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.
For more information on Brooks Gibbs and his methods please follow the links provided or find him here:http://brooksgibbs.com/