October 1, 2012

Witness

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Take the opportunity initiate a conversation about bullying with your child(ren). There are lots of great resources. Stop by our Facebook page to see some of the ones we recommend. And help spread the word about The Mom Pledge!

I was driving my young daughter to preschool. We passed a group of kids waiting for the bus. One caught my eye instantly.

Towering above all the others, he was over six feet tall and 250-300 pounds. A scowl on his face. As I drove past, he thrust his hand into another boy's chest and pushed or punched him. Hard.

The boy staggered back but managed to stay on his feet, and appeared to cower in the shadow of his attacker. He was small, slight. Had long black hair which covered his face as he looked down at his shoes.

The first boy seemed to be yelling at the second. I could not hear the words, but by the expression on his face I imagined they were not kind.

The majority of the other kids were grouped around the attacker. I could not see any of their faces, but no one was attempting to step in. A lone boy stood behind the one who was hit, apart from the rest of the group.

As I drove on, I began to feel uneasy. Sick to my stomach, even. What had I just witnessed? Did the altercation escalate after I passed by? What happened once they got on the bus? To school?

I only saw them for a few seconds, but those two boys haunted me the rest of the day. I could not get the incident out of my head. So that afternoon, I strapped my daughter into her car seat and headed back to meet the bus at drop off, having looked up the schedule online.

I sat in my car and watched as the bus came to a stop. The boy who had been hit was the first to step off. As soon as his feet touched the ground he was running. He was down the street before anyone else exited the bus.

The boy who had done the hitting was again surrounded by all the other kids as he stepped off the bus. I was taken aback by his stature now that I was closer and had time to really look at him. He looked more like a college football player than a middle school student. He and the other kids turned and walked down a side street.

I drove past the first boy, who looked just as small as he had seemed that morning. He had been joined by the boy I had seen standing behind him when he was hit, and they were walking together. I pulled over to the side of the road a little ahead of them and stepped out of my car.

"Excuse me," I said. "Could I talk to you for a minute?"

Understandably, they looked surprised and a little uneasy. I held my hands up and did not take any steps forward, so as not to seem threatening.

"My name is Elizabeth," I said. "I drove by while you were waiting for the bus this morning, and I saw another boy hit you. It appeared to me as if you were being bullied, and I wanted to come back to make sure you are OK."

"The big guy?" he asked. He seemed to look nervously in the direction the other boy had gone. Or maybe I imagined it. I looked back to see if the other kids had noticed our exchange and were watching, but was relieved they were nowhere in sight.

"Yes," I continued, turning back to him. "The big guy. I saw him hit you. Are you OK?"

"Um, he's like, my best friend," he told me. His voice was soft and timid. "We were just fooling around."

"What I saw didn't look like fooling around. But you are telling me you are OK?"

"Yeah."

"I'm glad to know that," I said. "I was worried about you. If you were being bullied, by a friend or anyone else, I hope you would talk to your parents about it. Or an adult you trust."

"Yeah, sure," he said, very obviously eager for the conversation to end.

And so I said goodbye and got back in my car. His explanation was certainly plausible. Young boys do wrestle and hit each other in fun. But my gut tells me that is not what went down. I don't feel I overreacted.

At best I gave him the push he may have needed to face or address the situation. Maybe knowing a complete stranger cared about what happened to him will make a difference. At worst, he told his friends and parents about the crazy lady he encountered on the street who jumped to the wrong conclusion. I'm fine with that.

I'll never know for sure what I witnessed. I'd like to think if that boy is being bullied, our exchange made him think about coming forward. It would be hard to admit a deep, dark secret to a complete stranger. But perhaps he will reach out to someone he knows for help if he needs it.

One I thing I do know for sure; I will be watching. I pass by that bus stop three days a week when I take my child to preschool. And I plan to be on full alert from now on.

This situation provided a very good teachable moment for my young daughter. Over at my personal blog today, I'm sharing the conversation we had about the experience.


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