This morning I'm listening/watching Anderson Cooper's new show. Today's topic is bullying. Recently a 14-year old boy ended his life after years of of being bullied both face-to-face and on-line. It just got to be too much for him to handle, and a few weeks ago he ended his life.
It got me to thinking back to the 2004-2005 school year. Parker was in Kindergarten. We decided that we would enroll him in our local private school, thinking that a smaller, more nurturing environment was just what our little guy needed. He had been through a lot in his short life already. He had been diagnosed with cancer at 4-months of age. His little sister, who at the time, was just shy of a year old had also been diagnosed with cancer shortly after her birth and was in the process of being treated with chemotherapy. His daddy had also survived several cancer diagnosis. Parker was anxious, to say the least. But he was a happy, smart, and very much loved. So we thought we would build on that by sending him to a school in a Christian environment with smaller classes.
We decided that I would drive him to school in the mornings and pick him up in the afternoons to avoid a bus transfer on both the AM and PM routes. On the first day of school, I waited outside in the warm September sunshine with my sweet baby girl, waiting for my little guy to run out and tell me with great excitement all about his first day of school.
Instead, he came out in tears. Great, big tears. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, "X told me all day that he didn't like me."
Well, that was a fun first day.
And the days to follow were much the same. Every day Parker would come out to tell me something that "X" had done and/or said to him throughout each day. There was name calling, gestures, taunting, threats...all done while out of the teacher's sight. Parker said he would tell the teacher about it but it didn't do any good. When I discussed it with her she denied it was happening and simply told me that the boys needed to get along and be friends, to which I disagreed and said, "No...they do not have to be friends. They must be nice to each other, but they do not have to be friends."
About two weeks into the school year, "X's" mom called me one day while the kids were at school. She said, "I'm so sorry. I just found out that X has targeted Parker." When I told her that it started the first day of school she said, "Well, is Parker a reactive child?" When I asked her what she meant by this she said, "Well, does he react to positive or negative actions against him?" I responded with, "Yes...but don't most people?" She said, "Well you see, X likes to get a reaction...whether positive or negative...so if Parker is reacting to what X does to him, even if it's negative, that is fulfilling for X. That's what he enjoys. He wants a reaction of any kind so he will continue to target Parker." Nothing I could say at this point in the conversation would sway her to much compassion for my child being bullied by her child.
It was the end of September 2004 that we needed to take our baby girl to specialists in Philadelphia. We would be gone for at least a week, if not longer. We had never left Parker for that long and did not intend to do so now. We decided that it was not going to hinder his education if we pulled him from Kindergarten for a few days, so that's exactly what we did. The day before we left I was waiting outside the school again at the end of the school day and I was talking to one of the other moms. I told her we would be out of town for a few days and filled her in as to why. I told her Parker would be going with us. Her shoulders immediately slumped and she said, "Oh, no!" When I asked her what was wrong she said, "Well if Parker's gone that means my son is next in line for X."
When we returned from our trip and Parker had been back to school for a couple of days, I saw this mom again. I asked her what happened while Parker was away. She said, "It was exactly what I thought would happen. X targeted my son and as soon as Parker got back, my son was off the hook and X went right back to Parker again."
I made an appointment to talk to the teacher and the principal. The teacher was useless...absolutely of no help what-so-ever. She just smiled through the whole conversation and said that Parker was not being bullied. Outside of the classroom the principal and I visited in the hallway. I asked her, "So tell me...is this a 50/50 thing between the boys or is this Parker fighting back?" She responded with, "This is Parker fighting back."
At this point we should have pulled Parker from the toxic environment we had subjected him to and put him in public school. But we had never had a child in school before and thought that it would get better. If we had known then what we know now, things would have been significantly different.
What we thought would get better as time progressed only got worse. Every day I had to hold back tears on our way home from school just listening to the things that he was telling me about his day. He would get in the car and say, "I'm a bad boy mommy. I'm a bad boy." I would tell him over and over and over that he was NOT a bad boy and that I loved him so very, very much. We would tell him that what X was doing was horrible. That Parker should just try his best to ignore X. That by bullying, X was just being weak. But every day was the same. And no one at the school would do anything to help us about the bullying.
Finally in April of 2005 I spoke with our pediatrician who gave me the name of a psychologist for Parker to see. I immediately called to schedule an appointment and the next day spoke with Parker's teacher about the fact that once a week I would be picking Parker up late morning for his appointments and he would return to school shortly after lunch. The teacher said, "Oh...well did you know that even though we are a private school, we can use the school district psychologist? We can schedule something with him, too."
My response was, "Whatever...but we're seeing the private psychologist recommended by our pediatrician."
The next week, the district psychologist was at the school to "observed" Parker. Not X...just Parker. At the follow-up meeting a few days later with the teacher and the psychologist, the psychologist proceeded to tell us that Parker had serious problems. We had better be prepared for a very long and rough road to remedy the situation. When Scott and I brought up the fact that our son was being bullied the teacher just shook her head and said, "Oh...no...that's not the case at all." I told them both that they were wrong about our child. That on top of everything our son was facing in life, he was also being bullied and that we did not have a long road ahead of us. Our long road would end when he was removed from the toxicity of this school environment. Our meeting ended in a separate room one-on-one with the psychologist. When we asked him directly about the bullying, he tip-toed around it. He hinted at "yes" Parker was being bullied, but he wouldn't commit to an answer one way or another.
Our appointment with the private psychologist was much more promising. She met with Parker one-on-one, as well as with just Scott and me, and then with all three of us together. She said Parker was a wonderful boy. That he was slightly anxious, but that he had also been given much in life to be anxious about. He was processing it all the best he could and the fact that the issues at school were taking place, as well, certainly didn't help matters. Parker continued to meet with the psychologist on a regular basis until a few months into the next school year.
I was never so happy to see a school year end than I was to see the end of that Kindergarten year. Obviously we made the decision to enroll Parker in public school from there on out and ti was the best decision we could have made for him. His first grade teacher was fabulous. She knew all about what had happened in Kindergarten. She knew that Parker was coming home from school every day saying he was a "bad boy". She new he was anxious and she knew all the reasons why. She was Parker's angel. First grade certainly wasn't easy. It took until about February of first grade to "deprogram" him from the effects of Kindergarten.
In April of that first grade year, the district psychologist was back in the picture. We had a meeting scheduled with him, the first grade teacher, the elementary school social worker, the principal, and Scott and me. My stomach was in knots and I had to try very hard to conceal the fact that I was so nervous I was shaking. But within minutes, those fears ended and the psychologist said, "I spent time in the classroom to observe Parker. Had I been told only that I was observing a child with "issues" but not told who it was, I would have never guessed that Parker was the one I was sent to observe." He followed with, "Almost exactly a year ago I told you both that you had a long road ahead of you with your son. I was wrong." I nearly jumped out of my chair in excitement. Instead, I shook my finger at the psychologist and said, "Isn't that exactly what I told you?" He said, "Yes...yes you did."
At the end of the first grade year, another parent who knew of our Kindergarten situation, came up to me and said, "Jeanine...I hate to tell you this, but X is going to be in public school next year. He will be in the elementary school." My heart sank and once again, my stomach turned to knots. I made sure that every year I filled out the form that asked if there was a specific child you did not want your child placed in a classroom with and every year I wrote in X's name. I made sure the teachers and staff knew that should something happen on the playground or in a time that children from various classrooms were mixed together that there was history between Parker and X. That Parker had worked very hard to overcome the effects of X and that we were certainly not going to go through it again...under any circumstances. Parker and X were never placed in the same classroom and they only had a couple of "interactions" during the remainder of their time at the elementary school...with Parker defending himself one of those times.
Middle school came. Again...I filled out the sheet stating that Parker and X were not to be in the same classroom. Apparently this didn't matter in middle school (so I'm not sure why we were asked to fill out the sheet). Parker came home the first day of 5th grade and said, "Mom...you'll never guess who is in my class." When I asked him who, he said, "X."
I have never grabbed a phone so quickly in my life. I called the principal and explained the situation to her over her voice mail. I called the assistant principal and explained the situation to him directly over the phone. He completely understood and said they would do everything they could to make sure Parker was not bullied again. I called the teacher and explained it all to him and he.was.awesome! He's been teaching for nearly 30 years and I could tell that he would have none of this happening in his classroom. I made it clear to all of them that should there be a problem, Parker would NOT be the one to be removed from the classroom and placed with another teacher. We would not bend to this situation again.
I held my breath and hoped for the best. And here's what happened:
It was a blessing in disguise.
Yeah...go figure! Turns out that by middle school, everyone had X figured out. If X targeted anyone, the person he targeted had a slew of people standing behind them. Against X, everyone had each other's back. No one set out against X. The teacher even confirmed that in conferences. But no one allowed X to target and bully. And the teacher, well he pretty much said it like it was and made sure that X knew exactly what was acceptable and unacceptable. Parker found strength in numbers and 5th grade ended up being one of his favorite years. And the teacher one of his favorites, too.
I'm sure everyone can recall a time in their lives when they were either the bully, the bullied or both. I know I can yes to all three...and the fact that I bullied certainly doesn't make me proud. I also know that being bullied hurts. It crushes the spirit...the soul...the breath...right out of you. It makes you feel lonely and afraid. Add that to today's world of social networking, texting...technology...and for some it can be inescapable.
So this morning as I watch and listen to Anderson Cooper's discussion on bullying my mind wanders back to that horrible, stomach-turning year of Kindergarten. My heart breaks for the parents and families of those who were bullied to the point of taking their own lives. I am beyond thankful that the bullying situation with Parker didn't take a turn like it did for some of these kids who just couldn't even face one more day on this earth because it was so bad. I'm thankful that God led us to the people He did so that Parker could get the help he needed to rise above the bullying...to know that he is NOT a bad boy.
But if you ask my son about his Kindergarten year, his face will scrunch up, he will let out a groan of disgust and tell you that it was the worst year of school...EVER! Then he'll usually follow up by thanking Scott and me for not sending him back to THAT school!
You're welcome, bud. And we're sorry. You're an awesome kid...and we love you!
Wishing you a peaceFULLYsimple day.