So Monday I posted about my own bullying experiences and mentioned DEAR BULLY, an anthology that I co-edited. That book happened because Megan Kelley Hall and I felt so powerless after hearing the stories of two girls. One was Phoebe Prince. Phoebe killed herself after being bullied over and over again. The other girl was a kindergarten student, Jasmin Lovin, who survived her bullying, but was having a horrible time with nightmares and fear.
But the book was about more than just those two girls. Bullying is bigger than that and any identity factor or trait (real or perceived) can be used as a reason to deride and torment others.
I felt so powerless to help these kids all over our country. So as an author, I did the only thing I could think of doing; I asked for stories from other authors, so kids who had the opportunity to read the book could realize that they weren’t alone.
They weren’t. They aren’t.
As I told the International Literacy Worldwide Association during an interview, “It (a person’s bullying story) was about kids who were bullied about their sexual orientation, their size, their parents; kids were bullied about anything.”
The hope was that if we all shared how we had been bullied, kids could find hope in our survival, hope in the fact that some super cool authors like Z Brewer or Alyson Noel or R. L. Stine had survived and that they could too.
I was absolutely blown away by everyone’s support and everyone’s stories. And it made me incredibly sad that so many of you have bullying stories and that so many of you are still affected by bullying or are being affected right now.
I keep saying it breaks my heart but honestly my heart is shattering over and over again every time I hear a new story.
But I’m also really happy and proud of everyone for sharing and wanting to help and wanting to make change. You are awesome.
And now I’m going to tell some bullying stories from one person’s life. It’s not about me. It’s about my daughter, Em of Awesome, and she’s given me permission, I swear. Em would never categorize herself as either a bullied kid or a hero. I think that’s important somehow.
BULLYING STORY 1
So, when Em was four she went to a Waldorf nursery school. I took her there so she could know how to hang with other kids and also because I love the whole Waldorf philosophy which is, “the human being is fundamentally a spiritual being and that all human beings deserve respect as the embodiment of their spiritual nature.”
So, Em had gone there for about a month when I came to pick her up. Her little cotton dress was all ripped and her face was splotched because she’d been crying. The teachers were all consoling and talking to another little girl, Hannah.
Em launched herself into my arms and I said, “What happened, baby?” because that is what mommies ask.
And she said, “Hannah threw me down and told me she was a lion and was going to eat me up and she ripped my dress and wouldn’t let me up.”
And I hugged her and asked her what the teachers did and she said, “They are talking to Hannah.”
And I said, “Did they talk to you?”
And she said, “No.”
So, I went and talked to the teachers (who are all lovely by the way) and I asked them what happened and they said the same thing as Em. And then they told me that Hannah had been jealous of Em who was somehow really good at sewing and reading (and basically everything – such is the curse of being Em) so Hannah was acting out her rage.
And I asked if Hannah was told that it wasn’t cool to rip another girl’s dress, threaten to kill her, and tackle her. And they told me that they hadn’t because Hannah was merely expressing herself. This was the escalation of her being angry and jealous for awhile.
And then I asked if anyone had comforted Em.
And they said, “No. We were focusing on Hannah.”
This is when I took Em out of the school forever because I honestly thought the spiritual growth and support of the bullied, beaten-up kid was just as important as the spiritual growth and worth of the kid who bullied.
And also because I often have no chill.
Life Lesson here:
If you feel your kid is in a situation that isn’t healthy for them and you have the means to take them out of that situation? Take them out.
Random note: This same girl who lion attacked Em laughed at me for telling over a decade later for telling her I needed more information before signing a petition about an issue in our town.
Bullying Story #2
Em has been bullied again, but never to a horrible extreme, and she’s lucky. And she’s also turned into one of those kids/young adults who stands up for other people who are being bullied.
One time a boy in third grade was tormenting a girl in the lunch line because of her eye shape. The girl was Aleutian. Em (who has always had wicked verbal skills) went up one side of him and down the other and announced to everyone, “M- has the most beautiful eyes ever.”
M said, “You think so?”
Em said, “Um… yeah. You are so pretty, especially your eyes.”
And the girl told Em that the boy had been bullying her about her looks for forever. Em was the first one who heard and said something.
Life Lesson Here:
Standing up for others in the moment when they can’t manage it themselves, is okay. Another lesson, if you love someone. If you think the are beautiful, let them know.
Bullying Story #3
Another time Em battled an Ed Tech who told one of her friends during PE that she threw the ball “like she was r-word.”
(Sorry. I hate that word. I couldn’t write it.)
Yes, the Ed Tech said the actual word.
Yes, the Ed Tech worked with what the school district labels as ‘special needs’ kids.
Yes, the Ed Tech saw nothing wrong with what she said.
Yes, Em’s friend cried and cried about it. She had issues with reading back then. The Ed Tech knew that. She bullied her right into a sobbing mess on the gym floor.
Life Lesson Here:
Bullies can be grown-ups. We’ve all learned that, right? We just call them trolls when they are on social media.
Bullying Story #4
We were at a big conference in LA full of children’s book writers and the key note speaker was hanging out talking by the pool. Em waited her turn and told him how much she loved his books. She was pretty small so he looked kind of shocked that she had read them. Anyways, he was super nice and they were talking when three women who wanted to be children’s writers came over and shoved her out of the way to talk to him.
Seriously, they just pushed her.
Keynote Author Man got this shocked/stunned looked and asked if Em was okay.
The ladies? Didn’t even blink.
Em wasn’t a person to them, and I think a lot of the time that’s what happens. Bullies forget that they are bullying people with feelings and coolness and quirks and emotions. Or maybe they don’t forget? Maybe they just don’t care.
Life Lesson Here:
Rudeness can happen in places where you least expect it. Adults ignoring, berating, tormenting, discounting kids? That’s something that makes an impact. Yes, those ladies were just rude once, so it’s not technically ‘bullying,’ but having the gatekeepers, the movers, the shakers, the people in positions of power and authority ignore you over and over again? That makes an impact.
Em was a quiet kid, but she was fierce, and she was so lucky that she has had the opportunity to be so fierce and strong and what kills me is that so many of us don’t. So many of us don’t have the tools to keep dealing with bullies over and over again. So many of us don’t know that other people have had to deal with it, too. So many of us don’t realize that we aren’t alone, that we aren’t the only one with our dress ripped, or called names, or physically attacked or pushed aside by women who want to write stories for us, but more than that, they want to talk to the semi-famous man.
That’s why we all have to do whatever small thing we can. That might be standing up like Em; it might be joining a Facebook page; it might be telling our stories; it might just be giving someone a hug. It might be changing ourselves so that when someone calls us out on bad behavior we don’t get defensive and stubborn but we actually listen and care about their feelings more than our own just for a moment at least.
I know. I know… It seems so little. But it’s something.
WHAT I’VE TRIED TO DO
So, I can’t save anyone, really. All I can do is listen, give out smelly stickers, and share my own stories. Sometimes those stories are super fun and inspiring, like the NEED series or TIME STOPPERS or THE SPY WHO PLAYED BASEBALL.
Sometimes those stories? They are full of pain.
I’ve recently contributed to the anthology THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID and Megan Kelley Hall and I co-edited another anthology, DEAR BULLY, which was an effort of writers, readers, bloggers and people to raise awareness about bullying. The money we raise from Dear Bully’s royalties continues each year to support programs meant to raise awareness about bulling and support those who have suffered. I am so grateful for that opportunity.
But it doesn’t feel like enough, you know? Nothing ever feels like enough.
DO GOOD WEDNESDAY
If you’re a survivor of bullying, please know that you aren’t alone. Check out this website for some resources. And if you are a person who bullies? Try to get some help too. Your life can be so much better than it is now. Let’s change our culture into something better.
The Class at the Writing Barn
The awesome 6-month-long Writing Barn class that they’ve let me be in charge of!? It’s happening again in July. Write! Submit! Support! is a pretty awesome class. It’s a bit like a mini MFA but way more supportive and way less money.
Praise for Carrie Jones and Write. Submit. Support:
“Carrie has the fantastic gift as a mentor to give you honest feedback on what needs work in your manuscript without making you question your ability as a writer. She goes through the strengths and weaknesses of your submissions with thought, care and encouragement.”
“Carrie’s feedback is specific, insightful and extremely helpful. She is truly invested in helping each of us move forward to make our manuscripts the best they can be.”
“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”
People are saying super nice things about me, which is so kind of them because helping people on their writing journeys and their craft and supporting them? That’s pretty boss, honestly.
The podcast DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE has a new episode about life tips, dog tips and writing advice that just came out yesterday.
Flying and Enhanced – the Young Adult Science Fiction Series
Cross Buffy with Men in Black and you get… you get a friends-powered action adventure based in the real world, but with a science fiction twist. More about it is here. But these are fun, fast books that are about identity, being a hero, and saying to heck with being defined by other people’s expectations.
This quick, lighthearted romp is a perfect choice for readers who like their romance served with a side of alien butt-kicking action – School Library Journal