Senior Portrait… A Guest Post By Casey Baun

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Graduation is here. It’s upon us. It’s TOMORROW.

<insert every cliche known to man re: childhood and the passage of time>

Casey was the recipient of the Orchard Park High School Striving for Excellence English Department Award. This guest post is her Swan Song. Her final farewell to such a bittersweet journey. It is everything I love in a good read: Thoughtful, honest, authentic, insightful, funny, smart and brave. It makes me think and it makes me feel. And it is everything I love about her, as well.

Congratulations, Casey Lauren. And Congratulations to the Class of 2015.

The senior class is like a complicated family tree; bursting with fruitful goodness in some areas, and knotting and splintering with resentful judgment in others. We all may not necessarily enjoy everybody’s company—kind of like the uncle who tells cringe-worthy jokes or the great aunt who knits tacky sweaters as Christmas presents. But this will not change the fact that we are still a family. We have watched one another undergo the transitions from naive kindergarteners to high school seniors weathered by life. Our troubles have gone from dropped ice cream cones to dropped friends, whether it was for our own good, or simply a painful leg of the social triangle, as some friendships have their rough cycles, whilst others simply fade out. But here we are in the waning days of high school with blooming offerings to establish our own lifestyles and new circles of close companions. We are plucking the petals of each day one by one, and this may be the last time we see one another before we spread our wings for individual flights, each of us destined for both joys and tribulations. We don’t know the exact time we may meet next, be it a surprise encounter in a coffee shop, or at our ten-year high school reunion.

So this jarring truth is your cue to bite every minute like a bullet and savor everything that you have capacity for. Because chances are, you will find yourself missing even the classes that irritated you most, or wondering where your former peers are, even if you have not said more than five syllables to each other. Keep in contact with those who make you feel sincerely special and those who make you laugh the most, because they are the ones who will remind you how loved and supported you really are, and who will see you through the more abrasive patches of life.

School has taught me a textbook’s worth of more than the Pythagorean Theorem or rules of grammar. It has taught me that the trivial things people obsess over during high school life, such as who broke up with whom, will not amount to any value worth words in a couple of years. It has taught me that there is so much more right than wrong if I just keep a watchful eye out for it. It has taught me that with an open spirit willing to forgive, I can imagine the pain an oppressor might be feeling, and find a little extra grace for them. It has taught me that people can be cruel, but that mercy, a high head and easy laughter are the best comebacks.

As strange as this may sound, I would like to thank my bullies who had a callous hand in refining and maturing me. It was like exercise for the spirit—I felt the burn at the time, but it toned my inner strength and gave me a flexible, resilient skin that I do not want to shed. We may not be friends and may never be, but what matters is that I feel cathartic closure in forgiving you and saying so. Because unfortunately, flaws of humanity include people hurting others out of their own raging fear and inner stings. School can be a terrifying time, and I can certainly empathize with your urges to make your sophomore selves appear untouchable, even though it was used through gains not needed. As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Causing pain for people will not earn you benefits worth the price of the damage done, but if you have come across this principle already and embraced it, I am proud for you and I truly wish you well.

I would also like to thank my teachers who did not limit teaching strictly to the assigned lesson of the day, but also found time to teach us about life, about both its beauties and its cuts. While I may not use the formula for the area of a triangle anytime soon, I will surely remember and cherish the meaningful class discussions that we engaged in when other people were afraid to speak up for something worth fighting for. And thankfully I had too much pride most of the time to carry a can of taco sauce around the hall, for I might have missed out on something genuine and priceless. I would also like to express my deep appreciation for the teachers who took the trouble to see things from our level rather than looking down on us. The teachers who were not afraid to let us see them for their true and beautifully flawed selves rather than putting up a facade of false perfection. I would not be walking across the stage, clad in a cap and gown, without your support and encouragement. Your years’ worth of teaching and effort deserve more than a five minute speech dedicated to my gratitude, and I will be thinking of you during my new college classes.

And as OneRepublic wrote in a recent song, “I did it all. I owned every second that this world could give, and with every broken bone, I swear I lived.” Farewell, my friends. And I hope to see you at the family reunion.

Catching Fire in the Trenches

10669127_10205174436388441_2938143554706449772_oIn 2011, in the midst of great heartache and sleepless nights, I published what is still, to this day, my most widely read blog post ever, An Open Letter to my Daughter’s Bullies, Including But Not Limited to The Mean Girls. It was a tough time in our lives. My daughter Casey was 14. And 14 was not a good year. In fact, 13 had not been a good year. 15 wasn’t great either. Middle school was not kind to her. And despite our best efforts as parents, things were not getting better. The bullying at school had reached an all-time high, and Casey’s self-esteem and head space about life in general had reached an all- time low.

There are far too many details to include in this post that would betray way too much of our family’s privacy– of Casey’s– but suffice it to say, from the time she was a baby, this sweet baby girl was different. Special. Intuitive. Kind. Tender. Brilliant. Sad. And the world is not kind to people who are different. And shame on us. Shame on us for thinking that everyone needs to look and act and think exactly like we do. What a gray and lifeless place this world would be. Most of the beauty and brilliance in this world comes from people who are different. Thank God. Thank God they are different. They have gifts the rest of us don’t have and most of us are far too blind and narrow-minded to see it. Myself included.

Casey is a gifted writer. And today, her very first article has been published in the Buffalo News. The road here– to this smiling, successful, confident young woman, has been paved with blood, sweat and tears. Ten million appointments, CSE Meetings (Parents who know what that means…you get it…) true grit, heartache, and struggle. But it’s also been marked by love. By great bravery. By persistence. By mini triumphs along the way that felt like gigantic victories. And the point of this whole thing is not to laud Casey, per se. And it’s not to tell her bullies and haters to SUCK ON THIS. (Although maybe just a tiny bit)

It’s really this: To tell other strugglers out there in the trenches– parents and kids alike: Keep going. Don’t quit. Don’t stop. Don’t give up or give in. Take whatever spark you see and fix your eyes on it. Get down on your hands and knees and blow on it. Fan the tiniest flame, no matter how dim. Because if you will. If you will keep adding tinder and kindling and sticks and branches and logs…one day it will catch. And you’ll have the most spectacular bonfire your eyes have ever seen.

Casey girl, you’re on fire, my love. Don’t stop now.

Today was supposed to be my first installment of It’s Thursday. And This is What I’m Reading. However, I have happily been upstaged by my daughter HAVING AN ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN THE NEWSPAPER. Mama can wait ’til next week.

The Rest of the Story…

I was humbled and overwhelmed by the response to my last post, An Open Letter to My Daughters Bullies. Including, But Not Limited to the Mean Girls. Thank you for your support, your re-posts, and all the love and encouragement you sent our way! It meant so much to me, and to Casey, as well. I was struck by the number of you who told me your own stories of having been bullied and stories of the way your children have suffered and been victimized. But it’s that last phrase, “victimized”, that compels me to write a follow-up blog; Because even though Casey was, perhaps, a victim at the time, that isn’t the case today and that blog wasn’t the end of the story.

Casey is thriving. Period. Although ideally, she would rather be in school, not having to contend with so much high school level drama, intolerance, and exclusion has been a huge relief for her. It’s given her mental and emotional space to bloom. She feels free. She feels relieved. But best of all, she’s happy. She currently has a 95 average. She understands her math.  (Sorry, this may be my own issue  here…I’m always totally impressed when people understand Algebra. And any math. This could be why I married an accountant.) She has kept up with cello through private lessons. She takes Karate. She attends a youth Bible Study and Youth Group at our church .  She’s part of a weekly home school co-op group with other high school students where she participates in a Phys Ed class and takes two other courses- American Government, and Literature- in addition to her own 9th grade academic schedule.  She absolutely loves it. This past weekend, a treasured girlfriend  invited Casey to her school’s Homecoming Dance- an event that she was originally very disappointed at the thought of missing. It is priceless that this friend thought of Casey and knew how much it would mean for her to still have the chance to go.  She had a blast.

It has not changed her. Bullies have not changed her. It hasn’t ruined her. She is not a victim. Was she hurt? Yes. Was it painful? Yes, and still is some days. Would I rather it wasn’t part of her story? Absolutely. But if you ask her about it, she’ll tell you she’s stronger for it. Kinder yet, if that’s possible. She is the girl who will notice someone sitting by themselves and go sit with them and chat because she hates to see them alone. She hates gossip. She hates all things mean. It’s true, I am her teacher. But while I am busy teaching her about life, she’s teaching me what life is all about.

As an end note–If you’ve had a bad day, had your heart broke…or been bullied…there’s a Taylor Swift song for that! And we adore her. Click here to see Taylor’s total victory over her bullies.

An Open Letter to My Daughter’s Bullies. Including, But not Limited to the Mean Girls.

On my best days, I pray for you. I feel bad for you. I wonder what your home life has sown into you that is now reaping such ugliness. I wonder if your mom and dad know the things you say and do.  Maybe you only have one or the other? Maybe they are the ones you have learned this from? Or would they be shocked and disappointed?  I work hard not to judge them. Would they say things like, “This is not how we have raised you”?

I wonder who’s been mean to you. Have you been bullied too? I remind myself that hurting people hurt people and you are simply acting out of your own pain. I feel a spark of compassion for whatever pain you carry and I feel strangely curious about your internal life–Are you mad? Are you sad? Do you know you’re being mean? Is it on purpose? Do you ever feel guilty? Do you ever feel bad? Do you ever think of my daughter and wonder how she feels? Ever?  You didn’t have to be her best friend–just friendly would have been enough. But either way, it’s your loss. She would’ve had your back. She’s loyal. She’s kind. She’s true. She’s brilliantly clever and creative. And funny. But apparently those qualities aren’t trending these days.

On my worst days, I hate you.

I hate what you’ve done to my daughter.

I hate the way you’ve made her feel.

I hate the things you’ve said and done– all the eye-rolling, the smirks, the huffs and the knowing looks between you and your friends. The outbursts of laughter at her expense. The way you have excluded her. The way you have made someone so beautiful and shiny and precious feel so ugly and dull and worthless. The school day memories you have stained with a thousand tears. Hers and mine. It’s petty and wrong and right on your level-but it’s human:

There are moments when I want you to be bullied

and excluded and hurt the way she has been.  

I don’t understand you. I don’t understand how on earth you have been tricked into thinking your behavior is okay. I wonder where your parents are. I think things like, “The apple must not fall far from the tree” and I wonder if anyone has ever told you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And I think about karma. About what comes around goes around. And I think, I hope  you get what you deserve. And then I stop. Because I wasn’t raised that way. Because that isn’t the person I want to be. Because I can’t be the mom I need to be if I’m too busy being bitter and wishing you pain.

But truthfully, most days I don’t have time to let you take up too much space in my head.  The day my daughter came home from school sobbing, literally falling through the door and choking out the words, “I can’t do this anymore”, we decided to home school her. That’s right–even though we pay school taxes in one of the most highly ranked districts around, we home school her. You go. She doesn’t. You’ve made the price not worth the cost. The suicide of a local boy last month and the deaths of other kids your age are stunning reminders that for now, we have done the right thing. We have made the right choice.

We are not hiding our daughter from the reality of life–we are protecting hers. I know you are not the first or last mean person she will meet, but we are giving her a reprieve from you.

The school can potentially keep you from being mean by imposing rules and consequences, by  initiating expensive anti-bullying campaigns and promoting clever anti-bullying rhetoric, but they can’t make you be nice. And there’s a big difference. They can’t make you like her. It’s not their job to sow love and kindness into your heart so that your life will reap goodness and mercy and grace towards others. But along with reading, writing and arithmetic, that is my job. And I take it very seriously.