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.