Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Back To School I - My Son, The School Bully

This is the first post of my Back To School series. More to follow.

All my years in school, I was what they now call a geek and a nerd. I was getting good grades, no matter how I tried; wore glasses; and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how that whole social machine called “school” worked.

I was hugely unpopular. Kids bullied me. I had a classmate who chased me across the hallway with a razor in his hand. (We’re on good terms now.)

My firstborn has inherited a lot of my traits. He is very smart (not that he gets good grades – after a lot of thinking, he has decided that grades are overrated). He is not popular, and kids call him a geek and a nerd. That’s my boy!

There is, however, a difference between us. I used to be an emotional kid that was always stressing out about not being part of the popular crowd, and was forever trying to fit in. I12, on the other hand, doesn’t care about climbing the school’s social ladder. He is a tough guy. Kids don’t bully him, because, in his own words, “how can you bully someone twice your height?” His other memorable words to me are, “Don’t worry, Mom. If someone ever bullies me, I’ll knock them on their head, like this” – and he made a motion with his hand as if dribbling a basketball located somewhere at his waist level.

The kid definitely inherited his parents’ sense of humor. Good for him.

Bottom line, I12 has a reputation for being a generally nice, quiet kid that likes to be on his own. So it comes as a surprise for people who didn’t know him in 4th grade, that for one whole year, he was a badass kid and a school bully. It all started the year before, when one of I12’s classmates started picking on him. On the playground, the kid would walk up to I12 and hit him for no reason. Once or twice, he made I12 cry. For the record, I12 never cries. Like I said, he is an extremely tough guy. He also complained to me about it. I told I12 to hit the kid back, but I wasn’t sure if he could. After all, I had been a very meek kid, and never knew how to fight, and wasn’t I12 my son?

Before I could figure out what to do and how to interfere, I12 found a new best friend. It was the meanest, baddest kid in the entire school. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call him Kyle.

Kyle was a character. People could actually spot him from a mile away. I mean people with experience, of course. To the naïve old me, Kyle was just a cute little boy with a blond crew cut. But, at I12’s birthday party, when my friend came over, she figured Kyle for a troubled kid right away. My friend had had over a decade of teaching experience, and had worked as assistant principal at her school. Kyle was terrified of her. I guess he could smell teacher on my friend, just as she could smell badass kid on him.

When K9 got to first grade, and started hanging out at the playground, he confirmed my friend’s suspicions. Kyle was terrorizing the whole school. He loved beating up little kids. His next favorite thing to do was pick an item of clothing, a hat, or a pair of gloves, out of Lost and Found, wear it at the playground during break, and toss it over the fence when the break was over.

According to K9, Kyle wasn’t terrorizing the school alone. He had a posse that consisted of his two classmates. One of them was I12.

I12 became famous and feared in a matter of weeks. No one thought of him as a nerd anymore. He continued to get good grades, but started bringing quiet room slips home at an alarming rate. Pretty soon, he got enough of those to qualify for an in-school suspension. He spent his day in suspension reading “The Catcher in the Rye”. He actually found the suspension enjoyable.

By that time, I was no longer happy that my son had been able to stand up for himself. The whole thing was spinning out of control, and I had no way to stop it. I begged I12 to stop being friends with Kyle, but he wouldn’t listen.

I got a letter from school requesting me to come in for a conference with a panel of teachers. I came, and was lectured about my son’s despicable behavior, violent drawings, and interest in weapons. I was presented with substantial evidence – a folder full of drawings, plus a Duke Nukem CD. In front of six teachers, the principal told me, “We are afraid that he will grow up and kill someone” (pause) “or himself”. I was told to make an appointment with a therapist within a 72-hour period, the last 24 hours of which fell on a Saturday. The school was going to call the Social Services on me if I didn’t meet the deadline. It only took me 47 hours to find a specialist and schedule the appointment.

I12 in the meantime, was enjoying the fame. One day on the bus, he went past K9 and, in a deep, tough-guy voice, said hello as he moved on. K9 turned to his friend and proudly announced,

“This is my brother. He is a school bully!”

The friend responded,

“Oh yeah? Can he come over here.”

So K9 waved his famous brother over, and his friend asked I12,

“K9 says that you’re a school bully. Is that true?”

“Yeah. So?”

“There’s this girl in my class. Can you beat her up for $67?”

Now, in this situation, I’m pretty positive that Kyle would have asked for the money up front. I12, however, did something completely unbully-ish. He said no.

Not so long after that incident, I12 was hanging out with Kyle at the playground, and K9 was on a slide nearby. Out of sheer brotherly love, I12 suddenly asked Kyle to go beat up K9. Big mistake.

K9 is a very social kid. In daycare, his teachers told me that he is a leader by nature. He is physically very active - compared to his brother, anyway. He plays sports. He is tall for his age, and a stocky kid. He’s strong. I know that for a fact, because one time, he got mad at me and hit me on the nose. That was the most painful moment of my life.

So, when Kyle walked up to K9 and started hitting him for no reason, K9 hit back. Kyle was in fourth grade, K9 was in first, but the fact remains that K9 beat Kyle up, and Kyle ran away. On that day, Kyle’s stock as a bully plummeted.

The school let out for the summer, and in the fall, I12 started middle school, and Kyle wasn’t there. Somehow, he got transferred to another school district. He sent I12 an email that contained this sentence: “A girl gave me a black eye”. Apparently, Kyle found it hard to get into the bullying business over at the new school. I don’t know what happened to him after that. All I know is that I12 had no more disciplinary problems, not a single detention in two years so far.

At this point, you probably wonder, “But where was the school in all that? How come kids are killing each other on the playground every day, and nobody cares?” How come Kyle never got in trouble for harassing the whole school? How come I12 got twenty detentions for drawing M16’s and stealth bombers, and zero for picking on little kids at the playground? Does this school do anything at all to stop the bullying? Is there anything it can do about it?

Fear not, dear reader. Yes, it does; and yes, there is. In fact, this particular school has invented a completely new tool to fight bullying. It may not work as intended, but it’s there. I will tell you all about it in the next installment.

The Goldie has spoken at 9:38 AM

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