Last week, Anna returned to the lunch room after nearly four months of eating her lunch with a select few friends in the guidance office every day. It was the last piece of the putting-her-school-life-back-together-after-being-bullied puzzle, and though she tried to act as if it were no big deal, she also couldn’t refrain from talking about it non-stop the previous weekend, and it was evident that she was both motivated and terrified. I held my breath all week praying for kids to sit with her as they had promised they would. I knew it was potentially the most prolonged contact with the bully and her crew since the initial incidents, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I worried that as soon those girls saw her happy, surrounded by friends, it might be a signal for them to ramp up and restart the bullying.
There was a fair amount of staring at Anna while whispering to one another, but, I’m told that, one of the friends at Anna’s table waved to her while she stared and that made her look away quickly. By the second day, Bully McBitchface was attempting to contact Anna on social media several times a day. Anna ignored her the first couple of days hoping she would get the hint and go away, but by the third day it was apparent that Anna had to block her completely. Blocking is a difficult decision for a middle-schooler as this can sometimes anger the bully and make things worse, but so far, so good. Fingers crossed.
It’s been a long, curvy, uphill road. I feel like it’s the equivalent of trying to bike up the road to the top of Whiteface Mountain. Backwards. And shoeless.
Anna missed a lot of school when the initial bullying was going on, and there was a point in time when we were so concerned about her returning to that building at all that we considered pulling her out of school and homeschooling–like seriously considered it, to the point of having all of the credit card information typed into the site only pausing before hitting “submit” because the washing machine suddenly went out of balance and was shaking the entire house requiring it be dealt with immediately. Had it not been for a misguided attempt at washing a oversized comforter, and our fear of her ending up in total isolation, we would have returned to the computer to hit that “submit” button, and I would be homeschooling my kid as I type.
Instead, we got her a counselor, and we rallied her support system: teachers, guidance counselors, the assistant principal and friends who began to emerge from the woodwork. Anna’s friend group has almost completely shifted since this has happened, and it’s all I can do not to hug and kiss every one of these new girls when they enter our home. It’s hard to stand against a bully and support the bullied, and I am so proud of them. All of them.
We started by getting Anna to school every day, no matter what time, just getting her to school. She would sit in the guidance office and do her school work. Slowly, she started to attend her classes, one at a time, adding another every few days–or, sometimes, a week. Because she was so far behind we had to get her on a temporary 504 plan which allowed her teachers to dismiss some of her assignments and focus on the ones that were the most important. The plan also allowed her health teacher to grade her on a pass/fail because being only a singe trimester class, she had missed almost the entire course and could not possibly catch up.
Meanwhile, Bully McBitchface and crew made gagging sounds at her in the hallway, and once threw a water bottle at her when she was standing by her locker. Though these things infuriated me and Steve (and Hayden) Anna considered them an improvement compared to what she had endured earlier in the year, and chose to simply ignore them or laugh. Typing that sentence makes me sad; my kid, NO kid, should have to make that choice.
The lunch room was the last hold out. I think partly because she was worried about returning and partly because she had grown comfortable in the guidance office. So, I was actually quite surprised when she told me she was going back.
I can’t even begin to tell you what goes through my head every day when I drop her off at school. I know that each day is a new exercise in courage for her. I know that she worries about what could happen next, but she leans over and lets me kiss her on the forehead then she holds her head high and walks into that building toward those horrible girls, and disappears from my sight until I pick her up six hours later. I am so awed by her, so proud of her, and so very blessed to be her mother.