Someone recently shared a story with me from an elementary school that breaks my heart every time I think about it. It touches a nerve very personal to me.
A grade 5 girl went shopping with her mom to get new school clothes, and was super excited to wear them. The next day her mom came into the school in tears because her daughter had been made fun of by some of the girls in her class, because her clothes were from Sears.
The girl was devastated and didn’t want to wear her new clothes any more, and the mother was pretty upset as well. I asked the obvious question of where kids these days are supposed to buy their clothes. Apparently Lululemon, Forever 21, Abercrombie, American Eagle, and Aeropostale. Silly me.
This story gives me a lump in my throat, and while I didn’t have this exact experience in my pre-teens, I was also on the receiving end of girl bullying. Except back then (20+ years ago), it wasn’t considered bullying. Back in the 90’s, the term “bullying” conjured up images of a big beefy guy who beat up the little kids for their lunch money. No, our term was “getting mad at…” someone.
To be fair, I was also on the giving end of the bullying my share of times. As the school year trudged on, we would rotate through girls in our clique, and depending on who said something weird or gave someone the wrong look that day, we would “get mad” at them. This basically meant ignoring, ridiculing, and talking about them behind their back. This would go on for hours, days, or weeks, until the accused would be forgiven, or come crawling back to the group seeking absolution.
One of these times when I was on the receiving end is particularly vivid to me.
It was grade 7. For some reason, maybe shame, pride, embarrassment, or a mix of all three, I did not try to get back into the group after they started ignoring me. Instead I stayed inside at recesses and played on the computers.
This went on for two months.
I beat Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego twice and became a mah-jong expert. I became part of a small group of kids who were either (a) ostracized like myself; or (b) too cool to care what people thought about them and just really loved computers.
I also became depressed.
While the computers got me by, there wasn’t much social interaction going on there.
I still remember the feeling of waking up each morning and wishing that I had magically gone back in time from being 12 years old, back to when I was 5 years old, and everything was so much easier.
I remember the feeling of old friends avoiding eye contact in the classroom, or trying not to talk to me when we were put in groups for gym.
I remember my birthday, and though I was allowed to have two friends sleep over, I had no one to invite.
Sometimes, a renegade from the group would find me behind the portables, away from the eyes of the leaders, and tell me they still liked me. All very Mafia-esque. They just couldn’t be seen with me.
I remember my mom being very worried about me and trying to talk to me about it, but this is not something I ever wanted to talk about.
And then, one day, it was all over. My mom had brought me a hamburger for lunch. The hamburger had relish and onions, and the bun was toasted with butter on it. It was in a white Styrofoam container. I was eating it alone in the classroom. My grade 7 teacher, Mr. Matte, went over to my former friends and asked “why don’t you guys talk to Stephanie?” And then they came over and sat with me, and asked about my hamburger.
Just like that.
After two months of ignoring me.
I remember the flood of relief that washed over me. I didn’t have to be alone anymore.
I understand why I was bullied sometimes. I have always been kind of quirky. Back then I was probably a bit bossy, clingy, and maybe annoying at times. Over the years, as most of us do, I’ve learned some social skills and while I still say weird things sometimes, I can get by.
But why did it have to be this way? And why, even with all the Anti-Bullying campaigning going on these days, did this grade 5 girl have to get ridiculed for wearing clothes from Sears?
I know the other girls from my elementary school probably have similar stories to share. One like this that makes them feel nauseous to remember. From the bottom of my heart, I apologize for any part I played in causing that pain. I wish I had had the confidence to go against the grain and stop the bullying.
Probably most people have a story like this to share.
I’m not looking for sympathy – I got through it, and my life couldn’t be better now. I have a loving husband, a super awesome baby, family and friends who love me. I have a roof over my head and a career as a yoga teacher that is fulfilling. But not everyone has positive outcomes from childhood bullying.
Now that we are adults, let’s commit to being positive role models.
Let’s say nice things about people, even if someone is a bit odd.
Let’s try not to comment on people’s clothing, their appearance.
Let’s see people as the highest expression of themselves, look for that shining spark, the true essence underneath the persona and outside appearance that we all show to the world.
Do you have any stories that you’re holding on to? And how can we best teach our children to show compassion for everyone? How can we show them to communicate frustrations with others in healthier ways?