I imagine bullies start out as cute and cuddly, like a Tickle me Elmo or other Sesame Street character, like Ernie. What non-sociopathic human could resist such cuteness? This cuteness is thus encouraged, nurtured…rewarded.
The problem is that Elmo’s charming laugh is actually a cover for evil intent. First, this diabolic entity ensnares its prey with the delightful sound of a child’s giggle and then once enchanted, torments said prey with the unrelenting repetition of the very same giggle that was initially so endearing.
So it is with bullies. They look cute at first – toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarteners and all through the primary grades. Check out any school Christmas concert and you’ll see them all lined up in cute, fidgety rows. Friggin. Adorable.
I have a son in grade 2 and he is also adorable (of course). He is, in addition, a gentle giant. He has been gigantean from the get-go – from the first ultrasonic introduction when he was nothing more than a fetus.
However, though one might assume because of his rather large stature that he would be aggressive, he is in fact kind, considerate, introspective beyond his years, and sensitive – sometimes heartbreakingly so.
He has a love of music, a surprising sense of humor, and notices things that no one else does, like the bright yellow of a buttercup on an overcast day or how, on one occasion, the load strapped to a flat deck truck looked exactly like an enormous toilet.
Other times, a touching ballad or the mere thought of his little sister in pain can bring him to tears. He has an array of emotions, really. He is not a robot or a psychopath. He was born a sentient being…which I probably do not have to point out.
He was also born with a full head of soft yellow hair like the down of a duckling.
His huge blue eyes, which were striking even at birth, blinked slowly as he calmly and knowingly looked around at his new environment – as if it wasn’t new to him at all, as if he had already been here.
Indeed, one of the nurses told me she could tell by the serene wisdom in his baby blues that he was an old soul.
I think a lot about him as an old soul. Sometimes I think it’s true, but other times he seems so innocent and naïve that I don’t want to let him leave the house, lest someone hurts him and irrevocably wounds his precious spirit.
I worry that he won’t be able to handle what the world throws at him, and that others will sense his kindness as a weakness to be exploited, and his silence as a kind of lassitude to be taken advantage of. He has dispelled these worries time and time again, yet worry continues to linger in the background.
So when DJ came home from school last week and said another boy on the playground had punched him in the face, I was a bit overwrought. He, on the other hand, found my reaction and subsequent interrogation a tad annoying. He said it wasn’t a big deal, but he and the other boy did have to go to the office and the principal would be phoning me.
I immediately checked all communication devices. There were no calls on any of the call displays. There were no voice or text messages. There were no emails and there was no handwritten note. I phoned the school and there was no answer either, so I left a message to call me back.
Later, upon questioning DJ further, I found out the bully boy was 2 years older than him, had a speech impediment and was about half his size. This was not the first time I had heard of this particular boy’s brutish behavior, so it would seem he was developing into the school bully.
DJ denied retaliating. He simply took the punch to his cheek, admitted it hurt, but did not defend himself, other than to look around for the duty teacher who happened to witness the whole thing.
He didn’t retaliate. That is good. I know. Violence begets violence and all that…BUT now I had a new worry with the image of DJ dumbly standing there, without it even occurring to him to defend himself.
I knew DJ wasn’t an instigator, but I suspected if provoked he would stand his ground, because although we teach him he cannot go around hitting people EVEN if they hit him first, that defense mechanism can be hardwired in. For many, it is a knee jerk reaction that no amount of parental guidance can extinguish, especially when the aggressor is blatantly the weaker of the two.
Not so with DJ, evidently…or so I thought.
When the principal finally phoned me at work the next day, she casually and almost cheerfully explained what happened. Apparently bully boy kid wanted to play on the “Big Toy” but DJ wouldn’t get off to give the bully boy a turn. Consequently, DJ was punched in the face. I do not know how the much shorter boy was able to reach DJ to punch him in the face. Was there an accomplice? Nobody knew.
In any event, the principal assured me the bully’s parents were informed and the school had teaching strategies in place for dealing with aggressive behavior. That was good, I told the principal, because this boy was developing a name for himself and I was glad he was being monitored.
I then went off on my “DJ is a lover, not a fighter” spiel, even going so far as to suggest DJ would never hurt a flea, a fly, a louse or even a dandelion….
…well…apparently I spoke a little too soon…as tends to happen.
The principal took this opportunity to inform me there was a second incident involving DJ, which happened on that very day, only an hour before she called me.
She claimed she normally wouldn’t call a parent over such a minor incident, but since she had me on the line anyway, she might as well let me know. I appreciate being kept in the loop when it comes to my own offspring, so I was grateful with all this "offhand" information. Thank you for being on top of it.
It seems another boy put a bead (I still don't know why a simple bead would cause such conflict) in DJ’s desk and when DJ insisted this boy remove the bead, the boy refused and made a taunting face. DJ therefore, and correctly, took the bead to the teacher, without taking matters into his own hands. He is a good boy.
HOWEVER, when he got back to his desk and noticed a second boy mouthing the word “loser” to him, it was the final straw. He wordlessly went up to this kid and pulled back his finger so hard that it made the child cry. Nice.
Of course this wasn’t nice.
First of all, I sounded like an idiot since I had just made the bold and evidently deluded statement that DJ would not ever inflict pain on another living thing. I also felt a confusing mixture of alarm, shame, pride, failure, disappointment and dare I say…relief?
I certainly would never encourage DJ to defend himself in a violent manner and spoke to him about the whole situation. But I am relieved he will not passively allow others to walk all over him. Now we just have to make sure he understands the proper way to assert himself without resorting to violence.
Still, I suspect I do not really have to tell him these things. I think he already knows this stuff, being the old soul that he is. There are many things in life that we can and should let go...let it slide.
So often people do not do this and small, essentially meaningless things become catastrophes that cannot be easily remedied. Then there are those times when a stand must be made, because without it there is no positive change.
Ultimately, the lesson here is that Elmo-esque cuteness can turn ugly and even gentle giants have their limits.