The Power of Self
I’ve been mulling over what to write about to get this blog going and I guess the thing that’s been taking up what feels like a lion’s share of our energy is a good place to start. This is Aisleen, our eight year old daughter:
Aisleen is a child who makes everyone smile. She has a warmth and a kindness about her that is tangible and an imagination that is mind-blowing. She is a child who weaves stories for her younger brother that are so remarkable they will be lost in make believe for hours–soaring through the clouds on flying unicorns or racing through dark dungeons to save a princess. She is a child who wants to be a humane educator when she grows up so she can teach people how to be kind to animals. She is a child who is fiercely loyal to her friends and family, who expresses her feelings with kindness and respect and who will surprise you with a silly face if she knows you need a smile. She is a child who, for the last several months, has been the target of a particularly vicious and stubborn bully.
We met this girl, we’ll call her “B”, shortly after we moved here. Everything seemed ideal and we thought “what luck to have another girl in the neighborhood for Aisleen to play with!” Then B started doing things that made us raise our eyebrows–like telling Aisleen she should eat a hot pepper off the bush in front of our house and assuring her that it wasn’t at all spicy. Aisleen didn’t eat it but she did touch it and the oil on her fingers, which got on her face, was enough to cause her to scream and cry in pain. Her face looked like she’d been pepper sprayed and nothing we did made it better–it took the better part of an hour, maybe more, before the pain began to lessen. Aisleen asked me why B would want to hurt her, I told her she must not have known how spicy the pepper was–I believe I was wrong.
The bullying grew into a daily thing, knocks on the door by the seemingly sweet, big-eyed B asking if Aisleen could come outside often resulted in Aisleen coming back into the house a few minutes later saying she’d only asked her out there to tell her she didn’t want to play with her. Emotional digs were delivered that were so subtle they made me think, maybe, I was imagining the cruelty–I wasn’t. Aisleen became increasingly socially isolated in our neighborhood, excluded or included in the play upon the whim of the bully. We talked to her about how B wasn’t a real friend, how another girl B would use to get to Aisleen, we’ll call her G, also wasn’t a real friend. Aisleen told me that she had overheard B telling a friend that if G didn’t do as she was told she would tell the entire school she was lesbian–that shouldn’t matter but we all knew the havoc that would cause for a ten year old girl.
Aisleen was having trouble making friends in school. I would peek in on her only to see her sitting alone while children played around her. Aisleen has always been such an extroverted, joyful child–to see her slowly walking the perimeter of the playground, eyes downcast, was heartbreaking. We worked with her teacher, the school counselor and the principle to try to help her transition into the new school but nothing seemed to help. In hindsight I think she was putting so much energy into her relationship with the bullies, into protecting herself emotionally from them while still desperately wanting to play with them because she wanted “neighborhood friends,” that she just didn’t have anything left to make real friends.
After what seemed like an agonizingly long time Aisleen made the decision that she’d had enough, she promised herself she would no longer play with the bully, she’s kept that promise.
It’s tough to condense eight months into a blog post so I’ll cut to the chase. Over the course of those eight months we talked to all parents involved, repeatedly. Nothing changed. I talked to the girls and that only resulted in B telling her mother that I had “screamed” at her (very much not true), which then resulted in her mother calling my husband on his mobile to, essentially, tell him to control his wife. After Aisleen decided to no longer play with B she told us some other things that had happened. I won’t go into detail but, suffice it to say, they turned my stomach and brought tears to my eyes. She continued to play with G who, when not under the influence of B, was a good playmate and whose parents were actively trying to address what was happening. Unfortunately the influence of B upon G only grew over time and became so extreme that Aisleen also decided she was done playing with G.
This mature, positive move on Aisleen’s part helped me realize something–we needed to build in that direction. She and I put together a playlist for her ipod of songs that made her feel empowered, songs she sang to herself when she needed extra strength. I created a “wall of positivity” for her room, a collage of quotes and lyrics to inspire her. I realized our focus, up to this point, had been on fighting the bullies– that was important when expressed through tangible action but, otherwise, was only soul sucking. We started to focus more on Aisleen and on nurturing the natural grace, strength and resiliency she has. I remembered that this was a child who had moved around the globe, who has had to dig up and re-plant her roots in many places and that she was stronger than this bully. Aisleen’s inner light started to shine again, the resolve that she had to be good to herself shone through and, oh boy, that was not lost on the bullies. Once access in the neighborhood had been cut off the bullying on the bus started and became so bad that we decided enough was enough; we changed Aisleen’s school, knowing the only way to truly keep her safe, and give her a fresh start, was to keep her away from the bullies as much as possible.
After less than a week at her new school she is fluttering around like the ethereal butterfly she is, dancing through the house while simultaneously hula-hooping and chattering away to me about her day. It brings tears to my eyes to see her come full circle after this ordeal.
We’ve learned a lot of things from all of this, it has made us more conscious of what we are trying to teach our children and how we go about doing that. We’ve always told our kids that, above all else, they must remain true to themselves and we have seen, because all three have been affected by this, they have internalized that. Aisleen never sank to the level of the bullies, she fought hurtful words with respectful and honest ones, she believed in her own resolve and relied on her inherent kindness and compassion to fight cruelty. The most basic lesson from all of this for us is that we cannot “fight fire with fire” because, in doing that, we would allow ourselves to be pulled down by the ugliness. We’ve seen that knowing who you are, and who you don’t want to become, is a powerful weapon. Aisleen knew she did not want to fight cruelty with cruelty because, in doing so, she would betray who she is at her most basic level, she would betray herself for the bully. So she rose, no, she soared, above the bullies and she learned about the strength she has inside of her. I don’t know if our nomadic lifestyle is responsible for her resilience or if it’s just her. What I do know is that my remarkable sunbeam of a daughter beat a bully and, in the process, taught us all a lot about the power of self.