BalletBoy vs. the Playground Bully

For the last month or so, I have followed with interest as the topic of bullying, specifically for kids who are gay (or thought to be gay), has gotten the sort of national conversation it has long deserved.  I have also especially appreciated that some homeschool blogs and book blogs have gotten in on the conversation, including Smrt Mama’s great posts about taking her kids to the Pride parade.  However, I haven’t really posted anything here because I haven’t felt like I’ve had anything to add to the conversation.  Bullying is horrible and it is a rising problem.  Bullying over issues of gender and sexuality is especially horrible, in part because it’s often institutionally supported or carried out by parents and other adults as well peers.  Bullying is wrong.  Parents, teachers and society in general needs to wake up to that.  I have been deeply moved by Dan Savage’s brilliant It Gets Better campaign.  But I didn’t feel like I had anything to add.

Well, today I’ve got something to add.  We went to the playground down the street (not the one contaminated with lead, but the other one…  gotta love my neighborhood!).  It was midday, so I assumed we’d have the place to ourselves.  However, a surprising number of kids started to trickle in soon after we arrived.  As usual, there were no other parents around.  Immediately, two boys about the same age as BalletBoy started in on his gender.  I’ve posted about this before.  Occasionally kids get stuck on it and can’t let it go, but for the first time, a kid, who was only five years old, used this to call him gay.  BalletBoy and Mushroom decided these kids, who had already been shoving each other into a puddle and threatening each other with sticks, were clearly not kids they wanted to hang around.  They went to play on a different part of the playground.  Apparently, the two boys followed them and took out a lighter then told BalletBoy they were going to burn his hair.  When BalletBoy came to get me, the bullies ran off.  I suggested we leave and the kids agreed.  I was disgusted, but it wasn’t until after we had left the park that I understood there had been an actual lighter in play.

There’s so many issues here, that I don’t even know if I can tease all the threads apart.  There’s the fact that the kids at that park are, for the most part, neglected kids.  There’s the fact that this really makes me feel rotten for letting them to basically handle it themselves only to realize that there had been actual weapons involved.  There’s the fact that neither of my kids really know what “gay” means (and I seriously doubt the bullies did either).  BalletBoy and Mushroom know a number of gay adults, especially at church, where one of their teachers is a lesbian.  When gay marriage passed in our city, I seem to recall that they were surprised that previously two men or two women couldn’t get married.  However, I’m sure he didn’t understand what the insult even meant and if he had, I don’t think he would have understood it as an insult.  There’s the horrible misogyny at assuming that femininity is somehow negative.  There’s the sad fact that a 5 year old was already indoctrinated with that homophobia and misogyny.  There’s the similarly sad fact that two such young kids had a lighter and knew how to use it and even how to threaten other kids with it.  If I had realized that before we left, I might, as some friends suggested, have gotten the police involved.  But that brings up another fact: that the police, and even the social workers, can’t usually make much of a difference for kids who are already threatening other kids with violence and hate crimes by the time they’re in kindergarten.  Finally, there’s the fact that my kids don’t have to deal with neglected kids or kids growing up in the mob of a public school.  They have a lot of friends and sometimes experience exclusion or nastiness, but nothing on this level.

With all these strands of what happened floating in my mind, here’s what I’m going to take away.  My kids are awesome.  When the bullies wanted BalletBoy to get involved in their game, telling him, “Get him!” BalletBoy said to them in the most exasperated tone, “I’m not going to get anyone!”  When they called him names, he walked away and didn’t let it get to him.  When they threatened him, Mushroom and BalletBoy immediately came to me.  There was a conversation on a certain online forum recently about whether you can “bullyproof” kids.  Some people argued vehemently that the victims of bullying can’t do anything to change the situation themselves.  Sometimes that’s true.  However, I don’t believe that’s always true.  I see it in my kids that the best bullyproofing is raising a kid who trusts his parents and feels good about himself.  When I hugged BalletBoy before bed tonight, I told him that he already knew something at age six that many adults don’t know, which is that he doesn’t have to listen when people are nasty because he’s happy with who he is.  Who knows what sort of person BalletBoy will be when he grows up.  But I think he knows that whoever he is, it’s okay.  If he can keep that, then he’ll be pretty resilient in life.

Happy just the way he is.


4 thoughts on “BalletBoy vs. the Playground Bully

  1. Wow! Part of me is in shock and sadden and another part of me isn’t so shocked given what I’ve seen close friends of mine go through. Part of the reason we don’t socialize with the children in our neighborhood is because of behavior I’ve seen to be down right wrong in relation to what we are trying to teach our boys.

    None of them *to my knowledge* have ever bullied our oldest. Although there was a situation where he was outside in his dress and the mother came and had all the kids go in the house. Part of me was so furious that she would do that *even more so when she let them return back outside once we had migrated back into our home*, but another part of me was glad they were removed before they said or did something like what you and your son experienced.

    The things people teach their children is just beyond me. I can’t understand the kind of hate needed to teach small children *and approve of* such abysmal behavior.

  2. It is unfortunate that hate is still being taught, but I have to say that on this subject it IS getting better. When I entered college I directly got involved in the gay community because I felt so strongly that this group was continually getting harassed and that wasn’t ok with me. I became an educator for all of campus students, RAs, RHDs and eventually all of the university. We encouraged ALLYs to speak up and not fear being labelled themselves and we created “Safe Spaces”. I think that since I have been involved (really since 1st grade when I had a friend that was treated just like Miles through the end of HS) to now… the media, the classrooms, grown ups.. talk about the subjects and actually discuss GLBT issues. Before… we couldn’t even get an administator or government leader to mutter the word gay! I am excited about all of this and it gives me hope for the kids our children’s age. I don’t think it will go away but our society is really making strides to include GLBTQ individuals, couples and families. And as with being your own person… yes! That does start at home with love and acceptance and is truly the best bully proofing.

    Subject #2: I have had this conversation about bullies since Willow was 3 since a good friend in our group had a kid that was often punching our kids. Some moms wanted to teach their kids to stand up for themselves by punching, pushing or yelling back when they were getting the same treatment. I was teaching my daughter (who was bigger and easilier stronger than the rest of the kids) to walk away. Tell them not to say those things or to hit her, and walk away and come tell me. Other moms thought it was weak but I felt it gave the other kids no interest in a kid that wasn’t riled up and would not be interested any more. I felt the right path was following in the steps of Ghandi or the Dalai Lama. These are core teachings in our household and important in my life and I couldn’t imagine teaching my child how to hit! I have been very happy with the results. Willow has over and over again shown me that she can practice walking away and I have been SO proud of her. Sometimes, when it is a good friend that she has to walk away from she gets sad and hurt because she doesn’t understand why a friend would hit her or say mean things… but she walks away. An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind. ~ Gandhiji.

  3. Wow. I’m amazed on so many levels at this post. I’m sad to say that I’m not surprised by the bullying (well, the lighter DOES surprise me, actually). Saddened, yes; surprised, no. I am impressed by the way you have handled the situation and what you’ve taken away from it. You’ve managed to turn something very negative into something positive by focusing on the good (your kids) in the situation, and by passing that message along to them. And it’s clear by their reactions that this is becoming a part of their identity. I’m sad for the other kids – the bullies. Imagine the difference it would make to our world if they received the same messages your sons are receiving.

  4. I’m so sorry that your sweet boys had to deal with that kind of negativity – but I am glad that they’re confident enough to both deal with it and assert themselves. I think it’s great that they knew when to come to you and that they felt confident that coming to you would be a positive thing 🙂
    Hugs all around.

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