Our son Joe is a sweet kid. Everyone who knows him tells us this. He’s sensitive, open, and honest. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He shares too much. In other words, he’s bully meat. While he hasn’t yet come home with a black eye as a result of some attack, he does get pushed around. Literally. Of the fourteen children in his small class, he is one of nine boys, the quietest one. He is the one who likes science and who doesn’t catch a football well. He’s a bully’s favorite meal.
There are several boys in his class who regularly give him a hard time. I watch these boys with a wary eye every time I pull up in my car in the pick up lane. I scan the group of kids waiting to be picked up, and I look to see how Joe is faring. I’ve gone out of my way not to rush to pick him up because I think he needs to learn to stand his ground. Two of the boys who pick on him simply do so because he’s different. I understand that mentality even though I dislike it. The third boy, the one who bullies Joe the most, pesters him just because he can. I don’t believe that he dislikes Joe. I think he bullies Joe to fit in and try to be popular. He’s a kid who hasn’t had the best of situations in his life. While that doesn’t excuse his behavior, I remind myself and Joe that it does explain it.
Tonight we were at the Back-To-School barbeque at a local park. The boy in question was relentlessly chasing Joe. When he’d catch up with him, he would roughly drag Joe around by his shirt. He was also doing “boy” things to him, like trying to put a crawdad on him because he knows that would not sit well with Joe. It’s hard to watch this as it’s happening but, I know that because he’s 11, Joe is quite sensitive to parental embarrassment. I have stood back and not intervened so far because I’ve been respecting Joe’s wish that I not get involved. He’s afraid that if I stand up for him he will just get teased more. I understand that, so I’ve bitten my tongue.
As we were leaving the barbecue as a family, this bully came up to Joe right in front of us and began shoving him around. I thought he had lost his mind. Does he not see us right here? This went on for about ten seconds. Then the kid looked over his shoulder and directly at me, a challenge. I stared him down. He kept hold of Joe’s shirt and taunted him verbally. Finally, I’d had enough.
“That is not cool, Mike (not his real name). Knock it off,” I said using my Big Voice.
He acquiesced and released Joe. Then he ran off to join the other boys. Joe came running up to us and as soon as he was away from Mike I could see he was holding back tears. When we got to the car, Joe was full on upset.
“Why did you tell me it was time to leave? He was grabbing my arm, and I was about to pop him in the face before you stopped me. Why did you stop me when I was finally going to pop him?” he asked.
“I didn’t think you were really getting ready to pop him,” I replied. “If I had known that, since we’re off school property, I most certainly would have let you done it. In fact, if I had known that was a possibility, I might have videotaped it so we could relive the moment later,” I joked.
“Everyone picks on me because they think I’m a weakling,” he said. At not quite 70 pounds and 11 years of age, Joe is the oldest and the smallest boy in the class.
“No, Joe. First of all, not everyone picks on you. There are only a few boys who are rough. Beyond that, I don’t think Mike picks on you because you’re a weakling. He picks on you to feel important and brave and in control. I don’t think it has anything to do with your weakness. It has everything, however, to do with his weakness. Listen…I saw the fist you made. Mike has no idea how close you came to popping him in the nose. You are not weak at all. You are strong because you have self-control and you haven’t popped him yet even though you really wanted to.”
Joe thought about this for a moment.
“Well…I still wish I would have had a chance to pop him,” he said.
“Maybe next time.”
After tonight’s display, though, I’m pretty sure there won’t be a next time. I talked to Joe about it and I’m going to visit with the principal about what I have seen and what happened tonight. I’m going to leave Joe out of it, but I’m going to be a tattletale because it’s time for this behavior to stop. If it doesn’t, I’m positive that Joe will eventually deck this kid, and I’m not quite ready to home school Joe once he’s expelled. Now, I’m not generally an advocate of violence, especially between kids. Truth is, though, that Mike is lucky that there were other parents around tonight. Joe wasn’t the only person who wanted to pop him. And, unlike Joe, I’m bigger than him, stronger than him, and I wear metal rings. I would have made an impact. You don’t mess with a cub when Mama Bear is around.