Mary writes: "I can remember being bullied constantly for being too heavy, too poor, and "ugly" as a youngster. No child should have to cross the street, walk with his or her head down or hide to avoid being made fun of. Looking back, I don't know how I survived the badgering except to say that as I look back, Our Lord had a very different plan for me. I have found a great deal of peace in writing despite it being a relatively new venture for me but I have to say it has become a voracious habit, enjoyed by my friends when they read what I have written. This must be the plan and I am enjoying it immensely. Turning light bulbs on is my favorite form of writing. Any special instructions: As you can see, my email address differs from my name. This address belongs to my daughter."
What is a Bully?
My granddaughter Ariel and I had our Saturday morning picnics from the time she was five years old. It had become a tradition. She was always very attentive to things around her and would ask the appropriate questions as they occurred to her. She was a beautiful, loving child with carrot top curly red hair and big blue eyes. I had been assuring her we would resume our traditional picnics when school recess began. Our picnics took place by the creek under a shady elm tree just past Mr. Johnston’s farm. Mr. Johnston was, as usual, trying to coax his prize winning bull into the barn with the rope around the bull’s neck.
“Hello Mr. Johnston,” called Ariel.
“Hello Ariel. I bet your glad school is out.”
“I sure am,” answered Ariel. The bull had been nicknamed “Bully Billy” because of his stubbornness. As usual, the minute Mr. Johnston dropped the rope pulling the bull, Billy would meander into the barn taking his sweet time. “Some things never change do they Mr. Johnston,” I hollered.
“They sure don’t, Happy,” he hollered back with a laugh.
We lived in a wonderful community. Everyone watched out for one another and rarely, if ever, did you have to lock your doors if you had to run to do a quick errand. Things were changing though as the neighborhood began to grow.
There had always been a Catholic and a public school, grades 1-12, in our town. It made no difference to the kids. They all mixed and played well together. Beyond that, the children would receive tertiary education out of the area. Many attended college in the city. I don’t think it ever occurred to any of the children that there was a difference in the curriculum between the schools. Ariel had attended St. Bernadette’s school with her best friend Carmen since kindergarten. Religious instructions were held every Wednesday after regular class hours for the public school students. Additional religion classes were available every Sunday after mass.
This was our first outing of the summer and there she was per usual with her princess lunch bag (almost an antique by now, but it was a “tradition”) in hand excitedly knocking on the screen door. She was ten years old and would be entering the sixth grade in the fall. The time flew by in a blink of an eye and that is why our time together was so precious for the both of us. From the time she could talk, Ariel always called me “Happy”. Where the name came from or how she learned to pronounce it at such an early age was a mystery to all of us. She had just turned ten and was as full of the numerous questions about the mysteries of the world now as she was when she was five. The only difference was the questions could be of a more sensitive and grown up nature as she celebrated each birthday.
We arrived at our destination, the shady elm tree next to the creek and proceeded to set up our picnic area to settle down and enjoy our meal. We both worked on the tablecloth, securing it with our salt and pepper shakers, Ariel’s emptied lunch box covered another corner and we used my change purse for the last corner, just like always. Ariel had her favorite, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread. I brought my usual, cream cheese and olives on white bread. We had small pretzel sticks, grapes, carrots and celery sticks to crunch on along with our sandwiches. The surprise from my daughter was homemade caramel swirled brownies. We drank the lemonade I had made at home and absentmindedly sat there eating and enjoying our meal.
It was an awesome day. The sun was warm but not uncomfortably hot. The sky was blue and cloudless. Despite “our” aging, Ariel and I still loved to chase the little fuzzies. We would chase them as they floated in the air, encasing them in our closed hands, make a wish and then open our hands, letting the fuzzies float away hoping our wishes would come true. We marveled at the beauty of the butterflies and giggled at the chipmunks as they jumped over one another to reach their destination by way of a small narrow log crossing the creek. We saw a little bird’s nest with tiny blue spotted robins’ eggs nestled inside. Mother Nature put on a magnificent show for our first picnic of the season. I hadn’t seen Ariel giggle, ooh and aah as much as she did when she was five years old. It was as if she was witnessing all of these sights for the first time.
Once we had finished our wonderful feast, we just sat on our tablecloth, relaxing and taking it all in. As we started to clean up after our picnic, I noticed that Ariel had become increasingly pensive. She knelt down on the tablecloth and looking at me very seriously, said, “Happy, can I ask you a question?” As she spoke, a look came over her face that emphasized the importance of her question. Her big blue eyes widened and her body language told me she was indeed troubled by what was on her mind. It was one of those occasions when your child looks at you with an almost lost demeanor and you know instantly your answer could either enlighten them or deflate their precious ego. This was not a time for a giggle or even a grin.
“Of course you can ask me a question,” I replied.
“Happy, we have been talking quite a bit about bullying in school
this past year. I know that Bully Billy is not what “we grown-ups” are
referring to, but I was just wondering, just what is a bully?”
“That’s a tough question to answer Ariel,” I replied. “In short, a bully is someone who picks on another who is different from themselves or others. Typically, the bully picks on a smaller victim or travels in a group to intimidate others. The bullying goes far deeper than the answer I have just given you. Ariel, I’d like to do some thinking before I give you my full answer. Would that be alright with you?” “Yes, Happy. I know that if it is serious enough that you have to research the topic or think about it for a long time to make sure I have a good answer, it must be pretty important to you to make sure I have the right information.” “Ariel?” I asked, “Can you tell me if you are being bullied?”
“I don’t believe so right, not now anyway,” she replied.
“Are you safe?”
“Yes Happy, I would tell you, mom, or dad if I wasn’t. Happy, would it be alright if Carmen came along when we talked about the bullying?”
“Absolutely, you know how much I love Carmen.”
Carmen and Ariel had been best friends since kindergarten. It didn’t surprise me that Ariel asked that Carmen be included in our conversations about bullying. Bullying was to be the topic of their project at the annual harvest family mass. I looked forward to sitting down with both girls in the very near future. They were delightfully bright and past discussions with them were so enjoyable and enlightening for me. Ariel told me that she and Carmen would like to bring questions and observations they had written in their diaries over the past couple of years. Now it was time for me to go to work.
I knew the Lord would be a part of my answer to the girls. Nowhere had anyone experienced the bullying He did in His lifetime on earth. He was humiliated, spat on, whipped, beaten, endured the pain of a crown of thorns, and ultimately crucified on a cross for our sins. Yes, He knew what bullying meant and yet, He never stopped loving His children. This is evident in the Parables, Beatitudes as well as His expectations of us in the Ten Commandments. All showed evidence of His love for His children. He never stopped loving us, despite the cruelty shown Him. Happy would share all of these thoughts with Ariel and Carmen when they met the next time.
Summer was coming to a quick end, school had started and the girls were readying their project for presentation at the annual family harvest mass. All around, you could find pumpkins, apples, apple cider, donuts, just to name a few of the treats enjoyed by all during our celebration. Baskets were filled with the goodies with a little extra set aside for the less fortunate to bring home to their families. No one walked away empty handed. All of the offerings were free and donated by the farmers in the surrounding areas. There was music, dancing, and singing. Games were set up for the younger children as well.
It was a beautiful September morning when we sat at the table and chairs on the front porch to go over our work. Even little Leah, Carmen’s baby sister joined us bringing along her sippy cup, crayons and coloring book to entertain herself. She was no bother at all, just happy to be “hanging” with the big girls. Ariel and Carmen had decided that they would open their composition about the bullying of Christ and His ongoing gift of love for us, even now.
They thought it would be a good eye opener for the audience sitting in the pews. They had reviewed their intentions with their teacher, Sister Theresa. She was very happy with the project. Father Powers was also satisfied with the project.
Christ’s bullying was discussed first as planned.
The girls took turns telling the audience at mass how I, in hindsight, remembered bullying during my childhood. Ariel spoke first. “When my grandmother Happy was a youngster, she remembered sling-shots, deliberately wrecking a new bike out of jealousy, kids walking off with another’s baseball and bat or a game. She even remembered to share some of the cartoons she used to watch to illustrate the bullying that could be found in them. These included Popeye and Brutus, The Three Stooges, and The Little Rascals to name just a few. No one thought of the bullying at the time. They just viewed them as comical entertainment and the kids couldn’t wait to get home from school to watch the programs. The bullying part didn’t occur to them. This was referred to as “slap-stick” comedy. One thing grandmother Happy did not remember though was that there was a type of bullying that existed that was so bad it could send it’s victim to such despair that the outcome resulted in the victim taking his or her own life.”
“The term bullying does not apply to a specific group of people, Ariel continued. “It knows no race, creed, or national origin. The bully is neither rich nor poor. The only things bullies have in common is their bullying.”
At this point, Carmen took her turn at the microphone. “Just in case you think that bullying couldn’t happen in our community, I would like to share some of the information Ariel and I have observed for quite some time. We have brought this to the attention of our teachers and they are doing their best to eradicate the problem. There are stumbling blocks that exist however that are making this a tough challenge and they are ignorance and what might be referred to as behavior that is passed down from generation to generation, like a family heirloom. They are as follows:
“Billy J., a third grade student came to school with brand new sneakers during the spring of last year. This must have been his first pair of new sneakers in at least three years. He was so proud of his new sneakers. Three boys in the fifth grade; Michael B. Jimmy E. and Jason A. shoved him into a mud puddle, completely covering his new sneakers. When Billy started to cry, the boys called him a cry baby”. At this point, you could hear a loud slap and the shuffling of feet in the back of the church.
“Angela E. was called a “fat pig” everyday getting on and off the bus. The bus driver has reported this incident three times. She now takes a taxi to and from school every day to avoid the pain. She is afraid to identify the culprits.”
“Ariel and I heard some girls in our class ask Sandy J. if she bought her dress at the Salvation Army. Lisa B., Andrea M., Elizabeth A. and Susan S. make fun of Sandy almost every single day in school.”
“Bobby R. pulled a big chunk of hair out of Maryanne L.’s head after she attempted to defend herself from his name calling. Maryanne required a doctor’s visit as a result of this incident. (Another slap was heard coming from a pew, but there was no movement otherwise). Out teachers do have their hands full. But it is not only their responsibility to address this problem.”
Ariel spoke, “Earlier, when we shared examples of bullying, two very loud slaps were heard in the back of the church. Happy also spoke to us of the importance role modeling plays in bullying. From the time we are born, we are like little sponges. We take everything in. We mimic what we see and hear. We watch the grown-ups we love very closely. It doesn’t take long to get us to stick out our tongues, dribble and do raspberries, bang our hands on the tray of our high chair when we are mad because we want it NOW, or start spitting at people. We may start to slap, kick, scream, bite or have temper tantrums until we get our own way. As we get older, we may progress to swearing, arguing, lying, having little or no respect for anyone or thing. Some adults may have thought we were being cute or funny. Some are appalled. All too frequently, when the behavior is no longer cute, the response is an old fashioned spanking or worse. Adults may become bewildered, even embarrassed and wonder aloud, “where did that come from?” The answer is most probably “from watching you or from the company your children are keeping.”
The presentation completed, Carmen spoke, “We have a very real concern that if left unchecked, the problem will only escalate with terrible consequences. We cannot be so smug to think that our community is better than any other and nothing like what you hear on the news could happen here. When we first asked Happy the real meaning of bullying she told us she believed the term originated very long ago with our Lord. She reminded us of our earlier conversation on the front porch regarding our project. At first, we didn’t completely understand but as she continued to move on through her notes, we knew exactly what she meant and we were ashamed of our selves. Ariel spoke next, “That is why we gave all of you just a small example of the kind of bullying that is taking place in our town. If you see it and you can stop it, stop it. Report it. Talk to the parents or school principal. Don’t let the problem get out of control and never forget where it all began and the outcome.”
You could hear a pin drop. Then, the congregation stood and gave the girls a standing ovation. The conversations among the small groups in the courtyard were somber. Some really did not realize the gravity of the situation and wanted to start working on the problem as soon as possible. Getting the dialogue going was the priority and it is working. The festival was fun too.
(© 2012 Mary P. DiSisto – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)