Yesterday I wrote about how things need to change. Today I’m back to write about how some things never will (although they still need to). It’s tied in with Easter (to a degree)… and there are pictures. If you think my drawings are ridiculous at best now, you have to see my skills of an artist in second grade.
As my mom and I were decorating for Easter a few weeks ago, we discovered that one of our oldest decorations, a basket shaped like a rabbit that, for years, held eggs, had been damaged by stuff from our roof. Before we threw it out, we cleaned everything out of it. I love finding things from the past, things I’d forgotten all about or never remembered in the first place, so I was pretty pumped to find a letter that I’d written to the Easter Bunny when I was in second grade. Then I read the letter and thought to myself, “Wow. Our society is full of really awful people.” The letter was actually really sad.
In second grade, my teacher grouped our desks by fours. There were two girls and two boys at each pod. The two boys at my table, C. and Z., weren’t very nice to me. At all. Someone called me fat once or twice in first grade. It hurt my feelings, but I cried to my dad and then got over it. C. and Z., though… they made it their daily mission to tell me how fat, ugly, and disgusting I was. We read a story in class about a girl who was blind, and my teacher paired us up. One of us was blind-folded and the other was the leader. Then we switched. Of course I got paired up with Z.
“I’m not touching your hand,” he hissed at me after the teacher came by and blind-folded me. “I don’t want to catch fat.”
Second grade was a pretty tough year anyway. My best friend had a stomach ulcer and was homebound for a large part of it. I was terribly shy and though I had some other friends, I was the easiest to lose in a shuffle. Therefore, I spent a decent number of my recesses hanging out alone, reading or skirting around groups of kids who were sort of my friends. Maybe.
One day I had the great fortune of getting one of the coveted kickballs before recess. I had observed other kids on the playground. The cool thing seemed to be to use the kickballs as seats, and I hoped that if I had one to sit on, maybe that group would accept me.
Out on the playground, though, I found myself sitting on my ball with no one else around. I looked around hopefully, but I remained on the outside. Apparently Z. and C. sensed what I was doing, because they picked that exact time to come over to where I was and start talking as loudly as possible.
“Hey fatso! Get off the ball!” Z. shouted at me.
“Yeah, you’re going to make it pop,” C. added.
The other kids laughed, and that’s when it was pretty much over for me. Others joined in on the teasing and it lasted right up until I finished high school. Freshman year of college was the first time I went through a whole school year and no one called me fat to my face.
By the time Easter came around that year, the teasing was getting really bad. It had crossed over into bullying, and no matter how many people said “boys are mean to you when they like you,” I knew this was different. There was no way they liked me. I was fat, ugly, and disgusting. They said so all the time. I’d come home crying to my parents, who told me that I had to learn to tune those people out. If I had a dollar for every time my dad has said to me, “I’ve been heavy my whole life. Kids made fun of me too, but you just have to learn to ignore it,” I’d never have to worry about working again. The last time he said this to me was three days ago.
I was ultra-sensitive about my weight and appearance by that point. It took less than 10 months for me to go from being a happy and content child to a little girl who had convinced herself that she would never get married because every boy in the universe would think she was fat, ugly, and disgusting. That kind of mindset in an 8 year old is damaging, to say the least. Most 8 year old girls worry about Barbies. The slightest remarks could set me off into thinking I was being made fun of. I sometimes still have to remind myself when my friends playfully pick on me that they aren’t making fun of me because they’re my friends.
And when I wrote my letter to the Easter Bunny that year, this is what I said (click to enlarge to a readable size because the original is better than the copied text):
March 30, 1991
Dear Easter Bunny,
Please write a letter under the line. My name is Renee, I am 8 years old. I go to Longer. I love [overwritten with hate, overwritten again with love] candy. When I colored eggs I kept cracking it. My parents are Jamie + Irene, my sister is 6 she is Jennifer my dog is spookey [sic]. Guss [sic] who my teacher is.
Look on back of paper.
Yours Truely [sic],
P.S. Don’t give me any candy. I’m to [sic] FAT. [crossed out]
That last part of broke my heart when I read it (it’s the part that’s all crossed off on the letter because The Easter Bunny/my mom crossed it out. Then she attempted to disguise her handwriting [after the first four words] by writing in all caps so I would be fooled. And this is why I love my mother). At the same time, I found it so interesting that I could actually see my internal struggle manifesting itself. I wrote this letter and, on one hand, wanted it to seem like I was totally normal. At the same time, I felt anything but.
Still, when we found this letter, we agreed that it was really sad that at 8 years old, I already had such a horrible self-image and such low self-esteem. At 8 years old, I already hated myself for the way I looked.
By the time I turned 10, I was becoming a master of beating people to the punch. I didn’t do anything without thinking about all the kinds of reactions it would get. If there was a chance I would be made fun of, I didn’t do it. If I had to do it, I’d turn on the self-deprecating humor to show them I was already ahead of them. Of course I know I’m fat, ugly, and disgusting, guys!
It should probably come as no surprise, then, that when I became a teacher and had to sit on a school-improvement committee, I practically begged them to let me be on the bullying committee. I got there and had so many ideas that I wanted to share and as soon as we started putting some of them in motion… the school removed me from that group. I tolerated no bullshit when it came to bullying in my classroom. Using the words “gay” or “retarded” got you detention. Last year, just as a sub, I had an entire group of 7th graders who weren’t even my own trained to immediately say something nice about the person they’d just insulted when I was around. And if I didn’t think they were being sincere, we kept at it. I hate that crap. It shreds my every last nerve because it’s not fair to those kids who just want to fit in and live like everyone else.
There have been a disturbing number of bullying-related suicides lately. Naturally, people are talking about how we need to find a solution for it.
Newsflash: we’ve needed a solution for this since the beginning of time.
If you want a place to start, though, teach your kids to be accepting and kind. Teach them to be open-minded and not shallow and self-absorbed. Teach them that beauty isn’t always aesthetic. It takes all kinds, but we could probably do without the asshole kind. There are too many baby megalomaniacs running around, and when you meet their parents, you understand why.
Kids need to realize that you’re not going to like everyone, and that’s fine. But judging them based on appearances isn’t fine. Disliking someone’s personality and hating them for the way they look are two totally different things. If nothing else, they should learn that if you can’t be nice to someone, leave them alone. Don’t walk around torturing them, making their lives hell.
I think it’s safe to say that just about everyone has experienced some degree of bullying in their lives. It’s worse for some than others. It would be great if we could all accept each other for our differences and co-exist, but this isn’t Utopia. People are only ready to take bullying seriously when something tragic happens. Then it wears off. Until we start teaching our kids to be kind to and accepting of one another and doing so through example, children will keep growing into adults who suffer from low self-esteem and never seem to feel adequate. Worse, those children will never grow into adults because they’ll keep taking their own lives when it gets to be too much.
But let’s end on a lighter note, shall we? After my mom and I were finished discussing the depressing implications of that letter, I flipped it over and laughed until I had tears in my eyes. I drew the Easter Bunny a picture (click to enlarge):
It’s super creepy and looks a little like Frank, the rabbit from Donnie Darko. By the way, I think that’s a basket in his hands.
Upon seeing this, my dad burst into laughter and asked me why I gave the rabbit a mustache.
Uh, those are whiskers.
I still can’t draw hands or feet. I would only do marginally better than this today. That’s what makes my drawings so epic, and if you’ve ever been lucky enough to receive one… it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It also turns out that students learn well from bad art (you should have seen my visual representation of “The Cask of Amontillado”).
Happy Easter! — or as
my mom The Easter Bunny wrote in that letter (even though my dad admitted that he didn’t think my mom was clever enough for puns [bullying!]), “Here’s hopping your Easter is great!”
Firstly your mom rocks.
Secondly, my mom did the same thing.
That letter is adorable and sad. I was talking about women/body image/ how we are apparently supposed to feel about food with someone the other day- you know the fake news when you sign in to msn/hotmail, should you do that sort of a thing? I kid you not- the top article was ‘great ways you can shed pounds this spring’ and directly underneath it was ‘are these hollywood stars TOO SKINNY?’
Dear everyone on earth, go to hell, sincerely, me.
I’m glad there are educators like you trying to stop assholism at the source. I was a dick when I was a kid- I get a huge wave of nostalgia/guilt when I read some of your posts, because I distinctly remember calling a girl named Sarah fat in second grade, telling a (later friend) dude in my fifth grade class I thought his religion was dumb, agreeing with my group of friends that I thought a girl named Missy ‘smelled like pee’. To my credit, I like to think I eventually learned not to be a dick. To my teachers’ credit, in each of those situations, the teacher heard what I said, hauled me out in the hall, and told me that was totally unacceptable and I was on the fast track to Asshole city. World needs more teachers like that… aka like you. My parents would slap my ass when they caught me behaving that way towards others, but I think parents seem different these days. Maybe I’m just old and crusty now and nothing has changed…
anyway, Miss Renee, Thanks so much for your posts on bullying. It’s a brave thing to do and it needs doing. I think a lot of people dismiss bullying as being blown out of proportion by the media, but like you said… um… suicides. And it stays with kids well into adult hood. It really needs to be talked about a LOT.
My mom DOES rock :)
I know exactly what you mean about those banners and things. According to the media, there is no happy medium. They’re always marketing ways to lose weight because they know that most of us are totally uncomfortable with our bodies. Then once anyone DOES lose weight, they tell them they’re too skinny. Of course we don’t know how to feel about ourselves. The only thing we know for sure is that unless we look like someone who could be walking around Hollywood and showing up on magazines, we’re not beautiful. We can kill ourselves trying and it will never be enough. So many people can’t get beyond the surface. Sometimes I think that even the people who care about me can’t. There are some people I know who care about me without a doubt, but I still get the feeling that there’s still a part of them that will never get passed the fact that I don’t look like everyone else (which is to say, I don’t look like what the stereotypical image of one who is pretty/cute/hot/beautiful/[insert epithet here] looks like.) I don’t hold this against them because it’s not like they’re being mean to me. It’s a really hard thought to articulate, haha.
As for your former bullying ways … I think we all say mean things sometimes. In my mind, anyway, as long as we’re learning that it’s wrong to do those things on purpose with the intention of hurting someone, we’re in good shape. It seems like you’ve done that (though I’m sorry my posts make you feel guilty sometimes, haha). I’d say you grew up to be a pretty awesome person. :)