Sticks and Stones

Yesterday morning in bible class (fifth and sixth-grade girls), I was finishing up a lesson on people and things we should pray for, and the last point was to “pray for our enemies and people who may not like us or agree with us.” (Very applicable in today’s world, I might add, but that’s a topic for another time.)

One of my students, a young girl who is rather eccentric sometimes, popped her head up and asked, “Why would I pray for the people who don’t like me? People are so mean to me. Everybody thinks I’m weird.” She explained how she no longer rides the school bus because certain kids were so mean to her that she couldn’t stand to go to school. She talked about how she only has two friends in the school, but they don’t have any of the same classes, and nobody else ever wants to talk to her and sit with her at lunch.

I didn’t know what to say. I came out with something about how people can be mean and life gets better as you get older. I said something about how everyone has a soul and we must try to love and pray for their souls, even if we don’t really like that person. I went on about how we are God’s examples in the world, and we might be the only Christians those mean people see every day.

That’s what I said, but what I was thinking was completely different.

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I remember the day it started.

I had a friend from my fifth-grade class, Nikki,* who lived down the street . We played in each other’s backyards a lot, and I remember a specific day when we spent several hours playing computer games in her basement. We invited the new girl across the street, Kate,* who was also in our class, to come over.

The next day I went back to Nikki’s house and knocked on the door. She answered, but obviously didn’t really want me to come inside. I heard Kate down in the basement, but I left anyway. I thought surely it didn’t matter.

Over the next month or so, I began to notice my classmates, those I had considered my friends, stopping their conversations when I walked up and making an effort to shut me out of activities. For a long time I thought I was exaggerating this in my head.

I still remember one specific afternoon when I rode my bike down to Nikki’s house and knocked. Her mother told me she was across the street at Kate’s house swimming in the pool. So I walked over and knocked on the privacy fence gate; I could hear my “friends” laughing in the water. Instantly, the splashing stopped and there was a lot of whispering. I let them know I could hear them and asked if I could come in. The reply came back: “Well, uh, we were really just about to get out and, uh…”

“Oh, well can I come and hang out with you after?”

“Oh, uh, well… we’ve got some stuff to do. We’re gonna be really busy. Maybe later.”

I heard my name and loud laughter as I walked back to my bike. That’s when I knew for sure that I wasn’t imagining it.

The last few months of fifth grade and the following summer were pretty miserable for me. I didn’t get invited to slumber parties or play dates, nobody wanted to come over to my house and former friends would duck into stores if we happened to pass each other in the mall. Those seem like such small things, but they add up after a while.

I never found out exactly what Kate had told people to make them act this way, but I know it was all tied to her. Life got better when I entered a middle school with multiple feeders – not everyone there had heard whatever was being said about me – but years later, at the end of my freshman year of high school. I found an unusual entry in the back of my yearbook:

I’m sorry. -Kate

It had been four years. I had made friends. I had moved on, and I didn’t really need an apology anymore. So it wasn’t the words that got to me, it was the fact that I hadn’t made it all up. I hadn’t been pretending to be ignored for the sympathy points. It was real, and the girl responsible knew it was real all those years later.

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I say all that to say this:

Looking back on that year – which I am grateful was only a year, many kids go through entire lifetimes of emotional isolation – I’m not glad that it happened, but it did teach me something: Other people can only change you if you let them. 

You can’t reason with a bully. Adults tell children that they can, but the simple fact is that the things people say and the way people treat you isn’t about who you are; it’s about who they are, and only you get to decide if you’re going to be the same way.

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

That is my absolute favorite quote, and I have used it to remind myself of my own capabilities many times over the years.

Nobody gets to decide who you are on the inside. Nobody gets to decide if your creativity is “weird” or if your imagination is “stupid.” Only you get to decide that, and only you can decide if their hurtful words mean something to you or not. And that’s so much easier said than done.

Unfortunately, most kids just have to survive it and try to come out the other side with some of themselves intact. In a perfect world, there would be no bullies. But in an imperfect world, the best we can do as parents is try to teach our children to be kind and to love who they are to the point that other people’s words don’t make (much of) a difference.

Raise the child who sits with the kid who’s alone, and be the adult who pulls that kid aside and tells them that who they are is important. You have no idea how much good you can do.

 

*Names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

 

 

 

The Next Great Adventure

So, we moved this weekend.

That’s right. We moved. We weren’t planning on it really, we were just going to get a few boxes out of the way, but a friend with a truck came over and one thing led to another and bippity-boppity-boo I suddenly looked around and thought “Oh no! What have we done?”

So now I have two places that are a wreck – the house is full of boxes and random stacks of cleaning/painting supplies, and the apartment has miscellaneous objects scattered around that either weren’t boxed up or have not yet been needed at the new house. I can’t get the apartment cleaned because I’m trying to sort out the new house, and I can’t get the new house sorted because I’m trying to go back over and clean the apartment. So it’s been an interesting few days.

I have to admit, there were a few moments in the moving process when I felt gripped by a sudden panic and an intense desire to put everything back where we had it. I liked our apartment, all in all. Everything was (mostly) organized and had a place, and I liked it that way. But, as the Mister has reassured me several times, it was time for us to move on.

We had our first great homeowners adventure immediately after our moving-helpers left, when I went into the guest bathroom and heard the distinct sound of running water, which seemed to be coming from the wall next to the shower (which, yes, was turned off). There was no visible dripping or puddling or signs of water damage, but nothing we did would stop the noise. So, after much banging on and listening to of the walls, I made an appointment with a plumber.

The plumbers came yesterday and, at first, thought replacing a few parts in the toilet tank would fix the problem. But the noise persisted. After an hour and a half and about 10 trips into the crawl space, the man finally diagnosed “house gremlins.” (Actually, it’s a long and complicated story, but essentially the toilet bowl is leaking directly into another pipe, so we hear the water dripping but it’s not actually leaking OUT anywhere and causing puddles or mold. So we’re just going to learn to ignore the noise and move on.)

So that’s done, but now my brand-new washing machine is making a terrible noise and I’m probably going to have to call Lowes and have them come out and look at it.

*sigh* Why did we do this again?

But really, hiccups and panic attacks aside, I really do enjoy being in the new house. Our bedroom is bigger, our closet is bigger, and we don’t have the neighbor’s unruly children running up and down the stairs right outside our front door (although there is a very suspicious poodle close by). The dogs are starting to settle in, I think, with Lucy adapting much faster than Meera, who is still sort of on a food strike.

Maybe someday we’ll have more than just the few badly-painted walls that I started the day of our closing.

Happy Tuesday,

The Missus (of a new castle)

 

Dear Diary: Strange things are happening

Dear Diary,

This past month has been very odd for me. First, I tried to let one of the neighbor’s dogs know that she couldn’t have the stick I was chewing on (it was MINE! I found it first!), and she got very mad at me. It hurt. Mommy took me to see daddy at the place where he goes every day, and they fixed me up.

I’ve had to go to work with daddy a whole bunch of times since then. He makes me sit on this scary table that’s up high, and then he gives me a shot. I don’t mind shots so much, but I don’t like this one. It makes me feel all heavy and funny, and then I take a nap and when I wake up my tongue is GIGANTIC and I have funny floppy things hanging out of my shoulder.

I’ve had to take lots of medicine too. Mommy usually gives them to me, and I don’t like to eat them. But if I eat them, I get Cheerios, so sometimes that’s okay.

Mommy feels my shoulder every day to make sure it’s not squishy anymore. It got squishy one time, and I had to take more medicine and have more floppy tubes put in me, but she seems to think it’s better now. Maybe my hair will start to grow back in that spot now. I don’t like having a weird bald spot right in the front where everybody can see it.

Also, big news: I have a baby sister now! Mommy and Daddy say she is a Lucy. I’m not sure what a Lucy is, but if she is a Lucy, I guess she’s okay. I like her mostly, but she eats my food and gets into my little house and chews on my toys. And I’m not allowed to chew on her toys! It’s not fair! I just want to show her how to pull all the chewy white stuff out of the inside of her animals and teach her to spread it evenly around the house. She obviously doesn’t know how to do that yet because she still sleeps with her fuzzy toys. SLEEPS WITH THEM! How weird is that??? Fuzzy things must die, and I must teach her this before it is too late.

She is fun to play with though. I didn’t really have anyone to play with before, but now we wrestle and play tug of war with the new giant rope Daddy bought us. I have to be careful when we wrestle though, because she is very much smaller than me. Sometimes I step on her accidentally and that makes her cry and I feel bad about it until she stops.

Also, I think something bad might be happening to us. Some of our things have been disappearing into big brown squares. The last time we had big brown squares, Mommy and Daddy put me into a rolling box and took me far away from Nana’s house and brought me to this house. I didn’t like it here for a long time. I missed Rosie and Lexie and my yard at Nana’s house, and it smelled funny here. I had to make new friends and learn to pee in new places. I didn’t like it.

A few days ago, Mommy took me and Lucy to another place that smelled funny. The yard smelled funny and the house didn’t have any soft things to lie down on and it made funny noises when I barked. I was all empty, like it was here when we first came. I don’t like that place at all. I hope all our things are not going to that place. My friends, Cash and Knox and Tyson, were not at that place. I wish Mommy and Daddy would just stay here, where it smells like us.

But if they do have to go to that empty place, I hope they take me. I don’t want to leave my friends, but it would be bad to leave Mommy and Daddy. I’m going to follow them around and sit right in Mommy’s lap every day until then, just to make sure they don’t forget to take me when they take the big brown squares of our stuff.

Lucy doesn’t seem bothered by the big brown squares. She likes to play in them. I hope Mommy and Daddy take her too. I don’t think she could survive all by herself with her evil fuzzy toys. So at least I will know someone at this new place, if we have to go there.

Maybe having a sister isn’t so bad after all.

Love,

Meera