Bully Busters

They decided to be part of the solution.

I stumbled upon a Washington Post article entitled, “Classmates wouldn’t sign his yearbook. So older students stepped in.” And it brought me right back to my public school nightmare of being bullied and ignored and made to feel inadequate. Pressure to be popular permeated the very walls of my schools, and I never made it to that summit. Instead, I collected all the misfits, and we meshed and occasionally glanced upward to a place where we knew we’d never be.

As much as I loved reading and learning and getting straight A’s on my report card, I viewed school as something that must be endured for 12 years until I could break free of all the judgment and hostility. Mostly, I kept my head down and tried not to be noticed/beat up/humiliated. And when you add braces, glasses, severe acne, poverty, a complex home life, a heaping helping of pompous intelligence combined with an extreme deficit of self-esteem, and clothes that were way out of style, and you stir all of that up into an already toxic social stew, is it any wonder that I was chronically depressed?

I did get to confront my worst bully decades later, and wrote about it here. She didn’t remember any of it. Even so, rereading that post is cleansing for me. I’m proud of everything I said to her, and I feel like I got it out of my system. It kind of felt like bursting an abscess: briefly painful and unpleasant, but oh, the blessed release of pressure, and the knowledge that healing can begin!

So reading that article about a 12-year-old boy who had been constantly bulled and felt so alone that everyone refused to sign his yearbook, I wanted to hug him and cry, and tell him that things will get better, even if that’s hard to believe at the moment.

But what I love most about this story is the older students who stepped in. Apparently the kid’s mother was talking about the situation in a closed Facebook group for parents of children at that school, and those parents then told their kids, and several different sets of kids independently decided to be part of the solution. They gathered a bunch of friends, and they all went and introduced themselves and signed his yearbook and talked about bullies, and sent a message that bullying isn’t to be tolerated. Many of these students remain his friends and keep in touch with him.

I’m sure that did wonders for that young man’s self-esteem. And maybe, just maybe, it made it possible for him to someday become an 18-year-old boy who is comfortable in his own skin, and who isn’t bitter, impulsive, and potentially a harm to himself or someone else. Just like that, some teens became aware of an injustice, and came together to make the world a better place. Bravo!

I wish all public schools would create a Bully Busters Club. These kids could do talks about bullying, and they could form an alliance of children that vowed not to be bullies, but instead be caring, compassionate and civic-minded. They could spread the word that if you don’t feel like you fit in, come join this group! Everyone is welcome. Strength in numbers. This group would need constant promoting and support so as to avoid becoming the club that no one wants to be a part of, but I think it could be done.

It would have been so nice to have a safe place to land when I was in school. If done right, a group like that would quickly outpace the popular clique and the sports clique, and pretty much every other grouping, and make it clear that inclusivity and kindness are the real things to care about, not popularity.

We need more of this, please.

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You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up.

This guy is completely whackadoo.

Personally, I get very triggered when I find myself in a position to witness people in roles of authority, who are supposed to have our best interests at heart, who are instead acting completely and utterly unhinged. Because of that, if I had been a student in this Wellsville, Kansas high school on the particular day I’m about to describe, I’d have freaked out. I mean, really, really freaked out.

On April 28 of this year, according to an article entitled, “Kanses Rep. Mark Samsel arrested for battery after physical altercation with student”, these poor kids drew the figurative short straw and wound up with Samsel as their substitute teacher. I’m sure most of them wish they had skipped school that day. Especially the boy who was kneed in the groin.

I’m not sure what subject Representative Samsel was supposed to be teaching, but I’m fairly certain he went completely off the reservation by talking about God, masturbation, and procreation. He also claimed that a foster child tried to commit suicide 3 times because he had lesbian parents. He encourages the kids to make babies because it feels good. He makes two students go outside, hold hands, and run around the track to teach them some sort of a lesson.

He gets really physical. He grabs one child from behind and lifts him off the ground, all while babbling about the devil. He followed another boy around the room, grabbed him, and put his arms around him. He tells the kid that God has been speaking to him (Samsel), and then he pushes the child. The kid runs to the other side of the room. Samsel gives the other kids permission to knee that kid in the crotch, but apparently he decides that that task is best done by teacher. This of course caused the kid to hit the floor.

In the aftermath of that outrage, he asks the kid if it hurt. Duh. He offers to let him go to the nurse. He suggests that another student check his nuts for him.

Now Samsel is claiming that this was all planned, and that most of the students were in on it. He said he wanted to send a message to parents about mental health, suicide, and how we treat teachers. He says this exercise gave one student hope.

Samsel is also very involved in youth sports and activities through his church and school, and he’s an attorney as well as being a member of Kansas congress. Why does he need to supplement his income by abusing children as a substitute teacher? I don’t get it.

Clearly the man is mentally ill. He should not be allowed to be in contact with minors under any circumstance. And he definitely should not be representing Kansans, or anyone else, in any official capacity. The Republican party really needs to clean house.

This nut job was arrested the next day for misdemeanor battery, booked into the detention center, and then released on $1,000 bond. I bet that will be an interesting trial. I’ll bring the popcorn, you bring the raisinets.

Suffice it to say he is no longer allowed to be a substitute teacher in the Wellsville School District. Pardon my technical jargon, but Samsel is completely whackadoo. I suspect we haven’t heard the last of him. The man should come with a warning label and be surrounded by orange cones everywhere he goes.

The nut job in question. If you see him, run away.

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Giving Up

Not every dream you have is going to work out. Not every person you fall for is going to love you back. Sometimes you will make the wrong choices, life will get in the way, or things will be out of your control.

That was made abundantly clear the other day when I was unpacking boxes that I had been storing in my guest room. I was confronted with about 25 pounds of notes that I had taken when I was pursuing my Dental Laboratory Technology degree. Despite graduating with honors and having high hopes about buying a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina and starting my own dental lab out of the garage, here I am, a bridgetender in Seattle.

I wanted that dream so badly I could taste it. But I couldn’t convince anyone to hire me so that I could gain the needed experience, and I certainly couldn’t control the fact that 6 months later I needed surgery on my wrist that would make it physically impossible to do that work.

The death of a dream. Hate when that happens. I think I went into mourning for about a year, and despite the fact that I’ve since moved on, I couldn’t quite bring myself to get rid of those notes. I lugged them all the way across the country with me, even though I knew, without a doubt, that I’d have no use for them. I just wasn’t ready to let go.

So here was this massive pile of emotionally-charged notes that were taking up space in my guest room. But this was ridiculous. The last thing I need is a 25 pound albatross around my neck. So, trying not to think too much, I pitched them all into the recycle bin.

Well, no, not all of them. I kept my orthodontic notes. And textbooks. And tools. Because that’s what I wanted to do—make orthodontic appliances, like retainers. I know I’m being silly. I know that dream isn’t happening, ever. But it’s a part of who I was, who I am. And those tools might actually come in handy. You never know.

But it was rather cleansing, getting rid of all the other stuff. It felt like another step toward healing. It was high time.

Giving up on something or someone after you’ve exhausted all viable avenues of pursuit isn’t necessarily defeat. It isn’t abject failure, either. It means, quite often, that you’re being a mature adult who is being realistic and moving on.

There’s no shame in that. It’s a huge part of life. And if you’re lucky, like I’ve been, you can look back from a good place and realize you actually wound up right where you were supposed to be all along. You may not have been able to see it in the past, but things have a funny way of working out the way they should.

Sometimes you have to give up in order to get something spectacular. Sometimes giving up is the right thing to do.

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Standing in My Integrity

I once stayed in a 16-year relationship because I didn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings. Like most women, I’ve been trained since childhood to put everyone ahead of myself. And I’m good at it. Too good.

Some things never change. I came across this article about a school in Utah where the little girls have been instructed that when boys ask them to dance at a school function, they cannot say no. (We wouldn’t want to hurt little boys’ feelings, now would we? Even if it makes the girls uncomfortable in the process.)

I had a visceral reaction to this story. Girls need to learn to say no. They need to know it’s okay to say no. They need to trust their gut instincts. And boys need to learn that no means no.

Without these lessons, you wind up with 53-year-old women like me, who prize integrity above all else, but still tend to sacrifice it to smooth things over. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ruffle feathers. Keep your opinions to yourself.

It’s really kind of funny. I’m always told I have a strong personality. (Like that’s an insult—and one that’s never directed at men.) People have absolutely no idea what an inner struggle accompanies my ability to speak up.

Speaking up does not come naturally to me. Not at all. When something is bothering me, I generally have to agonize over it for days on end before I can take action. And during that whole process, my stomach is in knots. I lose sleep. I grind my teeth. I rehearse what I want to say over and over again in my head. It’s not a pleasant experience. But I’ve found over the years that not speaking up is even worse.

I’ve been working really hard on standing in my integrity lately. Speaking up more promptly. Agonizing less. Saying, “No, that’s not okay.” Figuring out why doing what feels right to me is such a torturous undertaking.

Integrity should be the place where I reside all the time. It shouldn’t be some thought balloon that I pull along behind me. It should be my natural habitat. And the fact that I was ever trained otherwise is outrageous. That there are still girls in this day and age that are being spoon-fed this crap is disgusting.

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Again

Our children are dying. 18 school shootings so far this year. (But it must be noted that this number is controversial, and depends on one’s definition of a school shooting. Still, I think we can agree that even one is too many.) We are not even through February. What’s the magic number? How many have to die, how many have to cower in closets, terrified, before we do more than think and pray?

How many funerals must be held before we decide that there is absolutely no reason for anyone outside of the military to own a semi-automatic weapon? What’s the tipping point when shame will overtake greed and force politicians to act? When will mental health care (and health care in general, for that matter) become a priority in this country?

We need to put the NRA, President Trump, and the US Congress on notice. Every shooting, every single one, is blood on their hands. They are responsible. They need to be held accountable. Their inaction is criminal and should be prosecuted accordingly. Because of them, people are dying.

Oh, and by the way, fuck you and your right to bear arms.

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False Starts

I remembered something last night that I hadn’t thought of in years. I went to travel agency school! I had recently gotten my Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, and my Associates in Sociology, and it was becoming increasingly obvious, to my horror, that I was not going to be able to do a thing with either one of them.

So I got it into my head that one of those fly-by-night train-you-for-a-career-in-next-to-no-time schools was the answer to my problems. And hey, I absolutely LOVE to travel. I adore everything about it. And travel agents get cool perks like free trips to Madrid and things like that. Sounded good to me! Sign me up!

What those career schools don’t tell you is that their goal is not to get you a career. Their goal is to prey on your desire for a career in order to separate you from your money. Don’t believe me? Ask the admissions office for placement statistics for their graduates. I guarantee you, they won’t provide them.

Regardless. I attended that school faithfully, graduated with honors and then… never got a job in the travel industry. You see, by the time I showed up, that industry was already dying. Computers were starting to rear their ugly heads, and now everyone makes their own reservations. When’s the last time you even saw a travel agency? They’re as rare as hen’s teeth.

I did get an interview with Eastern Airlines. They even flew me first class to Miami. That was the first, and probably last time I’ll ever fly first class, unfortunately. But it’s a good thing I didn’t get the job, because Eastern Airlines went belly up about 6 months later.

I seem to do that a lot– Hop onto a trend when it’s already on its downhill slide. I got 8 tracks when everyone was already moving on to cassettes, and cassettes when everyone was getting CDs, and now I have all these CDs that I never listen to, taking up space in my closet. I also went to Dental Lab Technology School and got a third degree at a time when labs are starting to automate. I’m off trend in romance, too, falling for guys who are either not ready or no longer interested or were never interested in the first place. I’ve also made a lot of friends who turned out not to be friends. That hurts like hell.

False starts suck. While you are backtracking, you’re also experiencing a sort of mini mourning period. Then you have to gather your strength to start over. That isn’t so bad when you’re young and you think there will always be a new opportunity just waiting for you, but as you get older, you realize that isn’t always the case, and even if it is, you only have so much energy and time and money to start fresh. And you therefore start to get a little gun shy.

Learning when to go for it and when to listen to your voice of reason and give something a pass is a fine art that seems to elude me. I think moving from Florida to Seattle was my last big hurrah. But I don’t want to turn into one of those people who does less and less until one day I wake up on the couch with daytime television blaring in my ear, a room full of cats, and a serious lack of Vitamin D. That would be tragic.

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Disrespect of Teachers

Back in 2010 I went back to school to get my third degree. College at 45 is a different experience indeed. My professors were usually my contemporaries, and most of my fellow students seemed like they were from a different planet. I struggled to find common ground with them.

I hadn’t had this much contact with 18-year-olds since I was 18 myself. They are astonishingly sure of themselves. They’re not the least bit worried about their future. They take everything for granted.

They have yet to learn that their possessions mean nothing. They are very concerned with what people think about them, and how they look. One girl admitted she had over 400 outfits in her closet! I bet that 25 years from now, none of those outfits will fit anymore, and she’ll wish she had all that money back.

Returning to school later in life was rather surreal for me. I often felt like a detached sociological observer. But I think one of the things that stood out the most for me in this experience was my Chemistry class.

Chemistry was a required class for many courses of study in this college, so the majority of the students who signed up were only there because they had to be, not because they had any interest in the subject. And boy, did they ever take it out on the professor.

This was a man who clearly loved everything about Chemistry. It was his calling. He was fascinated with it, and tried to impart that fascination to his indifferent students. I kind of felt sorry for him.

There were two girls in that class who I called the Bobbsey Twins. They looked nothing alike, but they were joined at the hip. Both were clearly upper middle class children, just like the ones in that old series of books.

But these two girls were obnoxious beyond belief. They had the best of everything. Laptops, phones, cars, clothing… but what they lacked was respect. They’d sit in the back of the class and text and Skype while the professor was lecturing. They’d giggle on the rare occasion when they were paying attention, but mostly they wouldn’t even bother to hide the fact that they weren’t listening at all. Their foolish antics were distracting, which took away from the experience for the rest of us.

I know a lot of people who are or have been teachers, so the behavior of these girls infuriated me. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be mocked by people while you’re trying to do your job. And that job is the most important thing anyone could do. I mean, here you are, trying to increase people’s knowledge so that they have a better chance to succeed at life, and these little brats not only did not care, but they resented it.

And the ultimate irony is that they were punishing themselves more than they were punishing the teacher. They were feasting on ignorance, and they’ll carry that with them their whole life long. Any time you skip an opportunity to expand your knowledge, you may as well be shooting yourself in the foot.

As far as I’m concerned, education is a sacred thing. Learning is the most critical endeavor you will ever pursue. It shapes you. It allows you to grow and understand and empathize and question. It helps you to make decisions, and it charts your course in life.

People who are willing to dedicate their lives to giving people that education are the most amazing people on earth. They base their entire careers on the desire to improve the lives of others. And for their troubles, they are often underpaid, disrespected, and put in danger. I couldn’t do it.

Next time you cross paths with a teacher, thank that person, sincerely. Not just for teaching, but also for having a positive impact on society at large. And if you used to be like the girls in my Chemistry class, apologize. It’s never too late.

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Sorry to See You Go

I’ve pretty much worked or gone to school or both for 46 years now. I’ve met a lot of amazing people that way. Some have become lifelong friends. Some have taught me some pretty profound life lessons. All have shown me the diversity of humanity.

It is a shame that not every teacher in one’s life will teach by example. Once in a while I’ll come across a coworker who has been so insufferable, hostile and incompetent that no one in the workplace can tolerate that individual. These people are incapable of decent communication and respect, and their default position seems to be one of disdain and fury. They are generally avoided by staff whenever possible.

When this type of person goes on holiday, the mood in the workplace lightens, and productivity increases. Suddenly people enjoy coming to work again. And when these people retire, quit, or are finally fired, I’ve actually witnessed people dancing down the hallways singing, “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.”

And therein lies the most valuable lesson of all; the lesson of how not to be, how not to treat others. I don’t want people to be singing in the hallways when it’s my turn to leave. I want them to be sorry to see me go. I want them to remember me fondly. I want to be hard to replace.

If you do nothing else, try to live your life in such a way that people will feel as if they’re better for having known you. When all is said and done, there is no better scale by which to be weighed.

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Tractor Mentality

When I was 12 years old I was growing up in a semi-rural, semi-farming community, and one of the classes they insisted we take in school was agriculture. I vaguely remember having to identify various breeds of cow, and planting trees as a community project. It was the 70’s. Times were simpler. And Florida schools were, if anything, even worse than they are now. That’s really saying something.

Times were also a lot more dangerous. You could still buy lawn darts. Kids were a lot more free-ranging. They still went outside to play, and no one had heard of a bike helmet.

Apparently people were a lot less litigious as well, because child safety, both in and out of school, seemed to be a mere afterthought. It’s amazing that any of us survived to adulthood. I, for one, am surprised that I survived agriculture class.

One afternoon, beneath the blazing Florida sun, our teacher led us down to the football field, and there, right on the 50 yard line, stood a full sized, honest-to-God tractor. In front of the tractor was a maze of traffic cones. “Pop quiz, kids! We’re going to drive this tractor through those cones, and your grade for this endeavor will go down slightly for every cone you knock over. Who wants to go first?”

Well, these farm kids didn’t even bat an eyelash. They’d probably been driving tractors since they were 8 years old. But I had never been behind the wheel of anything, let alone a tractor with a bucket on the front and a manual transmission. I was just supposed to know what I was doing. I freaked out.

I was the last to go. Everyone else had done fine. I felt sick. I shyly whispered to the teacher, “But… I don’t know how to d–” “Nonsense! Hop on up there! You’ll do fine!”

So there I was on this huge machine that had tires taller than I was, and its engine was roaring. I lurched across the field, knocking over every cone in sight. I could barely hear my teacher shouting for me to stop, but he hadn’t told me how to stop. He had barely explained how to go. He wound up running beside me, and as he leaped up onto the tractor he was shouting at me.

Seriously. HE was shouting at ME. I was just a kid, so I felt stupid and humiliated, but from an adult perspective, he shouldn’t have put me in that situation. I’d have been justified in knocking his block off. I wish I had. A scene like that wouldn’t happen in a junior high school in 2015. Too much potential for lawsuits and Facebook publicity.

Every once in a while I have a nightmare where I’m rolling down a hill on a tractor and the brakes don’t work. It’s funny the way school can scar a person for life. Luckily all my scars are “only” emotional.

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Roots

If things go as planned I’m about to uproot myself and move 3000 miles across the country to a place I’ve never been, where I know no one. That’s pretty radical, I suppose. But my roots have never been deep.

I have always sort of envied people with deep roots. People who go home for the holidays and sleep in their childhood bedrooms. People who graduate with friends that they played with in kindergarten

But that’s only enviable if they had good childhoods to begin with. And as we all know, life does not come with that guarantee. Deep roots are only enviable if the soil that they are in is optimal.

And being nomadic has its plus sides, too. I’ve probably been exposed to more cultures and lifestyles and points of view than the average person. I also have more options. Rather than eat “the usual”, as delicious as it may be, I prefer to pig out at the all you can eat buffet.

My roots may not be deep, but they are hardy, and they thrive in a wide variety of climates. Does that make me a weed? Sure. Why not. Let’s face it: the weeds outlast the lawn anyway.

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