I would be remiss not to share this story with you, since bullying is on the minds of so many people right now.
And, it’s lengthy, just like most of my other posts.
But I beg you to READ IT.
Then forward it to all the parents, aunts, uncles, caregivers, babysitters, and educators that you know.
Because this story has a happy ending. And it contains a message that something positive CAN result from a negative situation.
Gay (as well as straight) children and teens are committing suicide at an epidemic pace because they are being teased and bullied. I say children because some of these kids aren’t even 13 when they choose to end their lives over these vicious attacks on their character.
As a parent, I will not tolerate teasing and bullying. If another child comes at either of my boys sideways EVEN ONCE, they — AND THEIR PARENTS — are going to hear about it. If it continues, then we will go so far as to remove our boys from the scenario entirely.
Troy and I also taught Jake at an early age that teasing and bullying is unacceptable, and if he ever experienced it, to tell a teacher right away.
Jake’s been through his fair share of torment, just like any other kid, and for the most part has handled it like you’d expect a kid to handle being teased: He didn’t like it, told a teacher, and got over it.
These past couple of months, however, have been extraordinarily tough for Jake.
In August, he was supposed to start the 2nd grade at a school that he’d been attending since Kindergarten. This was a place where he was most comfortable — he loved that school and felt at ease with even the oldest of the 8th graders.
Then he decided that he wanted to play football — just like “that,” after attending one practice.
He didn’t even know how to PLAY football. Didn’t know the rules. And certainly didn’t know that he’d have to wear a helmet and pads on 100+ degree days.
He just knew that when he put the uniform on and went out onto the field, it felt right. It fit. And he wanted in.
The problem was, that, the school he loved so much changed their academic structure, and if he was to attend in the fall, he’d be kept in class until 5:00pm. Which didn’t leave much time to get to practice, which started at 5:30pm.
Those of you who know us personally know that we tried everything we could to get the school to allow Jake to leave at 4:00pm on practice days, but were ultimately shut down in our attempt to find common ground between Jake’s athletic commitments and the administration’s firm stance on the new school schedule.
So, Jake gave it all up.
He gave up the friends he knew, the school that he loved, and the environment that was so comfortable to him — all so he could participate in a sport that he’d never even played before.
That alone should be a testament to his character.
But apparently (as I just learned today), Jacob’s character knows no boundaries.
At seven years old, standing 4’7″ tall and weighing 115 pounds, Jake’s a sizeable kid. But he doesn’t look like he weighs 115 pounds. He just looks like a big kid that could do some damage if he wanted to. Yet, anyone who knows my Jacob knows that HE WOULDN’T HURT A FLY.
So much so that his coaches are punishing him for not being aggressive enough on the football field. They scream, “HIT SOMEBODY, LANCASTER! FOR CHRIS’SAKES THEY’VE GOT PADS ON! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO KILL THEM!!”
This kid can open a hole like nobody’s business, and can also hold his own against two defenders while STANDING ON HIS BACK FOOT. But he doesn’t want to HURT anybody. Safe to say he’s the nicest player that the Sacramento Youth Pee Wee Football League has ever seen.
So you can imagine my emotional torment when I picked him up from school this past Monday and he announced to me that he wanted to change schools at the end of the year.
“Why? What happened?”
“These two girls were being really mean to me, and they poked me [pointing to his chest and belly] and called me fat.”
“WHO DID THIS? Were they older girls?”
“No, they were from my class.”
Now, my first reaction was to turn the car around and confront the teacher since I’d not heard anything about it. Which in itself was quite unusual, because his teacher is one of the most engaging and brilliant educators I’ve ever met.
“Did you tell the teacher.”
“Then what happened?”
“They got in trouble. Bad trouble.”
Okay, I thought, she’s got his back. I can come in from the ledge now.
Then, after we got home, I found a note in Jacob’s backpack:
“Dear Mr. & Mrs. Lancaster,
Today during lunch recess a couple of girls were teasing Jacob. He was very upset (I would have been too).
I spoke with both girls to try and explain the seriousness of their actions. They will be in tomorrow at recess.
I hope that this doesn’t happen again.
Please, bring it to my attention if it does and I will discuss it with them further. I don’t believe they meant to hurt him, but it hurt Jacob just the same.
Thank you & Sorry”
After I wiped the tears from my eyes, I asked Jacob if he was okay, and he said yes. Then I asked him if he wanted to talk about it, and he said no. Then I explained to him that sometimes kids are mean, and I really didn’t know why — maybe because someone had been being mean to them and they want to take it out on someone else. He seemed fine with that, and, when I asked him if he wanted me to talk to his teacher about it, he said no, because his “teacher got the girls in trouble.” So I left it at that.
But I was heartbroken for my son. The whole scenario must have been SO AWFUL FOR HIM. I never, EVER wanted this to happen to Jacob, and I felt a pang of guilt for encouraging him to switch schools just so he could play football.
Then today, as I was walking down the school corridors to pick him up from school, his teacher flagged me down and asked me if he told me about “what he did.”
“No . . . what happened?”
“Okay. Did you get my note?”
And then we talked a little bit about what he said to me, and why she didn’t hear from me after it happened, and how we both felt absolutely horrible about the situation. She also let me know that she spoke to both of the girls’ parents, who were as equally distressed as we were.
“You should be proud of him. He did a VERY brave thing.”
Then she proceeded to tell me something so profound about my son that it made me cry.
And I’m still crying as I write this, pausing in between sobs to type.
First, she explained that she kept the girls in from recess THREE TIMES in one day. In the morning, she had them write a note of apology to Jacob. After lunch, she edited the notes and made them re-write them. In the afternoon, she looked the notes over one more time. Then she made the girls apologize to Jacob in person (again), and asked them to give him the notes.
He must have kept the notes in his classroom folder, because I never saw them.
The following day, he asked the teacher if he could share the notes with his class. At first, the teacher was reluctant to let him do it, and said that she intended them to be just for Jacob.
But he persisted, and asked again if he could read them aloud in class.
Now, I have to stop for a minute and explain to you that reading out loud is Jacob’s KRYPTONITE. He HATES to read out loud. But he felt a need to share his experience with his class, and convinced his teacher to let him go forward.
So, in front of a class that he barely knew, doing something that he openly despised, he began to read the notes.
Then, something else happened as he started his mission: Another new student — newer than Jacob, and a little girl who has just as much fear of reading out loud as he does — stood at his side and held his hand. Even putting her head on his arm when things got difficult.
And as Jake read the notes out loud and explained what it felt like to be teased and bullied, the class listened attentively. Some of the kids, including the girls in question, had tears streaming down their face. Jacob’s teacher also cried.
When he was finished, his teacher made sure that the entire class could see her reaction. She wanted them to know that what Jake had done was extremely brave, and that bullying would not be tolerated.
After a few minutes had passed, the kids began raising their hands.
Because THEY wanted to talk about how they had experienced being bullied too.
As Jacob’s teacher was telling me the story, I was bursting with pride and wet from tears and feeling terribly guilty for not believing that he could do something so bold.
But that’s not the end.
Later that day (the day Jacob read out loud to his class), as his teacher was cleaning up, she began to find little folded up pieces of paper.
They were notes.
Notes from students who were apologizing to others for acting like a bully.
“I’m sorry for treating you badly.”
“I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
“I’m sorry that I made you cry.”
All because Jake decided that he’d had enough.
He didn’t hide his feelings. He didn’t run away from the problem.
He instead chose to face bullying head-on, and perhaps changed the lives of his classmates forever.
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