Wednesday, October 20, 2010


With all the different suicides in the news lately, mostly gay teens who have been treated horribly, the subject of bullying is on everyone's mind, and rightly so. Our newspaper ran an article on how to protect your kids from cyberbullying.

And here's my response:

Why not run an article on how to know if your kid is one of the bullies. Nobody wants to think about that, do they? We all assume that we are the good ones, the ones who don't bully, would never treat someone that way, would never shun, spread rumors, out someone online, etc. And certainly our kids would never do that.

Oftentimes, when bullying takes place, the very people to whom one turns for help--teachers, principles, councilors, parents--do not believe the kid being bullied. "How could Janie be bullying you? She's a very nice girl. You must be misinterpreting her intentions."

Uh, no. Very often, it's the "nice" kids who are the worst bullies. They achieve their bullying in very subtle, but pervasive ways. They spread rumors, they shun you, they give you evil stares, they treat you like a nobody. And when you complain, they act like abusive spouses act in front of the authorities: they are all nice and pleasant. And so the victim is the one who ends up being blamed.

Look to the board in your own eye first. Do not be in denial that your kids are the "good ones" who would never treat someone this way. They probably do on more than one occasion. Yes, they've probably also been on the receiving end as well, but that just means they know how it all works, and are just as happy to dish it out when the chance presents itself.

In other words, we are all capable and culpable. We all have the capacity to treat others as lesser than ourselves.

We need to teach and learn empathy. And we need to face the ugly in ourselves. This is the only way episodes will stop. Parents and teachers especially need to make ourselves familiar with the ways "nice kids" bully, and let them know it is completely unacceptable. Teach them how to do better, be better.

To learn more about this subject, I recommend the book Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons. It is a fabulous study in the way girls bully.

Obviously, this is a big issue, and one that has multiple solutions and actions we can take. My first action is to look inward and to my own children to make sure we are not contributing to the problem.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Life, the Universe, and Everything

No, this post isn't about Douglas Adams, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, don't worry. Someday you will.

This is about my life. To sum up briefly, I have spent the last 21 years being a mom, a writer, and a volunteer. A few years ago, I had the urge to go out into the workplace and add more money to our family income. I began substitute teaching. That was okay, somewhat fun, and at least intellectually stimulating. I love teaching, love kids, love the idea of helping them make their way in the world. I've worked with kids for years and years. I love being part of their lives.

After a while of that, I thought I'd much rather be a permanent teacher with my own classroom and in charge of my own teaching. So I got my teaching certificate. For two school years now, I have tried to find a teaching job to no avail. There just aren't that many openings for secondary English teachers here. If I were in special ed, science/math I might be having better luck. But I'm not going there.

For the last several months, I've applied for other kinds of job as well, mostly writing jobs for which I at least have the necessary skills. Again, to no avail.

I realize there's a recession on, so I am not so much dejected at not getting a job. Sometimes I am, but mostly, lately, I am of the opinion that the universe is telling me that I am not here for that kind of work. Sigh.

Okay, universe, you win. I accept the closed doors as verification that I am here for other work. Whatever that might be. And thank goodness, someone else in our household has steady, secure, income-producing work so we can remain housed, fed, and clothed.

Just for fun, here are a few of the ways the universe has been communicating with me, aside from the lack of job offers:

1. a sudden increase in available freelance jobs coming my way, which indicates to me that working at home is where I still need to be.

2. a massive creative surge with numerous new book ideas, writing events, opportunities, etc. that indicates to me my writing is the best way I have to help kids make their way in this world.

3. a blog post by a teacher detailing her horrific experiences with an administration that did not support her worthy, innovative, and effective teaching techniques and instead copped out when parents suggested the literature she was using should be banned, which reminded me that I don't do well in situations where I have to do what the authorities say even if I disagree.

4. the still small voice within reminding me that I have much to offer the world but that I will not be paid for it, indicating to me that I have the unique position of being financially supported so that I can offer my time to those in need. And indeed, the most rewarding pieces of my life are in service without pay, again indicating that my work may not be paid, but pays great dividends.

5. dozens of articles, horoscopes, quotes, and reminders that come my way through serendipity to remind me that a job would only deaden the impact of the gifts I have been given and should be embracing and using.

So, universe, I am starting to listen and pay attention, okay? I realize you have been bashing me over the head with messages, and I have been too stubborn to heed them. I realize I don't always like to hear the truth about my life. But I get it now. I'm here. I'm trying to open my heart and mind to the work I am here to do. (It seems I have to go through this about every ten years or so.)

Which is to say, I'm focusing on writing and helping out those in need wherever I can. I'm still not totally comfortable giving up the idea of getting a job. I still look at all the job boards I was on. They still have nothing for me. It's going to take time to refocus and get to work. I'm going to have to re-accept that my position in this world is one in which I am a helper, a guide. And I am called to that in whatever capacity it comes for me.