This morning I was introduced to a poet performer that spoke, in the video I saw, about a childhood filled with bullying. As a father of one that has been bullied it was powerful. Messages about bullying, abuse and the realities of life as a child today conflict me. Maybe conflicted is not the right word, maybe its confused, surprised, amazed. You see I never really experienced that. My childhood had plenty of weirdness, plenty of the things that can scar you and make you who you are, but one of those things was never abuse, not from my parents, not from other kids. If you are reading this, you most likely know me, and have for a while, and know that I am a social person. People are one of the things I enjoy and wonder about as an adult. As a child, I was friends with just about everyone. One might say I was a popular kid, and I guess I was. Through none of my own doing, I look this way, and know how to get along with people so I always did. To this day, I have never been in a fight, but it is not about my life, it about the other lives going on in my house.
My daughter has Aspergers Syndrome. If you've never heard of that, look it up. The short version is that she doesn't receive the social cues you and I do. The nuance of human interaction, that is so natural for me, and for her brother, escapes her completely. It can lead to some wacky and very awkward exchanges, just because she can't get that you are finished talking, or that her comment is odd. The message didn't connect because you didn't say it, out loud, in no uncertain terms, without a grey area.
Kids don't dig awkward. They can't handle it, and unfortunately, most of the kids at my daughters old school, reacted the way a lot of kids do, and that is with abuse, and separation. Chupacabra, loser, weirdo, crazy, stupid, coupled with a dedicated and concerted shunning created an atmosphere that must have been miserable. It was miserable, but I couldn't get it. It was I that wasn't getting the cues. So at home, we blamed the victim. She must be bringing it on somehow. It must be her fault. For over a year, and it makes my cry to type that, for over A YEAR she suffered abuse all day every day every where by everyone. There was almost no port in what must have been an incredible storm, and it breaks my heart to think about it, to imagine the loneliness and despair.
Her reaction over time was predictable. Retreat, anger, despair, and depression. We were losing our child. She was on suicide watch. Suicide watch. My child. We hid the kitchen knives and made sure the drugs were locked away because her therapist explained with tears in her eyes, "Most kids I don't have such a concern for because they don't have the ability to complete. Delaney is smart enough to complete." She said that to my face and I shattered into a million pieces. This is real, my daughter hates her life so much that she is talking about killing herself. It was un-fathomable to the guy that was never teased, always picked first, always lucky and at the head of the line. Something had to be done.
We had spoken to the school before, but never with much determination. This was different. This was the school from which I graduated. The headmaster is my friend, the other parents my classmates, this was supposed to be my world, the world that had treated me right. Tough shit, I learned. Your kid isn't athletic, isn't cool, looks different, and sounds different. She doesn't act like the other kids, or do the same things as the other kids, or have the same interests as the other kids... and there is nothing we can/will do. The bullies were called in, sure, and some confessed, and some differed, and one was a powerful man's son so things improved for a week, or so. But not really, so I called a few of the parents, not to berate but to beg. Please help me! I am losing my first born, please make your kid stop abusing her, please, please, PLEASE! But the ringleader's dad said, in effect, no. He'd told the kid to stop and that should be enough. "But he's not stopping" I explained, "nothing has changed." Later I was told by another classmate that was closer in age to this parent, "He was bully in high school." and another, "He was a bully in law school." So maybe the kid comes by it honestly, and maybe thats why no one ever made him stop. We were fighting for our child's life, and in turn our own, because any parent knows that you are only as happy as your unhappiest child and we couldn't bear another minute. Our daughter was taken out of the classes of this boy, so he decided to focus on her only friend that was left behind. After three weeks of this, she went on Spring Break and never came back. How would we survive, literally, the rest of the year?
We were fighting for our daughter. Exploring options, making calls, changing what could be changed. In short, we were believing her story. In the words of her therapist, she was being "HEARD." I had to sit down with my girl and apologize, and admit that I had been part of the problem. I had contributed to the hell that she was forced to endure every day, all day. It is guilt that is as powerful as anything I've felt, and it will never go away. Never. Just like the memories and scars left because of what I failed to recognize, failed to acknowledge, failed to stop. Failed. But, this is the good part. Delaney saw that we were on her side. She heard the conversations, and the anger from her parents, and inside she knew that she had been right. Life wasn't supposed to be this way, and her folks were going to try and make it better. She realized we hadn't known. That our lack of understanding stood in the way of our action, of our acceptance of the reality of her environment day to day. Her realization was what she needed to start to come back to us. She had advocates, us, that were hell bent. And she did come back. The anger began to subside. Hugs happened, without prompting. Clouds lifting, but not gone.
Since the beginning of all this we had explained that there are kids out there like her, but we couldn't produce any. That summer our girl got to be involved in a program, almost like a camp, for gifted children. She spent a month at a college in North Carolina with kids from across the nation that had been chosen to participate based on their test scores and intelligence. You see, Delaney is a genius. Her verbal IQ is un-chartable. What happened there was a miracle and I didn't need Al Michaels to tell me about it. It was an entire dorm of Dr. Who watching, geek lit reading, hyper-intelligent kids that were JUST LIKE HER. She came back a different person. Truly transformed. After seeing her, and hugging her, and helping her put her things away, I quietly went to a private place and bawled like a baby. She was happy. Maybe this would be OK.
Fall came, and she finished middle school where I did. It was as safe a place as I know of in the world. It was safe to me when my world disintegrated when I was 10-11-12. Maybe it would be a safe place for her too. And it was. She made some friends, was accepted, and stood out in ways that were commendable and rewarded with praise and recognition. Homework was still an issue, but my girl was back. Naturally it wasn't all unicorns and rainbows, but everyday when I picked her up she was standing with friends, talking and laughing, instead of hiding to evade the scorn of the crowd. She dominated and drove the school production of The Outsiders and killed at the talent show. It was a new world, and in it our girl made it through the last vestiges of middle school. The hardest time in most of our lives is Middle School and she was through it.
Now of course is High School. She started at a fine arts school this year. Its the same one her brother started a year ago. He went first to flee the jock heavy, creativity dismissing culture of his old school and loves that he gets to act, and dance, and be creative every day, and he showed her the way. Now they get out of the car without prompting. They are ready, "Come on Dad, its time to go."
So this morning, when I listened to that poet tell me about his history, it all came flooding back. When I hear about bullying now, in any place or situation, I am enraged, and motivated to make it stop. It hits home now. The kid that was never bullied finally got that its going on, right now, in your kids school. Be your child's/any child's advocate because that is what they need the most. We aren't sea turtles left to fend for ourselves, we are humans, and we need help to make it to adulthood. My kid needed a champion, and its one of the defining episodes of my life that we finally realized it.