This is not a blog post I ever thought I’d write, and because it’s so painful for me to write it, I’d like to address it as an open letter to a few of my son’s heroes: Elon Musk and Neil Degrasse Tyson.
I never thought I’d be writing to you, especially via my blog, but I need some advice and I really feel as though the Universe is telling me you’re the only two people who can give it.
I am a self-proclaimed-and-proud-of-it enthusiast of learning, history, and technology, and I’ve always enjoyed talking about all sorts of different things with my kids. If someone were to ask me to label myself, I’d say nerd or a geek.
It’s a label I’m proud of. It’s a great thing to be. I’ve raised my kids to have their own interests, but they get jazzed about video games, travel, and history in the same way I do. We’ve watched documentaries on the moon landing, trekked up to see Jupiter on Griffith’s telescopes during a night session one visit to LA, and have proudly worn anything NASA we can get our hands on. We aren’t a team sport family, and I never questioned how I was raising them or how everything would work out until my kids started high school. At my age I don’t have to worry about someone making fun of my interests, but my kids haven’t been so lucky.
I need to talk about my son.
My son is 14 years old now, and he’s getting bullied at school because he’s creative and funny and just a bit odd. He loves science and tech and he wants to invent things. I’m thankful he’s not interested in dating, drinking, or vaping like some kids his age, and I think it’s awesome that if you give him a 3D printer he’ll be happy for hours. He says he just doesn’t have time for anything else other than the stuff he wants to do, and when asked whether or not he’d change to suit these kids who are picking on him, he’ll tell you no; he’s pretty happy with himself.
His Dad and I are so proud of who he is. I know someday he’ll do amazing things with his life, but we have to get him through high school first. That’s why I’m writing to you.
My son is being bullied on an almost daily basis now. When he started at his high school he was an outgoing 13 year old with a lot of friends, and now he just comes home with stories about people being horrible to him.
It took my breath away when he told me he talked about Dr.Who in a class once and was told he was pathetic and the reason why people kill themselves. It’s like a knife is twisting my heart when he walks off to school happily dressed in a button up shirt, because I know he’ll get picked on. He likes to dress up. He would love to wear a bow tie, but he gets made fun of for his fashion choices. He says it’s OK as long as they don’t make fun of him to his face.
He’s been called loser for his choice in clothes, backpacks, and where he spends his lunch hour. Last year he was ‘swarmed’ by a group of kids in gym class and shoved into a room he couldn’t get out of for 10 minutes. He’s shorter than everyone else, and he’s been shoved in lockers and not let out because some kid was blocking the door. A group of kids told him they would melt one of his plastic ‘toys’ he brought to school, while others put a plastic bag over his head and shoved him in a corner.
Just last month a kid in Grade 11 shoved him into the lockers and told him to get the F out of the way. These are the kids who are supposed to be his mentors. Yesterday another Grade 11 made fun of one of his inventions and suggested to a table full of other kids that the invention was made with his mom’s vibrator. This is incredibly juvenile and ridiculous, but what bugged me most about that is that he’s so enthusiastic about his ideas and so creative, and he gets shut down every time he turns a corner.
I think it must be incredibly lonely, and when I say that, he says it’s OK Mom, I’m OK.
I don’t know why they do this. He’s not a quiet kid, and has always been goofy, outgoing, and sure of himself. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t hide the things he’s interested in is enough to make them hate him. I really don’t know. After letting him deal with this on his own this year, at his specific request, I’ve finally told him I can’t anymore and called the school.
I don’t know what will happen. You’re supposed to report these things, but he knows after reporting a few times that these kids get into trouble and the bullying gets worse. We, as a family, agreed to ignore a lot of really poor behavior from a lot of different kids because we were desperately hoping it would blow over and they would grow up enough to leave him alone. We take the weight of horrible things someone will say and decide whether or not they are call-worthy. It’s ridiculous. If you call too much you’re coddling. If you don’t call at all, you’re complicit.
Now he spends most of his school time in the library. That’s great, but he gets picked on in there too. He comes home and tells me stories. I’m at the point where I weigh the pros and cons of what someone said in my head and make myself sit on my hands and wonder whether or not I should even address it. Will it blow over? Will they just come back harder?
Why, for the love of all that is holy, do I always feel ashamed for constantly going back to the school and bringing it up again?
When I do send off an email or call the school, I feel a clench of anxiety so strong it sits like a boulder in my stomach and it wakes me up in a sweat at night. I always wonder if these parents know the horrible things that come out of their kid’s mouths, and if they would do anything if they did. I stay awake a lot and stare at the ceiling.
To answer a few questions, yes, I do have plans to pull my son and his sister from the school. It’s so hard. Despite everything, he really doesn’t want to leave there. He likes the library. It feels safe. He’s scared of what could happen at another school. He assumes, not correctly, that everyone is this bad.
He thinks he has the self-confidence to get through the next few years. I want to believe that. The school has also tried, when I bring things up, to rectify the situation. I can’t say they are villains or that they aren’t making an effort. It’s just that kids are smart and sneaky and they don’t get overheard.
I apologize for how long this is, but here’s my question to you: do you have any advice for my son? I tell him there’s a light at the end of the tunnel every single day, but I worry it doesn’t mean much coming from mom. If it came from someone he considers a hero, it might give him something to hold onto so we can get through this.
I have a friend who’s son went through years of bullying, and she said something that really resonated with me: after finishing high school this past year, after years of depression and talk about suicide, he walked out that door and just like that, the light in his eyes came back. Without the shadow of constant bullying, he was able to be himself again. That’s what I want for my kid.
Do people even realize how much bullying, even something as stupid as getting called a loser on a daily basis, can affect that kid? Do they have any idea how it can affect an entire family?
I never wanted to write a letter like this. I feel ridiculous and self-conscious and scared to put anything out there. I feel like we’ve all been churned up and spit out over and over, and I’ve hit the peak of my stress level so many times I can’t believe the top of my head hasn’t exploded.
My hope for my son is peace, love, and science. I want him to know that yes, he can be interested in inventing, physics, space, or whatever, he can dress however he wants to dress, and he can grow up to be exactly who he wants to be. I want him to know that there are other people who have been there, done that, and lived better.
If you could, maybe you’d have some advice for us. If so, I’d truly appreciate it. Also if you can find it in your heart to build a science-based high school like the one in the last Spiderman movie, and put it somewhere near Vancouver in the next year or so, I’d appreciate that too. I’m joking. I’m just really sad there isn’t somewhere amazing he could go. Somewhere he’d be appreciated.
To whomever else is reading this, I hope you’re not going through the same thing. I wrote this last October and only now had the courage to hit publish, and I hope it helps to know that you are alone. It can feel like that.
I also hope you can find peace, love, and if they are into it, science for your own kids. I really believe geeks and nerds will rule the world. We just have to get them through high school first.