Monday, March 12, 2012

This Is Why I Worry

My schoolgirls rode the bus for the first time ever today. It did not go smoothly; we waited in the rain at the stop, and the bus driver drove right by us. I called the dispatcher and used my angry voice. I'm not proud of myself in that conversation, but I suppose it will make our stop memorable. Dispatch sent the bus back to us, we walked to the stop again, and my girls stepped onto the otherwise empty bus.

I told the bus driver I will always be waiting at the corner when she drops the kids off.

I took my two preschoolers back home. Now I am sitting in my favorite chair, wearing a comfy sweater, waiting for the kettle to boil. I am a little shaky. This was more emotion than I usually experience before 10 am.

I was bullied as a kid. Most of us have been at some point. When I was eight - the same age my oldest girl is now - my family moved from the suburbs of a large city to a small Illinois town. There was not much tolerance for deviation from the mean in our new town. I was too smart, an outsider in a town where everyone had known each other since the womb, and a tomboy in a world of girly girls. All of these things made me a target.

At recess, the kids played a game they called "Medusa." I was so ugly, they told me, that my face turned people to stone. So the game was to "catch" me - which meant grabbing me and pinning my arms to my side so I couldn't get away - without making eye contact with me. My role in this "game" was to run and struggle and try to get away. They played it every recess for weeks and weeks until one particularly bad melee caused the recess volunteers to stop it.

My life in the town gradually got better. As we got older, being smart became something other kids respected, and I gained a few new friends each year. My life was not as hard as some of my friendless classmates'.

But when I think back to my childhood, the two places I always felt most helpless and most exposed to bullying were gym class and the bus stop. In gym class, there were too many ways to hurt or threaten  without getting caught. And at the bus stop, there were no adults. No one to intervene, and no chance to leave. You had to stay and wait for the bus, no matter who else was there or what they were saying or doing to you. I learned to walk the extra mile to a bus stop where I had friends.

I know that my kids will not necessarily face the same things I did. We live in a city, where differences are more tolerated, and where my kids "belong" as much as anyone does. Schools don't view bullying as the harmless right of passage they did when I was a kid. But I drove my kids to school for the last three years because I could not face them riding that bus. And now that they are, I know I can't leave them at that stop alone.

Even now. Even thirty years later.

So I told the bus driver I will always be waiting at the corner when she drops the kids off.

I could not be anywhere else.


  1. Wow. This post *really* resonated with me. Your description of the childhood bullying you went through was downright eerie with the similarities to my experiences. For an entire year I spent almost every lunch and recess hiding in a bathroom stall because the bullying got so intense that I had begun to fear for my safety.

    For years I'd mostly forgotten about all of that, but now that my kids are at the age where they're beginning to embark on their own social interactions (my oldest is seven), it has dug up all those old feelings...and I'm not sure I'm handling it all that well.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing. I'm glad to know someone else can relate.

  2. I grew up in a small town, and I was never bullied as you describe but I know all too well how cruel small towns can be. Your story brought tears to my eyes.

  3. Yes. I transfered to a small private school from public at fifth grade, and it was not a good experience. I was bullied by the teacher for being behind, and shunned by the girls in my class who had been together since kindergarten. It was a very lonely experience. I became an avid reader; bus rides, recces, lunch.

    It was a major factor when I decided to home school my kids. I saw my oldest struggling with being ahead, smaller and bullied on the playground.

  4. Kids can either be shockingly sweet and empathetic, or decidedly not. I moved from a university town in Michigan to a rural Virginia town the summer I was ten. I started fifth grade with kids who thought damnyankee was one word (see what I did there?) I got mocked for my mid-western twang, though THANKFULLY, mom was a Virginian and we all grew up saying, "y'all" which helped immeasurably.

    I wouldn't say I was bullied, but I was definitely mocked. (and I don't even want to talk about what happened when I was the first girl in my seventh grade class to get her period and all the boys found out.) I had forgotten how painful it was, but this post brought it back. Kids are cruel.