Shandley McMurray shares the heartbreaking impact of bullying on her nine-year-old daughter.
She can be annoying. I know. I’m her mother. She doesn’t like to take no for an answer, voices her opinions loudly and likes to bend the rules in her favour at any chance. She’s likely to tell you her life story—whether you want to hear it or not. She wears outrageous clothes that don’t match, gets excited about small things (like playing outside at recess) and sings whenever possible. She wants so much to be your friend that she sometimes enters your personal space, begs to be allowed to join in a game and laughs too loudly to hide her disappointment when you—once again—say “no.” These things bug you. I get it.
To you, the fact that she screams with delight as the bell rings for lunch is a quirk that makes her different. To you, the fact that she will tell you about her latest crush is annoying; you would only tell your very best friend. To you, the fact that she cries in the corner when her feelings are hurt is yet one more thing she does to “get attention.” You smirk at her tears and run away, moving on to play a game of tag that you’ll never ask her to join.
I can guarantee, if the tables were turned and it was you crying in the corner, my daughter would be the first one there, holding your hand and asking what she can do to help, even though you called her “weird” the day before. If you fell down, she’d rush you to the nurse’s office, even though you purposely stomped on her foot in the hallway that morning. That’s because she has the kindest heart of any child I’ve ever met. She’s enthusiastic and joyful. She’s able to see the spark of bliss in small, everyday things and she’s not afraid to show her enthusiasm. Once you smile at her, she’ll likely consider you a friend for life. To me, these things make her awesome.
When you made that bar chart in computer class titled, “Who hates [my kid],” you thought it was funny, didn’t you? You and your friends had a good laugh over making the “hate” bar go higher and higher while the “like” bar remained a mere slit at the bottom. You probably didn’t even notice when my daughter’s eyes first registered what you’d done. You certainly didn’t feel the immediate stab of pain that pierced her heart, the lump that jumped into her throat, threatening to choke her. She was devastated, but she wouldn’t let you see that. She’s too brave.
Remember that time you bribed her with a pen? It was a sunny day and she was heading out to the playground to run around. You intercepted her on the stairs and said, “If you promise to play somewhere else today and leave us alone, I’ll give you a fountain pen.” My daughter’s always wanted a fountain pen, especially a white one like the one you promised to bring her the next day, so she agreed. In fact, she arrived home that night all smiles about her imminent reward. What she hadn’t realized was that you were doing two things: paying her to go away, and making a promise you never intended to keep. My daughter learned a hard lesson that day, one that I hope she’ll never forget, and one I hope that you won’t have to learn in such a painful way—never sell yourself short. Stand up for yourself.
Last year, my daughter sat at our kitchen table, painstakingly making Valentine’s cards for every single one of you. She spent an hour working with scissors, markers and glitter glue. Armed with her treasured creations, she left home with a bounce in her step. When she handed you your card, you looked at it. You snickered. Then you crumpled it up and practiced your free throw into the garbage can. High-fiving your buddy over your perfect shot, you didn’t see the pain that rippled through my child’s tiny frame. For reasons I will never understand, my daughter likes you despite the number of times you’ve crushed her spirit. Giving you a card was an opportunity for her to forgive you for the mean things you’ve said and done. She wanted to fill your proverbial bucket, to commit an act of kindness that would help you feel better about yourself. Instead, you rejected this kindness, emptying my daughter’s bucket and causing a hurt so deep that she decided to never again send another Valentine—sadly, something she stuck to this year.
My daughter doesn’t ask for much. She just wants to play with you, maybe sit with you at lunch or be chosen as someone’s partner in science class. She wants to be forgiven, as we all do, for any mistakes she makes. She wants to be accepted for who she is and liked for her many amazing attributes. She wants you to stop stepping on her toes, bribing her to go away and saying hurtful things. She knows you think she’s weird because you’ve told her. She knows you don’t like her because you’ve told her. She knows you think she’s annoying because you’ve told her. That’s why she’s trying so hard to quiet down and back off. Before she enters the school gate each morning, my daughter quietly tells herself, “If you fit in, they’ll be nice. Just act normal.”
Let me tell you something: She is better than normal. And it breaks my heart in a way I never thought possible that, because of your cruelty, my exuberant daughter is trying to squash her personality to make you like her. I am the one who’s supposed to protect her from people like you, but I can’t because I’m not there.
How about we play a new game? It’s called “Give my kid a break.” It’s easy to play. All you have to do is put yourself in my daughter’s shoes. First, try to imagine feeling fearful every time you step outside for recess. Your body tenses as the boys run by, wondering if they’ll call you “ugly” or “dumb.” You worry that they’ll push you when the teachers aren’t looking. Then you spot the girls, gathered arm in arm in their cliques, laughing as they brag to you about yet another birthday party you weren’t invited to. You look for a friendly face to help soften the blow, but everyone avoids your eye or worse, whispers and points. How does that feel?
Now imagine, just once, being invited to join the fun everyone else is having, to be accepted as you are and to laugh freely along with the other kids without fear of being mocked or hurt. It’s so little to expect, really, but to my daughter, it would be life-changing.
I wish you would open your heart to her even for your own sake—to let yourself enjoy the fun that can come from being silly and joyful along with her. Maybe then you’ll be able to appreciate—even like—the awesome little girl who’s been standing in front of you all along. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll ask her to join your group for a game of tag. I’m certain you’ll be happy you did.