He held my hand as we made our way up the sidewalk to his school. As we approached a set of double doors to go inside, we had to pass a group of kids outside, aged between six and 10.
All eyes were on us as we walked past the kids. Being shy, my son looked down, not meeting any of their eyes.
And yet, the kids didn’t take their eyes off of us.
We were early, and the only new people there at the moment, so obviously, we were the center of attention. I watched as the children looked him up and down, judging him, seeing how he fit into their world.
And I had flashbacks to my own childhood, that feeling of being the new kid. Being judged on a first impression and being cast in some role or another.
And it all came back to me in a flood of memories and sensations.
Suddenly I wanted to grab my son, hold him close, and bring him home, so he never has to deal with the difficulties of being judged, singled out, or picked on.
Of course I didn’t do that.
For one, my wife would freak out.
For two, I’ve got to let my son find his feet and his own way.
And I didn’t want to kick off my son’s first school year by being the most embarrassing dad ever!
Fortunately, my son seems a lot better equipped than I was. He has no problem making friends, and is a happy, sociable child. By the end of the day, he’d made friends and was having fun.
However, I dread when my son gets older and has to deal with fitting in, and possibly even dealing with bullies. Once I hit middle school, I had a lot of trouble with both.
So I’m not really sure the best way to handle either situation.
But I’m not going to scare him with stories of my monsters. I’m not going to shape his world with MY experiences of it.
Fortunately, bullies are talked about a bit more these days. The problem is complex and there is no easy solution, especially considering that many bullies are victims themselves.
When I was a kid, however, you rarely talked about bullies.
There was a deep shame in being bullied. You were somehow less than a man (despite still being a child) if you couldn’t stand up to them.
The few times I’d found the courage to tell an adult, I was usually met with skepticism. Like I had somehow provoked a bully. Or there was something I could’ve done differently — maybe flown a bit more under the radar, not be so goofy and attract attention or something. And of course, some people asked why didn’t I just fight back?
There were a couple of incidents where I did fight back. And both were scary, because I almost lost control.
One incident involved a threesome of kids who picked on me. I ran from the fight at first. But when they found me later, I lost it, and wound up on top of one kid, dragging his head to a sidewalk to smash it in, so he couldn’t possibly get up and hurt me again.
Fortunately, that fight got broken up before I wound up doing any real damage.
But that’s the sorta thing that can easily happen when you get bullied over and over. Eventually, you snap and you either harm yourself or someone else. Which is why there needs to be more discussion about the subject of bullying.
MY OWN ‘ELLIE’
Fortunately, in middle school, I met my own version of Ellie.
Her name was Tanya. And though we’re separated by miles, we still keep in touch from time to time.
She was there for me when I had no one else.
She gave me a confidence I didn’t have.
She taught me how to fight the monsters.
And one time, she even scared off a whole gang of people who wanted to kick my ass for no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Tanya didn’t put up with bullshit. Never did, never will.
I always admired her strength, though it took me years to be even close to as brave.
So this story is for Tanya, and everyone else out there who has helped someone fight the monsters. Thank you. And thanks to Sean who helped bring this story to life with his usual flair.
And to those who are fighting monsters, I don’t really have advice on dealing with them. I’d say to stand up for yourself, but sometimes, it’s wiser to lay low.
But one thing I can say is to never be silent about it.
Tell many someones.
And to others, if you see someone being bullied, offer your support, even if it’s just a friendly ear.
Because if I didn’t have Tanya, I’m not sure I would’ve ever survived the monsters.
Thank you for reading,
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