Folks are usually surprised to learn I was bullied as a child when they meet me.
I am huge personality. Loud. Clearly full of real confidence. Funny. . .and lots of fun. I'm a trail blazer, and I have always been thus.
But bullied, I was. Not bullied occasionally. But taunted and mocked mercilessly from the time I went into 1st grade until I departed about 8th grade.
No one intervened. No one stopped it. And I made it through. Still. . . bullying and making it through doesn't make everyone tougher. It breaks some people.
I read a lot. I wrote stories in lieu of doing the work at hand. I didn't understand fashion or the value (or lack) of combing one's hair. I had never had a hair dryer in my hand back then. I had been sheltered, so I couldn't talk about music or shows. I didn't care about academics or my peer group or being popular. I am actually not sure that I even knew these "things" were things I could have had on my mind.
I will never forget picking out my first day of school outfit at age 13. I was truly "so" excited that one time for one reason or another. Circa 1995, I guess.
It was the first time I picked out my clothes. I never cared before then. My mother, bless her, she tried to steer me another direction. Yet, I would have none of her suggestions that year. And she let me do as I pleased. I selected a purple leotard. Might I preface this tale by explaining I was a much taller girl than most. Taller than the boys, actually. I had "big bones," and I hadn't developed much, so it was akin to putting a big boy in a skin tight swimsuit. Did I mention, I had a permed mullet, too?
You read that right. A permed mullet.
It seemed a sensible hair style since I wouldn't do anything with my hair to remove as much as possible and give it a mind of its own. I picked out a leotard in dark purple. So there we went, into Sears. I decided on a nice, deep purple tapered jean with a high waist to draw attention to my lack of one. I then found a really snazzy fanny pack to go along with the awesome outfit. It was. . .purple, of course. Who knows what goodies I kept in that. Maybe a pen and pencil and paper stuffed in? And my mom cautioned me, but in true Tinia fashion, I said, "Oh, I don't care. I like it." And there I went into 7th grade at a new school. And of course, looking back, I can remember the horrible things said to me by people I had never met. I never cried or felt sorry for myself that I recall. I mean, I went on in the matching gold version the next day.
My mother never gave me false compliments when I was young. Neither did my Daddy. My mother never inflated an ego or pretended I was perfect. Neither did Daddy. They never made me feel that my peers or society factored into my life. And this was so vital, I see now. They never used language that made me feel I needed to want to fit in, and they never fit in, either. I knew people could be radically different, and that was ideal. Expected in my household, really.
That was a simpler time then, and we know it.
People are different. Some children care deeply and can't escape, and they care far sooner than I could have imagined, and they are dying as a result. When I originally wrote this last year, it was on the heels of a 9 year old killing himself because he was bullied without mercy.
What can we say when the truth is, we know most adults generally believe peers matter. Most people I knew care deeply about others' opinions on who they are, what they have, how they look and how they live. Adults care what others say about them at such a level, they cannot teach their children that what others do reflects on the bully, not the one being mistreated.
Why aren't why telling kids from the time they can speak with OUR own lives that kindness is all that matters, that being unlike others is key, that our value isn't decided by anyone but us? Why aren't we building people confident being original and different? Why isn't this a focus? Telling someone to be tough is not the answer.
The sad truth is that too few of us have "confidence" to impart. . . We are making self centered children but without any real confidence.
Confidence is a quiet and unshakable assurance in one's self. Self contentedness is something entirely different. It is something that, ideally, begins to grow and is cultivated from the time a kid is a wee babe. Rarely is it just part of one's character, and more rare still is it gained in adulthood. It happens, but it isn't often.
We are failing as parents of these bullies, and we are failing as parents of the bullied.
DO I believe we are raising children with less fortitude? Sure, in that our very lifestyles do not demand a lot of "traditional" adversity these days. And without frequent loss and challenges and concerns, grit is harder to come by.
I believe we've created a society where pressure and peer groups and popularity are of such enormous importance, the parents of the modern child cannot really put themselves in their places, either.
I've been been through most of the things children are put them through in schools, but one major difference is that when I went home, that as the end. Social media and after hours contact was non-existent. As tough as I was then, who knows had it continued once I went home if even though I was strong about it?
And the truth is, even without internet, cell phones, social medias, online images and the like, and as as hardy a character as I was, in hindsight, I see it wore me down.
When I 14 or 15 years old, I never went back to school. I quit.
I don't think I realized it was because I had been bullied most of the time I attended school. At that time, I really just felt that school had no value to me. That was 2 decades ago. I remember well that hell or high water wouldn't have compelled me to ever return.
Today, I suspect the years of being rejected by a my unkind peer group must have factored into my decision to leave.
The interesting thing about my story is no one who knows me could ever say I am anything but full of fortitude going way back.
After numerous personal tragedies in my life of epic proportions most could not wrap them minds around, I know I have a heck of a lot of grit, and I think of how, at 14, what happened at school even got to me.
I think about how most of my classmates have went on to obscurity or drug addiction, and I consider how I got out, and I have went far beyond that little place where lives are small and cruel and short. But every child cannot do that.
I think about the fact that everyone IS different, and demanding "toughness" isn't helping what is going on with our society.
I am grateful I am able to homeschool my kids because I know how fragile young people can be, whether I was or not, some children are. I know how being fragile at 9 is no reflection of how strong you will be in a decade, either.
Being kind and sensitive and unique when you are young isn't a sign you're weak. And children are growing and learning who they are. And they sometimes needed time to grow into themselves.
So please tell your children, if they feel "super" cool and important now, that one day merits will be gauged on more than appearances and who throws a ball better. Popularity and even Academics are paltry things compared to true confidence and kindness cultivated in your children. Focus first on the latter things.
Explain to them that they are enough, as they are, by you OWN life proving this to them. Tell them and show them that what others say reflects on the speakers, not on the ones who hear the words. Explain that who they are will not come full circle for years, that they are a work in progress to not be judged at 6, 8, 12 or 16. . .
Remind them that many a person was belittled to end up the only one to be proud of what they have done a little on down the line.
Just hold on, kids. Be original. Believe you are enough. In time, I promise you, as I have walked that path, you will see I am right.