My ten-year-old jumped in the front seat of the van from the car rider line and slammed the door. I sensed that she had a rough day by her scowling expression. Of course, my parental instincts kick in and the first thing that I want to ask is, “how was your day?” I have never gotten a good response that way, it is always a short reply of, “good,” or “okay” but never an elaboration of what exactly that entailed. I took a breath and tried to think about what I could say not to set her off and help her know that I genuinely care and wanted to know about her day. I started asking questions that I thought she would appreciate better, “what did you learn today?” and "How did your presentation go?" This didn't seem to work as she let out an irritated sigh, “Mom, I had a long day.” She continued to look out the window, I could tell that she felt like I wouldn't understand what she was going through, I mean how could a lame old Mom like me possibly understand what her kids were going through? I had never been young once, right? I needed to hear what was happening in her world, because even though she was only ten and it may seem like she shouldn't have much to worry about from a grown up perspective, I had to understand that she's growing up in a different world than I did. Her emotions and problems would be much different than what I faced when I was her age. I admit, I am guilty of thinking; "what in the world could she be facing that was so horrible at her age?" However, she needed to know that I would always be a listening ear, her safe place to come to about anything. That was important. With caution, I started speaking, “When I was in fifth grade,” waiting for her to let out an annoyed sigh, I paused briefly. She sat silent, so I continued, “I felt alone. I didn't have many friends, I certainly didn't dress like a cool kid, and I was shy. Nobody really wanted to talk to a shy girl or try to hang around a dorky kid with beat up sneakers. If they approached me to try to play with me or talk to me, I always thought that it was a mistake, I didn't feel good enough to be around them, so I kept quiet most of the time. Some would poke at me and laugh and I knew the jokes were about me, but I would laugh with them or smile back. I willed myself not to let their actions bother me, though it was hard. I can honestly say that it did hurt, but I got through it because I knew that it wouldn't last forever. No matter how bad I felt, I didn't let them see it. They didn't get the best of me. It didn't bother me to be alone, most of the time I had my thoughts and that was good enough for me. Even though it was hard, I would stay myself. It can be easy to lose yourself when you're trying to discover who you are or where you fit in, but your heart always knows what's best and you need to listen to it. Despite hard times, my fifth-grade year ended up being one of my favorite years in school, I learned so much and had a lot of fun.” I hoped that something in that story would help, anything. I was going on nothing, walking into this world of hers with my eyes closed in hopes to help her through any darkness and push her to her light. She watched me while I told her about my younger years, her expression changing. When we pulled up to a red light, her demeanor softened, “Mom, I want to be a bully.” I was completely caught off guard, and for an instant, my heart was plagued with panic. I have always raised my kids to be kind to others, instilling in them that being mean or bullying is the wrong way to go. I was not expecting that to come from my story at all. Parenting is hard, often I feel like I am a failure at it, and this was most certainly one of those times. I closed my eyes, trying to hide my emotions, and willed myself to see it from her point of view. I stayed quiet and let her continue. “Listen Mom," she began as she watched me intently, "there's this kid and she's been picking on me and my friends for a while. We have tried to be kind and make friends, but it's like the harder we try, the worse she gets. She tells lies about us to our other friends and classmates, it makes us feel bad. I know that maybe her home life has a lot to do with it, but I would like to step into her shoes; the shoes of a bully and truly see how she's feeling. I want to understand why she feels like she needs to mistreat others to make herself feel better so that I can find a way to make her, and others like her see that they don't have to be like that. I just want to understand it." Glancing over at me, she smiled, "I know what you were thinking, Mom. I don't want to bully others. I wouldn't want anyone to feel bad. I want to understand what drives a bully to be a bully and help them.” I couldn't stop my mouth from falling open, I was lost. My heart was filled with pride for her and my mind was blown. often I ask who the parent is. I learn the most from my children, even when I think I know better.
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