Off to school

My daughter starts school tomorrow. It’s a great day for her: she’s been looking forward to turning four years old so she can go to school just like the other kids in the neighbourhood.

I’m looking forward to it too, for her. But there is another part of me that just wants to keep her home with me, safe. Not because I’m one of those mothers that can’t let go, but because my school days (at my first school) sucked. I was bullied. Not a little, a lot. Every day I would dread having to go to school, to see what humiliation, or worse, what injury was in store for me today. Because the bullying didn’t stop at name-calling either (I was ugly, skinny, stuck-up, a smart-ass, my hair was stupid, why couldn’t I just get hit by a car), it extended to physical violence.I was beaten up on a regular basis. It was a five minute walk home from school, and I would be terrified for every step of it, because I knew there was a very real chance that I’d be chased by bullies all the way to my front door. There were so many incidents that I don’t even remember them all, but what I do remember very clearly was that I was completely and totally miserable. And of course I took every insult thrown at me to heart. What I learned best in that school was how to be utterly alone in a room full of people.
The bullying was unpredictable too: there were days, sometimes even weeks, that I would be left entirely in peace, and that made me wonder whether I had been imagining it all. Of course I hadn’t been; they’d pick the fun up with renewed vigour in due time.
The bullying got so bad that my parents decided to transfer me to another school because there was genuine concern for my safety.
I had a discussion with a friend awhile back about bullying. She blithely said that she felt that bullying was a part of going to school and growing up. I vehemently disagree. I think that bullying is part of growing up in the same way that racism is part of society. Yes, it is part of society, but it shouldn’t be, and pretty much everybody knows it. Such behaviour may not be fully stamped out ever, but there is a consensus now that it is unacceptable, and it should not be allowed to happen or, where it is still happening, to continue.

And now, as the song goes, I have children of my own (well, the one), and tomorrow she goes to school. We selected her school carefully; it has, among other winning features, a stringent anti-bullying policy (which school doesn’t, these days?). She knows some older kids who go to the same school, and those kids like her or at least appear to – peer pressure can have surprising effects on children’s behaviour: it can turn friends outside of school into barely tolerated elements on school grounds.

After all these years, of all the consequences to those years of bullying, this was one I had not considered: that I would be scared to see my child go off to school.

She is now like I was then: spontaneous, competitive, a show-off. I hope she’ll be tougher than I was. No, that’s not what I hope. I hope she won’t have to be.

4 thoughts on “Off to school

  1. Apoorva says:

    I am so sorry to hear your story. It must have been terrible! Although (luckily for me) I was hardly ever at the receiving end of it, bullying was not uncommon in my school. I still wonder what impact it had on the psyché of the kids that were incessantly bullied. What sort of adults did they turn out to be!?!

    My 4 year-old started school a couple of weeks after yours. He’s small for his age and we were constantly worried that he might get bullied at the playschool / créche. Fortunately there weren’t too many untoward incidents. And as for the schools – they are indeed more aware and vigilant about this problem. Much more than when I was growing up!

    • claudettekulkarni says:

      Thank you for your words, and for sharing your story about your son. I’m glad to hear that he is doing fine in school so far. Our little girl is also doing well: she has made friends and is enjoying school, though she does show some surprise at her classmates’ frank comments on things she says and does. This is a healthy interaction, though, and it will teach her to stand her ground when she needs to, and adapt when the situation calls for it.

  2. Your childhood school story sounds like a nightmare. No child should have to endure that.
    And of course the rest of the story is how well we have survived those times…ready to make a change for our own children. Best wishes for your first year of school as a parent. Love, N

    • claudettekulkarni says:

      Thank you for your kind words. The experience feels infinitely close, yet incredibly distant. It’s a lifetime ago, but the lessons learned settle in deep. At the same time, since I’m doing fine now, have friends and a family, it sometimes seems as though it happened to someone else. And then something will happen that triggers an automatic response that is the direct result of my experiences, and I realize that: no, it happened to me alright.
      Still, I know there are people who went (and are going) through far worse, and I count myself lucky that I am where I am and who I am today.

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