Growing up

Beth doesn’t look forward to school. She’s not afraid of the subjects or the work. She’s one of many of children who go to school afraid of the other kids.

I was one of those kids. I’ve been thinking about my school days a lot lately, with all the messages I’ve received about a high school reunion coming up this year. The small minded, vengeful little prick in me would like to reply, “go fuck yourselves and your reunion.” But that wouldn’t be entirely fair. I’m sure a lot of those folks turned out to be decent people – many probably better than me.

Beth and I talk about it sometimes after school – how one of the things we learn growing up, going to school, and being around others, is how to interact -how to get along. I want to believe people aren’t all bad, so I suggest some have a harder time than others learning and understanding how much our words can hurt. On the flip side, some of us are faced with an unfortunate choice. How do we respond? Do we fight back with our own harsh words or deeds? Do we try to give some benefit of doubt, not knowing if these bullies are motivated by their own pain? Do we try to find some middle ground, standing up for ourselves while avoiding the temptation to retaliate?

Sometimes these talks don’t go very well. I feel it’s important never to lie, exagerate, or make promises I can’t keep with my kids. I’ve told her I didn’t have the answers when I was in school, that I never quite found the middle road. However, I tell her we’ll always try to be there for her, by backing her up in school, and lending an understanding ear at home. But I understand it doesn’t feel very reasurring now. I try to remind her that not everyone in her life has been a bully, and she’s bound to find it more true as time passes.

Although I beleive those words are true, they feel a little empty leaving my mouth, and I can see they don’t always help much.

Well, something happened this morning. Beth was going through her backpack, getting ready for school, and found a folded piece of paper she didn’t put there. She didn’t risk reading it. She handed to Cheryl instead. Cheryl glanced at it, then read it aloud:

“Beth, don’t let others make you feel bad, you’re special just like you are.”

She handed it back to a surprised, smiling Beth. There were three sets of initials signing the note.

Beth left for school today with renewed enthusiasm.

Never underestimate the power of your words.


  1. I was a nerd who never figured out how to deal with the shitheads. I don’t think there is a way. Shitheads are like the Borg; they just keep making new ones and resistance is futile.

    Great post, one of your best.

  2. Dammit John… I don’t like tears so early in the morning! I value kindness above all, and it sounds like Beth is friends with kind girls. That can only help.

    Beth is such a sweet, sweet girl. I don’t know what say about bullying, but I do have a book about martial arts and peace; about using your training to defuse tension in bullying situations. I’d be happy to send it your way…

    My martial arts philosophy when I taught the kids’ class is that success or failure is irrelevant; all that matters is effort. When you get in any situation, simply try to do your best. Put yourself on the line, give it best your shot, and then be proud of yourself for displaying such courage. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose, but who cares? There is nobility in the effort!

    My nickname in junior and high school was Spock because I made it my mission not to react to pain — physical or mental — with anything like an emotion. It’s how I got through.

  3. I welled up. What a lovely story. Really wonderful. I have watched each of my kids (well, the older three) struggle with one aspect of this or the other. My oldest son is a math genius and totally different. He doesn’t like sports. He likes unusual quirky subsets of interests. My youngest daughter gets bussed to a magnet school for very gifted children and she agonizes over her desire to one day discover a planet outside our solar system–and how to be popular. All I know is I have raised them fiercely to be spiritual, which has given them some decent skills to believe in that specialness . . . but as a parent, my heart breaks with every single little heartbreak they have. And 18 years of parenting later, I don’t believe it’s gotten one iota easier.

    Just a beautiful story.

  4. That’s a wonderful story and I’m so glad you posted it. My father taught me that if someone struck me, I was to strike back ten times harder. This was why I was always in the principal’s office. This was why I was always such an angry kid. It isn’t easy to find the right thing to tell our kids. I ponder this myself. When I was young, no one was going to get the better of me, ever. But it also meant I was deemed a troublemaker and always getting into fights. I don’t want that for my kids. Right now I am at the point where they come home and tell me their battles and I can still help them. I worry about the day that I can’t help them anymore. Growing up is hard.

Give the gift of words.