I had no one to talk to so I could pretend to ignore the comments. (And being grade 9, alot of them were sexual. Kids are so mean.) I had a good group of friends by the next year, but I think it did permanent damage to my personality. In a group setting, I still think people are laughing at me.
Keep us updated on Rob.

Badness Jones said...

My heart is aching for you and Rob. Because I think most schools and most teachers are completely incompetent when it comes to dealing with bullying. Hugs.

vague said...

I keep refreshing this because I'm eagerly reading everyone else's comments, but I haven't been sure what to add.

Anyway, I'm not a mom, so I don't have any advice, really, except to agree with everyone who has mentioned finding other activities for Rob, where no one from school will be.

I had a few rough patches at different times, but I was lucky enough to be able to fall in with another group of friends when that was helpful. Going to a big school with tons of different social groups helped in that aspect. I also did a lot of activities: band, art, some church things, etc, which gave me other contacts I could hang with.

Man, though, I just want to give Rob and Little Swistle both a big hug.

Mommy Daisy said...

Wow, just wow! I've worked for a LONG time with 5th graders (and that age range). They can be so good and smart, but they can be OH SO BAD too! And it's that part that I just don't get.

I think that by you just being a parent who will stand up for what your child needs is a great thing for Rob. You won't stand idly by while he's being picked on, because you remember and know that you want to help as much of that as you can for him.

beyond said...

this is a heartbreaking post. kids can be so cruel. rob is lucky to have you.

Sue @ Laundry for Six said...

This IS heartbreaking. I'm crying for that little sad girl in the picture. And for the little sad girl that I was. And there WAS no school psychologist and no other school to transfer to, and as far as I can tell, my parents didn't realize or didn't care. I'm crying for Rob and for my own 4th grader, who may not be the chosen one every day, but she is some days.

I got out of my grammer school and went to a high school where no one knew me and started all over. And it was fine. And now, 30 years after 4th grade, I actually don't care what anyone thinks of me. So maybe those years helped me get to this person.

Mama Bub said...

Kids. Ugh. I taught middle school for a few years and my head would nearly blow off my shoulders every day because MAN kids are mean.

I was also teased. A LOT. I mean, I was totally the Chosen One for a number of years. It's way at the top of fears I have for my child. I get physically ill when I think of him starting school next year, even if it is just preschool.

There are no good words I can say to this, except to validate what you said about "not caring what other people think." Shit, if that's not the worst advice ever (DAD) I don't know what is.

Marie Green said...

I nearly needed to swallow a tranq. just to finish reading this post because the subject matter is so heart-wretching. It's one thing to remember/relive our OWN hard times with mean kids, but to SEE YOUR CHILD experience it is horrible, horrible, horrible.

So far, my kiddos are too young to face much of it, but I FEAR IT like nothing else. Getting drunk? SURE. Smoking the in bathroom during a 6th grade pep rally? Damn it! Knock it off!

But having my child miserable and rejected in their peer group? Give me some fucking Num Chucks I'll take care of the little douchebags!

I'm so sorry, Swistle, that you have to help your sweet boy navigate this. I do think you are just the person- kind, level headed, logical, empathetic, practical, understanding, thoughtful- to help him. Meanwhile, give him extra ice cream, with chocolate.

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

Oh goodness, poor Rob! Whenever I work with kids, I seem to have a beacon for searching out the underdogs, and I *always* make sure they know that THEY ARE important and special and made of win!

When I'm teaching, I continually strive to have a class full of kids who treat each other with respect -- BUT, kids are just so cruel sometimes, and you are totally right, it's very hard for the adult (parent, teacher, whoever) to stop ALL of the bullying because some kids just make SHITTY CHOICES, regardless of the many different angles you take with them.

But what is really important, I think, is to guide the kid being bullied through these years, arming them with the knowledge that this IS NOT FOREVER, and that they DO have a place in their peer mosiac, and maybe tell some story about Geeks Being The New Cool and how what he's doing now is going to lead him to be an awesome adult, but what those bullies are doing now is leading them to a life of prison and assault charges.

Okay, that might be taking it far. It's just true -- it's hard to know what to say. But as long as you're on top of it, not letting it completely destroy your child then you're doing what you can (talk to the teacher too, for sure, if this is a concern -- there is always the chance that this isn't happening in the classroom as much as out of it, so the teacher doesn't always see everything that goes down).

Poor Rob, my heart is breaking. I HATE BULLYING.

desperate housewife said...

I keep hearing from people in our town about how fifth grade is the worst and how all the kids around here fear and loathe it, and that surviving it unscathed is a miracle. Part of that is because fifth grade has now moved to the middle school building, which... What? Just because of a space issue you're going to cram ten year olds in there with FOURTEEN YEAR OLDS and hope it all works out?
Anyways, my heart truly does ache for you both. I don't know who would hurt worse in such a situation, the kid or the parent! There were definite drawbacks to being homeschooled, but one of the BIG pluses was total avoidance of this kind of daily torture. I mean, I knew a kid who THREW UP every day before school. For two years. Who lets their kid feel that awful for so long without changing something?!

Nervous said...

I know what you mean about as much as I GET IT, I don't know how I would advise on how to get through it. I've thought about this subject a lot over the years - and it sucks that the hurt sticks around as long as it does. And that even though middle school was probably the worst of it, I seemed to attract the same shitty bullying types in adulthood as well.
Self-esteem is key. I regret that I let my already low confidence get chipped away and believed that I was a loser, a nerd, too sensitive, whatever some jerkass said I would really take to heart.
It's good that you understand and are there to listen. Keep his self-esteem up. You can't change these other punk kids, but you've given yours a good foundation for dealing with it.

Betty M said...

This post and teh comments just made me cry. Tears of rage and frustration at the meanness of kids and also of sadness too.

g~ said...

I was a popular kid throughout my school career (or maybe I wasn't popular and I was just too stupid to realize it) and I would have totally been your friend. Seriously. I don't remember being mean to anyone or necessarily being friends with anyone who was a bully. There was one point in my middle school career where this girl was making fun of me for no reason and years later she found me and apologized! In person! And I had kind of completely forgotten about it until I saw her but I thought it was nice regardless. So while I cannot understand the depth of feelings you and Rob have, I can empathize as a parent of a child who will probably be "the weird one". The only thing I can say is that popular people exude confidence. It can be a fragile facade but as long as everyone else believes it, it works. So while Rob should not aspire to be popular, he should aspire to be confident in who he is. Because obviously, he is perfectly lovely and well-liked (as were/are you). Ack, I do not look forward to going through this and I hope you are willing/able to share any nuggets of wisdom you come across.

d e v a n said...

I would have wanted to kick them too. I get the urge whenever somebody is asshole-ish.
This post made me sad for little swistle and for Rob.

I was picked on in Jr High and it was so awful and yet... I have no advice either.

Fiona, as typed by Dr. Liz said...

I don't have kids, so I can only speak from my long-ago experience as a picked-on kid. For a long time I just read a book on the bus and literally pretended that no one else existed. But what helped the most? Getting involved in an activity that had no relation to school whatsoever; for me me it was a non-school related traveling diving team. I had an identity totally outside of school, and I learned to not care what the school kids thought, and was much more interested in my (generally older) diving peers. I look at kids I know now, and one of them races with us in a junior cart - he's a nerd as a kid (I say this as a nerd myself), but won a National Championship in cart racing this year. Talk about a self-esteem boost! He doesn't give a damn what the kids at school think, because he's got the admiration of the 10s of thousands of us (literally) who would KILL for a National title at ANY age. Again, I don't have kids, just my own experience.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry that your family is going through this. I've been there, in Rob's shoes, and I'm not looking forward to being in your new shoes once my children are older.

If I may offer a tiny bit of advice, from my perspective as a teacher, it's this: Do not assume that Rob's teachers know what's going on. Teachers are OFTEN clueless about what is going on. The "popular" kids are usually quite socially adept and have the teachers convinced that they are sweet as pie. HOWEVER, teachers are usually very receptive to hearing the truth. And they might be able to protect him from horribly uncomfortable situations when they make new seating plans and project groups or whatnot.

I remember being horrified at first when my mother told some of my gr 9 teachers how I was being treated BUT then very relieved when she reported back their very sympathetic responses. Just knowing that they had had the wool lifted from over their eyes made me feel a tiny bit vindicated.

Mairzy said...

Our family has a wide streak of geekiness, and if my children were in public school I have no question but that they'd go through what you did and what Rob is. I can see my older daughter all over that picture of you. Personally I think geeks grow up to be great people, but who in fifth grade cares about that?

I was going to say that I didn't come in for the merciless teasing in school, although I was by no means popular. But come to think of it, I certainly didn't think much of myself even on into adulthood -- feelings that I can trace back to about, oh, fifth grade.

No, what I was going to say is that one of the (minor) reasons we homeschool is that I don't want my children teased, but I also don't want them to learn to be the teasers. I was, in school. I was a generally nice person but learned quickly that you don't defend the victim, or you come in for the torment yourself.

This post hurt my heart. Poor young Swistle, and so sorry for Rob.

-- Mairzy

My Life in Brown said...

I wonder the same thing as Bitts, but then I remember: my dad was a total asshole to other people in school. My mom told me, my uncles told me, etc. He just thought it was funny, so I guess the reward was that he had two kids who were absolutely tortured in school. Yay? It all, fortunately or not, comes around. For me, elementary school was the worst, and I think partly because my parents didn't get it on such a grand scale that I didn't even bother to tell them. I remember once I hid in my bed before school and told my mom I was afraid to go to PE (where I would get pelted with dodgeballs--who is the asshole who created that game?), and just the other day she brought it up in a chuckling sort of manner, like, "oh, weren't you silly?" Rob is way ahead of the game by having parents he can open up to and who understand and who are so willing to do anything to help.

Mimi said...

I am dreading having kids in the tween and teenage years. I can remember feeling so awkward and lonely and just Not Right a whole lot of the time, and I was a reasonably popular kid. My heart goes out for anyone going through that time of life. Sucks, sucks, sucks.
I love your advice to Rob.

donna said...

God, and I thought girls had it bad. Poor guy. You had great advice for Rob and it's good that you know how you'll handle it, and it's even better that he knows he can talk to you.

Hotch Potchery said...

My younger kid was also THAT kid. He was artsy and goofy and had red hair and bad teeth and school sucked for him.

Until now. He is in college and is FLOURISHING. I know...hey, wait 8 years is no better than ignoring, so I probably just made it worse.

Dynamita said...

I was that girl too! Just like Hillary, there was a 'let's hate Dyn' club at my school too and it was HELL. Like the other commenters have said, it really helped me to have extracurricular activities where I felt socially succesSful.

I actually went to the High School furthest away from home just to avoid these people, that's how bad it was.

It took me a while to forgive them, and I don't know if this will help Rob, but I came to the realization that these kids hated themselves, or at least were very uncomfortable to be their own selves, and because I WAS comfortable being my own nerdy, quirky, unique self, they wanted me to hate myself too. That way they wouldn't have to face their own awkwardness and uniqueness. That really helped me feel better as an adult. (I hope I made sense, lol)

So the advice I would give him is, there is something in him that these kids can identify in themselves (and refuse to see) that is making them really uncomfortable. So it really really is not about Rob at all. It's about each kid's personal fears and limitations. It's not a justification at all, but maybe it will help him have more perspective as to why they tease him so much.

Perhaps this is too advanced for a 5th grader... I don't have kids, but I hope it helps. Being picked on really SUCKS.

Miss Grace said...

Kids are judgmental intolerant little assholes.

I was picked on in elementary school.

It sucked.

I went to a bigger school where there were more friends to choose from and then I had a friend group.

And then I went to a tiny school with three girls in my class and my friend and I WERE the assholes and were total dicks to the third girl in our class and I feel guilty about it TO THIS DAY.

None of that was advice.

Susan said...

Fifth grade was the worst year of my life. This I say looking back from age 60.

squandra said...

ACK. Stupid, STUPID fifth grade. What is wrong with children? I am just as weird as I was in fifth grade, now, and I have plenty of friends. Then? Not so much.

I'm glad you're there for Rob. He'll find his niche someday and be happier for it. It's hard, now, but it ends, generally. It's good he has a mom who knows both of those things.

Sara said...

Ah. MEAN Kids. Kids can be so freaking mean! I was a kid who was made fun of, not the worst of it, but on a regular basis. It hurt my feelings but then again, my parents had instilled a lot of self confidence in me. I think a big part of that had to do with many extracurricular activities outside of school. So I had friends from those activities as well. Sometimes those activities, like soccer also had kids from school. That somehow made it a little better as if you know someone outside of the school yard bully crowd they are less likely to be so mean in general.
Middle school is a hard hard time, but my friendships became a bit easier then somehow...

Bea said...

When I first moved to this town, the first "friend" I made was a woman who was quite vocal about her disapproval of homeschooling to protect students from being picked on. She would argue that people can be picked on anywhere, so keeping kids out of school for this purpose is absurd. And I just kind of stared at her, because she was clearly one of them - the people who were always pickERs rather than pickEEs. Because the rest of us all know that there is NOTHING in the adult world to compare to how trapped and vulnerable you are in school.

Now, that woman's son is the one person who, more than any other, I have seen singling out Bub for mockery. And he does it subtly, too - no overt bullying, but lots of little grins and exchanged glances. I hate that boy.

So this post is my future. And I'm not ready for it.

Dr. Maureen said...

Oh, my heart is breaking for you and Rob and little Swistle. I, too, was picked on in 7th and 8th grade, and it was only within the past year or so that I could recall certain specific events and not start crying. I went to a K-8 school in a town next to the town where I lived, and went to high school in my town. So my solution was to mentally check out in May or so of my 8th grade year and start over in high school, where there was a much greater pool of potential friends, and also they weren't 14 years old. (My 8th grade class was only 16 kids.)

I'll say some prayers for you guys.

Leeann said...

I'm sorry, Swistle.
I had some times of being picked on and many times of not being picked on.
My daughter (now 14) has experienced a bit of it as well, particularly in elementary school.

Not sure if this is helpful or not, but I have always taught my children (14, 11 tomorrow and 7):

1- The only people you want to be friends with are the people who like you exactly how you are.

2- It isn't the number of friends you have but the number of friends you trust (I use the phrase "got your back" and vice versa.) That number should be less than one handful.

3- THE GEEKS ALWAYS WIN. I have taught my kids that since day one. The popular kids don't learn the life skills they need to be real winners in life, IMO.

4- You never, ever change anything for someone else.


Hope that helps you through this time.

Hugs and love-
Leeann
niccofive.blogspot.com

ALW said...

Swistle, I have no advice at all for you. But I do want to make sure to teach my own children to be kind to everyone and thoughtful people so that they are not mean to others.

Also, if I knew you in real life, I would be proud to be your friend, overbite and all.

Hairline Fracture said...

I got so upset reading this that I didn't know what to say at first, but I came back because I had to comment. I am a teacher (going back after 7 years at home) and if I caught those kids being mean--well, I would be sorely tempted to do something that would get me fired. I know I will not tolerate it in my classroom: my main rule is respect everyone in the class. Period. I cannot stand meanness.

Although it sucks not to be able to make Rob's problem disappear immediately, I applaud you for being committed to doing whatever it takes to help him through it. I do think it is so important that your child knows that you are his advocate, that he is not abandoned.Or that you are clueless. Because telling a kid "just ignore it" is ridiculous.

Omaha Mama said...

It's the type of post that really makes me want to write all about myself. But maybe I'll have to write a post of my own.
I wanted to say that I think you are adorable and we could've totally been friends. You totally would've debated the relevance of Judy Blume with me, I just know it. It could've saved me from the brain rotting coversations I mostly had with my (popular) friends. Something that always pissed me off and still does, to this day, is the need that people have to find someone vulnerable and destroy them. What the heck is that? I've never had that in me and it freakin' blows my mind. Live and let live people.

I spend my days in a high school teaching the 30 kids out of 2200 who have the most significant disabilities. I see both sides of it every day. The kids who have a great need to point, stare, and laugh and those who have a generosity of spirit and a graciousness about them that restores my faith in humans. Every.day.

Hang in there. You will find the right way to help Rob, he's lucky to have you.

Now I've got to go back and read and read...because holy comments you've lit a fire under people!

Today Wendy said...

I think I love you. I wound up being a "library helper" in grade school because it meant I could spend every recess and lunch hour in the library "tidying" shelves (and not at all hiding in a corner reading). And I taught the little girl in a wheel chair how to play with a yo-yo, that was a really great day. The fact that you understand what's going on with Rob & can help him understand that it is a problem, and maybe help him try and figure it out...yeah, I just totally fell in love with you.

I watched a friend of mine talk her very popular 10 year old daughter through a situation at school where some of her close friends were being very mean to someone else - that girl was really bothered by it and her mom was helping her to come up with strategies for defusing the situation - but that's not exactly helping you out here.

Lindsay said...

Crap blogger ate my comment. The gist of it was I think schools should consider identifying popular kids at the start of the year, then having a meeting with the kids and parents for the popular kids of the school and basically saying look it, you are very well liked and hold a lot of power as a result. You can make or break the atmosphere in a classroom with your actions. We expect you to be contributing very positively to the self esteem of the other kids. OR ELSE. I know some people are assholes and it will never change, but some popular people are very kind and maybe are clueless as to how miserable they make some people and clueless to how good it feels to be nice to people. Anyway, good luck to those of you dealing with this.

Heather said...

My dad fixed it for me. The very first time someone was mean to me I came home crying and dad asked me their name and if they had any distinguishing features. Then he made up 10 or so mean things I could say back to them. Then he asked the names of all the kids I didnt get along with and gave me mean things to say to them if ever they said something mean to me. He said the best thing to do was come back with an answer that would embarrass them around their friends (and bullys often bully in front of their friends) so they were already conveniently right there. Totally worked, no one picked on me again until I got to highschool and it wasnt too bad, one girl called me fat each week or so. Karma bit her big time, she is way fatter than I am now and when I go to my home town, she is so...meek and polite to me lol.

Sam said...

This post makes me want to throw up. A lot. For a variety of reasons. None of them involve fun things like being knocked up. Ugh. I had to switch Chicken's school between 6th and 7th grade. It was SO bad and the school? They cared not. "Boys will be boys" says the assistant principal. Boys also carry guns to school and shoot people, you fucking cunt. *ahem* Sorry. Totally hate that hag I do.

Swistle said...

Shelly Overlook- They're Hello Kitty hair elastics! A little plastic oval on each elastic, with a Hello Kitty on it. They were my favorites.

maggie said...

ASSHOLES!!!

(And I swear once a year too!)

Kristi said...

I am THAT mom that calls out other people's kids when they are inappropriate/mean/assholes. I just can't stomach the thought that an adult would witness such behavior and NOT let them know that SOMEONE thinks it is unacceptable and disgusting. I'd probably end up saying something like, "What goes around comes around boys, so somewhere down the line you'll understand how it feels to be on the other side of the way you're acting - and it doesn't feel good" and then walk away. Yes, this pisses people off but I can't seem to stop! This is such a hot topic for me!

Amy W. said...

I didn't speak to anyone for fun the entire time I was in Junior High. I was so fearful that something I said or did or the way I took up space would draw more unwanted attention from my classmates.

Just as others have said, you are the perfect parent for this because you understand what he is going through from the inside.

My mom loves me dearly, but she was popular growing up and thought I should just try harder to make friends. She and my dad actually forced me to go to school football games with them. And if there is anything worse than having no one to sit with at school, it's having no one to sit with at a school-sponsored social activity.

When I was away from school, I just craved understanding and peace. You can give your son that.

Nil Zed said...

It was weird for me, I moved a lot. Some years I was the new weird girl, some years I was the new invisible girl. Partly because I learned to be invisible in order to avoid being hassled. Knowing how be invisible isn't really a useful skill. First grade was horrible, the second school in second grade, 4th & 5th grade too. Esp 5th. oh god. perhaps EVERYONE should be homeschooled for 5th grade.

The first half of 7th grade, I was the new girl who had a clutch of actual friends. I often wonder what life would have been like had THAT school system been the one I finally stayed in! The school itself was new, and near a naval base so the kids must have been used to a constant cycle of new kids and gone kids. I think all but one of the girls I was friends were new from that year or the year before. Perhaps that's why it worked.

But, we moved again, to a school system that broke the last 6 years of school into two year increments, with a slight reshuffling of the district borders each time. Naturally, I made friends with other invisible girls who would then go on to another school at the end of 8th grade and 10 grade and I'd start over again.

The finaly two years of HS for me just brought lots of aquaintances. I slid along between cliques, everyone thinking some other group was 'my' group, but really, no one claimed me. Nice to everyone, including the non-everyones, but friend to none. (No, I didn't have the guts to be out and out friends with the kids lowest on the ladder. My perch 1 or 2 rungs up was to precarious, I thought.)

willikat said...

UGH. Bullying. The WORST.
I'm so sorry. There's no good answer. And it's really hard to get over the little kid inside who perpetually feels small from being teased.
The only very, very thin silver lining is that the kids who survive it typically turn out to be awesomely well rounded, kind, compassionate people who make the world a better place. most of the bullies get fat, bald, and stuck in a dead end job and end up not mattering a shit in the world. But when you're a kid, you don't have that kind of foresight.
Hugs to you and Rob.
If nothing else, tell Rob do what my dad told us kids to do. Put a rock in your lunchbox and hit the kid with it at the bus stop. They won't mess with you again. ;)
My sister was bullied (she had bad asthma) and one day she'd finally had enough (in high school, she has patience). And she punched the girl straight in the face and knocked her out.
Bitch never bothered her a day in her life again.
You are an awesome mom with awesome kids.

Angie said...

Oh, I want to give you and Rob hugs. I also want to go back and hug the kids I knew who were picked on. I don't remember kids being so very mean, though. Not so early, at least.

What a great mom you are!

Christy said...

I already commented, but this just breaks my heart. I keep checking back for new comments. I agree, it's so so good that he feels like he can come to you. I have one who tells me everything, and one who doesn't share much. She's the one I worry about as she gets older.

Rebecca is fabulous said...

oh, honey. it sucks the big nugget. Do encourage him to make friends with the same situation, and that it will get better...the kids who got teased the most in elementary and secondary school were hands down the coolest kids in college.

and as a former teacher, i vote for having a chat with the teacher. At the very least, it gives them an idea of what they are in for.

Katy said...

You have a lot of good advice here and I'm going to throw in my two cents as a person whose worked in some very rough schools.

1. Report the boys. Express your disgust. If it had been me, I would have whithered there little egos. I went into in detail on my blog, but the best thing to do in those situations is to point-blank ask them what they're doing and why they're doing it. Here's the url--I don't know how to link in comments:
http://birdonthestreet.blogspot.com/2009/07/bullies.html

2. I'd talk to anyone I could about "bullying." Use the word--apparently there's a lot of legislation in some areas that makes "bullying" a big deal, as it should be. Teachers, counselors, principals. Take notes and let them see you taking notes. That'll probably scare them into at least trying to take action.

3. If the bus is an issues, I'd skip it. Busses are terrible places IMO.

4. I'd like to agree with the people who encouraged some type of extra-curricular. Belonging to group of some kind can SAVE kids.

Lise said...

Poor Rob. Poor young-Swistle. Lucky Rob, to have parents equipped to deal with the situation. I never told my parents when I was being bullied in grade school - when even my best friend refused to talk to me at school because then the other girls would turn on her, too. I hope things improve for him.

susan Carland said...

Oh, this is awful. Makes me want to go and pound some young little bullies. Yeah, yeah, I know, wrong answer, but STILL.

I am so glad Rob has you as a sensitive, empathetic mum to help him, and not some "just ignore them!/stand up for yourself!/you need to be more outgoing!" parent. Ack.

I have no advice (not that you asked for any). I just express my admiration that you are handling it the way you are with your son.

And I know this could be the completely WRONG thing to say (sorry - no real experience with this as a parent yet), but could you speaking with his teacher help at all? Sorry if this is ignorant.

I was bullied too. But I never told my parents at the time. So glad Rob felt he coudl tell you - it's a testament to YOU as a parent.

Cookie said...

This is quite a post. I feel so bad for Rob. Because like you, I've been there. My boys are too little to be dealing with this yet, but I have no idea how to handle it.

I was so unpopular by 6th grade that I hung out with the kids in kindergarten or sat in the computer lab at recess. In middle school I often ate lunch in the bathroom. I finally had a decent group of friends in high school, but we were a group of unpopular people. But at least we were friends.

I still haven't figured it out and always feel so awkward in social situations or trying to make friends with other parents who have children the same age. Luckily my husband is just the opposite. He is incredibly social, has always been popular, and can make friends with anybody. How we ended up together, I'm not really sure. I hope my boys take after him, because I don't want them to go through what I went through.

Farrell said...

85 comments...wow. anyway, I totally get it. For me, the time was middle school and it was HELL, pure HELL.
And my mom did her best and told me to just "ignore" which totally FAILED. so Yeah, i got nothing for you other than empathy.

Stacia said...

I hope this doesn't sound critical. I don't mean it to be critical or rude, but I just kind of want to say something about the "one friend" thing. I was always an outsider at school, sometimes picked on, almost always ignored. I got that one friend and things were okay. Until high school. When I was a senior a rich popular girl whose parents owned half of the small Kansas town I lived in decided she hated me. She told everyone I had ruined her life, and in a way that's only possible in small towns where one family is hugely influential, my life became basically worthless.

Long story short, she plied my one friend away with promises of friendship and popularity and, yes, even expensive gifts. My one friend spied on me, made up lies to report back to the rich girl, even stole my stuff.

I think the "one friend" idea can really, really backfire. They can sell you out just to get in with the popular kids, or end up being a problem for some other reason. Relying on just one person to help you through is not always a good idea.

I'm 37 and I'm seriously screwed up from the high school incident. If I'd had parents like you who were willing to move me to another school when things got bad, my life might be very different now. You are the best parent for the job, you really are. But I just had to say something about how "just get one friend" might backfire.

Giselle said...

So much to say, so much to relate to, so incredibly amazed at how you can deal with these things. Your kids are very lucky to have you.

And do you notice the comments? Half the people say, "If only my parents had moved me, I might have been better off." The other half say, "My parents moved me so much I had no chance to be anything but the bottom of the social ladder."

It just shows there are no easy answers to this issue. Your advice of finding one friend to help through the roughest of situations is the best out there.

And I am really perturbed when the cruelest of cruel people from high school ask me to be their friend on Facebook. It is almost a whole new insult, realizing that their torture and exclusion didn't even make a mark on their memory. Why in GOD's name would I want to friend them. The little band nerd with high water pants and a crooked back that crouches in the back of my mind gets an obsene pleasure from ignoring their friend requests. Take THAT!

Gina said...

This is so heartbreaking. I've been there - both in my own experience (for me it was 7th-8th grade and it was an evil boy and his friends), and also with my kids.

Everybody tells you how hard it is with the sleepless nights and the potty training and the tantrums and the diapers, but no one ever tells you about the broken hearts. I think it's the single hardest thing about parenting.

stephanie said...

OMG, I want to punch those fucking kids. I have been there. Sixth grade was the WORST YEAR of my LIFE. I remember sitting, crying in the nurse's office, begging to go home. I was the poor kid in an upper/middle class school and it was HORRIBLE.

Olivia will have anything. ANYTHING she needs to fit in and I don't give a tiny rat's ass how that makes me sound. I think if I had real Reeboks (you know, the hight top white ones w/ the Velcro strap) instead of no-name ones, or a fucking Cabbage Patch Kid, I honestly may have been spared.

And I hope I can do my job as her mother to teach her that bullying anyone for ANY reason is unacceptable.

I had the one friend who everyone else hated, too. Until the cool kids decided it would be more fun to alternate hating us and liking one of us. The one they chose to like was so grateful to be spared a few weeks of torture, she immediately turned on the other, so each of us was always alone.

Ugh. It was seriously the worst. I feel for you and for poor Rob. I want to hug you both and maim those motherfuckers. Srsly.

Suzannah said...

I'm so sorry. I teach 4th grade, and like some of the previous commenters, I encourage you to talk to the teacher. My district takes bullying very seriously. Unfortunately, bullies are smart and do a lot of the bullying where and when we aren't watching - in restrooms, buses, in line, etc. so we often don't realize it's happening (or the extent to which it's happening) until someone clues us in. Specific examples (who said what/when/where) are really helpful too.

A few other things to ask about: our guidance counselor does small groups on social skills (making friends, negotiating friendships and other kids, etc.). It has been helpful for kids who are just a little awkward and can practice social skills in a small, safe setting. Also, could the teacher suggest a student who might be a good fit, even from another class or grade, for an out-of-school outing or get together? Sometimes kids are much friendlier one on one, away from school, and a friendship could be built easier that way. One other idea: Next week is Bully Prevention Awareness Week, and the site www.bullybust.org has ideas and resources for students, parents, and teachers. I haven't looked through it much but maybe there would be some helpful ideas there?

I hope it gets better soon, somehow.

Dawn said...

We taught our son that you always look out for the underdog and on many occasions he demonstrated that it was a lesson to be lived by. Everyone has something to offer! And NEVER make fun of someone with an impairment or disability. I believe in karma! I hope your son finds someone to be his friend for no reason except it's great to get to know ALL kinds of people. Never judge a book by it's cover.
PS I would have totally been friends with you in school!

Anonymous said...

This hits so close to home. My older brother (red hair, artistic, not athletic) had his life destroyed in school. Destroyed. Some people don't understand just how bad it can be.

Brenda said...

I didn't have such bullies in school. I just had a twin brother.

I so would have walked up behind those boys while they were reading and said...."Oh that's a lovely poem....did you write that?" That or I would have tripped them. (you learn these things from a twin brother)..and no he was only a bully towards me...not anyone else in school....and he never defended me! Isn't that what brothers are for?

Ya know. Karma is going to haunt those boys forever! We reap what we sow.

Anonymous said...

Well, shit, that just sucks! I'm sorry I don't have any advice; I went to a v. small private school until high school and there were so few of us it was inefficient to single anyone out to despise.

My step-daughter hangs out with the Mean Girls, and she can really get digs in on my daughter. I decided ages ago that there was no sense in trying to fix the SD, so I told my daughter, mean people are mean because they feel bad about themselves, and it makes them feel better if you feel bad about yourself, too. Now, my daughter just blows my SD off when she gets bitchy. Daughter is in the 5th grade, too. SD is same age but 4th grade.

I do have to say, though, that the kids' school is really low-key, and other than the Third Grade Cabal that caused all kinds of shit last year and that the fourth grade teachers purposefully broke up this year, I really don't hear much negativity from the kids or other parents.

I wish you all the luck in the world, because my biggest hope for my kids is that they are proud of who they are and that they cannot be made to feel small, but it takes so little to make others feel small. I know you ache for your boy and I hope you can find a solution.

Thia said...

I was one of those kids too. What more can I say (okay, I could write a book, but it's not my blog)? Sigh.

Bring A. Torch said...

Oh my GOD, so much of this resonates with me, I don't even know where to begin. There has to be some middle ground between "just ignore it" and teaching kids how to beat each other up. I hope to heck I figure it out by the time my hypothetical kids hit school-age, because if genes have anything to do with it...well, let's just say they're headed for Quiz Bowl, as opposed to lacrosse.

Anonymous said...

Ugh...I too pretty much hated 5th thru 12th. I've heard it's alot worse with girls (not sure if that's any consolation..at least you'll only have to deal with mean girls once). I do love the idea that maybe it does help us become who we are, as cheesey as it sounds. But that certainly isn't something I would say to a kid who's right in the thick of it. That's got to be the only thing more assy then telling them to ignore it! But maybe its some consolation to you. But please keep udating your posts this year to tell us what you said that works and what doesn't. Those of us with younger kids are dying for advice!

Jess said...

This really hits home because it has been going on in my son's life. In fact the way I found out was kids talking about a you tube video. yep, bullying for me and all the world to see. It was ugly and not dealt with well at all. Needless to say, my child is no longer attending that school and will be doing a virtual school online. I'm sad that he won't be able to be around other kids, but not sad that he won't be around these particular kids (and admin, and teachers who obviously don't care). Do what you feel is best and don't let anybody bully you!

Kelly said...

I feel blessed that I'm pretty sure I can tell that my daughter will at least not the the mean one. She might be the chosen one, but I'm so glad she won't be the "chosee". When I started finding high school friends on facebook, i started to notice that all the popular girls, their friends were all the other popular girls from high school. AND THAT'S ALL. None of them had any friends from college, jobs, etc (that I could tell. I recognized all the names as fellow popular people). And wow...for the first time..I really felt sorry for them. To have high school be the best time of your life..is just so sad. I guess they went to college with the same snotty attitude and people weren't as crazy about it.

Anonymous said...

Well, this makes me cry. I'm at work with riverlets of mascara tears running down my face.

I remember that you were bullied by other children at the bus stop. You made cookies for the kids hoping that they (or she) wouldn't hurt you anymore. Didn't that girl end up having a couple of kids before aged 20?

I remember you as a girl, too. You were a sweet, gentle and kind child. You were a friend of my daughters and you were there for them during a particularly difficult time in their lives. They spent almost every single day one summer at your house playing with you. They still remember you with great fondness.

I believe you would have been a wonderful friend even if you hadn't experienced pain first hand but I can't help but wonder if maybe the deeply kind and loving person you were as a child and are today wasn't deepened because of your suffering.

We never, ever want our children to suffer and it greives me that Rob is suffering. Fortunately, he has you and Paul for support. You will find the answers and when there are no answers you will at least understand.

Bunnyslippers said...

You are a good mom. Rob is lucky to have you. My only advice is that my parents' strategy should me avoided. They heard that I was being teased until I cried at school and decide to "help" me by toughening me up by constantly teasing me until I cried at home too. Not the warm and fuzziest people on the block... Again, Rob is lucky to have an awesome mom like you. You may not feel like it, but you are helping just by being supportiive.

Jos said...

what a heartwrenching post.

I was the "chosen one" in the 4th & 5th grades, picked on & ostracized by my former best friends. I cried every day & tried to stay home "sick" lots. my parents were aware of it but didn't do much beyond suggesting I ignore them or make fun of them back. luckily I went to a different middle school than everyone else, so I took this opportunity for a fresh start. funnily enough I was popular & cool! the irony & responsibility of this shift really hit home to me. I remember sitting down & thinking to myself how meaningless it was to be "cool" & deciding that I never wanted to treat anyone badly the way I had been treated, even if because I was "cool" I could get away with it. definitely a defining moment in my life.

I agree with others that Rob is really lucky to have you as his mom. that he talks to you speaks volumes. I agree too that you should definitely talk with his teachers, & I'd add that you bring your concerns about bullying to parent forums like PTA too. someone commented earlier that bullying is a hot topic right now & most schools take it very seriously even if they can't prevent it entirely. a "kids will be kids" line from school officials is not acceptable. also, please please do not hesitate to intervene (not that you're saying that, but sometimes parents think they might stunt their kid's social development & that they should let them work it out themselves). parental intervention can be really really helpful, if not crucial, especially at younger ages. I'd address the bullies in the moment, if you can, & also follow up with a phone call (or more) to the parents as well as teachers. your kid will know you are standing up for him, & the bully will know you're not going to let it slide.

I agree that some people just do want to hurt others. I'd make a guess that they've been hurt at some point themselves & now are perpetuating that hurt. but I also think that sometimes "bad" kids are acting out & behaving badly because they don't have the inner tools/strength to stop themselves. they're looking for boundaries, & desperately want/need someone to tell them that they can't behave that way.

sending you big hugs to Rob, & to the little girl Swistle too. we could have been twins, with that over bite! :)

Soleil said...

This post made me tear up as memories of middle school came screaming back. Poor Rob...but he'll get his revenge when he's super successful in life and those bully kids can only look back on grade school, the one time in their lives when people actually cared what they had to say.

aibee said...

I was bullied by my brother until I left home, and what I remember most isn't what he did, but that aside from telling me to "toughen up", no one did anything about it.

Obviously, the best outcome for Rob is that he isn't bullied at all, and I'd do anything to make that happen. I do think though, that what he'll remember most about this period in his life, and what will ultimately shape him into a confident, self assured, successful man, is that you value his feelings, that you care, and that his wellbeing an absolute priority in your life.

AmyQ said...

Oh Swistle. I was there too. I don't have any answers either, but I am sure you will do absolutely the right thing for Rob in this incredibly tough situation. You are the perfect mom for him. Hugs.

Laura said...

To a certain extent, I was picked on through middle school and high school. It wasn't as bad as some--it was only two boys who had it in for me. I was the new kid too often to get bullied a lot, I think. I mean, I was in three different elementary schools, and four different middle schools. There was one boy who really had it in for me, and my dearest wish was for Andrew's dad to get a new job in Alaska. I gave as good as I got, though.

It helped that I was in the "choir clique". Where I was a pretty big chunk of the choir kids were also in the AP classes, so I was pretty much with the same group all day. That continued in high school and introduced me to a new asshole--Eric. Hated him. Had to stop my best friend/surrogate little brother from beating the tar out of him. (Jay didn't need to get suspended just to prove to Eric that pissant morons shouldn't insult a guy's sister!) I rarely saw Andrew anymore--Eric took his place. And I wanted one of Eric's parents to get a new job in Timbuktu, because Alaska wasn't far enough away.

At my high school, the 'popular' kids were mostly the smart kids and I was on the fringes. Wasn't good friends with any of 'em, but we were on a hey there basis. I had a handful of good friends and it worked for me. I guess I was lucky; I was teased some, but not truly bullied.

the new girl said...

I've started an email to you between marathon nursing sessions but I wanted to say this:

1) You're totally right about adults not being much help in the area of kids' social relationships, esp. in regards to the balance of power and the kinds of bullying that happen in schools, etc.

2) Also right about having one friend being key. That can be protective.

3) I've often said that I would homeschool in a hot fucking second if my kid was the victim of serious bullying and he wanted out of school.
xo

SheLikesToTravel said...

Wow, I really understand this post. I was picked on in school too. And I don't think there is anything that someone can say to take away that pain. It's so tough when all you want to do is fit in, and the group insures that you do not.

After many years, I now think this experience gives me freedom. Nobody expected me to fit in, so it gave me the freedom to do the things that I was really interested in instead.

I'm not saying that I wouldn't have given up a lot to be a part of the group. But the freedom that came with the exclusion was my small sliver of hope.

I like your blogs. I like reading the work of anyone who has a deep compassion for others. That was evident long before this post.

C C Donna said...

In the school system in my town, the big slogan is..."Springdale, NO PLACE FOR HATE!" They have education in all grades about respect and kindness. Bullying is taken very seriously here!
Perhaps you could go to the PTO and talk to them about it. I would be happy to get info on how the schools in my town have developed their progams. (this might be part of a national program) You've got more kids going through the schools, this might be a way to help them and other children.

My own instincts would be to sit the bully on a tall stool in the corner of the classroom, pop a big-ass dunce cap on his head, put a sign around his neck reading, "I'm a bully" and take photos to pin next to the poems in the hallway. Bet the incidences of bullying would go down dramatically.

Susanica said...

Hi Swistle. Your post upsets and saddens me. Today I read a very interesting story in the Wash Post about what an elementary school in Colorado is doing to address bullying. I hope you can do this at your school. -Monica
P.S. Maybe he's the chosen one to be the impetus behind making this all stop.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/bullying/spotlight-bullying--and-what-s.html