Monday, December 06, 2010

In Which I Stand Up to Bullies

You may have seen my tweets about this already, but I have to share this story here, because it was so weird. And surprising, mostly because I surprised myself.

Last Friday afternoon, I was at a mall with the kids killing time until Brendan could meet us. We rode the carousel a couple of times, got Starbucks, shopped for Christmas presents for Brendan (but we didn't buy because we don't really know what he wants, hint hint), watched other kids visiting Santa (none of mine will touch Santa with a 39-and-a-half foot pole), etc. It was leisurely and fun.

As we were walking along a very non-crowded section of the mall, with me pushing the double "car" which Sean and Morgan were "driving," I sort of became aware of two boys (who turned out to be about 13-15 years old) behind us talking in a loud voices.

I heard: "Nice purse (snort)!" and "What the ?!?!?! Are you kidding? Where he'd get that?" and high-pitched girlie "ooohs" and "ahhhs" and a couple more snarky comments about someone having a 'nice purse.'

Confused, I glanced down at my purse, wondering why in the world two kids would ever be remarking on my purse, as it's not exactly unusual for a mommy to be toting around a purse. And nobody else was around us at all...they had to be talking about me, right?

Then I saw. Ryan was wearing his Epi-pen holder, slung across his shoulder ammo-belt-style. He was wearing gray camouflage pants and shirt (okay, pajamas) with the brown Epi-pen holder across his back. The part where the Epi-pens go happened to be on his back, where the kids behind us could clearly see. The "purse."

All of this happened in a couple of seconds, though. I went from "Why do they care about some mommy's purse?" to "They think Ryan is carrying a purse!" to "They're openly mocking him about it!" to ANGER.

The older kids started to pass us, still commenting and generally acting like complete jerks. Without warning--to their surprise AND MINE--I rounded on them quickly and said angrily and incredulously, "Really?!?!?! REALLY? He's a little kid!"

Why that particular thing flew out of my mouth, I have no idea. I was not conscious of formulating the thought at all--the words came without thought. If I'd thought before speaking, I know I wouldn't have used the phrase "little kid" to describe Ryan, especially right in front of him. But there it was.

The punks teens were shocked at my response, their eyes widened with that "caught" look. Then one of them stared at me in open challenge (the nerve!) and said something about how they hadn't been talking to us. And then they scurried along.

They'd been talking about us, even if they weren't talking to us. There was nobody else around and we weren't walking by a purse store.

Now, to add to all of the surprise, all three of my kids, who had been completely unaware of the taunting, were awfully surprised to hear their mom suddenly speak sharply to two complete strangers. :o) I was fuming, but I managed to tell my children that those other kids had been saying mean things and I didn't think it was nice of them so they stopped when I spoke to them.

Later when Brendan met us at the mall, we spoke about the incident (he'd seen my tweets) a bit. I told him that I didn't think Ryan had heard what they said. When of course my uber-observant (those highly sensitive types--we don't miss much) child piped up with "Oh I heard them saying 'Nice purse' and stuff. I just didn't know they were talking about me until mom yelled at them." (Note: I didn't yell, but I sure spoke, uh, vehemently.)

So he'd heard. He heard and it didn't register that he was the target of their mocking. I felt momentarily guilty about having said anything to the kids, because if I'd held it together, Ryan never would have known what was happening.

But then I dismissed that thought. If I'd kept my mouth shut, those two little bullies would not have been called on their behavior. And I strongly feel that bullies need to be called on their behavior. Also, by witnessing someone standing up for him, I modeled the kind of behavior I'd want Ryan (and the other kids) to exhibit if they ever saw someone being mocked or taunted or bullied.

I believe, as Brendan and I discussed this later with Ryan, I put it like this: "Sometimes bullies do mean things to other people, because they think that making others feel bad about themselves will help the bullies feel better about themselves. But that's just crap and I don't put up with that kind of crap, especially when someone tries to make people I love feel badly about themselves."

So I'm glad I said something. It seems pretty dumb, really, to pick on a kid when his mom is standing right there. It seems pretty pathetic to pick on a kid who is obviously so much younger and smaller (and Ryan is small for his age, so he looks younger than he actually is). It is pitiful, really, that these kids behaved that way, and part of me feels a little sorry for them.

I can't even describe how mad I was (I'm still a little mad, but mostly I'm over the volcanic fuming stage). They made fun of him for carrying a purse. A 'purse' that he proudly and responsibly carries to make sure his life-saving medicine is on his person at all times when we're out in public. He is so responsible these days and generally remembers to bring his Epis out of the house all on his own, without reminders. He thinks the carrier I got him is rockin' cool (they are, go click the link and see how awesome those styles are). He MUST take his Epis everywhere we go for two reasons: to build up and sustain this habit, and of course, just in case. The last thing I want is for him to decide that he shouldn't carry them because he'll be made fun of.

So anyway, there's a bullying story for you. I'm disgusted with those kids, proud that I said something (even though what I actually said was apparently not under my complete control!), proud to have modeled good anti-bully behavior for my kids (not to mention the virtues justice and integrity), glad to have had several good discussions with Ryan and Morgan and Brendan as a result of the incident. And hoping we don't have to have a similar experience again.

Also, apparently, don't mess with me. :o)

By the way, while I'm thinking about it, Barbara Coloroso has a terrific book about bullying, called The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to HighSchool--How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle. It's been a while since I've read it, and I think I'm going to go back and give it a good skimming over.


Cassie said...

Because you said something to them they will think twice before they do it again.

Lynne said...

Oddly, I think you treated those little punks like young adults by calling out their behavior and might therefore nip it in the bud.

As an adult, responding to kid bullies is very difficult. When we first moved to our house from another town, we went to our new local playground. As my two year-old sat a little timid at the top of the toddler slide, two other kids, maybe 4-5 came along. "Should I push her down?" asked the first. "Yeah," said the second. I think they may have sounded like Bowery Boys, but my mind may be clouded by time.

Of course I responded appropriately by grabbing my toddler, going home, and insisting that we move.

Anonymous said...

Could you please explain why your kids won't go near Santa? I assume you were referring to getting their picture taken with you and/or your kids have something against him?

Jenn Casey said...

Cassie, you're absolutely right. Good point.

Lynne, it's always tricky when dealing with someone else's kid. But you are right, if an adult had done the same thing, I'd have told them off (and maybe in stronger, more coherent terms even).

Anon, I LOVE Santa. I would almost pay cash money to have a picture of all three of my children with Santa. But, Ryan has sworn off of any picture-taking for the time being, Morgan--who LOVED getting her picture with Mickey Mouse--has decided that Santa looks "creepy" with that white beard, and Sean says "NO" every time I ask him if he wants to see Santa. Oh well.

Kelly McNulty Valenzuela said...

I am not sure what Jenn's kid's reasons are, but I rarely see a picture of a kid with Santa in which the kid looks happy. lol!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Good for you, Jenn. When I was growing up, bullies rarely got far with their bad behavior because adults in the neighborhood and at school consistently called them on it, and kids were taught to fight back. Now in schools we have the "zero tolerance policies" by which both the bullies and their victims are punished, and surprise, surprise, surprise, bullying has become common.
Adults taking the time to pay attention to behavior, good and bad, and differentiating between it is exactly what the bullies need. They need to know that what they do matters and that the adults in their communities care about their behavior.
File this one under "Heroic Me." ;-)

Brad Harper said...

Good for you.

David Buchner said...

I can't believe it didn't occur to me earlier, to make a Beavis and Butthead reference about these two junior goblins...

Kate Yoak said...

I clearly remember an incident when two girls were calling me names as my mom was helping me take my coat of upon arrival at daycare. I remember what they wore, what the are looked like. And I also remember my mom's meek response, "you girls shouldn't say that." And as an adult, I realize I have never forgiven her.

Wearing glasses since age 2, awkward and unathletic (I could barely see as a child!) I was always a target of bullying. Adults simply did not care. They told me, boys made fun of me because they liked me (I was always aware, this was a lie) and to "not pay attention to them."

Standing up for your child teaches him that there is such a thing as justice. Yes, there will be times when he is facing the bullies on his own and will be unable to do anything about them - but somewhere deep inside he will remember that it is *possible* to stand up, and right, and just. And he will stand up to those who bully his younger siblings (Oh, how I adore when Alex does that for Lily!) and will be able to make decisions of when it is appropriate to do for himself.

Yay, Jenn!

Monica said...

I think a lot of this has to do with bad manners, too. Many kids have horrible manners these days. The other day one of my college students was complaining loudly in class about a crossword puzzle I made as an assignment, which was supposed to help them review vocabulary in a fun way. "Stupid" and "crap" I believe, were the words. It was optional, so why did she even bother to stay to complete the assignment?

I'm not surprised that one of the kids you were dealing with started to defend himself. Nor do I think those kids necessarily thought you couldn't hear. They probably just thought you wouldn't say anything, because most people don't want a confrontation. Many kids are raised with no sense of right or wrong these days, or if they do know what is right and wrong, they want to push their limits and they expect that no one will confront their behavior. Many kinds of behavior now seem acceptable and go without consequences. Has anyone heard of kids getting expelled anymore for good reasons? Really bad behavior doesn't get confronted, while behavior that isn't wrong often gets punished.

Today in class, one of my students used the "f" word in a casual answer to a question I posed. Something like, "It f***s up the proteins so that they don't work right..." Seriously? This "kid" is 22. He doesn't even realize that using profanity in a class is wrong. (It wasn't a situation where he was angry... he was just using it as a verb like it was any other normal word.)

Sorry for the rant... I do see this particular bullying incident as symptomatic of a larger problem in our culture. Obviously, it goes beyond mere impoliteness, though, and I'm sorry you had to deal with that. If these kids are teenagers, they are old enough to know better and they should really be ashamed of themselves. What pathetic behavior. I shudder to think of these narcissistic, near sociopathic kids reaching adulthood. Frightening.

Susan Ryan said...

Good for you, Jenn. It's tough determining if you say anything or not. I would have reacted the same (and have), and realized later the circumstances I've created with the innocents not knowing.

Letting those comments slide seems more harmful than not saying anything. It would eat me up thinking these kids did that and no one calls them on their behavior. Hopefully you rocked their world.