When I was growing up, I was THAT girl in the class. You know, the one who was twenty pounds overweight and didn't really care how she looked. It's okay, I don't say this because I want sympathy. It is just part of my story. When you grow up like that, you learn to be kind to everyone. You are overly kind because you really want people to be nice to you and you can't possibly imagine being terrible to another human being. I can honestly say there has never been a time in my life that I made fun of another person. I don't see weight, skin color, abilities, or advantages of any kind. Instead, i look for who a person is, and then I determine if they are worth getting to know. Granted, I do come across people who have that asshole gene. I typically choose to ignore them and go about my way.
Once I became a mom I thought the worry of popularity and gossip was behind me. I built my little family and I was content in my bubble. I was so wrong. It is a million times worse. When your child comes home and asks you why no one likes them, there is no good answer. For a while, you take the high road and encourage them to put themselves out there and keep trying to make friends. You tell them that if they try hard enough people will love who they are inside. It's all bullshit. After years of getting knocked down, it isn't easy to keep telling them to take that path. But, what other alternative is there? I have found there isn't a good answer. Instead, you just listen. You listen and you hold them while they cry.
My daughter isn't overweight or disinterested in her looks. She is pretty and smart. Instead, she is autistic. She is different so children tend to stay away from anyone who isn't their typical "girl in school". Unfortunately, my girl is anything but typical. One day, it will be great for her, but for now it is a daily struggle. From Kindergarden to middle school, the kids slowly realized that she didn't fit into their cookie cutter mold. The teachers didn't help either. Instead of treating her like everyone else, they would either be overly sympathetic and cater to her every whim or they would ignore her and she would suffer the same. After all, if teachers couldn't treat her like everyone else, why would the kids?
At first, she didn't notice and I was so grateful for her ignorance. I suppose a fair question is how the hell can a child not notice when they are being ridiculed and ignored. Well, kiddos with autism are not very into the whole social aspect of life. So, my girl misses a lot of those cues. As she got older, she got them. She understood them all too well. I remember that first day she came home and it made sense to her. She had this one pair of shoes she loved and she wore these shoes to school everyday. My girl had a closet full of shoes, but to her, these bright pink sandals made sense. They were her favorite color, comfortable, and she loved them. Why would she wear anything else? The children made fun of her daily. At first, she thought they just loved her shoes. Then, she understood, when one girl asked if we didn't love her enough to buy more shoes. She got it. My girl came home crying because she loved the shoes but she knew they needed to go. Now, she wears different shoes each day, almost obsessively.
It was a rude awakening for her. She knew it wasn't normal for her to sit alone at recess or to not have anyone to talk to at lunch. She realized when people were mocking her and it hurt her feelings to the point that she just quit trying to talk to anyone at school. She saw the teachers talking to her like "someone who is stupid and didn't understand" and using a tone that was meant for a much younger child. She knew enough to be insulted. She had an aide call her a "special girl", a term that although the aide meant kindly, the children turned into something horrible and ridiculed her with.
Some days are better than others. In the end, I have no advice for her. Instead, we give her a home to come back to each day. Somewhere that is safe and loving. Somewhere that she can be herself. Somewhere that is here, with us.
My daughter does not go to school with just anyone. She goes to school with children just like yours and mine. These children learn their behavior from what they see and experience around them. They need to be taught tolerance and acceptance. They need parents who check in with them after school to ask how their day was or who they ate lunch with. My daughter could easily be one of your children, and the bullies could be one of ours as well. We must work together to resolve this situation which is rampant in our schools. Be there for your child when they walk in the door and listen to what they have to say, or what they are not saying. You are the person who has the ability to make the change.