Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pink Shirt Day

When I was in Grade Six, my teacher had these two boxes in the classroom – a Warm Fuzzy Box and a Grunch Box. You can probably guess what the Warm Fuzzy box was about – if someone did something nice, someone would write an “anonymous” note and put it in the Warm Fuzzy box so that person would get kudos. The Grunch Box was the opposite – if someone did something hurtful, an “anonymous” note was left in the box and the class would discuss this as a whole. (I put "anonymous" in quotes because of course the teacher knew who put in the notes from our handwriting.)

Today being Pink Shirt Day, which is supposed to be a symbol for all of us to stand up to bullying, it reminded me of these boxes. We all tell kids that they can talk to someone if they feel they are being bullied, cyber, in person, or otherwise. But it’s not always that easy to go talk to someone.

See, this whole Pink Shirt Day is one of those causes that is near and dear to me, for many reasons. I’m a parent of a school-aged child. I’m a parent of a child with autism. I’m a parent of a mixed-race child. And I grew up as an overweight, glasses-wearing, bowl-cut sporting mixed race girl who developed early and was in the top of my class.

Today I’ve seen all types of claims of “Oh I was bullied as a child, so wear a pink shirt.”on my various social media timelines. I saw someone say this who bullied me in high school. And when I say bullied, I don’t mean in the actual way that bullying meant back when I was in high school. This person didn’t shove me into a locker. But they did make fun of how I looked, and the way I danced, and the way my mother dressed me. Today that’s bullying. When I was a kid, that was just part of going to high school. But then again, if this person bullied me, and has now claimed to have been bullied, I guess that chain of perpetuation theory was actually as true back then as it is now. Only somehow I always ended up at the ultimate receiving end of it.

The thing that I’m most worried about, though, as a parent, is making sure that I don’t raise a bully. 

I wrote about having the child who has the temper in the class. The one who throws chairs, swears, melts down, has to be isolated. Now it’s not as bad as it was when he was younger because he is learning coping mechanisms, and he has a wonderful support system at school and at home. No, I don’t let him get away with that. Neither does the school. However, there is just something in him that, when his temper is set off, he sees red and destruction.

But that, my friends, is not bullying. His anger is never targeted at one person. He’s like a windmill. If you happen to be in the way when he’s angry, and you are his age or older (he is in enough control to know you don’t hurt people younger than you), you will be in the path of the rage. But it’s rage. He does not find someone’s weakness, someone’s other ability, someone’s difference, and scream hateful messages at them for those reasons. He is just angry and yells. Until he is able to regroup.  Meltdowns these days last about 10 minutes. If you think about your own temper, it probably lasts about that long as well. But his anger, his seething…none of it is ever caused because he doesn’t like the way someone looks, or he has found someone weaker than him. For this, I am thankful. Because that behaviour pattern is difficult to unlearn. He has never been taught that people who are not like him are inferior or superior. He only knows that everyone is the same. (He knows girls are different but that's for another day...)

So back to the Grunch Box. On Grunch Box day one week, the teacher found only one note inside. It was looking to be a good week. There had been a bunch of warm fuzzies. She opened the note and read, “There are kids in the playground who call me Fatso and Nigger at recess.”

Being the only dark-skinned kid in the class, all eyes were on me.

It had been happening for weeks. It was at lunch when I was off trying to play by myself because my friends had either gone home or were off playing somewhere else. (I liked to do stuff by myself even way back then.) This was something I didn’t tell my parents until the teacher called my mother. It was something that I was too scared to tell anyone because I didn’t think they would understand. Because there was nobody else like me in the whole school.

That afternoon recess, some boys in my class who weren't close friends of mine (in fact, I didn't even know they knew who I was) surrounded the little Aryan-looking kids who had been calling me those names. They were large guys, intimidating. They made the kids stop using a way that would probably get them suspended today. And though I wouldn't encourage that method of problem-solving for my son and/or kids his age these days, those kids never called me names again. And nobody messed with me in elementary school for the rest of my time there. 

That’s why I wear a pink shirt today. That’s why I make my son wear a pink shirt. And that’s why I encourage you to find your own Grunch Box. You’ll be surprised who comes to help you out. 

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