“Why don’t more kids stand up to the bullies?”

Every time I read a post about mean kids and bullies I want to proudly declare my kids always stand up to the mean kids. But always isn’t accurate. And frankly, it’s not realistic.

I realize that statement sounds horrific and half of you stopped reading (and likely started irately commenting) but hear me out. Because none of us have a perfect kindness record.

While I want my girls to always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing, sometimes they choose not to. And I get it.

Yes, I get it.

Because I was a kid once.  While I had a strong desire to be kind, my 13-year old self had a stronger desire to fit in. The author of Wonder (must read book) sums it up perfectly:

What character do you identify with the most or is the most like you?
I wish I could say I was most like Summer, but that wouldn’t be true. I try to be more like her every day, though. ..But the character I identify the most with as a girl, or who represents what I might have been like if a kid like Auggie came to my school, is Charlotte. I think a lot of kids can relate to Charlotte. She’s nice enough, but she never really goes out of her way to be kind to Auggie. She’ll wave hello from a distance, but she never sits down with him. She helps Jack behind the scenes, but she never openly sides with him. She’s a good girl, but she’s not quite brave enough to act on her good instincts. That kind of bravery sometimes doesn’t come until you’re older, and sometimes doesn’t come at all. She represents the difference between simply being nice, and choosing to be kind, which is a main theme of the book. She’s the classic bystander, though I think by the end of the book she’s become aware of this. Her precept shows this. I think in the sixth grade, she’ll be an upstander, not a bystander.

 In 7th grade my “friends” had an amazing (sarcasm) game of social isolation where every week someone in the group was iced out. Somehow I was the person that was most frequently iced out.  So you’d think when it was someone else’s turn I would speak out or at least go hang out with the friend that was being isolated.

But I didn’t. Because it was freaking SCARY.

Here’s another thing I inwardly retaliate against: the idea that all rude, mean, and bullying behavior (do you know the difference?) starts at home. Whenever I read a post that includes some form of “well she learned it somewhere, must have started at home” I think that maybe it didn’t.

You read that right: I don’t believe that all bullying starts at home. I also don’t dare to utter those words out loud, or even more daring, print them in response to a FB post (yep, still trying to fit in).

How could I think such a thing? I try to assume some positive intent, especially when kids are involved. Sometimes the meanness is superficial oversight. Sometimes it’s a momentary lack of empathy. Sometimes people make a bad on-the-spot-decision. Yet other times the person is simply an asshole.

It’s really hard to know what motivated the behavior or where it was learned so I don’t want to pass judgment (which doesn’t mean I don’t pass judgment, just that I try not to!). And I especially want to be fair because I’d want that treatment if it were my girls accused of bullying.

Which could happen as accounted for in this powerful narrative of a kind, thoughtful mom who discovered her worst nightmare: it was her kid that was the bully.

Which is all to say, again, I get it when kids are bystanders instead of upstanders.

When I talk to my kids about another kid who is left out, picked on, called names, or worse, I understand when they respond with hesitation. I coach them, guide them, and question them…using all of my best techniques to get them to stand up to that mean kid but in the end I know I made the same choice over and over again.

Even as an adult I sometimes slip into this old habit. I get caught up in the scene, worry that I’ll make waves, and watch someone else’s misery unfold. A friend of mine summed it up perfectly, “we have too many bystanders, myself included. I speak out, but not too loudly because I just want to exist in peace.”

(BTW, this statement is hilarious because one of the things I admire most about this friend is that she seems to always speak out, loudly, without a care of who disagrees, at the most meaningful moments.)

There are certain situations I expect any human being to get involved in no matter their age. If anyone witnesses another person being taunted, harassed, isolated, discriminated against or pushed around, they should help. Period. If my girls told me they saw this behavior and said nothing I would be so vocal you might even hear me from wherever you live.

What I really want to figure out is how to help my kids feel comfortable standing up for themselves and others. How to do this in a way that is authentic to them. How to acknowledge their discomfort and help them work through it. How to help them be kind and confident in their response. How to get them to do what’s right more often and more vocally. How to teach them without telling them so it becomes instinct.

Back to the original question, “Why don’t more kids stand up to bullies?” My answer stands: there are a lot of reasons. Let’s take time to understand the reasons so we can guide our kids more often for better results. Let’s be realistic about what’s possible, when.

And let’s keep talking about it. Right here. Right now.

 

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Two Things My Dad Taught Me Without Telling Me

My dad’s wisdom is 1950’s-meets-Emily-Post.  Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be proper. Do the right thing.  Family first. He never said any of these words. He just showed me what he expected.

 Dad

“Be safe”

Since I was four (likely earlier but who remembers) my dad has been sternly cautioning me to “be safe” and “don’t do anything stupid”. These statements don’t have any qualifiers or explanations. When I was 10 “be safe” meant “don’t ride your bike in the middle of the street”. I assume now at 40 he means “don’t drive your car on the sidewalk” but who knows, he never actually defined safety.

When I was young he showed me how to be safe by:

  • Sitting in the car for extended periods of time until I figured out to buckle up.
  • Standing on the side of the road for minutes until I figured out to look both ways.
  • Lightly smacking my hand when I tried to touch anything hot or sharp.

When I was a teenager his safety lessons were more of an interrogation:

  • Who are you going out with?
  • Will parents be there?
  • What will you do if someone you don’t know offers you a ride home?

Fun fact: when my first date picked me up to go out my dad snuck out of the house and wrote down the guy’s license plate number.

When I moved out of the house his safety lessons evolved into observational questions:

  • When I traveled, particularly to a city he had been to, “do you know which streets to avoid?”
  • When I moved into my own home, “do you check to see if everything looks ‘right’ before you go in?”

My dad’s prompts led me to seek out information on how to be safe in every situation. And insist my kids do the same. As my kids leave the house I call after them, “BE SAFE! I mean, look both ways before you cross the street…if you get lost, ask a mom for help…” My kids are long gone before I finish my list.

Perhaps my dad was on to something. “Be Safe” is vague but succinct.

 

It’s the little things we remember forever

When I was little I chanted, “It’s so nice to have a daddy around the house” (which I’m sure was a line fed to me by my dad but it was true so I happily sang it). And now? I still call on him to:

  • Remove dead birds from my door step.
  • Find someone to snowplow my driveway.
  • Remove hornets from my house.
  • Take the kids to various inconvenient places at inconvenient times.
  • Fix things around my house and/or supervise electricians and plumbers.
  • Rescue me when I lock myself out of my house.

Whether I ask or not, my dad:

  • Checks the tires of all cars in my driveway. Even guests. If your car is parked in my driveways, he is making sure it’s safe
  • Monitors all doors to make sure they are locked (see “be safe” above)
  • Brings me half-moons from my favorite bakery
  • Opens every door for me (chivalrous, charming, and completely annoying but I love it)
  • Insists we drive as many places together as possible even when it completely inconveniences him
  • Reminds me about upcoming birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones

My dad never sat me down to say, “make sure you do a lot of little things for people you love. They might not thank you until they are 40. They might not notice in the moment. But over time all of these little things add up to a lot of love.”

 

A bonus lesson: gratitude

Brene Brown (must.watch.ted.talk.) recently said the emotion people have the most difficulty feeling is joy. And people who are able to experience joy the most deeply — and without remorse — have one thing in common.

Gratitude.

The most important lesson my dad showed me was that:

People who are grateful feel more joy.

People who are grateful feel more joy.

I am grateful for the countless things my dad is teaching me. And even more grateful that he is still teaching me.

 

What’s it all about?

There’s so much to think about.

 Why do smoke detector batteries begin chirping alerts in the middle of the night? Do they sense I am sleeping? Why do my kids litter in my house? Being KIND trumps being nice. It doesn’t matter how many years I parent, I am always learning something new. And I always feel a little bit behind. Being a mom without a mom is repetitively heartbreaking. Dog greeting = daily reminder that simple things make me happy. What is BEEPING? Did the smoke detectors conspire with some other technology in my house? Not everyone is meant to be my friend forever. Conversely, everyone that enters my life has a purpose. Holy shit, I am doing what I said I want to be when I grow up. Mom is the title I’m most proud to have. Choosing to be happy is freaking hard. But totally worth it. I don’t need someone to say “I’m sorry” to forgive them. Mean girls suck. Mosquitos too. Equal and fair aren’t the same thing. Bacon makes everything better. Kittens too. Grief doesn’t last a lifetime but it always lasts a year. The things I dislike about others are often the things I dislike about myself. Hair color is meant to be changed. It’s ok to splurge on coffee, mascara, yarn, and books (not necessarily in that order). Self-reflection isn’t the same as self-awareness. Dogs are boys; cats are girls. Hand-written thank you cards are lovely. Care packages too. The best compliment ever is “your kids are kind”. Whoa. I’m not the youngest person in the room anymore. “How we live our days is how we live our lives,” thanks Annie Dillard for these wise words. Begin with the end in mind. Always. My calm exterior isn’t always reflective of the chaos in my mind (as this blog clearly reflects). My four core values are be kind, be happy, be grateful, be truthful. It’s ok to say “no” but learn how to do it graciously. Often making things right is more important than being right. The hardest lessons to learn are also the hardest lessons to teach. Sometimes the journey is more fulfilling than the ending. Yada yada yada…this is what it’s all about:

 

 

family4

Family. That’s what it’s all about. Predictable yet true.

Reason # 2: Why we can’t get out of the house quickly

My little fashionista can put together an outfit that personal shoppers envy. In a snap she pairs a shirt with pants and accessories the way a sommelier pairs the perfect wine with food. She gets stumped with the perplexing problem of finishing the outfit with…

SOCKS.

Picking socks sparks controversy, debate, tears, and tantrums. It delays our morning routine up to 15 minutes. You read that right, IT TAKES FIFTEEN MINUTES TO SETTLE ON SOCKS some mornings.

Why? WHY? WHY?

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Growing Apart, Together

The romance began 15 years ago. It was love at first sight.

As I sat in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, leafing through Fortune Magazine, I was hooked. It wasn’t a person but a company that caught my eye. They were innovative and on the cutting edge. They were philanthropic. They were changing the world. I closed my eyes and imagined working there. My heart filled with hope.

Fate stepped in. A month later The Company announced its intent to acquire the start-up where I worked. I anticipated the deal closing the same way I had anticipated the first date with my husband: with impatient confidence that this was THE ONE.

As the relationship blossomed I became smitten. Up until this moment I always felt like an outsider. An imposter. The child who stands at the edge of the playground hoping for an invitation to play.  This relationship welcomed me with open arms into an exciting, fulfilling, and safe inner circle.

The harder I worked the more support I got.

This relationship cheered me on when I got married.

It embraced me when I had two beautiful children. It held my hand through post-partum depression. It violently threw me from my graceful entrance into motherhood into the chaos of becoming a working mom.

It supported me through years of therapy to overcome anxiety – and many times was the subject of my sessions.

It forgave my mistakes.

It accelerated my personal and professional growth and pushed me past my personal limits.

My relationship with The Company was everything I imagined it would be. It was everything I longed for. I was part of a team who had a passion for changing the world.

Each day my love for The Company grew. Even on the rare days when I hated my job, I LOVED The Company. Year after year it lived up to its ranking as one of the top companies to work for.

I expected to grow old with The Company.

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Why “Tomorrow” is the Best.Song.Ever.

“Tomorrow” is the best.song.ever (not to be confused with my favorite song ever).

A young girl who was left on the doorstep of a drunk, chain-smoking haggard belts this song out with a heart-warming smile. She lives day after day with a woman whose general viewpoint is apathetic at best. She lacks compassion. She despises kids. Her love is bankrupt. Yet Annie is optimistic despite this woman and the circumstances.

“Tomorrow” captures so much about Annie – her mindset, her hopes, her dreams, and her beliefs. Annie’s tomorrow hasn’t gotten better in years yet she still believes things *will* improve if she just hangs on ‘til tomorrow. Her optimism oozes every time she sings it.

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Unspoken Lessons Unintentionally Taught by Unexpected People

Night after night she woke me from a deep sleep. Softly she called “Mama? Mama?” until she got my attention. I groggily trudged to her room while longing to crawl back into bed. As I entered she smiled. Her smile was filled with love, light and happiness. It was irresistible. It was infections. Even at 4am.. As I held her tight in darkness I learned the power of a simple smile.

This is one of the lessons I learned since my kids started arriving on the scene. Some of the most important lessons they’ve taught me have come through our most intense moments together.

When Marlee started being more independent I started to calculate all the efficiency gains. We could sleep later. Get out of the house faster. Independence equaled all sorts of time-saving territory.

Each morning and evening I barked out orders to maintain maximum efficiency. “Upstairs. Get dressed. Brush teeth. Brush hair…”

Day after day Marlee begged me to help her. Day after day I refused. One day as she verged on a temper tantrum she used different words. Instead of asking me to help her she yelled “Why can’t you just be with me while I get dressed?!?!” Her words lingered in the air. They stung. All this time she was asking me to simply be with her. She didn’t want my help. She wanted my company.

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