In fourth grade, I had Ms. Mahon (sounds like “man”) and she was a scary lady, with a collection of paddles in the corner and a penchant for yelling. Our classroom was connected to another one, with two bathrooms in the middle. One of Ms. Mahon’s rules was our class was only allowed to use our bathroom.
This was not normally a problem. I was a faithful rule-follower, so even though the other bathroom was open and available, I kept my eye on our door to see when Roy James (the meanest boy in my class) was going to come out.
Why did I trade my lunch for three cartons of milk? I thought.
He was taking forever. I crossed my legs; danced around; held my breath.
And I would have been fine, but my best friend Molly made some joke and I lost it. I lost it all over my corduroy Tough Skins; all over my brand-new Tom McCann clogs; all over the speckled tile floor.
Humiliated and ashamed, I sloshed down to the nurse in my stocking feet. My mom took me home for dry clothes. I finished my homework and was off to ballet practice. As I danced there at the barre, I had no inkling that my childhood was about to take a dramatic turn.
The next day I got into class just as the bell was ringing. Before I knew it, we were standing with hands to hearts for the The Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United SSSStates of America.
And to the Republic
for which it ssssstands,
and pee-pee for all.
I could hear him laughing three rows back. It was Roy.
A lump formed in my throat. The sticky heat of embarrassment swept up my torso to my neck and face. I looked at my teacher, but she was busy putting away the flag. I looked to Molly, but she was passing notes with the kid next to her. I wanted to tell on him, but being a tattletale was way worse. Everyone already called me a “goody goody” all the time. So, I turned around and pretended it didn’t happen, hoping it would make him stop. And it did.
Until recess. The sound of pee and laughter followed me everywhere.
On the spinning merry-go-round.
Climbing on the monkey bars.
On the swingset.
I finally told my teacher. She said “ignore him.”
I told my parents. They said, “ignore him.”
So I did. I ignored him on the bus. I ignored him at lunch. I ignored him at PE.
But, he was relentless and I hated him for it. Days turned into months. I started feeling sick all the time and staying home from school. I missed 13 days that year and I would have missed more, if I could have. I kept thinking “if I could just ignore him better…”
And I did. I got really good at ignoring him, and a few other things too.
I quit ballet mid-year, stopped doing all my homework, and I stayed inside for recess to “read.”
I wanted to quit school, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I didn’t care about the rules anymore. After all aren’t they what got me into this mess.
By the end of that year, I was called into the Principals Office along with Ms. Mahon and my parents. When they asked me why I thought my schoolwork was suffering, I said “It’s because of Roy. Roy James won’t leave me alone. I know I’m supposed to ignore him and I’m trying but he won’t stop. He teases me all the time… every day. No one ever sees, but it’s true, I swear. I hate him, hate him, HATE HIM!”
I was sobbing so hard I could no longer speak.
They all looked shocked at my outburst.
The principal said “I understand you’re upset. But, it’s not a good idea to blame other people for our problems.”
My parents and Ms. Mahon nodded in unison.
I’m sure he said some other things too, but I just ignored him.
The sound of pee stopped following me once I started fifth grade, but the effects never really did. Bullying can be so damaging to children. As parents, we have to choose our battles on a daily basis. If your child is being bullied, don’t ignore it. It’s a battle worth fighting.
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