She got a haircut last Saturday. I was thrilled because this meant no more fighting her to brush out the tangled mess at the back, underpart of her long, brown head of curls. My ‘Little’ (what her father and I have called her since she was born – 7 weeks early and finally came home a massive 4 pounds from the hospital; both of us afraid to break her at every diaper change) hopping around the house all weekend with her lighter, tighter curls bouncing around her head. “Now I am pretty”, she sang to herself.
To me she is and always has been beautiful. To anyone I could imagine, she must be beautiful. I am her mother, but I think I am fairly objective. She is 11 years old, brown eyes, a little above average height, always smiling, loves to read mystery stories, and chat. She has cute little glasses and likes to play (mostly pretend games). Did I mention she is brilliant? So maybe some of the kids at school don’t appreciate all of those qualities… I was much like her at that age; only not as smart and not nearly as cute.
When I was her age it didn’t bother me too much that no one wanted to be my friend. I did my school work, sang in the school choir and went home. There were some mean kids at school who would pick on me because my teeth were too big for my face and I was overweight and that did hurt my feelings, but my mother told me to pretend that it didn’t bother me and so I did. I went home and cried where no one could see. I did have something though; I wanted to be a singer and dancer someday. I watched shows about Broadway and musicals and knew someday I would do something like that and no one would make fun of me anymore. I would make up dances and practice singing in my room for hours until it was time to go to bed. Then back to school. There were other things in my life that made me sad and school was not the worst of it. School was almost an escape, not as good as home but I was able to learn here and the teachers liked me. I almost felt like I deserved to be picked on some. It just motivated me to work harder when I got home on my dancing and singing.
Flash forward seven years: I did end up with a full scholarship for dance and voice to a performance program at college – but I also ended up with no sense of self-worth and suicide ideation, major depressive disorder, OCD and severe anxiety that I battle to this day. Would I change something for me in my childhood now? I am doing well now but perhaps… But now, I see my Little in this very same place and I cannot chance her ending up as I have. I have to say I DO NOT believe childhood bullying leads to mental illness; but on the other hand, it can certainly exacerbate the issue if no one comes along to show the child they are worth more than what their peers are telling them they are. Not just for the victim of the bullying but also for the bully’s sake. A couple of the people that were horrible to me in childhood have come back and apologized in adulthood and I do believe they had suffered also.
Back to my daughter. She tells me in P.E. class a little boy named Davis told her one day after she mentioned in class her sister and she were in a car accident that they could have died, “Awe, too bad you didn’t!” I called the gym teacher at her Middle School (we’ll call him Coach M) and left a message, per his preferred method of contact. He never contacted me back, nor said anything to the young man, Davis or my daughter. Also, she tells me she has no friends from last year and doesn’t know why. (This is her first year in GT classes and I suspect that could have something to do with it.) She has joined both Reading Club and Art Club, which she enjoys and I hope this will help her find children with like interests but as a mother, other than giving her the same advice my mother gave, I don’t know what else to do (she doesn’t like to sing as much as I did and has shown little interest in dance). Oh, also after she went back to school excited about her “pretty” new haircut? She was told that she looked: “weird”, “okay”, “she could model if she ate a tapeworm”, “funny” and many other non-encouraging not-nice, definite not friend words.
She does like to run and we have joined the ‘Team Beef’ running team as a family, which is not easy to do over the last few years. Little was the last to do so. We hope to become more active in that in the New Year and I would like to see that boost her confidence the way dance did for me in High School. But by then for me, my self-confidence was already bruised. I sincerely hope teachers and administrators do take notice of the lonely ‘Littles’ like mine in their schools and know how truly alone they are. Give them an extra boost occasionally if you could. You have no idea what you are doing for their self-worth. And tell the mean kid next to them (or group of kids), to look up the word “empathy” in the dictionary.