This post has been brewing in my heart, and soul, for a long time. I knew, however, that writing it was something I could not do until the scars began to fade.
My daughter was bullied. All three of my kids have been bullied at some point, just like many children have been, including myself. The difference with her, was that she was bullied to the brink, and it wasn’t at your average public school. It was at a very expensive Catholic school, with small class sizes, and a strict behavior policy. It consisted of children of wealthy families, mixed with a few from the middle class. We were part of the latter.
Affording this school was a huge stretch for us, but it reminded me of her school in Shanghai. A school that still included a second language, as well as art, gym, and music classes, that were scheduled more often and delved a little deeper than public school. It was also conveniently located very close to my boys’ school. We decided that the financial sacrifice was worth it. We would, however, still need to apply for scholarships and financial aid.
In third grade, her first year at the school, our daughter had a small group of friends, and was relatively happy. Most of her classmates were well-behaved and kind. By all appearances, we seemed to have her in the environment we were looking for. A safe place for her to thrive.
As her fourth grade year began, she seemed more irritated, and reserved. She was easily aggravated by questions about her day, or just general conversation. I assumed it was pre-teen hormones, and began preparing myself for the moodiness of the next few years. Unfortunately, we were still months away from learning what was actually happening.
One afternoon right before Christmas, I pushed her to tell me why she was upset. She admitted that she had been slipped a threatening note by another student. Instead of bringing it to someone’s attention, she had thrown it away. I called the school, and a very considerate receptionist dug it out of the garbage for us. The next day, we were told the incident was addressed and taken care of. This would be the first, and last, we heard of any bullying for quite some time.
Several months later, while we sat at the kitchen table arguing about whether she had to go to swim practice or not, the flood gates broke open. She told me that the same child had struck her several times, and continued giving her threatening or demeaning notes, as well as verbally telling her. “No one likes you.” “You don’t have any friends.” “You should just kill yourself.” It didn’t matter that she did have friends, and that they liked her very much. The more she was told these things, the more she believed them. She told no one, and if anyone observed it, they did not take action.
Our baby, our confident little spark plug, our kind, funny, smart, beautiful, daughter, was crumpling into a little ball. Her self-confidence shattered. She could not see her own self-worth. She thought that she was not deserving of love, or attention. One wintery afternoon, in February 2014, the stories started spilling out of her, and our world as we knew it fell apart.
There was no quick fix for this situation. We had to pull her out of school. She finished the year in a small tutoring center, while undergoing counseling several days a week. We intended to send her back to the same school for fifth grade, as we were assured that the bullying was being addressed. I didn’t want to teach my daughter to cut and run when things got difficult, and she really liked her group of friends there. I still had faith that they would take care of the situation. It was a Catholic school, so how could they not?! It was run by women who had sworn their life to God. How could we not trust them to do the right thing?!
For the next six months, we had countless meetings with the head of the school (although she had a habit of cancelling and rescheduling them, often for weeks later), as well as the tutoring center, and therapist. There were dozens of phone calls and texts. We were constantly reassured that our child had a spot at the school and would be welcomed back the next year, but it was a never-ending process, with many delays. We were 10 days from the school year starting, and she still wasn’t officially enrolled again. They still wanted more meetings. I have no idea about what. She had been cleared by her therapist to return. Worried about the quickly approaching school year, and in our daughter’s best interests, we decided we should leave the school. It was “our choice” to change, but it was obvious we were being pushed out.
I forgave that little girl long ago. She knew what she had done, and I believe she learned a valuable lesson. However, I never would have imagined that a Christian school would bury this incident, even amongst the staff. During our meeting with the middle school, we found out that they had not been advised of the bullying; where class assignments and schedules would have had to be considered for both girls. The head of the school had lead everyone to believe that my daughter had broken down for no reason at all. The one who was bullied, was struggling to get back into school, while the the bullier continued as if nothing had happened.
In the end, we learn. This is not my first scar in life, but it is my baby’s. At least the first she vividly remembers. I can only imagine how being adopted effects her psyche. These lessons in life shape us. They make us stronger and more resilient. They remind us of the feelings of others, and how to treat people properly. They teach us of the importance of honesty and integrity, and what happens when they are lacking. They remind us to be the best we can be, because that is the right thing to do.
Our daughter is in her second year at her new school. It is also Catholic, but possesses the Christian values that you would expect. Fifth grade was tough for her, she was in protective mode at all times. She made friends, but had trouble trusting people. We have had many discussions, and she continues to see her therapist for “maintainence” visits every now and then, but she is a new girl. Or maybe her “old-self” with improvements.
She is wiser than most her age. She has learned lessons that many do not. Sixth grade has started out wonderfully. She is beginning to trust again. She has loosened the protecctive shell. She has put herself out there, to try new things, without fear, or at least facing her fears. I am one proud mama. Those scars have started to fade.