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.

My Personal Memorial Day

unnamed-3Every year while the rest of the country is celebrating Memorial Day, our family is also celebrating my dad’s birthday. There’s a special irony to this because while I fully appreciate and honor what veterans have done for this country, my dad, though not a veteran,  is a hero to me, too.

The stories I could tell about my dad are really not that remarkable or dramatic to anyone but a daughter– but that’s okay. When you need your dad and he’s there–that’s all the hero you  need. Take the time we were skiing together, headed up the mountain on the chairlift and I somehow slipped off, literally hanging onto the edge of the seat, dangling above Gore Mountain.  Fast as a flash, my dad grabbed onto my wrists and held me there like it was nothing until we reached the top. I didn’t think anybody could be stronger than him!  Or how about the time I was running in a track meet, and wanting to beat the girl who was threatening my lead as we approached the finish line, I literally dove, head first. I heard the crowd gasp as I went down onto the asphalt, skinning my knees and elbows to shreds–and as I looked up, there was my dad, in his suit and tie  racing down to the track to rescue me.  (Just for the record, I won.) Or the sandbox he built for my 5th birthday. Or the Richard Scary dolls he helped my sister and I sew together.  The Girl Scout wood- working badge. The desk for my room. Learning to drive. Singing Thunder Road, or A Cat Named Jake and a Dog Named Kalamazoo. Boating. Camping. Coaching soccer.  Of course, these are but a few…because can anyone really number the gifts a dad gives?

And yet, there’s one gift my dad has given me that stands out among the rest: The gift of  Optimism. I like to say that I was born with a sunny disposition; a glass half- full kind of girl. And I was. But the truth is, I inherited a lot of it from my dad.  “The race does not always belong to the swift but to those who keep on running!” Oh Dad, we would groan! Or, “If you never had a bad day, how could you appreciate the good ones?” >insert eye roll here< Or here’s a good one: “The difficult we can do. The impossible take a little longer.” Sigh. You just couldn’t drag him down.

One of my favorite examples of this was the time he drove a couple of hours to pick up a part for my car. When he got there, it turned out it was the wrong part. All that driving for nothing. I felt horrible. But not Dad. “I’d never been to that town before”‘, was all he had to say.  “It was a nice drive.” No whining. No complaining. And that goes for the rest of his life too– he worked hard–at the office and at home. He frequently could be found in his workshop or under the hood of a car, doing all the things dads do. I was impressed. And impressioned. Was anyone smarter or greater than my dad? He gave me an outlook on life that I treasure, that I would need– that I would try to duplicate in my own life.

Now that I’m grown and a parent myself, I see some of Dad’s positive bravado in a different light–not that it’s not genuine–most of it is, I know.  But it’s a sacrifice. It’s a sacrifice to smile on the outside when the weight of your family is pressing on the inside. A mortgage payment. Job pressures. Kid problems. Real life, grown up problems. But you filter it all so that your kids can feel safe. Unfettered and unburdened with the cares of this world. So that kids can be kids–not afraid of life or hard times or bad days.  Because, as my dad likes to say, “If you have money in your pocket and speak the English language, you’ll be fine.”

Dad and I both know he wasn’t a perfect father. Because no one is. But I watch him with my kids now–the pride, the love, the adoration; The sparkle in his eyes as he watches all of us, actually. And I realize, though not a soldier in a war, still a hero in my eyes. Happy Birthday, Dad. And remember, “Old isn’t bad.”