Only one time did the bullying get physical. Allison jumped me on our way out of school to catch the bus. Luckily, I was on Jill’s good side that day because she was the one to pull the Allison off of me. No teacher ever intervened.
Almost every day during 5th grade, I came home in tears. My parents tried everything. They counseled me to ignore the girls, to be nice to them and turn the other check, to tell on them. Nothing worked. I remember my parents having conferences with my teacher, but he seemed to undervalue the effects of bullying and let it continue without interruption. At one point, I was offered to transfer to the other 5th grade class, but by that point, I just figured it would continue there, too. Looking back, I wish I would have taken that option because it might have helped.
The effects of this bullying were immediate and lasting. Before we moved to Pennsylvania, I was gregarious and outgoing. I never met a stranger and was the typical happy-go-lucky kid. Afterward, I became an introvert. Slow to reach out, slow to smile, and slow to trust. Though now, after 20+ years I can be an extrovert when needed, I still gravitate to an introvert personality and have never regained entirely what I lost that year.
Through this situation, God was always very real to me. I remember my Dad finally just telling me to clobber them, but I responded that God told us to pray for our enemies and love them. By this time I was a Christian and had a security in knowing that my identity was in God. However, the pain from the bullying was still real, and I never got good at just letting it roll off my back. I don’t know what I would have done had it been able to follow me home as it does kids nowadays.
Luckily, in 6th grade it all stopped. I still didn’t have close friends, but whether by design or accident none of those girls were in my classes, and I had a proactive teacher, Mr. Stellabuto, for part of my classes. He gave me a nick name “Tarantula” a combination of my two names Tara Quaranta, which made me feel special. He also took an interest in me and was very encouraging every time I succeeded in class. I’m not sure if he did this for all his students, but his attention began to help with some of the ill effects of the previous year.
Mr. Stellabuto and some of the teachers after him are who influenced me to be a teacher. I still remember them by name. The ones who saw something special in me and encouraged me, even in subjects I struggled in. Seeing their impact caused me to want to reach out to students in the same way.
It was those teachers, my parents’ belief in me, and homeschooling that lead me to begin to heal from the bullying in fifth grade. Though my 5th grade teacher wasn’t proactive, which lead the abuse continuing unchecked that whole year, I had great teachers in the years that followed who helped to curb the abuse and ultimately stopped it. After my fifth grade year, I never had another problem with those girls. Through it all my parents always believed me, listened, and were proactive in trying to stop the bullying. Then when we moved again, my Mom decided to homeschool us, which allowed me to learn in a way better suited for me and to regain a confidence in myself.
Looking back I’m sure they bullied me because of problems they were dealing with themselves. Karen, with the knack for lyrics, was heavyset and had a clef lip. I’m sure some of the pain she had experienced, she passed on to me. Allison, who tried to beat me up, was from a low-income home and during the times we were “friends,” she let slip some of what went on at home. Jill appeared to have it all together. Her hair was always perfect, she wore designer clothes, and had all the new gadgets, but I’m sure all that perfect brought pain with it as well.
If you’re experiencing bullying, know that it will stop. One day you’ll look back 20 years later, and all this hurt that you’re going through right now that seems huge and scary will be gone. You’ll have lived your life, reached your goals, and those kids will only be a memory. It may change you, it may still hurt sometimes, but you’ll be stronger and able to listen well to those who are going through the same abuse you suffered.
Also, remember that like my bullies the hurt they are heaping on you is coming from somewhere inside them. I know that doesn’t help in the moment, but the words and actions they are dumping on you, they are hearing and feeling about themselves. Instead of reacting in kind, try to love them. Even try some of the ideas from Bullies2Buddies linked below, but don’t let it cause you to take drastic measures. You really do have too much to live for, and a family who loves you and would be heart broken if something were to happen to you.
If you are a parent, even of young children, listen to them. Take their hurts seriously, so when those hurts really do have life and death consequences, as we’ve seen on the news lately, your kids will bring them to you. Continue to do everything you can to protect your children and be proactive in preventing bullying from reaching them at home.
If you are a teacher, I know you’re over worked and have a lot of students to take care of, but you never know how much a few encouraging words or your attention may mean to a child who’s hurting. You never know the effects of abuse you may help heal or may prevent by taking an interest in that child who seems to be an outcast.
I know we would like to think that more rules and laws will help quell this problem, and they may help some, but this world is broken. It is filled with broken homes and hurting kids, and hurting kids often hurt other kids. Until we figure out a solution that doesn’t simply protect the innocent, but helps the bullies themselves, we won’t stop it. We need to treat not only the effects but go to the root of the problem.
*The names of these girl’s have been changed.
This post was inspired by one Rachel at HandsFreeMama.com posted, “Life-Saving Reminders for a Child,” last Tuesday.
There are also resources at Bullies2Buddies.com for kids, parents, and teachers. Please check them out, too.