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“For the Bullied & The Beautiful”…On How Bullying is Learned Behavior

To this day projectWhen I was a kid, there was no Day-of-Pink, no protest movements to end bullying. We moved around a lot, I was always the chubby new weird kid with ‘weird’ last names, ridiculous glasses and an extra tooth in my crooked toothed-mouth that indented my tongue. Naturally, I was teased a bunch. My real name was rarely called out, even by some of my teachers.

I lived in some sketchy neighbourhoods where we walked home from school on our own and the kids were tough, with bullying being their main sport. I’m having a hard time describing the negative impact that years of bullying did to me, because there were always other things to address, to sort through.

Being bullied was to be considered NBD, and I felt like a sucker if I spoke of it, or my feelings about it. To this day.

But then again we also rode in the back of pick-up trucks, had no ‘sleep schedules,’ we drank water from the garden hose and played in the street. Walked to the corner store.

Some things of which I will let my toddlers do as they grow into kids and some of which I won’t. Society is much different then from what it is now. Tough love reigned supreme and thick-skin was revered. Being a bully or getting bullied was a ‘natural part of growing up’ apparently – and if you happened to be a kid who was the brunt of a bully’s animosity - then you best suck it up.

Perhaps I am speaking generally here, I know there were probably parents back then who spoke out about it, or were horrified if they found out it was their child who was doing the bullying. But for the most part? Kids were (and still are) a product of their environment. Case in point? Yesterday I was outside with my little ones soaking in the glorious warm temperatures and extra evening daylight. I watched them take joyful leaps in giant muddy puddles of melted snow and slush and thought — even though I knew they were getting totalled by the mud and water –‘WHO CARES? I am blissing out right now and so are they. Shiny, happy, shiny happy, spring – WOW, Wheee!’ Basically, I was a tiny bit giddy.

When suddenly I heard a young lad come barreling out of our neighbour’s house yelling at the top of his lungs, “Hey retard!!! Where’s…” (blank, blank, blank – I tuned out as I watched; my brain turned to slow-motion, his face stretched out in a snarl, eyes wide with what? Anger? Glee? A cross between the two?) Fade fast into real time, as his big ski boot came down with a thud at the end of the drive-way.

A meek little girl (his sister), and his cousin (our neighbour’s daughter), both looked up with different sets of wide-eyes. An expression of fear and submission was painted across his sister’s face. I saw it – as prominent as the adorable hot pink-framed glasses perched on her wee nose. A quick glance to our neighbour’s daughter showed me that she was embarrassed as she nervously glanced at me, to him, back to me, back to him again. Several pauses.

“Well, moron?” He froths.

“I don’t know”. She mews.

“Bull-sh**t!”. He rages.

It was then that I quickly came-to and realized with a momma-bear instinct (and a overwhelming desire to step-in for that little girl), that my own even-littler-ones-still, had stopped jumping and were standing there watching him with huge, confused eyes.

‘Oh heck no,’ I thought. Not on my watch. I will admit that I fleetingly thought of how to best handle this situation without getting into it with his parents for having reproached their son’s behaviour. There is always a high probability for that to happen with some jerks who think it’s okay for their kids to treat other people or their own family this way.

Like I said. Ever-so-fleeting, that worry was. Pssh. (Bring it, jerk-faces.)

I told this ‘young man’ to watch his mouth, that there were little kids about and that it wasn’t okay to speak to his sister that way.

He stared blankly at me for a moment. Like he could not believe I had the kahunas to address him. Dude clearly had no idea.

A bit of some back-story: 1 day prior, (on the Friday, this family must have been visiting for the weekend),  I had watched him chase his sister and cousin out in the circle of our crescent maniacally waving a steel bladed shovel above his head, whipping ice at his sister and calling her all sorts of names. She ended up slipping and falling to ground on her face in a huge puddle of muddy, slushy thaw. Oh how she cried. Oh how he told her to shut up. I argued back and forth with myself about running out there and grabbing that kid by the ear and telling myself that it was none of my business.

Was it simply the regular sibling rivalry stuff? In my heart of hearts, whether this sort of thing may be tested by some older siblings out there in the world, I think that sort of behavior should not be ignored or tolerated. Zero tolerance. Which, may be very easy for me to say – I am all too aware of the behavioral challenges that parents can face, the developmental and behavioural challenges that this family could be up against.

Then again, this could simply be a case of the kid being a big bully.

I didn’t do anything about it that day. Even though I thought about knocking on my neighbour’s door later on…it just felt awkward.

So obviously, when it was all going down in new form, in front of me and my young ones – I full-heartedly intervened. It didn’t last long however. Just as the boy was telling me to, “mind my own business”, I heard the voluminous whoosh of a door being whipped open and a big stalky guy bellowing out to him (his son), to, “get the f*ck off that snow mountain, you’re getting filthy! If you are not off that thing in 10 seconds, I’ll kill ya!” And he slammed the door faster than I could gather my thoughts back up from my gut to my brain; to my mouth. It was all barked rather naturally with the ease of a person who speaks and rages to/at his children in such a way every day. I know such looks. I lived them. I can define them in a moment and tell you with certainty what they mean.

So my rather long case-in-point is that this is learned behavior for this boy-child.

Surprise, surprise. I now looked at the boy whose head was down as he traipsed over to the the curb, picked up some snow gear as he picked up pace, angrily; over to the back of his dad’s truck to pack it in. They were far away from me now, so that I couldn’t hear what they were saying – it was clear the two girls were saying something to him. I could tell they felt bad for him, including his sister.

To which he spun around and told his sister to shut her stupid trap. Venom in, venom out. Two things started happening here. One being that while this all went down within a matter of a couple of minutes – I was glad to be done packing up the bike chariot to get on with our walk, away from this scene. At the same time, I didn’t want to leave those kids alone. So, as we walked near them – I was careful to leave my own kids in the confines of their stroller, out of ear-shot – quickly stepping up to the trio.

I told the boy that I was sorry his dad flipped out on him and that if he did that sort of thing regularly – that was pretty horrible, and not okay. I told him that it didn’t mean he could treat his sister (or anyone) that way and it was probably about time someone told him that. I told him that he probably should just go inside and leave the girls alone. Weak, right? What would you have done/said – if anything?

He said nothing. He walked away and made his way into the house. I didn’t think he was going to listen to me – but he did. Whatever that meant. His sister and my neighbor’s daughter both looked at me rather adoringly and his sister said, ever-so-quietly, “thank-you”.

The thing of it is – I didn’t feel like I had done the right thing. What IS the right thing to do in that situation? Just ignore it all? I was fully aware that my words with him may result in him releasing more fury on her later. Or that if he complained to his dad about me, his father may unleash more fury on him. I know all to well the myriad of possibilities and unfortunately, in that family – it’s all probably the norm and not all that positive.

Ain’t nothing I can do about stopping that. A fact of which breaks my heart. Clearly, as you may be able surmise –  this sort of stuff hits close to home.

What I can do is spread the word about a project, To This Day’ that a friend of mine spear-headed and in the last few weeks I’ve watched a video that he co-created – I’ve watched it grow with bubbling popularity, going viral. From the Tumblr website…

To This Day Project is a project based on a spoken word poem written by Shane Koyczan called “To This Day”, to further explore the profound and lasting impact that bullying can have on an individual [...]

Animators and motion artists brought their unique styles to 20 second segments that will thread into one fluid voice.

I first met the poet Shane Koyczan years ago, with a newborn to my chest, naively doing a tour of festivals, travelling about with my musician partner and his band. He was performing at the same festival as they. The fates aligned and blessed my road -weary, slightly mom-crazed, exhausted mind with one of the most awe-inspiring, lyrically gifted, sonically beautiful hour of my life.

If this description sounds too great for what I am describing, from the stage of an Ontario folk festival, I say to you this, ‘who are you to judge what lifts up a person soul? To scoff at what they think is great?’

Which doesn’t matter. Because, now years have passed and I’ve enjoyed many a stage that Shane has bedazzled, and watched as my toddler-son stopped jumping to sit en-tranced for nearly (nearly) his entire set. It helped that Daddy was on-stage with his Auntie and Uncle too. I will introduce my son (and daughter) to any and all forms to MORE OF THAT PLEASE. Shane’s spoken word and music is the kind of stuff that resonates within even the youngest of minds.

I will gladly offer up my children’s ears to artists like Shane who can teach them things, inspire them in ways that I could never do.

So. Watch the video and spread it around. Like HONEY. Spread it around.

It’s not as if you have to take my word about said awesome-ness. Dude has a Ted Talk. Bam. Watch it, SO GOOD.

Amazing, right? Now imagine seeing him live with a string quartet. Told ya.

Top Image Credit: Learning With Michelle

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More Babbles From Selena…

Selena is a crafty, culinary mom. Regular writer here and on Disney Baby. Part-time mischief maker, all the time geek. Proud of her Anishinaabe roots.

Elsewhere on the internets…

Via her humble beginnings, mastering in general mayhem: le petit rêve

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