Tunneling Toward Sunshine

My jailhouse mama

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Ray Rice #27

Ray Rice #27 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, the memories that came flooding back when I saw this news item today. A New Jersey mother is accused of boarding a school bus to confront the kid who had been bullying her 9-year-old daughter.

Some witnesses say the NJ mother didn’t just curse, but also slapped the bully, and I’d never condone that. In general I wish adults would act like adults and show some restraint. Yes, insist on an end to bullying, but model good behavior for kids, rather than just demand it. I’m glad more and more people (like Ravens RB Ray Rice) are taking a stand against bullying and doing it in a positive, productive way. But I understand how a mother can get to the point of doing something irrational when she feels that her child is being traumatized.

Back in the day, as we say, I was a smart, four-eyed fat kid who got picked on pretty mercilessly and was fairly used to mean comments from classmates. When I was in eighth grade, one guy regularly took it further. Darrell used to follow me home and, in addition to teasing and harassing me verbally, he would kick me, push me down, pull my hair, knock my books out of my hands — just general hazing that would often send me home in tears. The day I came home with both the knees torn out of a new pair of slacks and my own knees scraped and bloody because Darrell pushed me down on the sidewalk yet again, my mother had had enough.

The next day when I climbed up the Lombard Street hill on the way home from Hampstead Hill Junior High School, with Darrell a few menacing steps behind me as usual, I was surprised to see my mother walking toward us with a determined, angry look in her eyes. Darrell didn’t know who this charging crazy woman was and barely noticed her — until she reached out and grabbed a big handful of his long, wavy hair. His eyes flew open wide as he was jerked backwards by the way she was yanking his hair, and he started protesting loudly.

“Now push him back!” she shouted to me. “Let him see how it feels to be kicked around and pushed down!”

I was in a state of shock. My mother is about as easy-going and low-key as they come, and I couldn’t believe she was actually confronting my tormentor. I was a little humiliated, a little scared… but also felt a huge sense of vindication. While I couldn’t bring myself to punch him, part of me loved it when Mom pulled his red, startled face close and yelled, “Now leave her alone. If you touch her again, I’ll have you expelled from school!”

And with that, she released him and we turned to head for home. I stole a glance over my shoulder, where I saw Darrell pulling himself together as he slunk away. When there was enough distance between us that he was probably fairly certain my mother couldn’t catch him, he yelled, “Crazy bitch!” But he kept going. And he actually left me alone after that.

If this had happened today, my mother probably would have been arrested for grabbing a 14-year-old. It’s pretty hard to imagine my passive, self-effacing Mom in a prison cell. Or Darrell’s parents might have sued (although then we had nothing they could have won). In 2012, Darrell might have come to school the next day with a weapon and done far more harm to me than skinned knees. Nowadays we also know more and better ways to deal with bullies, fortunately.

But for that one autumn day back in the early 1970’s, my mom found a way to keep a bully at bay and reminded me that, no matter how kind you try to be most of the time, once in a while you have to take a stand.


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