While my youngest son was at physical therapy, I read a People magazine. I know, it’s no great literary endeavor, but it helps to pass the hour of coma inducing waiting. There was an article about some of the families that have recently lost their children to suicide over bullying.
A few weeks ago, we had conferences at Jimmy’s school. When I spoke to the teachers I told them about Jimmy constantly telling me that the kids at school don’t like him. His face instantly went scarlet and I thought maybe I had overstepped my bounds. The teachers ensured Jimmy that he was a model student, that they wished more of their students were like him. While I know Jimmy is a really good kid, I couldn’t shake the fact that I probably embarrassed him, so I apologized the minute we got home. He didn’t say anything more about it.
I read the article that day with tears in my eyes. The gist of it was simple: Open a dialogue with your kids. Make bullying something they can talk about. Give them the place they know is safe to air their troubles. Let them know that they are not alone.
I handed it to Jimmy and said, “I embarrass you because I don’t want to be these people, who question whether they did enough to help their kids. If anything happened to you, I’d be devastated and unable to rest at night if I thought for one second that I didn’t do everything I could to help you.”
Jimmy read the article and turned to me.
“Mom, there’s a kid who is doing the same thing to me at school. He calls me fat and gay every day. He won’t leave me alone.”
I was never so happy to have been reading a garbage magazine in my life. I told Jimmy we’d talk to dad and tomorrow I’d call school. I also told him that if the school doesn’t have the correct response to him, Monday would be the day Mom goes to school and literally shows her ass.
“That’s why I hate telling you stuff. You’re overprotective of me.” I felt pain like no other stab my heart. Have I overstepped again?
Tony took that moment to comment.
“Jimmy, I like that about Mom. She’s willing to come down on people like a ton of bricks, even if it makes her look stupid and overprotective, because she loves us so much.”
Jimmy, for the first time in Tony’s short life, said nothing to his brother. He only looked at him.
When we got home, I had to cancel plans I had made in order to talk with Jim (he works bizarre hours and our time together is very limited). This morning I called the school. They said they’d talk to Jimmy.
When Jimmy got home he said, “The school counselor came to get me today. I thought I was in trouble, but we talked about that kid and she told me, that no matter what time of day, if I have to be late to class or miss a class altogether, I could come to her immediately the second he bothers me. She said she’d give him a warning this time, but next time he goes straight to the assistant principal.”
“How does that make you feel? Better?”
I didn’t say anything further today. But a little while after, in true Jimmy fashion, he quietly gave me a hug.
“Thanks, Mom,” he whispered in my ear.
Thankfully, he couldn’t hear the tears falling down my cheeks.
*****This piece originally appeared in Lemonade and Holy Stuff: Collected Essays.