Friday, October 29, 2010

It gets better*

I just had a conversation with my daughter; one of those big, meaningful conversations which I as a parent want so desperately to get just right, yet I have no idea what to say. So I pause, and I think, and I try to remember what it was like to be 9, when everything seemed so HUGE. When I had secrets, and fears, and no one to talk to about them; when I believe that betrayals, and mistakes, and bad feelings were forever. Then I open my mouth, and speak from my heart. Tonight I said something like this:

I remember what it was like to be 9. When you're a kid, or a teenager, everything is so big and every situation feels like it will last forever. Secrets feel huge, like their eating your insides. You feel like you have no one to talk to and that you have to handle everything yourself. Things can be so scary, and you worry about making mistakes all the time. One day you'll be in a situation where someone is doing something, or wants you to do something, that feels wrong, like a knot in your stomach. If that hasn't already happened, it will, many times throughout your life. In that moment you have to decide what to do. Do you go with your friends, or with what you know is right? It's really hard to do the right thing, sometimes it feels impossible, like you don't have any choice at all. But there is something you need to know: the only person you have to live with your whole life is yourself. Even though it feels like the end of the world if a friend is mad at you, or stops being your friend, it's not. It gets better. No bad situation or feeling is forever. I know it's hard, but I'm here to help. I don't want you to ever feel like you have to go it alone.

My daughter's know I was bullied in elementary school. We moved to the city when I was going into 5th grade, and my unpopular, uncool, country bumpkin self was the perfect target of the mean, popular girls. They put mean notes in my desk, pinched me and hit me when the teachers weren't looking, ripped up my jacket and bag in the coat room. They told all the other kids that if anyone played with me, they would be shunned by the popular girls. So pretty much no one did, except for one other girl who was equally unpopular. It was a year of hell, and I never told anyone. Why? I look back now and wonder why I thought I had to take care of it myself. Was I too ashamed to tell my parents? Did I think they would make it worse? Or were they just so distant that I didn't think they would care? I wonder why they didn't notice anything, why they didn't question and pry until the truth came out. Maybe they did and I just don't remember, maybe I just wasn't willing to tell. Whatever the case, it was awful, and I was alone, and I don't want my daughters to ever feel anything like that.

The ramifications of bullying exceed so far beyond the initial hazing. My bullies left off after a year, and I was even accepted into their clique for a little while. I went to sleepovers at their homes, hung out with them at school. Why they let me in I will probably never know, but I know why I went so gladly into my tormentors arms: I wanted friendship and I wanted to be part of the 'in' crowd. But even then I knew I wasn't really a part of the group. I was conditioned to see myself as a loser, a loner, and a freak. I was broken, and it was just the beginning.

I'll skip the teenage angst and melodrama, this is after all a sort-of family blog. Sufficed to say, I was miserable for many, many years during which ending it all seemed like a very attractive proposition. Thank God, I never went that far, and a long time later I began to realize that life had gotten better. I realized that if I had acted on those feelings back then, I would've prevented just as much good from happening as bad. I wouldn't have had all the wonderful experiences I've had; traveling in Europe, meeting my husband, having my children.

It gets better. It ALWAYS gets better. No matter how dark, how painful, or how devastating our experiences are, they always pass. I promise.

*I'm not trying to co-opt anything with this title, I just believe in the message. These three words, this phrase, say it all really. The rest is just filler.


Sweet Mama said...

Wow, tears welled up in my eyes. I could literally "see" you having that conversation, in soft light, like a film. I've never really spoken to my son so deeply about the bullying that he experienced. Maybe because I didn't want to put MORE emphasis on it. Maybe because he never asked. When he came home crying from school I'd just hug him and hug him, tell him how important and amazing he was. After hearing your thoughts, I actually hope I have the opportunity to have such a conversation. Your children are so lucky to have a mother like you, and what you experienced will help make their lives so much better. Jay always reminds me, "this too shall pass." Same message, different words. Thanks for your insight.

Sweet Mama said...

And I want to say that I think your beautiful daughters are amazing, great kids. They are lucky to have a mom like you.