Hank: (realizing my light is off) Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t know you were sleeping.
Me: I’m not, just resting. Come in and climb up on this big bed with me.
Hank: (running leap, belly flops on the bed)
Me: You excel at flopping.
Hank: I love a comfy bed. (burrowing under my duvet) That was great. I feel better now.
Me: What was great?
Me: Oh, I am so glad you enjoyed it. You certainly struggled to get there. I heard lots of tears and whimpers from your room.
Hank: That was because everything went wrong and I just had to let it all out, you know?
Me: I do.
Hank: My backpack fell over and all my school books fell out and then my body hurt so much from gym and then I bumped into my bookshelf and my other books fell down and I just had to be sad about it all and to be honest I was mad that you were making me read for 30 minutes when I didn’t have any homework.
Me: I thought as much. I didn’t mind you being mad at me. You will get mad at me from time to time and I respected that you handled it all on your own.
Me: So it was a struggle to get there, but once you read…
Hank: I felt good… Better, I felt better. Reading still isn’t my favorite thing, but 30 minutes was no big deal.
Me: So the getting there was difficult, but in the end it was worth it.
Hank: Yes, exactly.
Me: That is the perfect metaphor for life, my friend. It’s the journey that is the most challenging, but if you just keep going, in the end it’s all worth it.
Me: And now you have the whole evening to yourself. What are you going to do first?
Hank: I’m going to go snuggle my sister, ask my papa if he needs help with dinner, but first I am going to ask if I can get you anything?
Me: I am fine, thank you.
Hank: Once I check in with my family then I will probably watch a little YouTube. There are some tech reviews I am behind on and Super Woman probably has a new upload.
Me: Off you go then.
Hank: What are you going to do? Sleep?
Me: No, I have far too much adventure awaiting me in my imagination to sleep. I am going to escape, but I am here if you need me.
Hank: (bouncing off the bed and out the door) No, you go off in your imagination. You’ve had a long day and deserve it.
Find this beautifully embroidered Eleanor Roosevelt quote at the Stitches of Anarchy Etsy store. An amazing holiday gift for a growing awesome person. Go on now, buy it! Support artist and handmade goods!!!
No conversation today.
I know… I will let you grieve.
All of our conversations last night were personal and not meant to be shared, but as I was flooded with emails and social media posts of encouragement, advice and outrage and I wanted to take a second to address the greater issue of bulling.
I was bullied and I was resilient. Hank’s Pai (dad) was bullied and he was clever. Our Hank is still finding his feet and is very shy, extremely introverted and reserved. Y’all have met him through me, in his special sanctuary where he is his most comfortable, purest self. When Hank steps out our door he is a much different ten year old and I wouldn’t dream of changing him. He is as he should be. He is special because he is himself.
The discussions I had yesterday fell into two camps: finding a solution that is best for Hank and shaking fists in the air at a school that appears to be letting Hank down.
I will address the school first: Hank is the quiet one, but he is also very shinny. He stands out as a foreigner, as having been born in America and as a well kept, stylish boy who cares about his appearance when the majority of his male peers prefer to dress in futebol (soccer) kit every single day.
Hank hates attention and would rather take abuse than defend himself. This is behavior that we, along with every teacher he has ever had, have worked hard to end. By speaking out and letting us know he is being bullied or treated like a pet by the older the older 8th grade girls in his school (which he also loathes) is huge and we are so grateful he is finding his voice and asking for help.
Hank has been bullied since daycare. His shy creativeness, lack of interest in sports and rowdy behavior has been interpreted as weakness by students, various family members and some educators and in most cases they want to “tough love” Hank into being more conformist, more of their idea of “masculine”. Hank also lost his main defenders last year when his two best friends, who were strong extroverts, immigrated to other countries. All of this in addition to changing schools and being the freshman in a 4-8th grade school has been hard and, no, I do not think the overall cultural pressure and school stance that Hank is “too soft and needs to toughen up” is the best approach, but I am also the outsider here. Would I love for there to be more anti-bullying education in his school, sure, but Hank also lives here, in Portugal, which has a cultural tradition of harsh truths and brutal honesty, at home and in life.
My goal, our goal as a family, is to teach Hank to be resilient without changing his heart and the core of who he is. Is this easy? No! Hell, most adults are still learning this lesson, but we live in a two culture house. Hank is Luso-Americano (Portuguese-American) and so he will be a blend of new ideas, traditions and practices in addition to Portuguese values. I heard some of you that are livid saying the bullying Hank is experiencing and his school’s approach is making it “his problem to solve.” That sucks, I am with you, but know he has well meaning mentors, educators, family and friends that are always there for him and he will make it. Be hopeful with us. And who knows… maybe he will be the change.
One *super positive* thing to come out of the reaction to yesterday’s conversation were those of you who suggested we share with Hank the work of Brooks Gibbs, the American social skills educator and specifically this video:
Hank loved this video! (thank you so much to all who shared it with us) It also absolutely helped that Hank and Mr. Gibbs look very much alike and have a similar style of dressing. Hank is used to standing out with his blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin. For real, I know many of you have never seen Hank’s face and only know him through our conversations, but trust me… It is very possible Hank will grow up to look very much like Mr. Gibbs and this added an extra layer for him to identify with.
Hank’s Pai (dad) and I have been trying to communicate how to be resilient, how to crack a joke and diffuse bullying, but weren’t able to convey our message properly. Hank would zone out or dismiss our suggestions as something he wasn’t capable of doing. By watching this video and other’s Mr. Gibbs has available was a EUREKA moment for Hank and he laughed and championed, “I can do that! I can sooooo do that,” through each viewing.
I love the idea of filling the negative, hateful space created by bullies with hopeful, friendly, positive backtalk. While staying respectful and not allowing them to have power over you, you are diffusing the bomb a bully intends to plant in your self-esteem. We had a long talk about how Hank will need to still process his feelings, vent and find an outlet to his anger, because this approach is not easy, but he is on board and we are grateful.
There is no perfect system, there are no right answers, there are only your answers and it is my hope we have found our answer for now.
Again, I thank all of you for reaching out, for your time and attention, for your thoughtfulness and for reading and supporting this blog.
Today is going to be a better day and y’all are a part of that.
The Quiet Detox spot I made for Hank to vent in after school. We’ll see if this is helpful.
Hank: (knocking on my bedroom door) Mama?
Me: Come on in, pal.
Hank: Mom, I wanted to apologize for my behavior.
Me: I thank you for your apology and I want you to know: I hear you.
Hank: I feel bad for acting the way I did.
Me: I agree that there is a better way to handle your sadness and disappointments.
Hank: It just boils in me.
Me: I am listening.
Hank: That is all I have to say.
Me: May I say one thing?
Me: I heard you. You were overwhelmed about your test tomorrow, about the fact that you had homework in addition to your test, you were overwhelmed realizing you could have spent more time this weekend preparing for your test tomorrow, but you forgot and you are hurt by kids at school, the things they say and that you are being seen more now than you ever were in primário (K-4th grade).
Hank: Everyone has something to say about me and I hate it.
Me: I am listening and I cannot imagine how difficult that is for you.
Hank: I hate school.
Me: I understand. May I suggest we try making your home your very best place where you can recover from school?
Hank: I can’t help getting upset! I can’t help it! I want to when it is over, but…
Me: While it is happening you just want to watch the world burn.
Me: I know. I see it in your eyes. I remember that feeling.
Me: Tomorrow, can you take the first 30 minutes when you get home from school venting? You can vent to me, you can phone a friend or you can write all of your big feelings out in a notebook. You can say whatever you want in that notebook and papa and I will respect your privacy, but you have to show me that is what you are doing. No more YouTube when you get home. You can’t escape these big boiling feelings. You get home and you handle your heart and your responsibilities, then you can spend the rest of the night relaxing. You get too overwhelmed by the clock otherwise.
Hank: What do you mean by write it down?
Me: Just that! Write everything that is boiling in you. “My mom thinks she knows everything about me, but she doesn’t! I hate it when she doesn’t understand, but thinks she is so smart! I HATE IT!”
Hank: (mouth open like a codfish)
Me: Every kid resents and hates their parents while they are learning and transitioning! It is perfectly normal, because we think we know what is best for you and you think you know what is best for you and that creates conflict. Getting those feelings out doesn’t mean that they are true always; it means they were true in that moment and it’s better to have them on paper then eating a whole in your breaking heart.
Me: And you can do the same for the kids at school. You were telling your papa that some 8th grade boys were messing with you.
Hank: They called me ugly and made fun of my clothes and my hair.
Me: And what else?
Hank: Some eighth grade girls said, “Oh, is that the boy with lips like car break lights? He’s always wearing lipstick!” They don’t understand my lips are chapped and I can do nothing about it.
Me: You have sensitive skin and especially lips, you have to apply chapstick all day every day! I get it! This you get from me.
Hank: I could write that! I could write, “I am so mad at my mom for having stupid sensitive skin and lips! Now kids see me and make fun of me!”
Hank: (smiling) I’ll think about it, mom.
Me: Thanks for considering my idea, buddy, because we have got to get a handle on your emotional control. I am not making light of your situation now because…
Hank: It sucks.
Me: It does, IT SUUUUUUUUCKS, this bullying childish asshole behavior from others, it never ends. You cannot control how other people treat you, you can only control how you respond. People bully to feel powerful.
Hank: I know and that is why I don’t say anything and then come home and I am so ANGRY!
Me: (nodding) And I respect your choice to not engage, but I do not respect your choice to come home and take your anger out on us. I know you are attacked by the bullies at school, but that doesn’t give you the license to attack us.
Hank: (unconvinced and sassy) So I need to attack a notebook?
Me: It’s worth a try.
Me: Thank you for listening to my suggestion. I appreciate this respect and I am willing to be wrong. I don’t have all the answers, Hank, but I am willing to find the best one for you. I am willing to try anything.
Hank: Thanks, mom. I am going to do better, because I am not doing my best.
Me: School is something you have to survive and since you have eight years left let’s figure this out now, shall we?