Folks are usually surprised to learn I was bullied. Not bullied occasionally, mercilessly from the time I went into 1st grade until I departed 7th grade.
I don't know the name back then, and thankfully, I do not believe I accepted it as having much worth, but in hindsight. . .
Bullied daily. Without relief while in school.
No one intervened. No one stopped it. And I made it through, somehow
I was an odd duck, to be sure. I read a lot. I wrote stories in lieu of doing the work at hand. I didn't understand fashion or the value (or lack) of combing one's hair. I had been sheltered, so I couldn't talk about music or shows. I didn't care about academics or my peer group or being popular. I am actually not sure that I even knew these "things" were "things."
I will never forget picking out my first day of school outfit at age 13. I was truly "so" excited that one time.
It was the first time I picked out my clothes. I never cared before then. My mother, bless her, she tried to steer me another direction. Yet, I would have none of her suggestions that year. And she let me do as I pleased. I selected a purple leotard. Might I preface this tale by explaining I was a much taller girl than most. Taller than the boys, actually. I had "big bones," and I hadn't developed much, so it was akin to putting a big boy in a skin tight swimsuit. Did I mention, I had a permed mullet, too?
You read that right. A permed mullet. I didn't mind. It was just fine. Never mind, it was 1995. I picked out a leotard in dark purple. In Sears, I also decided on a nice, deep purple tapered jean with a high waist to draw attention to my lack of one. I then found a really snazzy fanny pack to go along with the awesome outfit. Who knows what goodies I kept in that. Maybe a pen and pencil? And my mom cautioned me, but in true Tinia fashion, I said, "Oh, I don't care. I like it." And there I went into 7th grade, a new school. And of course, looking back, I can remember the horrible things said to me by people I had never met. I am proud of myself back then, though. I never cried or felt sorry for myself. I was happy with who I was, and I went on in the matching gold version the next day.
My mother never gave me false confidence. Neither did my Daddy. My mother really made me believe that the girl I was would always be enough. Mullet and strange personality and all. She never inflated an ego falsely or pretended I was perfect. Neither did Daddy. They never made me feel that my peers or society factored into my life, though. So, mostly, my peer group had no merit at all. I believed their behavior reflected on them, not me. Thank God for my mother and father for that.
I know that was a simpler time. Sadly, little children care now and can't escape, and they care far sooner than I could have imagined, and they are dying as a result. Too few parents themselves believe peers do not matter, and they aren't teaching their children that cruelty in their peers is a reflection on those kids, not on the child being bullied. And I not comfortable with any of our responses. Why aren't why telling kids from the time they can speak, that kindness is all that matters? Why aren't we building people confident being original and different?
We are failing as parents of these bullies, and we are failing as parents of the bullied.
DO I believe we are raising children with less fortitude? I do. It is because we are raising children without real confidence. I suppose because too few of us have it to impart.
Do I believe we've created a society where pressure and peer groups and popularity are of such enormous importance, we can't understand what it means when we are over 20 years older?
I do. So now what?
I've been belittled, hit and spit on and had many a handwritten note sent to me talking about how ugly and fat they decided I was and how no one would care if I never came back to school at all. . .but when I went home, that as the end. And I was the person I was. I believed in Tinia. I knew she had value and was worth something.
Because she was.
But back then, there was no internet, no cell phone, no social media image or presence.
But as hardy a character as I was, It wore me down. Even me with a mother making be believe in me all of the time. . .
And when I was 14 years old, I never went back to school. I quit.
I don't think I realized it was because I was bullied constantly. At that time, I really just felt that school had no value to me. I felt I learned nothing from school, and I flatly refused to go. It wouldn't have mattered what anyone said. Though it is 2 decades in the past now, I remember well that hell or high water wouldn't have compelled me to ever return. I really though it was because it was a waste of time, then. No one would have made me go back. And I never did.
Today, I know better why I refused.
Now, after the death of my sister, brothers, father and grandfather in less than 10 years, I know I have fortitude, and I think of how, at 14, what happened at school really become, though I didn't realize it then, more than I could handle. And I think how I ran away from it. Me. A girl of fortitude.
I think about how most of my classmates went on to obscurity or drug addiction, and I consider how I got out, and I have went far beyond that little place where lives are small and cruel and short.
I think about what if I would have been unable to handle the cruelty children heaped on my life like kids did to that small boy recently in Ohio who hung himself at 9 years old.
I am thankful I was born in 1982, not more than 20 years later. I think about how odd my own 3 sons are, and I am grateful that they are with me and homeschooled because I know how fragile young people can be. I know how being fragile at 9 is no reflection of how strong you will be in a decade, too.
Being kind and sensitive and unique when you are young isn't a sign you're weak, for I have never been weak. I was growing. And I needed time to grow into me. I couldn't follow and learn. I was blazing my own path. A new one, and I needed time, and thankfully, I had it.
So please tell your children, if they feel important now, tell them one day merit will matter more than appearances and grades and who the teacher dotes on. A confident, happy child will weather anything. Academics and popularity are paltry things compared to true confidence cultivated by one's parents and within one's own self.
Tell your kids that being kind and believing in who you are is all that will matter in the end.
Explain to them that they are enough, as they are. Tell them that what others say reflects on the speakers, not on the ones who hear the words. Explain that who they are will not come full circle for years, that they are a work in progress to not be judged at 6, 8, 12 or 16.
Remind them that many a person was belittled will be the only one to be proud of what they have done a few years later.
Just hold on, kids. Be original. Be who you are, and in time, I promise you, as I have walked that path, you will see I am right.