As parents, we want our children to feel loved and secure. We want them to have confidence. To have friends. To be happy. But what should we do when we find out that they are not happy.
I was short and skinny child with brown eyes, thick eyebrows and short brown hair. The minute my hair started to get longer, I was taken to the hairdresser to have it cut. I didn’t have a choice in this. I felt like I looked like a boy. I felt ugly.
Although I participated in many extra-curricular activities, I was mostly always a loner at school. I never really quite ‘fit in’. I was never in the popular crowd. Even as far back as grade one, playing a game of hide and seek with my classmates, I went to ‘hide’ and was never found. I was in the middle of the playground crouching behind some kind of playground equipment. Eventually a teacher came along and asked if I was alright. At this moment I realised that the game had finished. Everyone had moved onto something else. I was alone. I had been forgotten. Or maybe I was never really included in the game.
When I was 10, I had a birthday party. Quite a few people from my class were invited. Only two people from my class sent back the rsvp and only one person actually came. Luckily for me, mum had invited my cousins and a couple of her friends had kids and they came too. Mum had made an awesome cake for me. I got some cool presents. I had fun. But there was something I was feeling – deeper under the surface – that I never talked about. Something that I was sad about. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. I would never be popular.
Over the course of primary school, I had a couple of close friends. They were never part of the popular group either.
Once I got to high school, things changed a lot. I was still ‘ugly’ and skinny, flat chested, with short brown hair and thick eyebrows. But I was thrown into a new group of people and for the first time ever, I had a group of friends. I wasn’t in the popular group by a long shot, but I had a group of friends and it felt great. I felt like I belonged.
Then about half way through grade 8, one day, I was ‘out’. I tried to join in with my friends and I was told I was out of the group. Just like that. With no warning. Needless to say I was devastated. I went home that night and cried about it.
Ironically only a few weeks before, one of the main girls in the group had invited me to a youth group event at the local uniting church. Now she was kicking me out of the group. I told mum about it and she told me to tell her that for someone who was meant to be a Christian, she wouldn’t even make a Christian’s bootlace. The next day, I confronted her in anger, and yelled at her, including my mums insult (even though I didn’t really understand what that meant until much later).
When Miss O was born, I worried for her and how she would navigate this world. But as she grew from a baby into a toddler and then into a young girl she was beautiful. Perfect with her fair skin, long golden hair and shiny bright blue eyes. Everything that I wasn’t. And more importantly, she was beautiful inside too.
By the time she had started Prep I had hope that she would be able to glide along and everything would work out ok. But I wasn’t prepared for the bitchiness that she was about to encounter at school.
I was shocked the first time she came home and told me that she was fighting with friends at school. In Prep. Doesn’t this stuff happen when you are much older? Not so! Apparently “I am not your friend! You can’t play with us” is very common!
Over the course of the next couple of years there were a few ups and downs with this problem. By the time she was in grade two she had a couple of lovely close friends. They had the occasional falling out, but it only lasted a day before they were best friends again. I breathed a sigh of relief that everything was going to be ok.
Then we had to move house to the other side of town. Which meant she had to change schools. When she started at the new school she settled in straight away with a friend. Then they had a major fight (the other girl punched her) and after that she began to say that she had no friends. I continually asked her teacher, and she assured me that she was fine socially and she hadn’t noticed any problems. Eventually things seemed to settle down.
The next year the whole class was in turmoil. There were a lot of disruptive children in the class and the teacher became unwell and had to be replaced by a relief teacher (this lasted about 5 months). Finally in the last half of the year they were given a new full time teacher. Miss O then started having problems with one particular girl in her class. I spoke to the teacher about it and she advised me this girl was a problem and they were dealing with it, delicately though because the girl didn’t have a great home life. At the end of the year, we were given a form for request about classes. I requested that Miss O be placed in a different class to this girl and hoped that this year will be better.
Miss O’s 10th birthday was in February (not long after school started) so I thought it would be great to have a party for her to establish friendships with the girls in her class as she did not know most of them. We invited all of the girls in the class (about 10 or 12 or them) as we didn’t want anyone to feel left out. To my absolute relief and happiness (but also my absolute terror) all of the girls wanted to come to the party and one by one almost all of their parents phoned to let me know their child was coming and was excited to be coming.
I took them all to the movies, before catching a maxi taxi and taking them down to the local water play park where we had a sausage sizzle and had the birthday cake.
I have to say this was one of the most stressful days of my life. The weight of being responsible for so many girls was overwhelming. The girls broke off into a few small groups and many of them refused to follow the few simple safety rules that I had laid out. It took all of my energy to not totally lose my shit and yell at them. I would have totally done it too but I didn’t want to embarrass Miss O. I will say that it really opened my eyes about the personalities of some of the girls in her class and I am very glad that Miss O is not easily lead and has chosen to be friends with the more sensitive and sensible girls in the class. Miss O seemed to settle in with her nicer friends.
Last term, Miss O began having various headaches, sore tummies and aches and pains and as a result had many days off school. Sometimes I was not convinced she was really sick and made her go to school anyway. But towards the end of the term I began to suspect that she was suffering from stress and began to let her have the days off if I felt she was genuine in her belief that she was sick. I emailed the teacher to let him know that I thought that Miss O was suffering from stress and asked how she was doing socially but he did not have a chance to get back to me before the end of the term.
On Tuesday and Wednesday we played hookey and went down to my Mum’s place as my nieces and nephew were visiting from Perth for the school holidays and were due to fly back home on thursday.
On Tuesday Miss O confided in her cousin that she is getting bullied by a group of girls and she hates going to school every day. Her cousin asked if she had told me so that I can help. Miss O said that she couldn’t tell me because it will only make it worse. After we went home that night, my niece told mum what Miss O had told her.
Mum told me the next day and it broke my heart.
It broke my heart becuase she is being bullied.
It broke my heart because all of the headaches and aches and pains and sore tummies now made sense.
It broke my heart because she felt like she couldn’t tell me.
She was suffering and she was hiding that suffering from me.
On the way home from Mum’s I told Miss O what I found out and I asked her to tell me about it. I told her that she should never be too scared or worried to tell me anything, that I am here for her, and that we will work something out to fix it so things don’t get worse.
It turns out that a group of three girls in her class (in my mind I call them the 3 little bitches) have been calling her names, “accidentally’ bumping into her, and making her feel worthless and life generally uncomfortable at school. They do it mostly when teachers are not around.
When we got home, I told my hubby and we had another long discussion about it. Miss O really wants to change schools. We said that we would consider it, as a last resort, but wanted to try some other things first. The first step was to be talking with her teacher. I asked would she mind if I went to her teacher and told him what is going on and said that I would make sure that he understood that she was afraid it would make things worse and that I would trust him to deal with it in a way that did not make it worse.
The next morning, we got to school a bit early and had a long chat with Miss O’s teacher. He was very distressed to hear about Miss O’s feelings and what had been happening to her. He was also NOT surprised when he found out who the girls were. Apparently they have been warned about this type of behaviour to other girls last term as well.
He gave Miss O some instructions on what to do if it happened again when there were no teachers about and promised us both that it would be dealt with. One day has now passed since the conversation with her teacher and it is too early to tell, but I am hoping that things will start to settle down for Miss O.
I want her to know how beautiful she is, inside and out.
I will move heaven and earth if I have to.
I want her to feel loved.
I want her to feel confident and secure.
I want her to be happy.
I want her to be free.