I absolutely love summer. Every year I looked forward to sunshine, hot days, cool nights, vacations, sleeping in, and time at home with my kids. As July approached, I would avoid the aisles with the back to school sales when shopping. This has become more difficult to do as these sales seem to appear right after Valentine’s Day.
Don’t get me wrong; I love teaching. However, being able to regroup and refresh after a challenging school year meant the world to me. Getting extra time with my own children was pure gold, and I truly miss those summer days when their freckles got darker, and their hair got lighter. (Please excuse me while I grab a tissue.)
One year it was particularly difficult to go back to school because my daughter had an encounter with bullies the previous year. As an eighth grader, my youngest fretted over her appearance and felt insecure about everything in her life. It is a tough age, as adolescents seem to view themselves through a critical lens. As her mom, I saw her beauty, musical talent, tender heart, and fierce athleticism. I desperately wanted her to see what I saw. At this age, however, it’s all about the opinions of peers.
In middle school, she had connected with a group of girls and tried to fit in and please them. The drama was off the charts. One day I came home to her sobbing uncontrollably. The self-proclaimed “leader” announced that she secretly hated my daughter and kicked her out of the group. My sweet girl was devastated and wanted to quit school altogether.
This scenario is hard on us mommas who want to fix the world for our children. I taught eighth graders for 13 years, and I know how wonderful they can be and also how cruel. My two oldest daughters had no trouble with “mean girls,” but it affected my youngest child to the point of depression. I often felt powerless to do anything about it.
I tried to build her up and encourage her. Honestly, I wanted to give these girls a piece of my mind, but she had to ride it out and find her way. I knew it boiled down to jealousy as many bullying situations do. My girl eventually found a different group of friends when she started high school, and to this day, she has empathy for those who are mistreated. When we were in the trenches, however, it was incredibly difficult for everyone. We both cried many tears, and I had sleepless nights filled with worry, sorrow, anger, and frustration.
This year I am more committed than ever to speaking out against bullying. Standing up to the bully is one of the themes of my book, “Mari.” In order to follow her dreams, the main character must stand up to the one trying to make her life miserable. Like many, Mari is singled out because she is different. The bully acts mean, but he is actually afraid of her. He can see she’s special and has much more potential than he does. If we can convey this message to those being bullied, it could make a difference for them.
It is human nature to want and expect everyone around us to change. However, we can only change ourselves. When we encourage and equip those getting bullied, they will feel empowered. Again, we cannot necessarily change the bullies, but we can choose how we react and respond to them. This makes all the difference for those getting picked on.
I am in the process of creating materials for teachers to use to bring more awareness to this problem as well as solutions to help fix it. Because I realize how difficult this situation is from a teacher’s and parent’s point of view, I want to give educators and families tools that will help. Stay tuned for more information on this timely topic. The best way to get updates is to click on the “Contact Michele” link on my website (MariTheBook.com) and sign up for my newsletter. Together we can make a difference and, like Mari, face the bully to follow our dreams!