Honk If You Have a Bully

Posted: November 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Manners, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, Sisters, Travel | 7 Comments »

Do they make “My kid’s a bully at Greenwood Elementary School!” bumper stickers? I’m guessing not.

It’s hardly the kind of thing you want to publicize. But if more people ‘fessed up about their kids’ unkind-to-others behavior, those of us who are wrangling with this unsavory stuff would feel so much less alone. Less freakish. Less sympathetic to people like, say, Jeffrey Dahmer’s mom.

I actually read a poll in a Motherboard newsletter about bullying. 71% of mothers said their kid had been bullied, but even more moms said their kid had never BEEN a bully. So who’s doing all that bullying then?

Well, now I know: It’s my daughter Kate.

Okay, so maybe it’s a bit soon to hang the bully mantel on her. But in my most neurotic Mama heart I just want to brace for the worst case scenario.

I was on a plane to New York. Yes, New Yawk Cit-ay! Blissfully alone. No diapers to change in a cramped cabin bathroom. No restless children to pacify with a constant stream of new toys and snacks. No dual car seats, immense roller bag, double stroller, and two overtired children to maneuver through endless airport hallways.

In other words, by virtue of simply being airborne alone–People magazine and novel in hand, and free to nap at will–I was already deep into my vacation.

But it was too good to be true. Because when the plane landed and I texted Mark to report my safe arrival, seconds later my phone rang. It was him, calling from home in the middle of the day.

“What’re you doing at home?” I asked nervously. This couldn’t be good.

“Well, I got a call from the school that I had to come pick Kate up. That she’d hit some other kids.”


My feel-good glow turned instantly to a churning stomachache.

“I considered not telling you ’til after the weekend,” he went on. (This getaway was my treat for being the On Duty parent when Mark traveled to exotic ports for work this summer.) “But I didn’t know who else I should tell about it. And I had to talk to someone.”

Why, I wondered, hadn’t he enlisted the ear of an imaginary friend?

Kate’s hitting episode that day was actually her third strike. She’d poked someone, pulled another kid’s hair, and did some other swatting or shoving, and right on the heels of her visit to the principal’s office. Oy.

And so, poor Mark got a call during a meeting with his two bosses (of course). He muttered apologies for his sudden need dash out the door because his five-year-old got kicked out of kindergarten for the day.

Good times.

As I yanked my bag from the overhead compartment and walked off the plane, my cell phone wedged between my ear and shoulder, I outlined my anxieties to Mark.

“So what if this is the first glimpse we’re getting of Kate developing into a sociopathic adult?” I panted. “I mean, you haven’t noticed that she’s been killing squirrels in the back yard with sticks or anything, have you?”

My mind raced. “But really—oh God—what if her teachers don’t like her now?” The one thing worse than being a serial killer in my mind? Being UNLIKED. This thought made me stop to lean against the wall en route to Baggage Claim. “Oh shit. What if she’s turned into the problem child they don’t want to deal with? Did it seem that way when you talked to them?”

Mark started talking me down off an emotional ledge—likely regretting at that point that I was the person he chose to share this news with. He tossed out some theories. Kate’s been super tired after school. The day at kindergarten day is longer and requires more focus than her short playful stints in preschool. Maybe that’s catching up with her? Making her grumpy and irrational? Also Paigey has been prone to hitting lately—a more age-appropriate behavior for a two-year-old, no doubt. But maybe Kate is somehow passing that forward?

This got me thinking. My sister Ellen tied a nun to a tree with a jump rope when she was in Catholic school. Hell, we LOVE that story in my family. And I’m sure that got her kicked out of school for the day. Maybe even a week! And dare I admit to my own behavior in Miss Hancock’s classroom? Bonnie Usher grabbed an eraser I wanted so I leaned over and bit her arm. (She was clearly askin’ for it.)

I mean, these kinds of things are garden variety childhood offenses, right? Ellen and I have never been incarcerated. I’d even go so far as to say we’re both highly-functioning members of society.

But by the time I was in the cab watching a gray day in Queens whiz past the window, my attempt at sweeping The Hitting under the carpet turned on me. And I did what nearly every mother tends to do: wracked my brain for what it was that I’D done to bring this all about.

It didn’t take long to decide that Kate’s playground furor was due to the very trip I was on. Brought about by my selfishness for wanting to be away alone for three nights. Plus, it was just days after another overnight trip I’d taken for work.

It was my fault entirely.

It’s been two weeks now since this all went down. And I can happily report that Kate has made no additional assaults on her peers. A feat that, after her first day back in school after The Incident, she felt was worthy of a gift.

“I didn’t hit anyone today!” she cheerfully reported as she climbed into the car. “So can you get me that ice cream maker toy that I saw on TV?”

Uh, you don’t get a prize for *not* whacking your friends upside the head, kiddo. Puh-leez.

Now most mortal Mamas would just let this go now, right? Turn their attention to other anxieties. But Kate’s parent-teacher conference rolled around a week or so later. Even though it was packed with praise for things like being “a promising mathematician” (Mark’s genes), a precocious communicator, and an all-around smart gal, I found I was clinging to the Hitting. So in the course of our chat with the teacher, I somehow resuscitated a long-dormant anxiety I thought—or hoped—I’d put to rest.

Did we send Kate to Kindergarten too soon?

Everyone is holding kids—sure, mostly boys—back these days. Six-year-olds are as common in kindergartens as lice. Not to mention five-year-olds. Which makes Miss Kate, who started the year off at age four, a wee one in her class.

In terms of book learnin’ the girl’s ready to roll. But is she out of her league in terms of emotional development and social composure?

I flip-flopped wildly on this issue last year. Each time lecturing Mark on the merits of what I was sure was my final decision. Another year of preschool will buy us more time with her before she’s off to college. It’s settled! But then her interest in writing and reading would make me certain that more preschool would bore her. A day later a friend would extol the merits of Pre-K programs and I’d be on the phone with the preschool begging for her spot back.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ultimately the three schools that assessed her all thought she was ready. So we pulled the trigger.

During Kate’s conference I started speculating madly on this issue. (I’d forgotten how good I was at it.) I wanted her teacher to pat my hand and assure me we made the right decision. And in subtle ways she kinda did—saying Kate is intellectually in line with her classmates, and behavioral issues like hitting can crop up in the first six weeks of school. But she didn’t take me by the shoulders and scream this into my face, which was apparently required to really convince me.

So on the drive home Mark—bless his heart—tried talking me off the ledge again. He’s long felt confident that Kate was ready for kindergarten. And even though The Hitting Thing rocked his world too, the fact that it was now ricocheting in my mind to other places, seemed to fortify his hunch that it would all be okay.

After reading Halloween books to a sweet sleepy Kate that night, I looked at her as I closed her door and had a Mama moment. I couldn’t imagine her being any more perfect. I crawled into my own bed and wondered what I’d think if we had held her back, but she still did something like hit another kid. What excuses would we have then? What could I beat myself up about then?

Maybe that champion spouse of mine was right. Once I dove past that thick outer layer of self-doubt and frenzied Mama worry, I found that I arrived at a more peaceful place. There I let all the dramatic self-flagellation slip away, took a cleansing breath, and had a clear calm thought that sometimes these things just happen. And in kindergarten, along with learning to read and to count to ten in Spanish, Kate’ll also learn how to control her emotions, and how to be a better friend.

She will survive Kindergarten. She’ll move past The Hitting until it’s some little incident we—and hopefully her teachers—barely remember. And, God willing, she won’t chop people up as an adult and store their body parts in chest freezers.

At least, I really really hope not.


7 Comments on “Honk If You Have a Bully”

  1. 1 Nell said at 10:50 am on November 4th, 2010:

    Nobody wants to get that call…and we have, more than once!! So you’re not alone on the ledge, this too shall pass, and talking about it helps. (Just ask John about our drive home when it happened to me.)

  2. 2 Christopher Plambeck said at 8:41 am on November 10th, 2010:

    Thanks for a great read, Kristen. I wanted to let you know I also don’t think you have a problem. You see, I was the bully as a child. And I feel really guilty not only for what I did to other children, but when I think how hard it must have been on my parents to be the ones with ‘that child’. I was hyperintelligent, but didn’t find out until recently I have depression and ADHD. I just know I was a very unsatisfied child. If Kate was an actual bully, I don’t think you would be asking yourself if she was, you’d know. Good luck!

  3. 3 Faith Caulder said at 9:37 am on November 10th, 2010:

    So good to hear a parent actually wondering if their child is a bully. I was bullied when I was in school, and let me tell you, it was not fun. However, one incident does not a bully make. It is when “others” are encouraged to join in, and your child is the “ring leader” that parents should become worried. What makes me wonder all these years later, is WHY this particular person felt that they had to right to be mean to another person? What in her genetic make up would fuel such anger and hate? More importantly, did she grow up and raise bullies of her own; or in the world of karma, were her children victims of bullies? When I had my own children, I tried to let them know how important it is to be tolerant of others. I realize that I had suceeded when I got a phone call one day when my son was in middle school, and a parent told me she had observed him trying to protect another kid from a group of boys who were yelling at him. When I asked him why he hadn’t told me about it he calmly said there wasn’t anything to say. He didn’t know the other boy but felt that three against one wasn’t fair. He did however, know the the main bully and was able to talk to him about what was going on and let him know that “beating up” on someone smaller and alone wasn’t too cool. I had never felt more proud of anyone and more humble in all my life, than at that very moment. Long story short, parents start talking with your children at an early age and maybe bullies will become a thing of the past.

  4. 4 Christine said at 5:09 am on November 15th, 2010:

    Thank you for this. My daughter was born on the ‘cutoff date’ for kindergarten, and when told that she ‘goes to kindergarten’ we started preparing her. Little did I know, this district has a preK class, a Young 5′s preschool class, and all around seems to fully support ‘letting her wait’ and we didn’t. shame on us.

    She is academically ready and reading at the top of her class. With that, is a little trouble staying focused on task, and a preference to spin through the hallways instead of walking in formation.

    With that, she has also met the principal three times, once resulting in a suspension. (she and her tablemates were ‘pretending to cut each other with scissors, and she thought she had more space.’ Guess what? Safety scissors are not all that safe) I know too well the pit in the stomach feeling.

    Reading your blog, particularly the part about the first 6 weeks, helped me understand. Thank you.

  5. 5 kristen said at 4:39 pm on November 15th, 2010:

    Yay, Christine! So happy to have you reading.

    And for what it’s worth, I still spin my way down hallways. Life’s more fun that way!

  6. 6 Wronda said at 7:33 am on November 18th, 2010:

    You My Friend are most definately not alone…..just a little over a month ago, our one year old was kicked out of day care for biting…..and trust me….I beat myself up over that one, until one day I received an email from another day care containing an article about children and biting…..and in all my stressing out…..after reading that I found out that it’s not uncommon for it to happen…..and not to freak when it does…you just have to kind of go with the flow…..and if your doing what’s right for your child…..you won’t regret it…even during those bad moments….needless to say…our daughter is at home with a day sitter right now…..which seems to be working out for the best for all of us….but we’ll see, cause now I’m beating myself up over not allowing her to be around other children to gain social skills….so the list goes one…..I’ll figure it out……ONE DAY..

  7. 7 What Moms are Saying About Bullies | motherboardmoms said at 1:16 pm on December 7th, 2010:

    [...] 11% of moms say their child has been the bully. (Read this mom’s story.) [...]

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