Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The first bully attack

This morning I had a very normal experience, but it was the first of its kind for me. It’s a pivotal moment for a parent, and helps clarify your parenting style, your child’s sensitivity level and your general feelings on human kind. This morning I held my child as he cried after a bullying attack.

The actual details of this event were rather mundane. The child that got attacked was 3.5 and in pre-school. He’s a very bright little boy that loves the color red and is all about Disney and Pixar. This morning he was wearing a shirt that I bought out of the girls section that had a background of two colors of purple stripes and Honey Lemon and GoGo on it from big hero six, wearing their super hero costumes. I don’t know exactly what was said to him as it happened while I was putting his belongings into his cubby. All I observed were two little boys talking to him (both wearing the traditional 3 year old boy attire of primary colored shirts with boy things on them), and pointing at his shirt. I observed my 3 year old point to his shirt and say “my mom put it on me,” as his bottom lip began to quiver and he looked over at me with tears in his eyes. My heart absolutely broke. I had been in the habit of trying to drop him off as quickly as possible because I have just started a new job and I want to keep up good impressions. But today was different. Today we walked to each other, sat down at a table and hugged. Then I asked him if he wanted to sit on my lap, he did, and I held him while he quietly cried into my shoulder for a good 5 minutes.

So many things went through my head in the 5 minutes we sat there. First I was angry at the little boys, and their parents. What could have possibly been said to these children to teach them at this young age that there is anything wrong with my boy wearing purple and liking the woman super heroes? I wondered what their parents like. Are they religious (something I don’t personally believe in)? Are they sports fanatics (again, professional sports are something I don’t believe in)? Are they teaching this next generation about gender norms and sexuality, even though these kids are still only mostly potty trained?

Then I got angry with Disney for their merchandising. Both of my boys love Big Hero 6, but it’s nearly impossible to find anything branded with the super hero team that has the entire team on it. My son accurately calls his pajamas with the characters “Big Hero 4”, because the girls are not featured on the garments. Neither are the bed sheets. In fact, to get them anything with the women on it, I have to buy it out of the girls section and it ONLY has the women on it. Good job making a movie with two strong and different female super hero characters, but why are they left off the merchandise with the rest of the team on it?

I wanted to tell my little sweet boy that it’s ok. I wanted to tell him that he can like anything he wants. I wanted to go yell at the little boys and mock whatever was on their shirts. I wanted to raise hell with the school. But I didn’t. I just held my son and tried to find out what had happened.  He never told me what they said, or why he was crying, but I’m pretty sure he will change forever today. I imagine he will come home today with a new favorite color, even though he has loved red since he figured out what red was. I’m pretty sure he will no longer wear his favorite Sophia the first pajamas or ask for his Elsa doll. I imagine the actions of two little boys this morning will change the nature of my relationship with my youngest son. And maybe I’m wrong, and over reacting, but can you blame me? Holding a sad child who has just had his spirit crushed for enjoying something that might have been “culturally acceptable” if he were a girl is life changing. I’ve been doing my best to keep my children fed, clean, slept, happy and stimulated since they were born. I’ve been fighting gender norms to let them just be who they are and like what they like. I’ve argued with my 5 year old when he says things like “Girls don’t like super heroes” or “Only a boy and a girl can get married”. I want my kids to be who they are, and be open minded, and accept others exactly as they come. Is this the norm? I’d like to believe so, but this morning taught me otherwise.

I think I will probably hold each of my boys for a little longer this week. I think I will probably pay a little more attention to their questions and try a little harder to teach them to be the next generation I want to see for a while. But then this morning will fade away in the overwhelming grind that is my life. That’s always how it works. But for now, I still have a lump in my throat about this morning and it’s all I can do to not cry over it myself.


  1. Laura, I'm so sorry but also impressed with your handling of this. We also try to allow both our kids to wear, think, say whatever they want. Miles has been known to have pink socks and Jocelyn often wears boy shirts (although somehow culturally that seems less frowned upon.) It makes me so sad that this starts so young.

    This week Jocelyn and I were discussing boy vs girl from an anatomy standpoint and the talk of the parts boys vs girls have and Jocelyn said "some boys have vaginas." And I just said you're right.

    How do we properly navigate these complex ideas with kids? I think by merely offering the options and the discussions we are fostering more open-mindedness. Or at least I hope.

    Love you.

  2. stay strong. the best thing you can do is help your kid understand that there are petty assholes in the world, why they say mean things, and how to ignore them.

    I remember being a kid when after the thousandth time I got bullied, a babysitter told me to ignore the bully kid, and the very concept of ignoring a mean person blew my mind and I’d wished someone had taught me how to do it sooner.

  3. Laura,
    So sorry to hear about your experience. From my own experience, I can tell you that you never get over hurting when your children get hurt. But it's also true that they tend to bounce back more quickly than we do.

    I hated it when my kids got hurt, but I also know that those hurts were part of their growing up process. Perhaps your son will be more empathetic or kind to others because he knows how it feels to be hurt. We never really know which events in our children's lives will turn out to be the pivotal ones. What I do know is that we can't protect them from pain. What we can do is to be there for them when it happens and you gave him what he needed today.

    As for the gender aspect of this, I feel your frustration. I, too, made every effort to raise my two boys gender-neutral. I'm happy to say that they are both well-adjusted men who every bit as respectful of women as of men. I think your boys will be, too, and that's what matters most.

    Love to you all.

  4. This brought me to tears--both as a mother of a now adult child, the sister of a gay man, the relative and friend of gays and bisexuals, the straight friend, relative, lover, of ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE. (By the way, I dislike the labels I've just used--people are PEOPLE--but feel stuck with them until we further evolve),

    As a mom, I feel I understand something about what you're going through. It hurts terribly when our children are hurt.

    Brava to you for handling this so well. Your son is resilient, and you have taken the first step in teaching him self respect and compassion for others, even the a-holes. Without at all minimizing what he and you are going through, which is so unfair, I will say that as a mother I can see you have the heart and soul to turn lemons into lemonade. Stay strong! Love to you all.