This weekend I devoured the Jodi Picoult novel Nineteen Minutes. Have you read this book? If you have not, I would recommend you go out and get it. Now. Like, right now. Go ahead...I'll wait.
Are you back? Okay, cool.
I won't spoil this book for you, but the basic premise behind it is that there is a kid who is bullied until he snaps and reacts in a shockingly violent manner.
Jodi Picoult has a way of writing that draws you into her characters, even ones you don't want to be drawn into. I didn't really want to feel sympathy for the violent character, Peter, but I did. I wanted desperately to hug him and make everything okay, although clearly, that would not have changed the outcome, as that is what his mother tried to do and it didn't work for her.
Other parts of the book, made me furious, as I assume was the intent.
The book made me think about bullies. A lot.
I always told myself I was never bullied and that I really didn't understand the bullying that other kids have described in their schools. But the truth is, everyone is bullied, at some point in their lives. For some of us, it's just less subtle.
I wouldn't have considered myself popular in high school. I got along well with almost everyone but I certainly wasn't one of the "cool" kids. I also wasn't a social pariah. And honestly? I can't think of even one kid who was. Even the kids who were considered the outcasts seemed to have groups of outcast friends. Maybe that was just my perception, but that is what it was.
I know this will come as a huge surprise to everyone who reads this blog, but actually, I'm pretty dramatic.
I know, right? Shocking.
The thing is, I've always been this way. I've always been dramatic in pretty much everything I do. For some reason, probably because I AM dramatic, drama seems to follow me. Or as my beloved likes you to say, "You attract the crazy."
But even with the drama and the tendency to feel things so deeply and so differently (seemingly), I never really let high school get to me. Somehow, I was blessed with the ability to understand that high school was just a mere detour on the road of life and that those people don't matter. I don't really keep in close touch with anyone I went to high school with. Even then, even when I was 13-17 (I started school at age 4, so I was a young high schooler), I always had the knowledge that "there is more to life than this".
And? There has been.
Was it because I was blessed with some supreme knowledge that other kids aren't privy to? I doubt it. I do think my mom being diagnosed with breast cancer my senior year affected my view on life, as a whole, but I don't think that was all of it.
Anyway, I don't know. Also? It doesn't matter.
The point is, there a whole, whole lot of kids these days that don't understand that what happens in high school doesn't matter. And sometimes those kids move through fluidly and go on to college or a career or whatever and that's that. And other times, those kids come in with guns and shoot up the school.
The character of Peter, in the book, was a sweet, loving, sensitive little boy who was transformed into a sullen, hateful, rage-filled killer because of the people around him.
My son, Boy Child, is a sweet, sensitive, loving little boy. He, at age five, accepted God into his heart, completely of his own accord. He, at age six, packed up 98% of his toys and asked me to give them to kids who didn't have toys. He, at age seven, who began volunteering his time to help kids who won't get Christmas presents. All his friends are the underdogs; little boys with learning disabilities and orphans.
And he is a underdog too.
He gets picked on because he needs braces (I've spoken to the dentist three times and he says, oh, we need to wait, because his little face still needs to grow), he wears glasses, and he struggles in reading. He plays soccer, but he's not the best player on the team. He takes karate, but he's not a stand-out. He kicks my butt in video games and volunteers to help his sister's Girl Scout troop sell cookies. He can run really fast and really far. He can dance like John Travolta.
He tells jokes that make me laugh until I cry.
He tells stories of kids picking on him that make me cry when he's not looking.
This boy is my son.
I have no idea of what I can do to make him not turn out like one of those boys who snap and walk into a school and start shooting.
I tell him when it happens, "Those kids don't matter. Those kids don't count." I encourage the talents he does have, like his amazing ability to create art, his math skills, his science skills. I tell him every single day of his life that I love him. I try not to step in to much, but I'm always there to step in, if he needs me.
How do I know if it's enough?
How do I know if it's to much?
He asked me before if anyone had ever picked on me and I told him, of course, OF COURSE, that everyone gets picked on sometimes. At that moment, in all honesty, I couldn't remember one incident of being picked on.
Later? I thought of a boy in middle school who would curse me every single day as he ran down the halls of the school. I still don't know why. I thought of the boyfriend I had when I was fifteen. He was twenty and he was verbally and physically abusive to me. Once? He punched me in the face because I was singing and he didn't want to hear it anymore. I thought of those girls who pretended to be my friends because they thought my brother was cute, and talked smack about me behind my back. I thought of my ex-husband screaming in my face, "You're ugly, fat, and crazy and no one will ever want you!" I thought of a co-worker of mine who hadn't done his job and got caught and used it to slam me and call me unprofessional. I thought of the (very) few internet bullies that I've encountered who have sent me ugly emails and said hurtful things to me, when all I'm trying to do is figure out who the hell I am and what the hell I'm doing.
We've all been bullied. All of us. Some of us just don't have to look at it every single day of our lives.
I don't know the answer. I think of the parents of those kids who have shot and killed people and while I know so many people are filled with hate and rage towards them, I'm not. I wonder if they wake up every morning and for the first five, sleepy moments they think that it was all a bad dream and maybe that this didn't happen and everything is still okay. I wonder if the next five minutes, and every minute after that, is filled with the stark realization that someone they loved, they gave birth to, they raised, is now a cold-blooded murderer. I don't know how they get through the day. The guilt and shame they feel coupled with the opinion of the public has altered their lives too. They have to pick up the pieces.
I don't want my child to suffer. I want zero tolerance for bullying to actually be true. I want all parents to teach their kids that picking on another kid isn't okay.
I never want to be like those mothers.