Sixth Grade is a tough year. Middle School is brutal. We all remember and often cringe thinking about those years. So when a certain middle schooler began getting teased for his perfect Justin Beiber hair at the beginning of the year, I taught him to roll with it. He’s pretty sensitive and takes it pretty hard when someone disses him in any way. I figured it was a good lesson. You know, toughen him up a bit. There were several times over the year when he’d come home upset. But he could never give me a name. Or probably didn’t want to. I was always able to talk him down, tell him to ignore the taunts. The tactic seemed to work. I hadn’t heard any reports of teasing lately.
The other night, he came home and asked if he could skip the last two weeks of school. This, I might add (a little proudly) came two days after the amazing accomplishment of jumping from Beginner Band to Senior Band, one of three kids in his music class. He should have been riding the high of his accomplishment. With a little probing I figured out he didn’t want to go to school because he was being bullied again. This time the kid tried to swipe his cell phone, stolen from his jeans during gym class, and he was forced to punch the kid to get it back. Then the kid tried to extort $20, promising an end to the torture. Yet he promised that he would make the last day of school regrettable.
As any mother would, I wanted to run down to that school and whoop that skinny kid’s ass. But through whines and tears, I was begged to not get involved, to not notify the school. I would make it worse, he said. But things had gone too far. I had to choose between betraying my son’s trust or intervening on his behalf. I chose the latter. Mama bear always wins.
I wrote an emailÂ and spoke to the counselor who promised action while maintaining anonymity. She would meet with my son, under the guise of a end of year post mortem and would alert teachers to the problem so they could keep and eye out. I knew he’d be upset when he came home. He hated talking to the counselor. Sure enough, bags were thrown to the floor upon entry, I was screamed at “Why did you tell the school?” followed by doors slamming and locked and a monk-like vow of silence. I felt ill. Had I made the wrong choice by intervening? Should I have have remained uninvolved and let him hash it out on his own with this kid? What would his father have done? I explained through his locked door my reasons. That I was his mother and this is what mothers did to protect their children. That it had gone on long enough, that by notifying the school we might actually be helping the bully to get some help that might stop a cycle of nasty behavior. I had read online that a very high percentage of bullies go on to become criminals.
In my worry I added insult to injury when I forgot to take him to his piano lesson. I took his sister to an appointment, still certain that I had betrayed his trust and that he would never divulge any information to me ever again. I pictured the eventual slide into non-communication, the rebellion, hanging out with “the bad crowd,” the drugs, the addiction, the painful recovery (OK, a little extreme perhaps but I am reading a book written by an addict at the moment). It would all be my fault, because I intervened that time in sixth grade and he never trusted me enough to tell me what was really going on in his life ever again.
When I got home, he was in the kitchen watching TV. I went about making dinner respecting the vow of silence. I could tell the anger had left him. During a break, I went over and kissed him on the top of his head. He didn’t yank away. I asked him a question and he answered. It was over. And I’m pretty sure he was relieved that the situation was now out of his hands.
Later that night, out with friends I told the story. One of the dad’s immediate response was “I’m gonna go down to that school and whoop that skinny kid’s ass!” I smiled because I felt backed-up, vindicated for my decision, that even with a partner I would have made the same decision to do exactly as I did.