By Lisa Keating
I will never fully understand the depth, impact, and effect bullying has had on my son, Morgan. This morning (from out of left field) he flew into a raging fit; pacing, throwing things, then ending up on the floor slamming his head repeatedly into a pillow as if to beat thoughts out of his head. All of this was triggered by our plan to see someone from a former ballet school later in the day. His outburst had nothing to do with the person we were going to meet. Morgan was flooded by memories of a girl in his class that tormented him every chance she could… enter my guilt to this whole scenario.
My best friend is a school psychologist and a regular sounding board when I’m at a loss. Many times she has told me that no matter how strong of a relationship I have with Morgan, he won’t tell me everything. Not to hide it, rather to protect me. The first time she told me this it made no sense. Why would Morgan protect me? That’s my job! I get to protect him even though there are days I really question my abilities in this regard.
Recently, I spoke at Pacific Lutheran University to a group of students and staff. While there I shared a story about the first time Morgan chose to wear a skirt to school. The outfit he wore was typical 1st grader. It was all pink however not one article of clothing was the same shade of pink or even similar patterns. In other words it was awesome, loud, and proud! As is often the case after sharing this I was asked “How can you let him dress like that, aren’t you putting him at risk?”
Watching that heavy metal doors close behind Morgan that day was one of the hardest things I have done in my life. Someone later accused me of sending a lamb to slaughter by allowing him to wear that outfit to school. In my opinion, by telling him no I would be reinforcing a belief that he needs to hide his authentic self, there is something wrong with him and that is a much greater risk in his emotional development.
Would he make it that long? How cruel were kids going to be? I had no idea and sobbed in my car for over 30 minutes before I could drive away. My heart told me that he was safe. I’d built wonderful relationships with his teachers, para-educators, office staff, school counselor, and the principal. I warned many of them ahead of time of what was coming. Trusting those relationships kept me from barging in and taking him home mid day. I knew they would care for him to the best of their ability but would that be enough; especially that day?
When I picked him up after school he was happy and bubbly, he reported having an awesome day. I was shocked and deeply grateful. What Morgan didn’t tell me was a 3rd grade student had cornered him in the bathroom saying boys aren’t allowed to wear girl clothes, he couldn’t be in the bathroom, and called him names. Immediately, Morgan changed into spare clothes from his backpack. What happened next still floors me two years later.
As soon as Morgan walked back into his classroom after changing, three classmates stopped him and bombarded him with questions. “Why did you change your clothes? Who bullied you? What happened?” Once he shared the details, the girls demanded that their teacher, Ms. Diamond, be told. I should mention that these were 1-3rd grade students.
A plan was made. Morgan and a classmate went to the 3rd grade boy’s class, spoke with his teacher and asked the boy to go with them back to the Peace rug in their own classroom. For nearly 30 minutes the three of them talked and when Ms. Diamond checked on them, Morgan told her “We worked it out. He was confused and thought boys couldn’t wear girl clothes or like girl stuff but now he understands.” The two boys parted as friends and with a better understand of each other. Morgan told me none of this that day, thankfully his teacher did.
It was then that I understood what my school psychologist friend was trying to tell me. Morgan was protecting me from worrying about him. At his core, Morgan is a child that will keep the peace even at the expense of himself. How many other stories of harassment and bullying is he not telling me? Today’s outburst was evident to me that there may be many. The girl bully from Morgan’s former ballet school has left a long lasting impact.
This writing causes me to think about kids who parents ignore cries for help about a bully, or kids whose parents allow them to be the bully. It is so important that the culture of indifference and / or ignorance to bullying change so everyone can grow up comfortable in their own being. I will continue to write more on these topics in the next few weeks.
To learn more about Lisa Keating, check out her website My Purple Umbrella .
Photo Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography