Posted in Life stuff

Strength in shoes

A storm had blown through earlier in the day. Everything was wet and the house felt cold. Knowing I was going to cook dinner and spend an evening packing, I put on warm fleece pajama bottoms, the ones with snowflakes, I believe, and a long sleeve cotton tee. I had begun packing our pantry items. We only had just over a week left in the Colorado house and a pantry filled with food. As I was pulling food out to pack, I found even more to throw away. So I began my journey of toss and pack. The storm passed and the sun came back out to dry the patio and walkway. It was warm, but I didn’t bother changing back into summer clothing. I can wear PJs all year any time of day or night.

I had taken two trash bags outside to our trashcan and started dinner. It was close to 5pm. Rice was cooking and was at the point where I had turned the gas burner to simmer. I had plenty of time to load one more trash bag and take it outside. The moment I got to the trashcan outside, I heard a horrific crash. Looking up and outside the neighborhood on the main road, I saw a green bike down. Shit. It’s a motorcycle, I thought to myself. I know riders. My sister rides. I have many friends who ride. Motorcycle down doesn’t sit well with me.

I ran inside the house, grabbed my cell phone and slipped on a pair of shoes. As I dialed 911, I ran down the street.

When I got there, I realized it wasn’t a motorcycle. It was a dirt bike. And it wasn’t a man. Or a woman. It was two young boys. Both lying in the road. Both broken. Both bleeding. Broken.

I’ve debated whether or not to share everything I saw that day. And I decided not to share. I was disappointed in a few things, like people standing around not talking to the boys. The town employee smoking his cigarette several feet from the boys and me while we were on the ground next to the bike leaking gasoline. I was on the phone with 911, so I had clear instructions. I was able to talk to them both while we waited for help.

Once the helicopter took one and an ambulance took the other, I was able to shift my focus on the three boys who were with these two amazing young men. They were in shock. I told them I’d stay with them until their parents came. It was during one of the moments talking to those three boys when I noticed my shoes were wet. The grass I ran through, the grass on the side of the road, and the puddle near the boy I stayed with the longest while he was waiting for help had soaked my feet.

Much happened that day, including the harsh realization I had left dinner cooking in the oven and on the stove with children inside my house. Luckily, I was able to ask a neighbor for help.

Today, living in Arizona, I asked my daughter to grab me a pair of shoes before I took her to school. She brought me those shoes. I don’t think I’ve worn them since.

This morning, I put them on and thought of that day. I thought of these two boys. I was able to see them both at the hospital before we left Colorado. I am happy to say I know they are both doing well. They are both recovering. I know one has moved with his family to another state. They are all closer to family, love, and support. I saw a photo of him standing and walking recently. I sat in a room by myself with the biggest smile on my face looking at a still shot I wasn’t sure I’d ever see. The other has been through several surgeries and seems to be doing well. At least much better than when I last saw him. I hope they remain friends for life.

These boys and their families will live in my heart forever. They may not remember me. But I will always remember them. I wish them the best life has to offer. They are here. There was an awful chance they could not be here. But they are. I hope they do amazing things as they continue to grow.

Today, I’m wearing my dirty shoes. I could wash them. I could toss them out. But today, I will think of the amazing feats we all face each day. The strength these boys gave to me. The strength they gave to their families. The strength they have. It lives in these shoes. Today. For me.




Posted in Life stuff

Be the difference in schools today

This is an edited version of an email I sent out to administrators of our schools. I will leave out which district is currently ours and instead show comparisons from around the United States. This isn’t hard research. This is simply using Google to help our family decide where our children will fit most. If you have a bullied child, have you researched other schools, other districts, or helped your school to stand up and stand out amongst the crowd?

Our local high school has lost yet another student who may have passed through your doors at one point to suicide. Recently in a local K-8 school, a child brought a knife to school and threatened another student with words I can’t imagine my children hearing in even a fictional setting just yet. As I understand it, this child was given three days suspension. The message here, over and over, is kids can abuse rules and their consequences will be minimal. The silent message is consequences will vary from case to case and students don’t know common sense rules around cruelty, nor do they know definitive consequences. As a parent, I just learned this year the police can create no contact contracts and ticket offending students. As a parent, I’m very upset I didn’t know this before. Maybe these three boys who have violated my daughter over and over again could have been dealt with sooner. Maybe my daughter could have been helped sooner. Maybe the children who have decided to end their own lives could have known there are answers out there in the real world. Maybe they’d still be here if they knew they could keep other students away from them. I’m truly at the point where I no longer truly care if you read what I’ve written below, but I will share it with you in case you’d like to be the start of change.


Be the change your school district needs.

We are moving after the end of the school year. I have to give my daughter a chance to survive. I have to put her in a place where pro-active is the norm rather than being in a reactive school. Two of our local schools have shown us the support we never had at our first school. But this problem of bullying and teasing and intolerance within schools is so much larger than you or your school. In middle school this year, our daughter has been teased more because there are families from her first elementary school who just joined public schools for middle school. She’s been told the kids “know” she was expelled from in 4th grade. As a good student and a great kid, our daughter didn’t even know what the word expelled meant. And it’s certainly not true. We left by choice after she was punched in the mouth by a student who had bullied her all year. The decision to leave followed the school’s decision to dish out zero consequences time after time with this student and their decision to continue to keep them in the same classroom. In middle school, I’ve had to explain to my very innocent daughter what a blow job is because kids were teasing her when she was eating a carrot. The school’s response was to suggest I cut her carrots so she wasn’t eating a whole carrot. If someone had called and said, “Look, eating a whole carrot is loud, distracting, and bothersome to some people, could you cut them into bite sized pieces for her,” I’d have been happy to oblige. But instead, the school reacted to the poor behavior of others by asking us to change her eating habits. This is a problem we’ve faced time after time; adults reacting instead of taking a proactive approach to bullying, teasing, and intolerance. She was pushed over and over into a science lab table and the consequence was for you to move her to a new locker in a different room. She was violated at the school bus and sexually harassed on the school bus, with video proof, and the only thing left for me to do was to drive her to school myself to keep her safe. Last year in 5th grade, she was kicked by three boys in the head, in the chest, and on her legs. These same boys threw ice at her in the winter months. They talked to her about their penises and her vagina on the school playground. The only thing I know these boys had to do was write an essay as a result of kicking her.

This past year, two eleven-year-old students committed suicide in Fort Collins, Colorado. Their reason? Bullying. They didn’t belong. They didn’t fit in. They didn’t see a way out. Our district almost lost an eleven-year-old this year as well to suicide due to incessant bullying. His mother reached out to social media and to the news stations. The district did nothing. We tend to react for a quick moment and move on quickly to the next state testing forum or the next big sporting event. But we don’t actually deal with this problem. My daughter is slated to go to our local high school in two years where we lost four students to suicide in one year. Can you imagine the fear I have for my daughter in a place where the care for these kids is only localized to their issue once they are gone?

I implore you to be the schools who start change within your district. A proactive program could create a school which feels safer from the get go for these students who face hatred and intolerance each day. As a parent, it took me a long time to realize reaction is not what we need. We left our first school with the hope that our new school would react better than the staff before had reacted. We were right. The team reacted in ways we’d never seen before. We were happy. The students had simple consequences if they harmed or were cruel to my daughter. This was new to us. Before, we were told our eight year old needed to assert herself more. We went from the bullying our daughter faced being her fault to a kind staff who cared about her, her feelings, and her safety. It was a world of change for us. Positive change. But after two more years, it’s not enough. It just isn’t. We can’t only react and expect students to know what our expectations of them are. In PE and Health classes this year, she was pushed into walls during a game several times day after day. The students used the game as an excuse to harm her. Each day she would tell the teacher, and each day these students were told to be more careful or simply that it was mean. Each day these students knew the teacher would only react with a verbal consequence and a simple reminder of their behavior being unkind. But that was all. There seemed to never be any set expectations that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated. These kids did this day after day for nine weeks. The nine weeks prior, she was shamed in the locker room for not needing a bra at the age of eleven. Imagine being naked in a room full of peers and hearing body shaming because you are who you are.

This year I decided schools in general need to be proactive. For years, I’ve called the district over and over to get a definitive plan to tackle bullying in schools. For years, I’ve been told it’s up to the schools themselves to set a plan and put in place a program. Each school is different. Each school is responsible for creating a program or having a plan according to the district.

Here is a cut screenshot of our district. I was going to post other Colorado school districts to show zero results, but from Denver all the way up to Fort Collins and all in between, this was the only one I found with zero results. I’ll keep the district name private in hopes they won’t be the sole site with zero results much longer. Trust it is a school district’s site. And all others I search locally had at least government resources or community organizations.


I encourage you to search your district’s website.

There are zero resources available for parents or for students. Imagine being a student with the technology the district offers, an iPad or a Chromebook, and looking for help from the district. This is what they would find. Oddly enough, I was prepared to share the one document the district provided when I began my searches months ago, but it is no longer there. This search used to yield one link to one document which was 1.5 pages and titled, Code of Conduct. It was a document of rules, expectations of conduct for students on school grounds or at school events. It didn’t address kindness, only events such as property damage, substance abuse, and weapons on school grounds. For whatever reason, with several weeks of school left for kids who are looking for help, even those expectations are no longer available. I even searched ‘code of conduct’ with zero results.

In comparison, look at this screenshot when I type bullying into a search bar on a different district’s site:

Screenshot (1)
1870 results for bullying when searched on a district site

There are over ten pages of links, almost 1900 results in that search for one district. Some of these links go to teacher pages. Some go to individual schools. Some go to government sites such as Some of those ten pages of links don’t actually address bullying at all but might link to a teacher who addresses bullying on their page.

If you follow some Arizona districts, you’ll see they teach zero tolerance in their curriculum. I know our middle school does peer mediation. But I only know because my daughter has done it and told me about it. I didn’t find any resources about it on any website. I know our elementary school has a focus on character traits. But I never know what trait is the focus for each month. The last tweet from each school was fairly recent and usually only about evacuation drills, weather conditions, and honor roll. But often times, communication is left to a weekly newsletter with one or two focus points, usually academic. For a child who is struggling in today’s social world with the technology at hand, they have no tweets, no Facebook posts, no newsletters, and no websites that represent them and their struggles. There is virtually zero communication on tolerance and acceptance, yet every school seems to want to connect to parents and students with the convenience of social media. Utilize it.

There are simple things your schools can do to assist parents who are struggling with this horrible epidemic in schools. There are websites available to you, to students, and to parents. Here’s how one district shares some of their resources outside of the ten pages of links when one simply searches the word bullying on their site.

Another district:

Go above and beyond. Look at these PDFs from one district. Not only are they pretty and colorful, but they are long and informative. From a family who has felt totally and completely alone for years, I cried when I saw these documents. I didn’t learn anything new. I didn’t feel relief from change. But for the first time, my daughter was truly validated. Not only does someone in this district care, as I know you all do, but they created an environment which shows they care enough to offer resources to parents and to children. The number one issue with a bullied child is often that they feel alone. I see these PDFs and know my daughter could feel as if there is hope; there is someone out there with a plan. I’ve always said I can’t control how parents treat or parent their children at home. Many of these kids won’t change. It’s what they know. It’s what they are taught. But we can give them expectations while they are under our care in schools. And we can hope they will take those teachings with them to their homes and throughout their lives. We are not completely helpless because a child has a different upbringing. If someone came into my home, I have every right to ask them not to stand on my couch or not to swing from my ceiling fans. You and schools and districts have every right to lay out your expectations with your students as well as their parents. You have every right to demand a cruelty-free and respecting, tolerant environment within your walls. It needs to start with communications home to all families. It can carry on with constant communications via social media, email blasts for older students, and resources such as the ones I have shared so no child feels left in the dark by their schools.

For families:

For teachers:

Get on your school’s website and search some key words like bullying and suicide. For my district, there is nothing….nothing….there. No school needs to own the responsibility of a child suicide. But as a school or district, is it really that hard to offer links for children and parent to visit when they feel so alone?

Pacer does a walk each year in October, I think. You can get students and parents involved. You can raise funds for an anti-bullying program in your school with a simple 5K walk/run. They sell T-shirts for the event on their page. You can sell them in your school and ask kids to wear them to recognize the larger issue at hand in every school.

Would it be so hard to make these resources available to the families in the district or in your schools? For my daughter, for my family…please make a proactive change. I never thought I’d have to talk to my eleven-year-old about suicide. I never thought suicide would be something that would affect middle schoolers. I wonder if the two families in Fort Collins thought the same thing before they buried their children. In fairness, here is the link to the bullying search Poudre Valley offers since I’ve only offered Arizona school links so far. They also have about ten pages of links when I typed in the word bullying. This is a district in Northern Colorado.

Another Colorado district…

And another…


Large school districts around the country:

Newark, NJ 35K students

Fairfax, VA 183K students

Portland, OR 512 results

LA, CA over 650K students, over 3500 results

If you simply clicked, I hope you see the big difference between our district which has zero results when I typed in the word bullying and even just one resource for a child or a parent. It doesn’t cost anything to link. It doesn’t take any administrative time to show our children how much we support every stage they are in while in school.

What does your school district show when you type in the word bullying into their search bar?

We are not coming back to this school district. I owe my daughter a chance. And I know despite the fact that she’s been punched in the mouth, kicked in the head and chest, pushed into walls and down stairs, teased, told she doesn’t belong, reminded how much she’s hated….I know she doesn’t have it as bad as others. I know it can be so much worse. But I owe her a chance to be a survivor. I owe her a place where they not only care but are proactive in caring. I’m not naïve enough to think she won’t be teased or even bullied. My kids will be the new kids again. They will face struggles wherever they go, and it’s my job to teach them to cope. But without schools who have resources known to parents and students, without a proactive plan in place to stop this horrid behavior, nothing in her life will change. I don’t know what we will face in our future. But we are lucky enough to be able to live anywhere we’d like.

I share this information with you in hopes that other kids in any district, some I know are fighting the same struggles, can find the hope they need. I hope you can see the huge differences between what I, a parent, can find in our district, a big fat ‘Your Search Yielded No Results,’ and pages and pages of options. I hope it angers you that the district you represent cares so little they offer zero solutions or resources for parents or students.

When life falls apart at home for a child – a death, a divorce, a deployment of a parent, abuse- often times the only stability that child might have is at school. And if they are different or depressed and not fitting in, they look to you all who might help them at the level you can. But if they are lying in their bed at night crying, searching your school website or the district website for help, for a light, for anything….they are only reminded that no one cares for them. True or untrue, it’s the message that is sent from a district with zero results. And it’s heartbreaking.

I hope to never read about bullying or suicides because of school bullying again. I hope you can force simple but impactful changes. In any district across this great nation, be the school who forces great change. Just start somewhere.

Stella Samuel

May 2016


Posted in Life stuff

Please Remember

I write a lot of things. I share many but not all. I’m a writer. As an author, I imagined my website to be about writing. My process, my fails, my gains. I want to share more about publishing. But the past six months of my writing time has been spent fighting the same fight we’ve fought each school year. I research laws. I research girl power. I research how to build self-confidence in children. I try to build up other parents going through the same challenges we are. I try to tell as many children as I can how much they matter. To me, to my daughter, to their families, to this fight.

Yesterday I learned someone stopped fighting.

My heart is broken again.

We are going on six years now of my oldest daughter dealing with cruelty on school grounds. Threats, teasing, unkind words, gossip, violence against her, complete intolerance of who she is, and schools turning heads, forcing changes upon innocent children instead of pushing real consequences to offenders. It’s a non-stop circle. And I know, as I’ve known for years, we are not the only ones going through this.

I learned yesterday of a young boy in a different state. His parents will be burying him soon. I sat at my window a looked at the spring snow falling from the Colorado sky and wondered if the storm hovering over my roof would be over theirs on the day they bury their son. Would they have rain? Would they have snow? Would dark skies cover their world, matching the feelings of their sunken hearts? I don’t know this boy. I don’t know his parents. But I breathe for all of them today. I stood in my daughter’s bedroom last night and touched her forehead. I rubbed scar she is teased about. I felt the warmth of her skin. I watched her chest rise and fall with each breath she took. Gratitude washed over me. She is two years younger than this boy.

Outside appearances tell me this boy came from a loving family. He was a good looking young man. He played sports. All the comments I see about him are kind. He was liked. He was loved. I can’t ever expect to know any more about him. But I can believe no one who mattered to him wanted to live days like today; waking without him. Missing his morning routine. His morning grumbles about getting up and moving. His morning smiles. Maybe he was a joker, making members of his family laugh during breakfast. Maybe he was like my daughter, silly, dancing whenever he felt movement enter his body. I wonder if the kids at his school all cried. I wondered if some laughed. I wondered if the cruel people in his community, even if they are few, knew how difficult they made his life. Do they know today the words they spoke to him, to lift themselves up for a brief moment, to get a laugh from others, to bring him down, are the same words which killed him? Will they think twice before speaking cruel words to someone else?

I ask in his honor, today, you remind your children, yourself, your friends and family to be kind. It isn’t hard at all. Keep the mean thoughts you have for someone to yourself. Better yet, ask yourself why you feel they need to hear why you think they aren’t worth walking on Earth any more than you do. My daughter hears things like, “You suck because you’re short.” “You have Ebola.” “Ewww, gross, it’s you.” “You know you don’t belong here….in this class, in this school, in this world. You know that don’t you?” Those are just a small sampling of things she’s heard, things she hears every day. Class after class. Many days, several times a day.

How many years does a child need to hear these things? A recent bus chant about my daughter involved several children replying to one boy saying her name and the word ‘likes.’ The other children would then reply to him with words like penises, vaginas, butt holes. For twenty minutes on the bus, she had to listen to several kids chat things about her that were not only untrue but also vulgar. There were also several kids on the bus who said nothing. Kids who didn’t participant in the chant but who also didn’t speak up to tell others to stop being cruel.

How much can one child endure? As I rub the scar on my daughter’s head, I will away her pain. I pray she will come home from school the next day with the strength to do it all again. Each day she comes home sad because of what children are saying about her, to her. I try to remind her of how wonderful I know she is. I try to pull her thoughts into a place where she is reminded of our love for her. Reminded of her friends. She does have them. She’s in a good little group of kids who love her and support her. They laugh with her, they appreciate her silly antics. They don’t have fear of being who they are. And many of them have their own stories of not being accepted by others. I’m happy she has that. I’m certain most children who are bullied have friends. I’m sure they have families who love them. What they don’t often have is that light at the end of the tunnel. I often don’t see that light myself. As an adult, I know my daughter can get through this. I know these kids won’t matter in her life when she’s in college. When she’s an adult working on her career, having a family, loving her own children. But I also know the pain she feels each day will be with her. Always. The hurtful words, the unnecessary teasing, the feelings of being not worthy of living, the reminders that she was not only disliked, but truly hated for no reason will live in her heart and in her mind forever. As parents, we can support, love, offer ideas and reminders, and hope our children will always be here to fight another day.

This boy I know about gave up his fight this week.

I also know of a girl in our own community who gave up her fight this school year. She was my daughter’s age.

Every day my inbox is filled with the pain of others. Parents asking the world to support their children via social media. Many of the stories are eerily familiar. Earlier this week, I read about a girl who had switched schools once already, was smaller than her peers, had red hair and freckles, and was teased relentlessly with both schools doing nothing. One school’s response was that it was not gbullying she was dealing with, it was just kids being kids. Kids being mean.

When did boys will be boys and kids being kids begin to mean simply deal with it, they aren’t bullying, they are simply being mean. When did meanness become acceptable in an environment such as school where adults are abundant? Which adults are accepting simply being mean as something our children should endure? I wouldn’t allow someone to be mean within my own home. I wouldn’t have to tolerate it if I were in a grocery store or at a public park. Why do our children have to endure kids who are mean? Why aren’t the adults surrounding these children teaching expectations of kindness? Why aren’t schools following the same social expectations we expect within our communities? Within our homes?

I’ve researched several states and their Boards of Education websites lately. I live in the state of Colorado. The state site basically lays out the definition of bullying and supplies the ACT the state wrote offering grants to districts who apply for anti-bullying education. I’m not a lawyer, but what I read I understood to mean the district must apply, and to be granted, they must have valid and good reason to apply. With or without the anti-bullying grant money, the districts need to form policies which follow the law of ensuring schools don’t allow bullying as defined by the law. I’ve gone around in circles reading this, and as a parent, an author, a non-lawyer, I took it all to mean the state has defined bullying and expects districts to not allow bullying within their schools. Districts then take the definition of bullying and expect their schools to create a school-wide policy and procedure as it pertains to the state’s definition of bullying. The buck is passed from state to district to school. Meaning, each school is responsible for how seriously they will take this serious problem within our schools across our nation. One school may include anti-bullying within their curriculum. One school may only react to each case as they arise. One school may have high expectations, one may not. It seems to be luck of the draw. Within the state and within the district. Other state sites, like Hawaii and New Jersey, seem to have a better display, at least, of their expectations as well as resources for parents and for children. I believe both of these state also include specific bullying such as LGBT students. New Jersey has a detailed plan, a task force, case studies, and more available to the public on their site. Arizona has expectations, laws, and student/parent resources listed on their Department of Education website. New Jersey and Arizona are the most inclusive state sites I’ve seen. I’ve also found at least two districts within Arizona who include anti-bullying as a curriculum within classrooms.

I understand why each state is a bit different. It’s one of the great things about our country. I may even begin to understand why districts might differ. Cultures across a state might differ, but the expectations should always remain the same. This starts with people. What I fail to understand is why school policies might differ within a district. Why would one school tolerate something another school mere miles away works very hard to prevent?

It comes down to people. The responsible adults we leave in charge of our children while we are away. The adults who need to begin teaching simple values which may not be taught at home. I hate to put parenting in charge of teachers and staff at schools. I’ve said for years the one thing we cannot control is how people parent their children.

We don’t need to teach all values at school. One family may have different values they’d like their children to follow and practice in their lives. But basic kindness shouldn’t have to be taught with ferocity at a middle school age. These are the kids who have been taught basic kindness. They know what is right and what is wrong. They know saying cruel things about someone or to someone is wrong. They are at an age where making the correct choice isn’t always easy for them. This is where they need the guidance most. These kids need to understand how their cruel behaviors affect children, their peers, for years to come.

Years many kids don’t even get to face. I started this out by talking about this beautiful young soul who took his life earlier this week. The pressures of unkindness were too much for him. It is often too much for many. My own daughter has been told she doesn’t belong…not only in her classroom, where she is legally welcome but also in this world according to this girl who greets my daughter each day with this sentiment. How many more times before my daughter begins to believe it? How many times, days, weeks, or years did this young man have to listen to words like that before he no longer believed he belonged anywhere?

Don’t give up.

Be kind.

It matters.

Be the reason someone smiles today.

Be a reason someone is reminded they are wonderful.

Posted in Life stuff

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

If I had the opportunity to talk to school aged children, I’d ask them which child they’d like to be. Which child would they like sitting next to them in class?

I would tell them I have a daughter who, in Kindergarten, was teased by other children, other five year old children, because she chose to sit underneath a table in class. She wasn’t the only one under the table. There was a little boy in her class who wanted to spend his time there. It was his comfort zone. This little boy was autistic. By the children is the class, he was misunderstood. He was different. For my daughter, he was a friend. And she didn’t want him to be alone under the table. Instead of only making fun of him, as they had at first, the children in the class chose to tease both of the children under the table. Why? Because they didn’t understand why they would want to sit and learn under a table. At some point in the year, the teacher encouraged me to ask my daughter to leave her space under the table and sit at the groups of desks like the other children did. My question to the teacher was, “Is being under the table affecting her learning? Is she distracting or distracted?” All answers pointed to no. But the teacher was concerned that she was being teased. She told me my daughter had put herself in a situation to be teased. After a long pause, my response was simply, “It’s your classroom. How can you make it a situation of acceptance? This is not just my daughter involved. There’s a little boy sitting under that table, too.” The year passed rather quickly. She spent some time under the table, and there were days or activities during her day where she would join the rest of the children at the desks grouped together. But she was always teased. She’d created her place with her peers. Without knowing it, her peers had decided she was weird. They didn’t understand her. She was different. In my eyes, as her mother, she was amazing. She had compassion. Her love had no boundaries. And she didn’t mind that she’d lost friends by befriending an autistic child. All she cared about was that she had a new friend, and he had someone that cared. And they had a special place for their friendship – underneath the table in their classroom.

The following year, in first grade, that little boy’s parents decided to homeschool him. My daughter’s peers, however, remembered my daughter. They remembered she is different. Weird. Not like the rest of them. They remembered they could tease her – and get away with it. In first grade, she made a new friend. She was a young girl that enjoyed my daughter’s company any time of day, with no reason and no expectation. That year, a group of girls decided to tell my daughter they would tell the teacher if she stayed friends with her new friend. They continued to tell her this, week after week. It took me months to convince her to let them tell the teacher that she was friends with this girl. As a mother, I knew. I knew having a friend was a good thing. I knew the teachers would support the friendship. I knew the group of girls trying to scare my daughter didn’t have anything a teacher would want to use for reprimanding any child. Using scare tactics, these girls convinced my daughter making a friend was wrong.

My daughter is small. She’s shorter than her peers. I’m shorter than many of my peers as well. But for some reason, this fact seems to bother, not my daughter, but other people. In second grade, the seven and eight year old children grew more than they had in years past. They were big kids now. They weren’t in preschool or Kindergarten. They weren’t experiencing their first year of big kid school. They were starting their elementary career as kids that had paid the dues young children have to pay. They had learned the routines, where the bathrooms were, how to handle lunch money, and recess was about socializing and sports. Second grade is where the little kids start their path to becoming big kids. My daughter didn’t grow as much in the summer between first and second grades. She didn’t grow much during the school year either. She was teased relentlessly for being shorter than her peers. Second grade was also the year her classmates discovered her food allergies. For many of them, having food allergies was one more thing to tease her about. Was she not a whole person because she can’t eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? She was okay with not eating peanuts or any other nuts. We’d worked for years at home with her; we taught her how peanut butter smells, what peanut butter cookies look like, which candy bars contain nuts. She was well past fighting the facts. She had food allergies, and she was okay with it. But the other kids were not okay with it. They teased her about it. They let her know she was less a person than they were because she couldn’t eat the same foods. It was the year hide the peanut became a game in her classroom.

In third grade, hide the peanut game moved from kids putting a peanut on her chair while she was away from her desk to hiding peanuts in her notebooks, in her lunch box, and inside her desk. All I could think was how lucky we were her allergy wasn’t life threatening if she’s near nuts, and how lucky we were these kids didn’t push the limit so far as to hide them inside her food. A cruel prank such as that would have sent her to the hospital. In third grade, the kids are bigger. The usual teasing for her size continued. She was much smaller than her peers. Some even said she was the size of many of the first graders. At recess one day in September of her third grade year, three boys, much bigger than she, two of them fifth graders, held her down on the ground. They placed a sweatshirt over her head and kept her pinned in the dark for several minutes. For six weeks, she slept in my bedroom, afraid of the dark. Her principal at that school told my husband and me in a meeting about the incident, “Maybe you should teach her to be more assertive.” I’m not sure how assertive a small young child should be on a school playground. Each incident after this, that particular school pointed at my daughter and let us know how she was reacting and how wrong it was, or how her behaviors were inviting this type of treatment.

Near the end of third grade, we were in a very bad car accident. My daughter was badly injured. For the next several weeks, she had to visit her plastic surgeon several times. After her surgery, she was left with a scar on her face. As her family, we tried our best to let her know how beautiful she is, how strong she is, and how brave she is. She was eight years old. Her life changed forever. But, personally, she adapted. About eight weeks after her surgery, her bandages came off, and we were able to see what the wound looked like. I walked her into the school office to show the administrative staff. As an adult and a mother, I was looking for support for my daughter. Most adults would know how to provide this simple support. One could tell her how brave she is for going through all these procedures. One staff member showed my daughter a scar from a wound he’d had when he was her age. His goal was to show her it won’t look as it did that day forever. The principal of that school looked directly at my daughter and told her she looked like Harry Potter. Of all the supportive things the adults could come up with, the leader in charge compared my daughter to a magical and fictional character that was teased for the fame his scar brought. It was the first time I truly understood why the children in that school continued their behaviors. The leader of the school thought it appropriate to tell my eight year old daughter she looked like Harry Potter. Absolutely floored, the only response I could come up with that I wanted to say in front of my daughter was, “She’s not going to want to look like Harry Potter at her prom or on her wedding day.” This was spring of third grade, there were only a few weeks of school left. It was the spring of the band aid teasing. That kind of teasing hasn’t ended yet.

When she was in fourth grade, I used the words bully, bullying, and bullied for the first time. I had spent years teaching her to accept other people for who they are, just as I wished people would simply accept her for who she is. We spent years accepting the teasing, the food allergens deliberately put in her personal space, and after three boys overpowered her on school grounds, the school still wanted us to have her assert herself. Before the year started, I thought long and hard about moving schools. But all of my children had friends at their school, and they all wanted to stay. Fourth grade brought many issues, from my daughter’s teacher accusing my daughter of stealing something because, as she said, “It’s what I would have done when I was her age,” to more violent bullying. Fourth grade brought more teasing. Teasing about her size still, teasing because she was ‘defective’ as some kids put it because she had to wear a Band-Aid on her newly forming scar. Recess became more vicious. She was pushed down several times. In fourth grade, she befriended a classmate who was special needs. Much like in Kindergarten years before, she was teased because she was friends with the kid no one understood. She understood him well. They are still friends today. Even though he was eleven years old, his mind was about that of a four year old. My daughter just happened to have a four year old brother at home. She knew how to talk to this boy at school. She know how to get him to listen, to do tasks. She was his protector and he was hers. He listened to her. He responded to her. And she felt good about herself when she was around him. In our family, we’ve spent years talking about how it feels when we are kind and helpful to other people. She was realizing how full her cup was when she was with her friend no one else seemed to like. Children teased them both. She was a big target for teasing because she was the kid that befriended the kids no one else wanted to. In April of her fourth grade year, she was punched in the mouth by a girl who’d spent weeks teasing her. I’d met with the school on several occasions about this particular girl and the tense relationship my daughter had with her. When that girl, who drew blood from my daughter’s mouth after choosing to punch her, showed up to school the next day without consequence, we left the school. We spent our last five weeks of the year at a new school. My daughter had to make new friends, learn a new layout, get used to new policies, different teachers, and explain to a whole new group of kids why she has to wear Band-Aids on her face when she is outside in the sun. Those last few weeks weren’t all that bad.

We started fifth grade at the new school with a new positive attitude. But she was still a misunderstood little girl. She was still smaller than her peers. She was still a child. At ten years old, she still wanted to play, accept people into her life, and be accepted. She still had food allergies. She still had to wear Band-Aids while outside. Inside her classroom, boys tripped her as she walked past them. Classmates stepped on her lunch box on several occasions. In the fall, three boys, much bigger than her, held her down at the top of the playset as she tried to walk to the slide to slide down. One boy blocked the path down, one blocked the slide. Once they had her down, the three of them kicked her. One kicked her in her head. One kicked at her chest while the third kicked her legs. She was kicked for a few minutes before a teacher was notified to help. At least some of these three boys spent the rest of year bullying her. They threw ice at her face in the winter. They and a group of girls called her Band-Aid Bitch every day. One of the boys talked to her about intercourse; an adult conversation held on the playground at an elementary school with a few ten years old kids. The same day he told her about intercourse, he touched her chest and talked to her about her vagina and his penis. She was threatened by a few boys. They told her of all kinds of physical harm that would come to her if she didn’t do as they asked. A popular book series in elementary school is The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. In one of those books and in the movie, the kids in the middle school face the challenge of an old myth. We had something similar at my high school when I was younger. It’s an age old problem. In the books and movie, there was an old piece of moldy cheese on the playground. If a kid touched the cheese, it meant for everyone in school they had the cheese touch. It’s something very similar to having cooties. And we all know how we’ve all died ten times from cooties. In fifth grade, a group of kids started this kind of cootie touch with anyone that came in any sort of contact with my daughter. They called it the her name touch. So if her name were Jane, they called it The Jane Touch. For these kids, it didn’t simply mean if she touched someone they had the Jane touch. It meant if she sat at a lunch table, the table had the Jane touch, so no one would sit with her. If they were playing ball in P.E., and she touched the ball, they’d all tell her they had to go to the bathroom to wash their hands to get the Jane touch off. If she was on a swing, the kids wouldn’t allow themselves to use that swing because it had the Jane touch. This followed her much of the year. One day she came home and told me she had no friends. Everyone was playing the Jane Touch game and no one wanted anything to do with her. No one wanted to be near her except to call her Band Aid bitch or tell her how gross she is. If Band-Aid bitch wasn’t enough to challenge her emotionally, her 5th grade teacher tried very hard to convince her to not wear her Band-Aids at recess, but instead wear a hat. After a couple of weeks of these daily conversations, I approached the teacher and the school, notifying them we are under doctor’s orders, and they are not to challenge those orders. It occurred to me this was a young, inexperienced teacher with no children. It took us almost a year to get our daughter to feel confident wearing those Band-Aids while outside. It took a year for it the become a habit for her. After almost three years, she wears them inside as well, and when we tell her she can take them off, she often refuses because she’s not bothered by them anymore. After her surgeries, it was weeks before her activity level was increased beyond walking. That first summer, she had to give up gymnastics, swimming, biking, jumping on a trampoline…basically childhood because her risk of another head injury was high. Those two years of working on her confidence with a Band-Aid on her face, the time it took to create the habit of putting them on before going outside, and the level of care my daughter had shown for the future appearance of her scar was almost wiped out by a teacher. A young, naive teacher, who told my daughter she thought it was a good idea to wear a hat to cover the scar instead of following doctor’s orders. When I asked why, she told me she was worried she would be in a position to be teased in middle school. I was reminded of the Kindergarten teacher who wanted my daughter to move from underneath the table because it would somehow make others feel better. Instead of not tolerating any teasing for any reason, her teacher was trying to change how my daughter lived her life. In other words, teasing will be accepted, and if one doesn’t want to be teased, change should begin with that person.

This is the year of middle school for her. It started off well. The biggest change I see in my daughter is how she copes. She handles other people’s poor decisions much better than ever before. But she’s still teased. The words are harsher. The cuss words are much worse than Band-Aid bitch. She’s heard more bad words than any young girl should know. Last week she was kicked by two boys. It didn’t take long for girls in the locker room to tease her because she’s not as developed as some are. Body shaming in the locker room at school is somehow an appropriate activity for young girls. She’s been told by peers she should change who she is, be more cool, like the people telling her to change think they are. She accepts the people in her life, but the people in her life seem to think it’s okay to tell her to change. She carries her favorite stuffed animal to school every day. Kids tease her about that. They think it’s immature to carry a stuffed friend to middle school. I can’t understand why they care. I know she wouldn’t be bothered by what they choose to carry to school as long it doesn’t harm anyone. Her little pink bunny certainly isn’t harming anyone. Yet, the children at school are so bothered by it, they feel it’s their place to tell her she shouldn’t bring it to school. I can’t begin to understand why friends don’t support friends. If a friend tells someone to change, they are probably not a friend with best interests in mind. Yesterday I told two girls at our bus stop to stop whispering about her and laughing at her while she’s a few feet away. It’s something that has happened every day we’re at the bus stop. We walk up, these two girls are standing about a foot apart from one another, and by the time we stop walking, they are mere centimeters apart, whispering and looking at my daughter, then giggling. I’ve heard the comments. I’m an adult. Not only do I understand body language children might not think we see, but I can also multitask. I have three kids. I have multiple conversations all the time. I’ve heard their unkind words. They say things like, “Did you see what she’s wearing?” and “God! She’s so immature.” I’ve heard it. I’ve ignored it. To my daughter, when I hear those things, I encourage her to be exactly who she is. So if she’s acting silly while waiting for the bus and they are talking about how immature she is, I encourage her to be more silly. We’ll make silly faces, she’ll run, jump, skip, and just be herself. I love her so much. I love that she’s not afraid to be silly. Not afraid to be who she is. When I hear them whispering about her choice of clothes, I’ll point out something to my daughter that I think she did really well, like pairing a certain pair of shoes with a certain pair of pants. She rides her RipStik to the bus stop every day. She’s very good on it. I’m not even sure I could stand on it and keep it balanced. She does tricks, rides fast, goes up and down the curb, and feels great doing it. Her RipStik bothers these girls. I’m not sure if they think it’s not appropriate for a girl to be on a two wheeled skateboard, but for some reason, it’s a whispering point for them. I tell her how proud I am of her. Yesterday, she fell from her RipStik right onto her bum in the middle of the street. She lost some pride points, was injured, bleeding, and left crying. Just like we do every day, we walked to the corner where these two girls were standing, suddenly only centimeters apart, whispering and looking over their shoulders at my daughter who was then sitting on the curb crying. Hard. She was bleeding and hurt. She was sad. She was angry. She was embarrassed. And these girls that whisper and laugh about her every day thought it was a good time to whisper and laugh about her more. I’ve never wanted to approach them. I want my daughter to learn to blow off talk such as that. But I spoke up. I told them every day I watch them whisper, look at my daughter, whisper again, and then laugh while looking at my daughter. I asked them why they had to be so cruel. I told them I see it every day, but today, she was crying, and they still did it. Kids are cruel, why? Why do they have to continue to be cruel? Why is it so hard to be kind? One of them tried to tell me she was my daughter’s friend. I stopped her right there and said, “No, you are not. You’re laughing at her. You stand here every morning and talk about her, laugh at her. That’s not what a friend does. She’s sitting down on the sidewalk crying, and you’re standing there laughing at her. She’s bleeding. And you’re laughing at her. Does it make you feel good?” That afternoon, my daughter came home with many stories about these girls and their friends telling her much of the day how their mother was going to call the police and send me to jail. Because I called them out on their behavior. Yesterday was filled with unkind words for my daughter. She was told over and over she’s gross. Someone told her she shouldn’t exist. More bad words were thrown her way along with names that carry only hatred. One boy told her he’d kick in her teeth if she ever touched his hair again. She was stretching in class, and the pencil in her hand touched the top of his hair. And he thought the appropriate response was to threaten a lifetime without her permanent teeth. One boy that kicked her a week ago, pinned her against a table after pushing her. Each day she comes home, coping better than ever before, but with stories of hatred. I’m saddened each and every day at her stories. I’m her mother. I think of her future. I know what years of bullying has done to some children. I’ve cried reading stories of children that gave up their lives before they even experienced high school because each day was worse than the last. All I can think is, we can never be there.

So, going back to how I started this sharing session. If I could talk to school age children, I’d ask who you want to be. Do you want to be the person that is responsible for the tears someone cries? Or do you want to be responsible for making someone smile? I send my children out into the world every day and ask one thing of them – bring a smile to someone’s face. We have round table conversations at dinner each night. We’ll talk about our day, how it went, what we learned, but most of all, we talk about what nice things we did for someone else to make them smile. My children are not perfect. They are not always kind. It’s a learning process. But they are forgiving. And they understand kindness isn’t difficult. If I can get my children to understand the basic idea of being kind to everyone, why can’t others understand how important it is to ensure our children are not only taught kindness, but expected to be kind?

Posted in Life stuff

September 22

I’m not even sure I should be feeling anything today, but I know I am. I’m overwhelmed with emotion actually.

I wrote a book.

Three years ago in June, I told my father I was writing it. The last book he’d read was Jaws in the mid 70s. Well over thirty years ago, he read his last book. He loved music. Thank you for that, Dad. He loved old movies. Also, thank you. Somehow my sister and I grew up readers. I made a promise to my father that June. I promised I would finish writing my book and somehow get it out to the world. And then I would write another. And I would find a way to do what I loved doing while I had the opportunities to do them. The word opportunity changed for me during that visit with my father. He’d called me home to visit with him on Father’s Day because he knew he wouldn’t be around for Thanksgiving or Christmas. He was dying. He wanted to spend some time with me in a time when he could spend time with me. It was still a few months, maybe even several months, before the word opportunity truly changed in my life. Opportunity often meant luck, right place right time, positive consequence for a job well done. Opportunity to me, in its new definition, meant alive. I am still here. I am alive. I can make opportunities because I am still given the chance to wake every day, and until that chance is taken away, I need to take every opportunity, every moment, and every chance that is offered to me. Each day I wake to a shining sun, I have an opportunity my father was losing each day.

Three years ago today, September 22, 2012, he passed away. I was with him, thank goodness for the opportunity to visit him again. I miss him so much. There are moments of tears, moments of crying, moments of anger, moments of overwhelming sadness and underwhelming missed chances to love him longer. I go through times when I can sing a favorite song of his and cry until I’m certain my eyes will dry out or float away. There are times I can sing along with songs he loved, like he’s right beside me laughing and being silly with me.

Last night, I submitted all of my final work for my book. It will be released on October 4th. It’s surreal to me. But I kept my promise, Daddy. I’m doing it. It took me over three years to get it finished and ready, but I’m doing it.

After my father passed, I changed parts of my story. Deltaville is where he lived. It’s a place I haven’t been back to in three years. I spent my childhood there. And I have no real reason to go back. I have family and friends in the area. But none right there in town I would travel across the country to visit. With him gone, my opportunity to be in that place is just about gone. So, some of the changes I made to 34 Seconds revolved around Deltaville. Somehow, some way. I thought I’d pay homage to my father by placing my story in his town.

Each day I lie in bed with a migraine, I think of the opportunities I am missing because the sun rose for me and I didn’t take the bull by the horns and play every token I had. Each day I go for a run and have to push myself, I think of the opportunity I have to be there, on a trail, running. Each day my friends of family need a hug, I’m trying very hard to take the opportunity to be there. Because one day the opportunity will be gone.

Today, on the 3rd anniversary. This day. The day I lost my father. I ask you to look and see if you are taking every opportunity you can. If you aren’t, try to make every day an opportunity. And live long, love hard, and speak true.

Posted in Life stuff

Children and kindness in school

My daughter has been bullied for years. Starting in first grade, the word ‘bully’ started circling through conversations with parents and teachers. I refused to use it until two years later. Our goal at home was to teach our daughter to cope. We wanted her to know the difference between someone not liking her shoes, not liking her, and taunting her. I could share almost endless stories of violence other kids inflicted upon her, from being punched in the mouth, to being pinned down in the dark by boys much older, and being kicked in the head and chest. But that’s not really my goal. We know these things happen. Many that know us might be surprised to know she was kicked in the head and chest. We’ve told very few. I could talk for days about the hurtful words that are thrown at her everyday, whether because of what she brings to school, her height, or her energy. But that’s never really my goal either.

We’ve spent years trying to teach her to cope. To know the difference when someone is bullying and when someone is simply being unkind. Instead of giving her examples of each over and over, we started giving her ideas of how to react in any situation with kindness. It’s working.

Five days into the new school year, and friends have already teased her about bringing a stuffed animal to school. Her response is usually something like, “I’m good with it.” Or, “Would you like to give it a hug?” Instead of reacting out of the overwhelming feeling of defense, she offers kindness in return. She’s still hurt by the mean words. She’s still hurt because some of these kids are friends and lack support in her decisions. But she’s coping.

Each day we talk about our kind actions throughout our days, and I always like to ask if someone did something kind for my children. These make for fun dinnertime conversations.

Yesterday she told me she was shoved, probably lost in a crowd rather than something violent, and fell down a few stairs and dropped all of her papers and notebooks on the floor. In the rush to get to classes on time, all the kids nearby stepped on her and her papers while passing by. No one stopped. No one helped. She told me she stopped the tears from coming out of her eyes. Her reasoning was because she didn’t want her contacts to fall out. I’m sure she also didn’t want anyone to see her pain either.

After the next class, another little girl was pushed in the crowd and fell down four steps, dropping all of her belongings. Students stepping all over her papers, and she rushed to clear the papers before they were ruined in the crowd. My daughter saw her. And stopped. She helped this other girl pick up her papers and offered to help organize her backpack again during lunch.

After hearing both stories at dinner, I asked my daughter which one she thought she’d remember most tomorrow or in a week. She told me she’d remember stopping to help someone else. But she’ll always know no one stopped to help her. Until someone does.

All I asked of her at the end of that conversation was, always be the person that stops.

I love her energy. She is high energy in a world where the kids her age think it’s only appropriate to stand around and talk about shoes and make-up. I love the bond she has with her stuffed animal. And I’m happy to report she is not changing that because kids, friends even, can be cruel enough to let her know they think she’s immature for bringing it hidden in her backpack where she knows it keeps a smile saved just for her.

And, finally, I’m proud to know that when I’m not around, she’ll be the kid that stops to help.

Kindness matters.

Please share your stories of kindness. And continue to be kind.

Posted in Life stuff

Kindness Matters

I was humbled a couple of weeks ago when a friend, editor and teacher extraordinaire, I might add, took my novel, stayed up with it all night at emailed me her copy edits at 5am the following morning.

Talk about kindness.

Last week, I had the opportunity to do the same with another friend’s novel. It just landed in my lap, (Okay, he may have thrown it my way, but my lap caught it), and I sent in my copy edits for his review. I didn’t feel special. I didn’t feel amazing. I didn’t feel like I had gone out of my way, doing something I enjoy doing for someone I like and respect. But I knew how it felt to be on the receiving end, and I knew that author may have been humbled as well, thinking the simple words, thank you, might not be enough. They are, of course.

On the other side of my world, my children started school last week. On the first day, they were excited to be in new schools, with old teachers, meet new friends, have new schedules, new clothes, contacts for one, new reading glasses for another….their positive list was endless. I was amazed.

I had one rule for them, and I begged them to follow it.

Be kind.

No matter how you feel, how your day is going, what you are going through, be kind.

Do you wish to make new friends? Be kind.

Do you wish to meet new people? Be kind.

Do you want to heal old relationships? Be kind.

Would you like to get to know someone better? Be kind.

Did someone say something mean to you? Be kind. (And know you are worth more than hurtful words)

No one is perfect. But we can all be humble. I encourage my children to lift up their peers. I encourage my children to help people feel good about themselves. Many of us know how it feels to be hurt by someone’s actions or someone’s words. It can ruin a day. I ask my children to be the person that makes someone smile when they feel a frown taking over their beautiful face.

Last Friday, after three days of parties, hugs, laughter, and lots of first week of school smiles, one of my kids came home and told me something another child had said sometime during the day. It was hurtful. It was painful. It was personal. It was something I tried all weekend to let go. But I struggled. This isn’t the first time this particular child has said something hurtful to my child. No parent wants to see their child hurting.

As adults, we have to deal with stresses each day we decide, or have, to enter the world. As parents, we often expect we will send out children out into a place where dangers are prevalent, but we know they will be protected. Either by adults around them, children who adore them, or our love that will be with them when they are away from us. As children, they often expect to head out into a big world of joy, rainbows, and beautiful sunsets. A world where we all feel the same, and we only want to exist – together – in a place of joy.

It’s heartbreaking when a child climbs into a parent’s car with a somber look and sad eyes, only to say, ‘Someone hurt my feelings today.’ Sticks and stones hurt. Words will never hurt me? That couldn’t be more wrong. I sat on this one hurtful thing all weekend, thinking of the joy I’d had with the child that said this over the years. Thinking of the joy I’d given to my child. And wondering where I’d failed if I’d let something so menial bother me so much.

Bother me, it did.

My response to my child was, “What did you say?”

Be kind.

“You told me to be kind, so I said, ‘That’s sad. But okay.'”

It was sad. My child didn’t argue, didn’t fight back with another hurtful sentence, didn’t take the pain experienced and throw it back into someone else’s court.

It was sad this child felt the need to say this to my child. It was sad this child learned this was an acceptable thing to do. It was sad to know a friendship was broken – again.

But my child was humbled.

It wasn’t the first time.

Last week, when someone offered kindness with nothing expected in return, certainly wasn’t my first humbling experience either.

But both experiences reminded us the connection being humble and being kind have with one another. One exists because of the other. The other exists because there is a new view because of the other.

Kindness matters. I hope we can all make it our choice. I’m proud to say, though we are not perfect, my family, my children, will grow knowing, and maybe learning more along the way than knowing all the time, to be humble and to be kind. No matter what might be thrown at them.

Kindness matter.

Be at least a reason for someone’s smile today.