As Kenny and I were driving past the elementary school today, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to add money to Jill's lunch account. Jill's lunch was in twenty minutes. I had no time to make an online payment, so we stopped by the school. As I walked into the cafeteria, I realized it was right in the middle of Emmi's lunch time. I was definitely not getting away without stopping by her lunch table. As I hugged her hello, the other children clamored for my attention. Behind me, I could here one of Emmi's playmates attempting to get my attention.
"Excuse me! Mrs...... Mrs..... What is Emmi's last name," Emmi's playmate asked, turning to the child next to her. The child next to her (let's call her The Instigator) whispers something.
"Mrs. Lunatic," Emmi's playmate called out to me, completely unaware of what she has just said. As I turned toward her, several of Emmi's classmates started to snicker. A few children start to chant led by The Instigator, "Emmi Lun-a-tic!" They, obviously, did know what they were saying.
For a few seconds I stood perfectly still, not quite knowing how to react. This is how these children were treating Emmi to a parent's face? How were they treating Emmi when I was not around? Honestly, I have been expecting this moment for years.
Emmi is different. She does not talk as well as the other children due to her cleft palate. She does not understand everything they say due to the language delays. Her flashing cochlear implants over her ears make her an easy target. Bullying happens. It doesn't take being deaf or having a cleft palate to make a child a target of bullying. It could simply be your shoes or the style of your hair. But when a child is so clearly different, you can almost guarantee they will be the target of bullying at some point in time. This is something I have come to accept as a fact. My child is different, she will be bullied at some point. I just wasn't expecting to be faced with it quite so head on.
After I recovered my composure, I looked the child who had so clearly started the attack in the eye. I squatted down on her level and calmly said, "What you are saying is rude and can not be tolerated." I watched as the look of defiance transformed to fear. In reality this was just another first grader. A six-year-old child who just realized that she was seriously in trouble. For a brief moment, I felt sorry for her. But only briefly. For this was also the child that lead several children to taunt my child in the lunch room. She may have realized she was in trouble, but did she really understand the ramifications of what she was doing?
I know bullying existed when I was child. It existed before I was a child. It will continue to exist, until we, as a society, stop tolerating it. We blow off little things. We chalk name calling and taunting up to simply being a kid. But why? Have we not had enough proof that these "innocent" behaviors are not all that innocent? Have we not watched as children suffer from depression, fear going to school, even go so far as to commit suicide? How far will we continue to allow it go?
I made the choice today to not tolerate it. I spoke directly to the child. I informed the office staff. Together we made a plan. A plan that is based around educating the children in both the effects of bullying and the acceptance of difference. I plan to face this head on. I will not tolerate what I saw today.