Friday, October 12, 2012

Sticks and stones

"I know why you don't wear Guess jeans," he said with a sneer on his face.

I ignored his jabs as I tried to focus on reading my chapter for 10th grade English class. It didn't matter, though. He continued his assault.

"Cuz they don't make 'em in your size, fat ass!" He erupted in laughter along with two of his friends who now high-fived his cruel sense of humor.

Don't let them see you cry, Melanie. Never let them see you cry.

And I didn't. I saved my tears for when I got home...when the lights were off and the house was quiet. I'd perfected my crying over the years. Lard butt. Thunder thighs. Fat ass. Heifer. Fat fuck. Bread n' Rolls. Miss Piggy. I'd heard every insult ever created by adolescent boys (and even a few girls).

While I struggled with my self esteem for years (and even now, I have my moments), my mother was always quick to dismiss their claims and build me up. She helped me believe in myself and my talents. She always told me I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be. I believed her.

I was fortunate to have never been beaten up, but I was good friends with girls who were. Kids would follow her home from the bus and throw rocks at her, trip her, call her names and punch her if she didn't give them the benefit of the response. It should be no surprise that later on in life, she married an abusive man who beat and belittled her regularly.

After years of believing I wasn't good enough, smart enough or pretty enough, I still struggle with the pain of being teased in school. The old addage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is nothing but bullshit. It all hurts. All of it.

Now, I've never been one to promote violence and for many, many years, I've thought that nobody deserves to be hit. But I can't help but think that maybe if I had given that little bastard an uppercut in English class he would've left me alone.

As a parent, my biggest fear was that I wouldn't be able to build my kids self esteem enough for them to shake off the inevitable teasing that takes place in schoolyards and playgrounds. For the most part, they seem to be okay, though I know sometimes kids are meaner than they should be and my kids end up hurt as a result, but I am grateful that they've not been in any fights and there has been minimal online bullying. I know our family is one of the lucky ones, though.

I know that because every time I turned on the TV, read the newspaper or check online, there's a child who has either been bullied or they've committed suicide as a result of the former. This is absolutely inexcusable, but I don't blame the kids.

I blame the parents.

Somewhere along the lines, we've dropped the ball as role models for our kids. We've stopped being kind and we've started name-calling. We've stopped embracing differences and started pointing out flaws. I know I'm guilty of this. I'm as judgmental as anyone else and that's in the process of changing.

My mom (and I'm sure many other parents) always said "ignore them and they'll get bored and go away." I used that method all through school and even as an adult, but I'm finding out as I hear more and more about kids being bullied that I don't necessarily believe in that theory so much anymore. I say call them out.

Call those people out who are bullying. Use their names. Hold them accountable. By keeping quiet, you're silently giving them permission to treat you badly. If someone was raping you, would you just lay still until they finished? No! You'd scream and kick and scratch their eyes out. You'd fight for your life. This is no different. Kids are DYING!

This has to stop. Start scratching some eyes out because those words? They hurt as much as the sticks and stones do.

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