On bullying

When I was growing up, my parents moved a lot.

Lest you think I’m kidding:

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
By the time I started first grade, we’d lived in Omaha, San Francisco, and a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.
By the time I started high school, we’d lived in Albuquerque, Washington, DC, and three different suburbs of Baltimore.

Between first grade and eighth grade, I only went to the same school for sixth and seventh grades.

Do you have any idea what it’s like being the new kid every single year?

Well, I don’t have any idea what it’s like to go to school with the same people throughout my childhood. I could talk about how I don’t have roots, how I’m not one of those women who has a close circle of friends “forever,” how if my husband said, right now, “The hell with the mortgage, let’s just pack up and move to San Antonio,” I’d be right there in a New York Minute.

I’ll do another post about my attitudes on permanence someday.

But we were going to talk about bullying.

When I was in fourth grade, I had to ride the school bus. There was a massive fifth grader named Antoinette who used to make my life hell. I hated her. She stuck candy in my hair. (Like, she’d pull a lollipop out of her mouth and stick it to the back of my head.) She ripped the glasses off my face and threatened to throw them out the bus window.

In short, she was a real bitch.

I have no idea what ever happened to her. The bus driver didn’t stop her. The school sure didn’t stop her. There were no interventions. I just had to put up with it.

The nice thing about changing schools every year was that I didn’t have to put up with her for long.

I remember this one girl named Minee (pronounced Min-AY) in fifth grade, who used to ask me where my mom bought my clothes, in this completely superior voice. Prior to that grade, I had never given my clothes one moment’s thought. I was eleven! I didn’t care about clothes. I cared about books and horses and my dog. But that precise instant was my first experience with that particular vein of disdain. Minee never did anything physical; she just constantly ridiculed me.

Again. Sixth grade, new school.

By sixth grade, I was starting to get it. I was a total nerd, and people knew it. Kids make snap judgments all the time. I remember going to a sixth grade mixer (read: dance), and after about three hours of standing alone in the dark, a boy named Ryan asked me to dance. While we were dancing, he said, “I felt sorry for you standing alone.”

I felt sorry for you! He said he felt sorry for me!

And the irony here is that I had called my mom to come get me, and after that, I called her back and said, “I think things are getting better! A boy just asked me to dance!”

Sometimes I want to go back and smack some sense into sixth grade Brigid.

But I was a straight A student, and I realized there was a way I could make people like me.

By letting them cheat.

I’m ashamed to admit letting cute boys copy off my paper. My mom probably doesn’t have any idea, and she’ll die reading this. But it was sixth grade, I was an outcast, and I needed some way to have friends.

Letting them cheat worked.

I stopped in eighth grade.

These stories aren’t all that horrible. Some of you guys had some truly terrible bullying experiences. I’m so amazed that you were courageous enough to share them with me.

I think it’s fascinating how some people say you should turn the other cheek, but I personally love when the underdog stands up for herself/himself. I love that scene in Stepmom where Julia Roberts tells the teen girl how to make the boy jealous.

What do you guys think? What’s the best way to combat bullying?

3 thoughts on “On bullying

  1. When I was a kid, we had to learn to deal with bullying ourselves. When I started teaching, it was the same. It’s different now; we have a zero tolerance policy for bullying. Thus, if the kids report it, we do something about it– fast. Of course, there’s a LOT that goes on that we don’t see and no one reports; we can’t do anything about it if we don’t know about it. Zero tolerance covers the kids to and from school as well. If they’re being bullied to and from school, we do something about it.
    This means the only bullies who still get away with it are the parents. And a lot of those are pretty nasty bullies.

  2. I wish I knew that secret, of how to deal with a bully, because we encounter them in adult life too.

    When I worked at a health food store a few years back, there was a customer who regularly reduced the other clerks to tears. He would get right in your face with a truly aggressive energy and rant about his topic of the day (usually that his order didn’t come on time [which is often the carrier’s/manufacturer’s issue and not the clerk’s] or that we’d gotten the order wrong).

    I refused to let him intimidate me: didn’t back up when he got in my face, kept my voice even, and he’d eventually calm down. His wife later confided that he had Tourette’s, so the fact that I treated him like I expected him to act civilly actually helped him. But man were those workdays exhausting!

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