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.
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.