Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Feeling a little like Michael Corleone today...though I've actually been feeling like this for most of the past couple of weeks, ever since I had to get a bunch of pictures together of the little guy from each year he's been on this earth for a timeline project his class was doing.

I talked to some folks about how much more involved we as parents have to be in the kids' homework these days and brought up the flash cards and scrounging around for the timeline pictures as examples. After the first couple of years of the little guy's life, we finally purchased and figured out how to use our digital camera and never bothered to print out most of the pictures we took, which made things difficult for me, as we don't have a working printer.

"Oh, no," my friend said, "just think of all the people who lost their pictures in the flood! Talk about the insensitivity of such an assignment."

Leave it to the disaster and recovery here to present a new dimension to parental difficulties and worries. I had to step back and thank my lucky stars I didn't have that least, not now, anyway.

What I see going on with my son, though, is an ongoing struggle with the increased workload and expectations in first grade and how much that is making him uneasy. Initially, I was going in at least once a week after school to consult with his teacher about his progress, but, after getting very uncomfortable myself with going up there and talking with his teacher that much, I am realizing that there's only so much I can do short of being in that classroom with him daily, which isn't going to happen. He must simply adjust, and, frankly, so must I.

Just when I thought I was out...

As if the little guy's increased workload weren't bad enough, I was confronted on the school listserv by the possibility that the school may or may not be doing its part to combat bullying among the kids. I was surprised by my reaction when I read about one student threatening another in a different class with bodily harm, and then read a post by a parent who, after having read how seriously the incident was taken by the school, had to throw in her two cents about how little the same administrators responded to the complaints concerning the bullying her child had endured over the past year or so.

I wanted to try to cast some protective spell over my kid, maybe send him to school in full body armor, get him in martial arts classes, anything to spare him any experiences approaching the merciless teasing and lack of compassion I endured from the kids in grade school from first grade all the way to sixth. At the same time, I also didn't want to be so much of a helicopter parent that he couldn't learn to take care of himself...

...which is the moment when I fully realized where my parents were coming from when they tried to give me advice when I was in the thick of those cruel kids at the little guy's age - advice that largely proved to be ineffective: "ignore them; oh, they're teasing you because they like you; oh, just laugh at them when they say something hateful" just weren't working at all. In the grander scheme of things, Mom and Dad had the larger view that I just couldn't see - that one day, this too shall pass. But that somehow never came through to me as a kid, because kids live in that second, that minute, that day. It still hurts when I think about that time and about how alone I felt in my misery.

I don't think the little guy is encountering anything near what I went through, but I know the odds of his going through his school years completely unscathed are slim. It simply seems as though the schools are so intent on getting the kids up to speed academically that their social and emotional development still falls by the wayside. The most I can hope for is that my son doesn't keep it from me when something is seriously wrong, and - for my part - that I don't deal with it in such a way that treats his problems as very small in the scheme of things. Those troubles are very real to young kids.

Just when I thought I was out...

Last week, my dad apologized to me for moving me to a teensy Pennsylvania town in the middle of what was turning out to be a good high school experience in Houston with more actual friends and way fewer bullies to deal with. Recent experiences with my younger brother revolving around my parents' most recent move to Oklahoma City had Dad glimpsing what that move to PA twenty years ago must have been like for me.

"It's okay, Dad," I said. "I learned how to deal with it. Besides, I probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for that move."

"Oh, great. Thanks for that, kid," he said only half-jokingly.

An ad for HSBC I saw recently had someone in it admitting for the first time I can recall in advertising that she "didn't want to be a mom".

Dad has no idea how close he was to not having any grandchildren from me.

...they pull me back in.

And here I am. Back in school again through my son's eyes, unable to see what the future holds for him, having to take my cues from him and the situation in order to guide him as best I can - though he will most likely end up teaching me more than he'll ever know about life and how it all comes together or barely holds on at the seams.

We can second-guess our past actions all we want - but we are still in the here and now.

Time to grow up, again.


Kelly said...

This post really hits home for me. My four-year-old was called "fat" the other day by some older kids. I have a document from a recent doctor's visit to prove to myself that she is anything but fat -- it stung me though and weeks later she brought it up again today.

I got the same advice growing up: "ignore them; oh, they're teasing you because they like you." Those are two things that I have sworn NEVER to say to my children. Yet, I don't know the proper way to handle the everyday bullying that plagues the schoolyard.

All I can hope is that my kids come out of it all strong and that I can minimize the damage in any way possible.

Leigh C. said...

This is still a serious problem, even after all that we have learned about how cruel kids can be and about how seriously such threats should be taken...especially as the kids get older. Those lessons get lost when all that the teachers are forced to concentrate on is getting the academic bases covered in order to keep the schools open and their jobs intact.

At the same time, parents are also not taught much about how to handle these problems when they arise. Certainly a safe, secure home life is key and can help the kids' self-esteem - when they are out of school. But there's only so much of that the kids can take with them when they have to go back to the same situation every day. It just seems like another war that the parents of these embattled children have to fight in the schools for them all the time.

Empathy and the teaching of empathy is in very short supply.

Nothing has really changed. And that realization, too, hurts me deeply.

candice said...

The best way to deal with a bully or a set of them is a posse. Never be alone on the playground.

Seriously. A crowd of friends and the best deadpan "wow you sounded like a complete idiot saying that" stare the kid can possibly make... There isn't a why and there never was, they do it because they can, and because it makes them less insecure. (I come from a family of merciless teasing. Sometimes there is no reason.)

Mind you, it took me a long time and a reputation as crazy and able to kick someone's ass to figure that out.

G Bitch said...

It's always heartbreaking when children are cruel to each other and [some, not all] seem to enjoy it. And "ignore them" only works in a few cases. And you are right, liprap, that teachers are expected to do far too much in too little time with too little support and compensation. Plus, monitoring bullying and insulting depends VERY heavily on the adult who witnesses or is told about the incident--some adults really think that that's just what kids do and it's harmless in the long run and your kid is just oversensitive, a tattle-tale, a whiner who just needs to toughen up. Personal politics, favorites, special statuses all come into play. And then there are the bullies themselves....

The Girl dealt has dealt with bullies. The younger she was, the more devastating and painful it was, for all of us. Friends are a buffer and balm but adults must be more proactive and absolutely not allow certain behavior. If you let kids push each other and play-insult, you set the stage for real physical, verbal and emotional violence.

No one should have to fight his or her way through school. No one.

There is no one or 2 best tools. Teach your own child empathy and don't let that empathy end with bullies. Bullies are scared, scarred/wounded children/people, who have often been, or are being, bullied themselves. We can't ignore how some parents bully their children and spouses.

It's a tough topic. Very. I need to think more about all this.......