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.