Two weeks ago, Neal crawled in bed next to me to talk. "Do you remember that story I told you about the kid in my class who was trying to tackle and kick that other kid?" He asked. I remembered the story. "Well," he continued, "that other kid was really me." My heart sank as he continued to tell me that for several months now, this kid in his class has pushed, tripped, tackled, kicked and hit him nearly every day after lunch and after school.
For months, we'd suspected that something unpleasant was happening at school. Neal frequently came home from school upset and he began to display some nervous habits again. His teacher was on maternity leave and there was a substitute (a bit of a bully herself) in the classroom for several weeks. We knew there were occasionally problems with the kids in the carpool but we had talked with the other parents and that situation seemed to be improving. When his teacher returned to school, Neal's attitude about school also improved--most of the time.
Utah Dad and I also recognize that Neal's situation is unique. He's an eight-year-old in a fourth grade class where the majority of the students have already turned ten. Last year in third grade, the age difference didn't seem so great. But this year, the other fourth graders are really growing up. They're not little kids any more. Driving the carpool has definitely opened our eyes to this. The other kids are interested in music, pop-culture, gaming, and other preteen things. Neal is still a kid. He's goofy. He doesn't get their jokes. He bugs them. As parents, we're frustrated and torn because we want him to get along with the other kids and act appropriately in an older class but we don't want him to grow up too fast.
My first reaction after hearing about the bully from Neal was my typical non-confrontational approach. Bullies come in many forms (from the physically abusive to the "mean girl") and we've all had to deal with them from time to time (unfortunately sometimes as adults). My solution has always been to ignore the problem/person. So, Utah Dad, Neal and I discussed ways that Neal could avoid the bully. He could stay in the lunch room longer. He could stand with his friends. Be in a crowd. Neal agreed to try this. But he asked me to talk to the principal. That would involve an encounter and my whole body shuddered. I did send an email (so easy and non-threatening) to his teacher alerting her to the problem with the bully.
The teacher talked to the bully but according to Neal the problems continued and he asked me again to talk to the principal. It was the weekend so I assured him that I would do it the next week. Monday came, I got busy and forgot. Neal came home from school and said that the bullying hadn't stopped and he really didn't like it.
On Tuesday, one of the other carpool mothers needed to switch so I drove over to the school to pick up the kids. I got to the school several minutes early and decided to go in and talk with the principal. He was busy but I left a message for him to call me. I returned to the car to read my book while I waited for the kids. Once the kids got out of school, I noticed that the boys were playing on the grass in front of the school and since they didn't know to look for my car, I decided to get out and walk over to them. As I approached the group of kids, I quickly spotted Neal. The bully had him in a headlock and was punching him. Neal was throwing elbows, trying to get away but it was the look on his face (miserable, angry, trying desperately not to cry) that broke my heart. I called his name and the bully quickly let him go. Neal walked toward me and I asked him if that kid was the same bully. He responded in the affirmative. The bully was now standing nonchalantly against the wall of the school. I sent Neal and the other boys from the carpool to the car and walked over to the bully. My blood was boiling but I was determined to keep my cool. I leaned over to look him right in his cocky little face and told him clearly, firmly and calmly that he was never to touch Neal ever again and that I would be talking with the principal about the problem. He nodded--silent.
I have to admit I was a bit proud of myself. Neal told me, once we were home, that he was pleased.
That evening I sent another email to the teacher telling her that I had actually witnessed the abuse and that I had spoken to the offender. I left another message for the principal the next morning. The teacher had a conference with the bully and his mother and the principal called both the bully and Neal into his office. They discussed the problem and the bully apologized to Neal. Neal says that the bully hasn't touched him since last Tuesday.
There are only two weeks left of the school year. Neal will be attending a different school next year and the bully will remain at the old school. This particular problem appears to be solved.
However, I'm still angry at myself. I'm upset that I didn't ask more questions of Neal when he first started telling me stories about the bully. Shouldn't I have connected that he was telling me these stories for a reason? Why was I so slow to act before I actually saw the offense? Why didn't I alert the school that there was a problem months ago when Neal told me--even though the bullying was supposedly happening to a different kid? Just because it wasn't my kid, why didn't I respond? And why didn't Neal feel comfortable enough to tell me the truth months ago?
Anyway, I'm determined to be more vigilant and to listen to my children more carefully. I need to learn to ask the right questions to get to the truth. I'm also more determined to stand up for my children and hopefully myself.
Did I happen to mention that I hate mean people. And don't mess with my kids.