Sunday, May 20, 2007

Heaven only knows.

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.

Everyone suffers.

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.


frannie said...

I am so scared of my son going to school. I am terrified of him facing the struggles that I faced and I wonder how I can stand back and let him go to face them again and again every day. I don't know how I will handle it.

your son has a beautiful soul- and it shows.

nailgirl24 said...

Jodi Picoult kicks ass. I love her books. You have to pick up the pact!!

All we can do is pray yes I said pray lol that are kids are smart enough to not let school be the end all for them. To make them realize that they will perservere. That those kids are asses with the hind site of a banana.I was picked on horibly all through school, and I did indeed survive. The kids favorite thing to call me was ugly reheaded monkey nice huh?? I know alot of kids dont come through it, hence the violence in our schools. As parents we do the best we can with our kids. I try to pump mine up I tell them every day that they rock, and hug them a million times. Because it is indeed a cruel world that we live in.

Angie said...

I first read Jodi Picoult's "Plain Truth" which I found at McKays (hee hee) year or so ago.

She is a hauntingly good writer.

I have told you this before...your kids are truly blessed to be raised in a home with such great parents! Wow. Your insights are so dead-on. And, I think by viture of the fact that you recognize that beauty and purity in your son's soul--coupled with the strong, supportive, nurturing environment you've got them in--I can't imagine HOW he, or girl child could ever be less than productive, healthy, encouraging members of society! You're doing a great job. Keep it up!

And, my cliche for the day. . .like the bumper sticker says: "Mean People Suck."

EE said...

I love the way you talk with your kids. Kudos!!!!

I approached the mother of a 1st grade little boy who has been terrorizing little girls with a baseball bat at the fields.
She laughed it off and said, "Oh, he's just doing that to S., and they're friends, so that's ok."
My kids will be sitting with me at the games from now on, and I will not hesitate to get in this kid's face when I see him running around with a bat!

Kellie said...

Her books suck me in and don't let go until the end...I love her writing!!

I love how you talk with your children...all parents need to take lessons. I know I am :)

Lizarita said...

Reason #859 that I love you? You read Jodi Piccoult. Have you read The Pact? I'm in the middle of it now and all I can say is DAMN it's good!

I am TERRIFIED of my girls going to school. The only thing I know is that I have to be confident that I raised them to be smart and sensible when it comes to being a bully/being bullied and PRAY TO GOD that they actually listened to me.

Anna said...

Maybe the reason bullies are the way they are is because deep down they really WANT to count to someone. Maybe they've never felt like they counted to anyone, and that's their way of expressing frustration and making themselves count to just one person, even if it's a terrified little boy who already knows HE counts.

Jocelyn said...

Thank you for letting all of us feel a little bit in love with your son, too. And your questions about what's enough and what isn't and how to help our kids not end up as the "scary kids in the news"--well, those are excellent things to consider.

Btw, totally random here: I posted a comment last night on your last post and then had to lay in bed thinking, "That totally didn't quite say what I meant because I really agree with Chick but just wanted to play around with a different viewpoint..." At any rate, sorry if I came off as oppositional on that one.

Amy W said...

I want zero tolerance too...

I am worried about everything, especially bullying. But I guess if we give love and support and such to our kids like you do with yours, then hopefully they will feel safe.

Anju said...

I really liked reading that post (I came here by accident). I haven't read Jodi Piccoult, but I certainly want to now. Your son sounds lovely. Have you seen that Oprah episode about bullies in school? It's pretty scary. Kids can be very mean and it happens all over the world. Even when I live. I guess we need to give our kids good values and pray for them while they're at school. Bullying is NOT ok at all. There was this one guy who was killed because of hazing at a school here. If only people knew that it's the insecure ones who did the bullying.
Great site...I'll drop in again soon! :) God bless.

M said...

This made me sad. And hopeful. Because there are mothers like you whose sons won't turn into the disturbed with guns. Because you're in tune. Because he's so amazing. Because you teach your kids so very well.

And because I firmly believe that at the first inkling of something off you'd get him the appropriate help. That, I fear, is where so many parents go wrong. They can't, though usually it's just won't, get their kids the psychological help until it's far too late (see my mother and husband for a prime example.)


Alpha Dude 1.5 said...

Would you adopt me? Because, seriously, Boy Child is one lucky young man.

Remember that kid from High School and Jr High who was kind of small? Short and skinny? He was shy and quiet and didn't say too much or get involved in too many things because every time he did, he got shut down. He was still an easy target for the bullies and they were relentless. The bullies came in many different forms. Not just the jerks, but the popular kids as well. His English once told him, during a class open discussion to "Shut up! You squeak!"
All the while this kid was still the nicest guy you'd want to meet and the best friend you could have if only given the chance.

I know that kid, because he was me.
In all of my ** years since then, I have learned that some people grow, and some people don't.

Boy Child is so very blessed to have you in his life. And with Jason around, I believe he will grow into one very awesome man.

Blessings, Chick.

Alpha Dude 1.5 said...

His English TEACHER.
The bully that time was the TEACHER!

It was years before I said another word in a classroom.

Joy T. said...

Show me a person who says they've never been bullied and I'll show you a great big liar. Having parents who care and will listen is half the battle. Having a safe place like home is next. Sounds like your children have both.

Rachel said...

This made me so sad. But it's so true. Everyone was picked on and sometimes, even as adults, it still happens. I think that you shouldn't worry about whether or not your son becomes one of those kids that just snaps. With you as his mom, I just don't think that could happen.

While some stupid kid at school (that has low self esteem by the way) may not like your son, he KNOWS that you do and will NO MATTER WHAT! He will always know that you and your husband and daughter care more about him than anyone in the world!

He will be just fine, you wait and see. Also, he's 9 years old which can be an odd age for kids. The "ugly duckling" stage, if you will.

Catwoman said...

This post rang so close to my heart.

I was bullied. Horribly. For two years, I was that kid that everyone was horribly cruel to. They'd grab my backpack on the school bus and throw my homework out the window. They'd call me monkey girl, gorilla face, pizza face and other horrible names. They'd pull my hair. And that's just the stuff I haven't blocked out.

When Columbine happened, I was older, out of high school. And when it happened, of course I cried for all those kids who'd died, and those who'd survived such terror.

But I also understood the killers.

Because when you go through that kind of abuse, your mind degenerates. You can only take so much pain, so much suffering.

Luckily, I don't have a violent bone in my body. So it never would have occured to me to do something so horrible. I also didn't have access to a gun, living in Canada where most people don't keep guns in the home.

But those kids that do have that in them? If zero tolerance to bullying actually was a reality, the killer in them might never be awakened.