On one hand it's perhaps comforting to see how these young tormented children have grown up to be confident, loving adults and friends. Then again, it's a scary indication of our world that it's such a prevalent experience. It also makes me wonder how our own experience of it (or of anything, for that matter) colours how we deal with it when our children enter the same cycle.
Interestingly, no-one admitted to being a bully. I will, right here. Andre, Indra, David, Brian... I can name all the classmates I tormented from grades 7-10, and dearly wish I could apologize to them now, call them up and let them know that somehow I did eventually become more compassionate, as if that could relieve them of the pain I caused. Even having been in that role, I can't understand the bully's motives; can't pinpoint why I behaved that way, why I chose them particularly as targets, or even why I stopped. But it does at least propel me to try to find forgiveness and latent goodness in the children now causing the same pain in my son.
Sandwiching those cruel years were experiences of being bullied in grade 4 and then in grade 10 (the latter being one of my targets who suddenly grew and turned the tables - sweet karma). I've tasted that same salty fear that now stings my boy's eyes, and my inability to deal with it then certainly colours the support and reaction I give to Galen.
It's time to finally share a painful blog entry from two summers ago, when we were already dealing with these issues (with a different boy). It's more raw than constructive, and in that way perhaps more real. It helps me remember that I'm more than the helping adult in this situation - I'm a full-on player with my own history breathing into how I act and react. And lest I ever minimize my little boy's experience, it's powerful to remember that my own first experience of being bullied that's mentioned below - an experience I carry with me to this day - was when I was the exact same age as Galen is now.
"Punch him in the nose." That was my dad's advice when Danny Gay threatened to beat me up in grade 4. "Say to him, 'Danny, I don't like what you've been doing to me,' then punch him in the nose to make his eyes water, then beat him up."
It sounded so brutally simple and it terrified me, and I never did get over that fear of being hurt in a fight. I just walked around in a lot of fear and nightmares, and prayed that I'd make it to the age when fights don't happen anymore. So to now see my own son start to go through the same cycle is heartbreaking.
The school bully of grade two came for a playdate next door. We'd already had incidents with him last year of teasing, pushing, even kicking in the groin (yes, in grade one Waldorf). Today Galen came back to our yard bravely holding back tears to tell me that X kept running at him and pushing him down. When I suggested he stay out of the rough-housing games that all 8 kids were playing, he said that he was just sitting by the car but X wouldn't stop. Could I go talk to him?
I tried to explain that Daddy stepping in would just make things worse. We talked about a strategy to just ignore him, to not show fear and not react, so that X would just get bored from not getting a rise out of his victim.
But what I really wanted to say was, "PUNCH HIM IN THE NOSE!" I know it would just beget a cycle of violence, and that Galen's pacifist stand was much braver and ultimately more effective, but deep down I just wanted him to plaster that little punk. I wanted him to overcome the fear that I never did.
At the root of pacifist non-violence there needs to be a deep compassion and love for people and the world, and an unshakable belief that violence is not the answer. There will always be a doubt in my heart about whether I reached this Quaker non-violence stance from true conviction or from fear. So I desperately want my boys to find true inner power to guide them on a path of strong gentle love.
I joined in the children's play for a spell to diffuse the energy, then watched from a distance as X resumed a pattern of repeatedly wrestling with Galen and throwing him to the ground. I watched my little boy be beaten up, under the thin guise of play-wrestling. And I watched him bravely - so incredibly bravely - pretend to wrestle back each time, pretend to not be afraid, and refuse to leave the group play in defeat.
Although I confess to a dark desire for X to be expelled from the school and our lives, I do feel compassion for him also, knowing that he is acting out something hard for his 8-year-old soul. And I know that our deeper work and responsibility is to nurture a strength and Peace in Galen. Our son is a truly gentle, beautiful soul who does not enjoy the rough play of other boys. This will not be the last time he will have conflict with boys who play by different rules, and who connect on a more physical level. Our energy needs to be with Galen, not against X.
This parenting gig is difficult at the best of times, let alone times when our children are genuinely afraid or sad or hurt. The challenge is to support them with the best of our beliefs and inner strength and hope, while somehow avoiding unloading our own baggage on them. Any words of wisdom or support you can share would be much appreciated as we continue down this bumpy road.