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14 May 2019

Be The Change


My kids gave their permission for me to publish this blog post. I'm not in the habit of scattering the details of their backgrounds to the wind like dandelion seeds, but all three of us feel very strongly about the subject matter and hope to help bring about change.

Both of my kids came to me following childhood traumas no one should have to experience, particularly tiny children. Both of them had baggage we all worked hard together and with professionals to try to lighten. Both of my kids often were viewed as misfits who could not conform to the typical public school or playground environment.

I was not the perfect parent, and my kids made plenty of mistakes of their own. I'm not trying to put our situation above or below anyone else's. I'm simply painting the picture for those who take the time to view it with the hope it might somehow help, inspire, motivate, ignite, trigger or otherwise bring about change.

My son (who doesn't like to be called special needs) learned early he could make people laugh, and he to this day loves to make people happy. His sense of humor sometimes is not what others might expect, and for this, he often was rejected and/or bullied as a child.

The first year he was with me, I arranged an afternoon visit to his class, where I distributed homemade cookies and challenged the kids to try to eat their cookies without using their hands. After ample fun and prior to too much frustration, I gave them permission to pick up their cookies with their hands as I explained that my son learned to do things a different way (out of necessity) before coming to my family and that he sometimes needs help remembering to do things the new way.

From that point on throughout the remainder of that school year, my son had 23 little mothers constantly reminding him (in a loving and patient way) to try the new way whenever he began going off the beaten path.

Somewhere along the way between that small town/small school and the giant school in the metropolis where he, my daughter and I landed a few years later, that patient, long-suffering atmosphere morphed into an often cruel and unforgiving environment. While trying to work out a solution for some of the misbehaviors my son (who was in counseling) was displaying, I was told by one of the paid school employees it didn't matter how much effort any of us put into correcting him because he was on track to become a worthless troublemaker as an adult. I'm not making this up. This really happened.

Many of the difficulties my son experienced in school were prodded by bullies who, no different than alcoholics or drug addicts, were intoxicated by the power and intimidation they were able to exert over kids - and not just my kids - not equipped to deal with such abuse.

One year after my run-in with my least-favorite public school employee, I was summoned from work to a local hospital, where my son had been transferred because a group of older boys jumped and attacked him as he walked over a bridge. Because he crossed the bridge. That's all. He crossed some imaginary invisible line, and he was beaten because of it. It wasn't on school property, so the school couldn't do anything. There were no security cameras at the time, so the police couldn't do much. The medical bills fell on me, and I had to send my son back to the same school again the following school day.

Two years later, he was duct-taped to a piano bench while no adults were in the classroom because he was selected as the pianist for a production. As if what he'd experienced as a small child wasn't enough; these kinds of things (and his own misbehaviors and associated consequences) continued until he finally ran away from home just a few months before he would have graduated.

Meanwhile, my daughter (who also was in counseling) had been enduring her own private hell. One of my friends described my daughter back then as the not-quite Barbie doll who didn't fit into cute kid clothes anymore but also couldn't fit into trendy teen clothes yet. She was desperately trying, without success, to fit into both worlds. Another friend described my daughter back then as "the little bird who will perhaps always fly with a dip in her wing".

My daughter watched her class clown brother entertain people, and she wanted to be just like him. She would do whatever the other kids told her to do because she learned very quickly that doing what they coaxed her into doing made them laugh. She never understood they were laughing AT her, not WITH her.

One day, a "friend" she sought to impress convinced her to push a penny across the sidewalk with her nose. Later, she allowed "friends" to write obscenities all over her body. These and other experiences, of course, left her an outcast. When she finally had enough of "the mean kids", she whacked one across the head with her flute case.

What she did was not okay, and it's not something I'd wish on any other child, regardless of the circumstances. But how many kids have been in this same boat? They finally act out against the aggressors who make them feel small, and then they are punished, while the kids who taunted them go free.

I pulled my daughter out of school, and I did the best I could to homeschool her until high school. Both of my kids love music, and I wanted her to be able to experience marching band. She made the drill team. After several court appearances for various infractions such as smoking on campus, ditching and being grounded at home for sneaking out the window at night, she followed in her brother's eight-month-old footsteps and ran away.

My kids grew up in a completely different world than I did, and not just because they were adopted. They had resource officers in their schools full-time (which I actually love). They were subjected to frequent locker checks. After Columbine, their schools had metal detectors. My kids were not afraid of my "look" as I was with my parents. They were not afraid to talk back to anyone. They didn't care about grades, and they always found ways around consequences. I hope they always knew they were loved, and I hope they always knew their lives, as well as other lives, mattered.

I hope my kids would have been heroic had they ever faced a school shooting. In reality, my kids could have become shooters. What prevented that? I hope love helped, but I know a parent's love is no magical cure at all. I hope like heck continual professional intervention helped.

I can't really judge those who hurt my kids; I don't know what kind of homes or lives they had. But when bullying is tolerated and even celebrated (not just in schools, but in movies, music, games and every form of "entertainment"), where are marginalized kids supposed to turn? Who are they supposed to trust when even adults in authority positions have become so jaded, they turn a blind eye? Or worse... give up on them?

We can't eliminate cancer with chemo. We can't cure Parkinson's with levodopa. We're not going to be able to stamp out mass shootings by arguing about guns. Guns are but a symptom. We need to look for a cure, not a quick-fix bandage that isn't even going to work in most cases. We need to intervene before it gets to the point of even considering shooting people. Before they begin making plans. We need to address mental health so our kids can go to school without being in fear of someone hurting them... with a gun or any weapon.

12 comments :

  1. Sure have to try to be the change indeed. Bullies are everywhere, sadly, some are just better at hiding it then others. Awful that they had to go through so much with the other kids.

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    1. True, Pat, it is indeed sad my kids had to experience some of the crap they endured, but that is just a tiny little micro view of the public school society at large. How many of these kids have gone through equally bad stuff because the bully culture is alive and well?

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    2. True, that culture is alive and well and almost groomed. Not sure how to stop it as a lot comes from home and if you stand up to them, you get in trouble and they don't. Not always, but many a time. And really that can be all it takes to set one up for a bad path. Anybody can end up anywhere doing anything if the right dominoes fall.

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    3. Very true. As I said, I can't judge the people who hurt my kids because I don't know their background. But I knew my kids' backgrounds, and I knew their hardships at school. I tried every single day to keep the lines of communication open, and both kids were in therapy every week the entire time they lived with me. Mental health is something we simply cannot overlook.

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  2. Thank you for that loving post. what beautiful kids they are. I myself hate being called disabled. I am differently-abled thank you! I was bullied and tormented as a kid also and some other very horrible things. Much prayers and love!

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    1. Thank you, Michelle. I am so sorry to hear you had to tolerate such abuse, too. I wish we could all be kinder to one another.

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  3. My heart goes out to all of you. It is a complex problem. Our society has changed for the worse. In the process of breaking down barriers (such as for women equality or diminish racism) we wrecked the basic fabric of society. This anything goes, gangsta rap... internet stardom above all culture frightens me too. But what else can a parent do than love, try to teach solid principles and hope for the best?

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    1. I don't know who you are, but thank you for taking the time to read and contribute to the conversation. It is so scary being a parent today, and I suppose being a kid is scary, too. After all we do, things may not go the way we planned, and perhaps we didn't know our kids as well as we thought we did. But if we did our very best and tried to be present in their life, you are right. What more could we have done?

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  4. This is a very powerful post - and that helplessness you feel touches the heart. I agree with you - your Love did help. This needs to be addressed over and over again , until we all understand the power of our actions - and Hugs to you and your family!

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    1. Thank you, Alycia. You bring up something I sometimes forget; love did help. My kids have made some mistakes, but they never took guns to school, and they are trying to do the best they can now. So there is indeed much for which to be thankful. I keep hoping we, as a society, can learn from out mistakes and try to make the world a better place for all.

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  5. There are always some who don't fit in, who are different. As a society we must agree that different doesn't mean bad or unworthy or anything but different. It's a way to see and think about the world (meaning the family, school class, neighbourhood, town, ... other countries). As a society we must agree that some people need understanding at least. In fact everybody needs understanding now and then. Your experiences are very very sad.

    How can children who are - due to their age learning about the world - act this way with parents knowing? Did they know? As a teacher I have experienced that there can only be a solution to any problems with all people involved.

    I hope your kids are at a safe place. Regula

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    1. Thank you, Regula. I think if we had that understanding, we wouldn't have many of the problems we see in the world today. I'm not sure we will ever have that in my lifetime, although I wish it could be. If only we could have more kindness toward one another, less judgment, and if only we could talk about these things, as you suggest, before they get out of hand. But I will never stop hoping and trying to improve my little corner of the world.

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Dusty words lying under carpets,
seldom heard, well must you keep your secrets
locked inside, hidden deep from view?
You can talk to me... (Stevie Nicks)

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