Thursday, November 14, 2013

If Only.......

3 years ago we moved back home to Texas and chose to live in an apartment so we'd have time to find the ideal home, in the ideal neighborhood, and in the ideal school district.

God, bullying

The apartment complex we lived in was very nice and we had relatively quiet neighbors.  We knew the apartment was a bit out of the way and away from shopping and family, so we expected some commuting to get to where we needed to go and other inconveniences.  What we didn't expect was a situation which rapidly spiralled out of control on my children's 3rd day in their new school and something which would turn our lives upside down for the next 2+ years.

My son was in 3rd Grade and was a very bright young man.  Not much passes by him without him noticing, unless the tv is on, in which case a freight train could pass next to his head and he wouldn't notice.  By the 2nd day of school, he was marked as a "smart" kid by 2 boys in his class.  These 2 boys were 10 and 11 years old in a class of 3rd Graders, who were 8 years old, and these boys didn't like "smart" kids.

The very next day at school, they "introduced" themselves to my son.  During recess and directly in front of a teacher, the 2 boys came up and punched my son in the head and face with all their might.  The teacher witnessed the attack and shoo'd the boys away from my son but did nothing else.

She did not report the incident to the administration nor did she send my son to the school nurse.  Because she didn't report the incident, I was not notified and his classroom teacher said she was not notified.

I pulled up to the carpool pickup line that day and my children climbed in the car.  When I asked how their day went, my son immediately broke down crying.  I pulled over and calmed him down enough so he could tell me what happened.  From the side of the road, I called my husband.  He had me drive home to the apartment and was in the parking lot waiting for us upon our arrival.

Have you heard the phrase "Hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn"?  Well, I think it should read "Hell hath no fury like a Redhead's scorn when you mess with her kid"!  We talked with my son's teacher and the Assistant Principal (the Principal wouldn't meet with us, take our calls, return messages, or even emails).  We were assured they'd get to the bottom of it and discipline would be meted out.

Despite their assurances, incidents like this continued.  We debated whether or not to pull our son from school and homeschool him.  He hated going to school for the first time ever, and yet he loved seeing his friends.  It was such an emotional time for all of us as we were completely unprepared for this level of violence at his age and we truly did not know what to do.  Our son was scared of the boys but he wanted to be at school.  While we wanted to protect him, we also didn't want to do more damage by pulling him out of school and taking him away from his friends.

In an effort to bring him some level of comfort, we bought a special necklace for him.  It's what he wanted and he picked it out.  It was a chain with a cross hanging from it.  He said he wanted to be able to feel Jesus close to his heart when he got scared and to feel His power.  Our son knew we were working hard to help and protect him but he wanted, and needed, a little visual confirmation that Jesus had his back too.

The level of violence escalated 2 months later when the kids were on the playground right before the Christmas break.  The 10 year old bully cornered my son, again in full view of the same teacher, grabbed ahold of my son by the throat and lifted him completely off the ground while trying to choke him to death.  My son described the incident this way: I couldn't breathe, my feet were off the ground and everything started going dark like it was night.  I was seeing stars and flashes of light in my eyes.  I thought I was going to die.  I asked Jesus to help me and that's when all of the sudden I got the power!  I hit him.  I hit him with all my power.  I balled up my fist like Dad taught me and with every ounce of power in my entire body, I hit him in the ribs and stomach.  Mom!  HE LET GO!  He started coughing and crying and then I ran off and stayed far, far away.

Again we received no call or notification from the school and it was only when I picked him up from school that I heard about this violence.  I'd had more than enough and at this point, my anger was well beyond any controllable level.  My husband and I went straight to the school.  The Assistant Principal was assigned the task of meeting with us, since the Principal refused to acknowledge our existence.  I would love to say in an ever so lady-like way that I was angry, but in reality, I was enraged.  I was so livid I could have spit nails and framed an entire building without benefit of a nailgun or air compressor.  I was so angry that my husband decided that he'd just sit back and watch the fireworks light up that school from a redheaded mother bear fighting to protect her cub.

The school was put on formal notice right then and there that we would be pressing criminal charges against the school, the boys and their parents, the district, the administration, and every single teacher in the school who was around or had any contact with my son, as well as contacting every single television station and newspaper in the state.  We also told them we would be filing a lawsuit against the district, school, administration, and every single teacher and teaching assistant in the school if there was so much as 1 hair on my son's body ever touched again.

The very next morning as the teacher was clearing out the 2 bullies' desks, the class was told they "moved" away from the school.  My son's teacher told us a couple of weeks later that she didn't realize the stranglehold those 2 boys had over her class until they were gone.  The entire climate of the classroom changed and there was a collective sigh of relief and children started relaxing, laughing, and enjoying school.  To be honest, that statement pissed me off as much as the school's lack of reporting and reaction to these bullying incidents.  How could a teacher not notice a stranglehold of fear that's been placed on her classroom by 2 hoodlums?!!

My son finished out his school year there and we found a house quickly in a different school district so he would never have to attend that school ever again.  By that time though, the damage was done.  My son was forever scarred.  We thought that moving him out of that school and putting him in a great school would erase the incidents from his mind.  My how simple-minded we were.

For over half of his first year of 4th Grade, he secretly lived in fear.  He was afraid to get close to anyone at the school for fear that someone would try to hurt him.  He trusted NO teacher, classmate, administrator, or school personnel.  None.  The hurt still lingered and it was etched into his heart.

He did a great job of hiding his hurt.  We knew he was scared when he started that year but we didn't realize at that time how deep the fear ran.  In January of that school year, we still weren't seeing "our son", so we decided to seek counseling for him from both the school and our church.  Within a couple of weeks we saw signs of progress.  When we saw the first natural smile and real, unforced laugh from him in over a year, it brought us to tears.

For those who think a child that age will just "get over it", you're grossly mistaken.  3 years later he still remembers how he felt.  3 years later he still remembers the violence like it happened yesterday.  3 years later he still remembers the teacher doing nothing to protect him.  No, a child will never just "get over it".

3 years later I still remember how I felt.  3 years later I look back and see all of the things that I could have done better and earlier.  3 years later I look back and my heart aches as I say "If only I had......".  There are so many things I wish I would have done differently but the past can't be changed.  All I can do is acknowledge my failures and move forward with a new level of knowledge and commitment.

My son is now in middle school and doing well.  He continued to wear the cross necklace we'd bought him  as his touchstone.  For my son, that necklace became a symbol of Jesus giving him the strength to fight back with amazing force, with the will and strength of character to overcome the psychological effects of all he endured.

Last Friday that cross broke in half while he was at school.  My son told me it was almost like Jesus was telling him that that part of his life was over and it was time to move forward.  This weekend we are taking him shopping for a new cross necklace.  While the last cross was a reminder of protection, safety, and comfort, this new one will include hope, thankfulness, and a happy future.

If you or someone you know is being bullied, don't stand by silently hoping it will end.  It won't, it usually just gets worse.  Get help.  Tell someone.  If you're a parent of a child being bullied, scream loud and keep screaming until the violence ends.  Take it to whatever level you need to to stop the violence.  If you don't know what to do, go to the government's website  There is a list of resources all the way up to the governmental level to help you end the violence.  It's time for this violence to end and for children to no longer be victims.

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