The effects of bullying, Part 3

March 2, 2014

This is the fourth entry in an occasional series on how being picked on as a kid influenced the sort of adult I turned out to be.

I have an extremely self-deprecating sense of humor. It comes in handy sometimes. It’s disarming. It can soothe fear, soften a blow, defuse anger, or help me relate to people when they need reassurance. But it can also be a liability, especially when I’m dealing with people who do not know me well and misinterpret my humor as flippancy — or worse, self-loathing.

In Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, a man makes fun of the title character’s nose. Cyrano deflates his detractor by enumerating all the colorful insults the man could have dished out if he’d been smarter or more creative.

As a kid, I quickly figured out that if I pulled a Cyrano on a would-be bully, I could control the severity of the blow while taking the fun out of the game. If I beat a bully to the punch and said something funnier (and meaner) than whatever she was planning to say …

KanyeDropsMic

(H/T to the hilarious Luvvie of awesomelyluvvie.com for the .gif.)

 

I was too small and weak to discourage bullies with my fists. But a battle of wits? Oh, bitch. You tried it.

I’m glad I found a means of protecting myself. And I’m glad I can laugh at myself, because frankly, I’ve done a lot of dumb crap over the years and probably would have gone off the deep end a long time ago if I couldn’t laugh it off. But looking back, it makes me sad to think about how I developed that ability.

It makes me sad to realize I have this sense of humor because a little girl spent most of her childhood inspecting herself for flaws and thinking up terrible things to say about them just so somebody else wouldn’t.

When you think about it, that’s a really effed-up thing for a little kid to have to do. And maybe it was OK for me, but it’s not OK for my niece, my nephews, my goddaughter, or anybody else. Children deserve better than that — and as adults, we’ve got to figure out how to make sure they have better.

Emily


‘Shopping

February 10, 2014

While I was sorting my hard drive a while back, I ran across a pair of images of my younger siblings that Mom had asked me to Photoshop together for her several years ago, as Oliver had his back to the camera in one picture, and Grace was rolling her eyes back in her head in the other. Thanks to the busy background (wallpaper, stepstool, mini-vac, etc.) and the ever-so-subtle difference in angles and depths of field between the two images, I decided that was another task for another time, saved the images into whatever folder was handy, and promptly forgot about them.

I had some time on my hands this evening, so I spent an hour ‘Shopping:

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Don’t look too closely. The background didn’t quiet down any, and the angles and depths of field didn’t get any closer to aligning while I was ignoring them, but at least nobody is making a weird face or turning around backwards.

And yes, Mom, I saved a high-res version. I’m still tinkering with it, but I’ll send it to you after I make a few more minor adjustments.

Emily


Munchkin Land and Marshmallow World

January 19, 2014

Here is how I spent Saturday:

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We made bears. Hazel wants pink or purple everything (notice her glasses), and the boys want superhero everything (if you look closely, you’ll see Jamie is wearing Spider-Man glasses). At some point, I’ll find time to write them a book about a princess who rescues Batman.

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The guys were VERY proud of their bears. Jamie’s dad helped him decorate his. I think Geoff was actually having more fun than the kids.

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Hazel liked making her bear, but when I started taking pictures, Ollie made a funny face, which Hazel missed, so she thought we were laughing at her.

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She tried really hard to put on a brave face for the camera, but she couldn’t quite manage a smile. Poor Hazel.

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All was well, however, by the time we started making marshmallow pops. When you’re 5, chocolate and sprinkles will mend a broken heart pretty efficiently.

Hope you had a chocolate-covered-marshmallows-and-sprinkles sort of weekend, wherever you are.

Emily


Artwork by Ollie

November 16, 2013

Ollie made me a picture tonight at Mom and Dad’s:

handturkeyweb

Yes, I framed it. Of course I framed it. It’s a hand turkey. Made by a 3-year-old. The teal-colored wattles on the turkey actually started out as a teardrop, which made it look as if it had killed someone in prison, but I think Jamie convinced Ollie to modify it.

If you wouldn’t proudly display a toddler’s rendering of a turkey with a prison tattoo in your home, I’m not sure we can be friends.

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Hazel had a birthday party today. She’s 5. Mom asked me to take a picture of all three kids together. I think she was hoping for something suitable for use on Christmas cards. This was the only one that didn’t have someone making a face or squirming or wandering off or giving bunny ears or some combination of the above. The boys have cake and Kool-Aid all over their faces, and Hazel is completely distracted, so obviously the party was a success.

Emily


Bullying: Prologue

November 4, 2013

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the effect of bullying on kids. I don’t know whether it’s gotten any worse since I was a kid. I do know its consequences have become more apparent, forcing adults to pay more attention to it and make a better effort to intervene when they see it happening. The issue has come up again on my Facebook timeline because a 15-year-old boy in my dad’s hometown committed suicide last month, citing bullying as the reason.

Beginning when I was 7, and continuing for the better end of a decade, I endured near-constant ridicule by my peers.

I don’t think it occurred to me at the time that I was being bullied. In the ’80s and early ’90s, a bully was someone who shoved you down or beat you up. People who called you names weren’t bullies; they were just a pain in the ass. (As a society, we took a while to figure out that sometimes a pain in the ass is a serious injury.)

Admittedly, my ugly-duckling phase was spectacular by any metric, and asking a bunch of immature brats to overlook it would have been a wholly unrealistic request — but regardless of the relative accuracy of their comments, my peers’ tactless behavior left scars, some of which I’m just discovering 20 or 30 years later.

For instance:

I am desperately uncomfortable in social settings that involve large groups.

I rarely trust people when they compliment my appearance — and if I do believe them, my first instinct is to deflect the praise.

I have an extremely self-deprecating sense of humor.

I don’t dance.

I cuss like a sonofabitch.

I would rather chew off my own leg than let anybody see my tears.

That last bit is why I am not particularly looking forward to the project I’m about to do.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a closer look at each of these battle scars — partly to satisfy my own curiosity about the shapes they took, but mostly because I’m sick of hearing about kids closing the book before they get to the good parts, and if the story of how I survived a decade of verbal attacks and grew up to have the world by the tail can keep even one kid from killing himself over somebody else’s bullsh*t, then I need to suck it up and tell that story, even if it means giving up some secrets I’d rather keep.

Stay tuned. We’re finna kill some dragons.

Emily


Why I moved

July 6, 2013

Yeah, I know. I haven’t blogged in weeks. Cut me some slack; there are some logistics involved in moving 450 miles. Totally worth it, though.

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I had two main reasons for moving. The first was that I desperately needed to get back into journalism and simply wasn’t likely to be happy doing anything else.

The second was that I missed my niece and nephews. Living nine hours from my family was fine for a while, but every time I came home to visit the kids, it got a little harder to leave, knowing they were growing and changing so fast that they would be completely different little people the next time I saw them.

I see a lot more of them now. Last weekend, I went to visit Mom and Dad, and all three of the kids came to play. We spent a happy evening chasing fireflies through Mom’s yard.

This morning, my sister and brother-in-law brought Jamie and Ollie to see us. We went to Discovery Playhouse, which is in downtown Cape and well worth the visit, and then we had lunch at Watami, which has the big hibachi tables where the chef comes and entertains you while he cooks your food right in front of you. Jamie didn’t like his chicken, so we brought the dogs some leftovers, and then we went geocaching, took a walk along the floodwall, and had ice cream at Port Cape.

The slideshow above contains your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin Cute.

Emily


Remember when?

May 24, 2013

This post is an open letter to the Daniel Webster High School Class of 2013:

Dear Seniors,

I love you with all my heart and wish I could be there to celebrate with you, but life — as you are learning — is a vibrant, glorious parade of unexpected adventures that help us grow into our potential, and like you, I am still growing and learning and moving forward. My adventures have taken me to my mom’s hometown to work for the newspaper there.

I didn’t expect to leave Tulsa quite so soon, and I certainly didn’t expect to find my way back home, but life has a way of sending us where we need to go at that moment, whether we’re expecting it or not. Some of you will end up exactly where you thought you’d be in 10 years. Most of you probably won’t. All of you will change the world, just as you’ve been doing since the day you put those protest slogans on notecards and stapled them to the bulletin board in sophomore English.

As your time at Webster draws to a close and you head out on your own adventures, I’d like to look back with my own set of “remember whens.”

Remember when Alex made that Venn diagram comparing and contrasting Chewbacca and Sasquatch?

Remember when Gabbie talked me into participating in Day of Silence? I didn’t know it was possible to disrupt class without making a single sound, but Keyonna managed to do it.

Remember when we came back from Christmas break to find a mysterious stench in my classroom, and Chasity decided the ghost must have spent the whole break eating Mexican food?

Remember Carmen’s crush on Coach Williams?

Remember when Dionne, Kalynn, and Keyonna translated Hamlet into modern English?

Remember breakfast in the classroom?

Hey, Jasmine — remember Jerome in advisory?

Remember Meeyotch the class fish?

Remember Chris and Ricky’s “that’s what SHE said” jokes? (Why would she say THAT?)

Hey, Anthony — remember when Daryl was “fit’nna rag”?

Remember Fernando’s ironic hat?

Remember the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?

Remember That Guy?

There are not many things I am sure of in this crazy world, but here is a thing I know: No member of the Daniel Webster High School Class of 2013 will grow up to be That Guy. You are some of the smartest, sweetest, funniest, and most passionate people I have ever known. I love you all, and I am ridiculously proud of you.

Love,
Ms. Priddy


Madison

May 3, 2013

Today was glorious — chilly and drizzly, but just right for a trip to Makanda to wander through Dave Dardis’ secret garden. Dave has put in a new gallery next to Rainmaker Studio to display his work, and it’s really nice. A precocious fourth-grader named Madison, who apparently is a frequent flyer on the Boardwalk, decided I needed a guided tour.

You have not lived until you have experienced the Makanda Boardwalk through the eyes of a little girl with a big imagination. What an awesome place for a kid to hang out.

Madison and I had a very artsy, creative conversation that I am pretty sure inspired both of us. She has been studying Greek mythology at school, and she thought one of Dave’s sculptures — a woodcarving of a woman’s face with little brass people scurrying over it — represented Mother Earth and her children. Can you imagine? Fourth grade, and she’s already looking at esoteric sculptures and expounding on their underlying symbolism. As an old scholar bowl coach, the first thing I thought was, “Somebody needs to put this kid on a buzzer.” But when I suggested that she try out for her school’s team in a few years, she said she didn’t think she could do something like that, because she was in special ed.

Do I have to tell you what Mama Bear thought about whoever put that idea in this child’s head?

I assured her that I had known some awesome players who were in special ed, and if she thought something sounded like fun, she should go for it and let the chips fall where they may.

It really bugs me that people act as if a learning disability somehow disqualifies a kid from being gifted. Hell, I’m convinced that half the things we classify as “disabilities” are just gifts we don’t know how to use. We don’t know what to do with them, so we slap a negative label on them and try to train or drug them out of kids because it’s easier than trying to figure out how to harness lightning. And in the process, we end up introducing the false god of “I can’t” to a 10-year-old who spontaneously interprets modern art through the lens of ancient literature and articulates her findings to a receptive stranger.

Sometimes I really hate our educational system.

Emily


Joie de vivre

April 21, 2013

Here is a thing I love about Cape Girardeau: The kids here seem to be animated by a sort of crazy wild joie de vivre that exceeds anything I’ve ever seen anywhere else.

Examples:

When I went house-shopping a couple of weeks ago, I found myself at a stoplight behind a school bus. Three or four little kids turned around to grin and wave out the back windows at me, and when I passed the bus a couple of minutes later, more kids were grinning and waving and opening the bus windows to shout, “We love your car!”

Last weekend, a pack of about four or five rugrats on wheels came barreling down the hill in front of my house. Two or three were on bicycles, and two were on skateboards. One little guy who looked to be all of 8 years old was flying hell-for-leather down the hill on his board, shouting, “Sh*t! Sh*t! SH*T!” in a tone that was somewhere between gleeful and terrified as he picked up speed on his way down. (He interspersed this with a couple of heartfelt “F*** yous” when the other kids laughed at him.) Toward the bottom of the hill, he managed to stop the board. One of his companions, a little girl on a bicycle, looked at me, beaming from ear to ear, and announced, “That’s a longboard!” as she pedaled past.

Yesterday morning, as I was heading to the office, two little kids came hopping down a side street on pogo sticks. Really. Pogo sticks. When was the last time you saw a kid on a pogo stick?

The sign says something else, but I think the real name of this street is Klickitat, because my young neighbors are like something out of a Beverly Cleary novel. If I don’t end up with a children’s book out of this, it certainly won’t be for lack of inspiration….

Emily


Life, the Universe and Everything

March 30, 2013

One of my former students slipped away from us today after a long illness.

Keiyana was a senior this year. During her brief sojourn on Earth, she laughed often, fought bravely, and loved much.

I had the pleasure of being Keiyana’s sophomore English teacher. We read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams that year, and on Towel Day, I awarded bonus points to students who brought a towel to class. Keiyana never needed bonus points, but she still brought a towel, just for the fun of it. She was grinning from ear to ear as she held it up for me to see. I was grinning, too. Keiyana had that effect on people. You just couldn’t be around her without smiling.

Keiyana was, in Hitchhiker parlance, “a frood who really knows where [her] towel is.” I think she got that from her mom, who came to parent-teacher conferences, asked me what I needed for my classroom, and then sent Keiyana to class the next week with about umpteen dozen dry-erase markers. (If you know how expensive those markers are, you realize what an incredibly generous gift this was.)

Even when she was stuck in the hospital, enduring all manner of painful indignities, Keiyana maintained her sense of humor, joking about her “lil bald head” after undergoing chemo and celebrating when she felt well enough to play her favorite video game.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a supercomputer is asked to calculate “the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.” After seven and a half million years, it announces the answer: 42. The problem, of course, is that no one knows the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe and Everything, so the computer’s answer doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t know whether Keiyana has discovered the Ultimate Question yet, but it soothes my broken heart tonight to think of her hitchhiking through some uncharted part of the galaxy, towel in hand and a twinkle in her eye, on a grand quest to find it.

So long, little hitchhiker, and thanks for all the dry-erase markers. Your classmates and I miss you already, but we’ll do our best not to panic as we look up at the stars and think of you cruising through the night on the Heart of Gold.

Love,
Ms. P.


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