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My kid? A bully? Handling the unexpected

Bully

Stink has never been shy on friends. I mean, never. This kid can be ticking like a clock on crack, walk into a party of dwarfs speaking Chinese, and come out with three new buddies (along with a fistful of twitch-inducing fortune cookies).

Unlike me, however, he doesn’t hand-wring over situations that aren’t working for him anymore. Sometimes he’ll play with the neighbor kid every day for two weeks. Then a month goes by. “Tyson was cheating at Pokemon,” he’ll say. “I told him to not come back until he stops trying to steal my Pikachu cards.” Before long, they are playing basketball on the corner.

Stink doesn’t obsess over what another kid thinks, says or act. It doesn’t mean that he has an unkind heart – far from it – but he’s not going to walk on eggshells around someone. Nor is he going to let someone walk on him. For those who operate in life out of a wounded life-script, his character could be perceived as selfish. For others with a healthy dose of self-esteem, Stink is seen as a leader with boundaries.

I am slowly getting on the Stink train, but it hasn’t been easy. Because I am a very “out there” person, my pattern in the past was to attract people who weren’t as out there. I represented a bit of sunshine for their shadow, and – due to my generous nature  – I was more than happy to spread some light.

Lest I sound like an ego-maniac, that was pretty stupid and self-righteous on my part. After some good old-fashioned silence, prayer and self-reflection, it was clear that I subconsciously felt the need for cheerleaders. I knew in my soul who I was (what everyone saw in my writer voice) but in real life I needed more support. There’s nothing wrong with friends who bolster us as we find our true identity in this wonky world, but ideally, it’s from people who are on the same level as we are, if not higher.

If not, we’ll get less than professional cheerleaders who are insecure about their own pom-poms. In my case, these insecure cheerleaders would turn to me for emotional support  (after all, they had been there for me ). Having the tables suddenly flipped, I didn’t want to cheer for them, because it felt wrong. I didn’t want to cheer for insecurity and woundedness. I’d back off to keep from being bitten.

Instead of then putting on my cheerleader uniform them, I’d become a professional flag girl. “Red flag! Red flag! Run!” I’d clumsily extract myself from the friendship.

On one hand, you could say I was practicing healthy boundaries. But in reality it was years too late for that. One person even called me a bully. Ouch. Adding more sting to the wound, I felt bad for them feeling bad. Sure, I did not want to be in an unhealthy friendship, but hurting another person (even though it was their insecurities, not mine) made me feel awful. Can we say “Co Dependent for 500?”

Back to Stink and his friendships. As life would have it, he picked up a new buddy last year. I loved Darren.  He seemed very sweet and kind. They had many video game and pizza fests. His folks told me how great Stink was – that Stink was the “first friend” this kid had. I felt honored that my kid was not like the other boys at school who made fun of Darren. He was confident enough in himself to befriend a kid who wasn’t part of the jock crowd.

Cut to this year with no word from Stink about Darren. I asked him about it, and Stink said “We just don’t have a lot in common.” I sensed something was amiss, but let it go. After all, Stink doesn’t have to be friends with everyone he’s ever met. At least Stink has boundaries, unlike his mother.

But when I saw this kid’s parents at the bowling alley today – who I could tell would rather avoid me – I approached the mom. (I don’t do passive well.) I cornered her in the arcade and told her I was sorry the boys weren’t hanging out. She said it was “fine… kids drift…” but she looked sad. “Really? That’s all?” I asked. She then alluded to some play yard incident where her son was being ganged up on.

She said, according to Darren, that “Stink didn’t defend him and that really hurt his feelings. It wasn’t the Stink Darren thought he know.” Her son was hurt, and so was she. At that point, so was I. “Why didn’t you call me?” I asked her, very calmly. “I didn’t want to be the crying mom,” she said back before heading out to find her husband in the parking lot.

Ugggg.

After extracting tokens from his hands and making him dump the remainder of his tic potion Pepsi in the trash can, I asked him about it in the car. The upshot of our conversation was that he would talk to the kid at school in the morning. It also meant a note to the parent. Curious what you think:

Hi Parents – 

I’m glad I spoke to Peggy today. I had a feeling something was amiss. If ever something goes on that involves behavior less than characteristic of Stink, PLEASE let me know. I’m fine with kids drifting, but I’m not okay with it based on poor behavior on my son’s part. 
Here’s what Stink wants to say to Darren (quoting) – 
“I’m sorry that you felt I was picking on you. I didn’t know. I’m going to talk to you about it on Monday.”
Parents, I spoke to Stink specifically about the handball incident. He says that he didn’t defend Darren because he didn’t know Darren was being picked on. Those same boys were saying those words to Stink. Stink said it didn’t really bug him that much and he kind of went in on it because it’s easier to joke about it than get mad. (Stink has a pretty thick skin combined with a strong sense of humor. Stuff rolls of his back.) 
Stink says that on occasion he will be sarcastic with Darren – like an incident at the bowling alley today where he referred to Darren as a “hacker” because Darren’s score went up. Darren apparently told Stink, “That’s mean” so Stink stopped, but a few of the other boys kept it up to an inappropriate level, thus ganging up on Darren. Apparently Darren told them to stop. I hope this is true?
As a mom, I told Stink that he has to be aware of other people’s sensitivity levels. He doesn’t have to walk on egg shells around people – ex: maybe Darren is more sensitive than he is – but if some kids are feeling uncomfortable, he MUST cease the behavior.
On another note, I asked him, also, if he wants to hang out with Darren ever after school. He said yes. He’d like to have Darren and Aiden over for pizza and video games. Me? I’d like to do a museum day or something more educational. Not sure if Darren would be up for a “do-over” but I’d like the opportunity to right the wrong. 
In closing, I tend to believe Stink’s handball story. Stink is many things, but one of them is not mean. I think he’s being honest when he says he “wasn’t picking” on someone. Knowing Stink, who is slow to read signs sometimes, he was locked into his own world and didn’t realize how hurt Darren felt. 
As a mom of a kid who has also been picked on in the past, I am very very sorry this incident happened. 
Andrea
What would you have done?

If you were this parent, would my letter smack you as being too aggressively honest? Does it come of like I’m not taking responsibility for my kid?

Honestly, I have a hard time seeing my son as being a meanie. He has never been called that before.

Like mother/like son.

I think we have the case of what I went through – an insensitive kid enjoying an outgoing personality. All is well and good until the outgoing personality comes off as insensitive when…in reality… his feathers aren’t as ruffled as the other kid’s feathers. In the long run, Stink’s confident personality will encourage stronger, more secure kids in his pack. But he still needs to be nice. And… if the parents want their own kid to grow… wouldn’t it both of us could learn how to teach our boys how to act better?

How would you have handled it?

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