Tag Archives: bullying

“What We Attach Ourselves to When We are Most Afraid”

Emma typed that she wanted to write – “How about a story about what we attach ourselves to when we are most afraid.” 

“In no particular place that anyone has ever heard of, there lived a girl who was friendly and loved to laugh.  She had a body like any other girl her age, but it moved in ways that were unusual.  This caused people to stare and even made some think that she wanted their mean looks and comments.

“Do you know anyone who likes to be the focus of such hurtful and nasty attention?

“No.  I do not think anyone enjoys being made fun of.

“The fun is a question I do not have an answer to.  Laughter is pure when it hurts no one.”

By Emma Zurcher-Long

August, 2014

August, 2014

The Result of Trauma

Recently someone commented on this blog, misconstruing a comment made by someone else, attacked that person, made accusations and as I was trying to remember how to block the person from making further inflammatory comments, they managed to write four more focussed entirely on me.   Each comment was more accusatory and hate filled than the next, and though they didn’t get through moderation, I saw them before deleting and successfully blocking the person and their various aliases.  And yet it made me sad to have to block them.

After years of blogging I have learned there is no use responding to such comments, because when someone has made the decision that you are hateful, and untrustworthy, really anything said will be taken as yet another example of what they’ve decided is true and reinforcing whatever it is this person believes.  Ironically, this is what happens to anyone who has been objectified, not treated as an equal or even a human being with respect and dignity, but rather has come to represent something larger than any single person can possibly be.

I have also learned that it is better to remove the offending comments than to allow them, as they do not lead to useful, productive discussion, but instead end up creating a mosh pit of anger and resentment, which can be far-reaching, upsetting and triggering to a great many, as opposed to just the one or two the original comments were directed to.

When a person has been traumatized repeatedly throughout their childhood, made to feel inadequate, told they are inferior, treated cruelly, belittled and teased mercilessly, they grow up believing, at least a little, that they deserved such abuse.  It also is common for that person to then become hyper vigilant of the same sort of cruelty being played out throughout their life with other people. It is a means of survival, as well as a way to protect themselves from more trauma.

For children especially, who’ve experienced on-going trauma, the tendency can be to see this same kind of abusive behavior that they grew up with, in others now that they are older.  Sometimes they may be correct and people really are being abusive, but other times their reaction will be incorrect.  People who wish them no harm, people who even care about them, will be viewed as abusive too, in keeping with all those people who hurt them in the past.  The original trauma will be replayed over and over leading to an unending cycle of trauma, reaction and trauma.

I’m not saying anything new here, you can read about PTSD, trauma and the result of systematic abuse over long periods of time by doing a little research yourself…

The point is, when we as a society, condemn a population of people, whether that is because of skin color, gender, neurology, sexual preference or anything else, we are doing long-term damage.  Damage that will result in an increase in addiction, depression, suicidal ideation, nightmares, anxiety, irritability, anger, difficulties forming close bonds with others and general feelings of isolation are a few of the symptoms documented.

Abuse is like that.  It has long tentacles, reaching out over decades and even entire lives, causing those who have been victimized to respond to others who wish them no harm, as though they were.

There is no easy answer, but if there is a single word that can be used, which will certainly not do more harm, it is love.  I know it sounds trite, too simple and clichéd, but  I believe it is the only answer.  As Emma wrote recently after reading a New York Times article about the ongoing fight for control of a vital highway in Afghanistan, “War is useless for making peace.”  Love has always been the answer.  Even if others cannot hear it, cannot believe it, cannot feel it, those of us who can, must be even more determined and vigilant.  Love.  Embracing those who are in pain, embracing those who are hurting, even and especially when they strike out.  And while we do that, we must protect ourselves and those who need our protection from any who are intent on hurting us with strong boundaries and the help and protection of others.  It’s a tricky balancing act and definitely something I am working on, but I am confident it can be done.



Sparrow Rose Jones’ E-Book

Sparrow Rose Jones wrote an e-book No You Don’t: Essays From an Unstrange Mind that is now available on Amazon.  The title comes from a powerful essay she wrote on her blog – Unstrange Mind –  in response to the many parents who have told her how they would like nothing more than to have their autistic child grow up to be like her.  Sparrow writes:

“I used to say, “I hope she’s much better off than I am,” or simply, “no, you don’t,” but over time I learned that parents refuse to accept that answer.  Maybe they think I’m doing that social thing where someone compliments you and you are expected to refuse the compliment a time or two, finally accepting it but maintaining your veneer of humility.  Or maybe they’re just baffled.  But sometimes they even got angry so I finally learned that I should answer, “thank you.  That’s very kind of you to say.”  Reinforced behavior — reinforced by social censure if I dare give the wrong response.”

Sparrow writes,

“… what I wish to come from this book:  a recognition of the shared humanity we all enjoy and a sense of connection among people coming together across a wide gap of experiential realities.”

And again from the essay – No, You Don’t:

“… they think, “my child is non-verbal.  My child goes to school and crawls around on the floor, meowing like a cat.  My child still wears diapers while all her same age peers have been toilet trained.  My child bites and hits people.  My child bites and hits herself.” And so on.

“Then they hear that I was many of those things, myself.  I was kicked out of the classroom for crawling on the floor and hiding under the tables.  My first grade teacher said I was “mentally retarded” and petitioned (successfully) to have me removed from her classroom.”

Further along she writes:

“I was raped.  I was abused — domestically and otherwise.  I was molested.  I was taken sexual advantage of.  I want you to teach your children to say no and I want them to know how to mean it and back it up when they say it.  I want you to teach your children to value themselves and I want you to teach them to own their bodies.”

Sparrow writes about how she lives in “crushing poverty”, how she has spent a great deal of time homeless, couldn’t keep a job,and was “unable to consistently keep a roof over my head or food to eat.

In her follow-up to her No, You Don’t essay she writes about the response she received because of it.  “There was a small group of people, though, who read my essay and became angry.”  She describes how she was attacked by parents of autistic children, “I felt like I was being punished for writing and all that compliance training kicked in as a result.  I closed down my blog.  I became physically ill from the stress and shame and ended up in the emergency room more than once as a result.

The next essay is called “Bullies, Bullying, and the Struggle to Speak My Heart”.  The first sentence of that essay is:

“Bullies have been one of the most constant things in my life.”

Sparrow writes:

“An Autistic kid who is behaving in a violent manner is an Autistic kid who is seriously suffering on a daily basis and needs a lot of help.  And being able to speak doesn’t always mean that a kid will be able to tell you what is wrong.”

There are too many wonderful essays in this e-book to quote in one short post.  Sparrow writes honestly with tremendous compassion for all of us.  She ends her beautiful collection of essays with this:

“May my journey of self-discovery inspire you to journeys of your own.  Where there is life, there is hope.  Autistic lives do not always look the way you might expect or hope they would look, but you must keep a sharp eye out for the tender flowers as you travel and you must understand that Autistics often bloom in surprising and exquisite ways.  Don’t try to shape us to your garden or we may wilt.  Enjoy and foster our own, unique beauty in all its fierce wildness and you will find your heart and your truest reward there.”

No You Don't

The Trouble with Treating “Behaviors”

A child throws a chair or their shoes at school and the parents are told of their child’s “problematic behavior”.  A child pokes another child repeatedly and when told not to, laughs and does it again.  The teacher tells the child they will not be able to go out to the playground at recess as punishment.  A child runs from the classroom, causing the teacher to stop her lesson and pursue the child.  The child is given a time out for displaying “challenging behavior”.  A child does not respond to the teacher, does the opposite of what is asked and the parent is informed that their child is “out of control” or “refuses to listen” or “is being disruptive” or any number of other comments that so many parents routinely receive from the various teachers and schools that our kids attend.

Each time it is the child’s behavior that is highlighted, documented, and charted.  Reward systems are put into place, time outs are given, the child is told there are consequences to their actions and things they love are taken away to demonstrate this point.  The thinking goes that behaviors must be treated.  But I question all of this because I’ve read too many stories that beautifully explained these so called behaviors by many people who spent a great deal of their childhood being misunderstood and told their behaviors were “out of control” or “challenging” or they needed to understand there are consequences when they were responding to other things in their environment.

Imagine you are on the school bus and another kid is seated directly behind you.  They scratch the back of your seat with their fingernails.  The sound of their scratching, coupled with the vibration caused by it, makes you feel as though your entire body was covered in crawling ants and the vibration makes you feel physically ill.  You do not have much spoke language that you can easily access and the language you do have is thought of as echolalia so it is often ignored.  Never-the-less you do the only thing you know to do, you shout, “No!  Stop doing that.  You cannot hit, you cannot punch, you cannot bite!”

The other kid thinks this hilarious and realizing you are directing this at them, continues to scratch the back of your seat, except now they are doing it with renewed vigor.  The bus matron comes over and tells you to stop yelling, that you are being disruptive and need to be quiet.  The kid behind you continues to scratch your chair, and despite your protests, despite your attempts to make him stop, he will not.  Eventually you turn around and spit at the kid.  The matron comes over, now furious and tells you that you must apologize and that she intends to tell your parents how badly you’ve been behaving.  So you spit at her too.

When the matron tells you that you will not be allowed back on the bus, something you love riding, you begin to cry and bite yourself.  Again you are yelled at, told to stop it immediately….  When you get home your parents tell you this kind of behavior is unacceptable and on it goes.  No one says a word about the boy who was making your bus ride miserable.  No one talks about his behavior or that there are consequences, in fact there appear to be no consequences to some people’s behavior, only yours.  The message you learn is that terrible things will happen to you, seemingly without reason, without any explanation and that you must be hyper vigilant and avoid sitting near any other kids.  The next time you board the bus you attempt to sit in the very last seat, but are told you cannot and are seated in front of the boy who delights in scratching your seat.

(The above story happened to someone I know well and it was only when I was able to type with this person that the whole story came out.)

A few months ago I read about a boy whose older brother would punch his friends on the shoulder upon seeing them.  They all smiled and laughed.  After much observation, the younger brother decided that this was a good thing to do, especially to someone you liked and wanted to be friends with.  So the next day when recess rolled around this boy went up to another kid and punched him in the shoulder.  Only the kid didn’t laugh or playfully punch him back.  Instead he yelled at him to stop hitting him, called a teacher over and the other boy was sent to the principal’s office.  The boy was told if he continued “picking fights” he would be expelled.

These examples are but two of dozens about so called “behaviors” that are seen as problematic and in need of various interventions to deal with them.  And yet, when one listens and asks non-scolding questions from a place of curiosity without threat of admonishment there is almost always a reason for these so-called “behaviors” and the reasons may illuminate why the various interventions to treat them will not work, or will work to make the person learn to camouflage or quell their behaviors, but will not help the person learn how to cope or deal with the things causing the “behaviors”.  Treating actions that are seen as problematic as though they occur in a vacuum is like applying a band-aid on a rash caused by allergies.  The band-aid might cover the rash from view, but it will do nothing to treat the cause.

It is interesting to note that there are people who consistently work with those who are known as having “problematic or challenging behaviors” and yet, all of those so-called behaviors disappear when they are treated with respect, presumed competent and they are not treated as though their actions are intentionally disruptive.

Soma Mukhopadhyay and Emma ~ September, 2013

Soma & Em copy

Related articles:

Lots of Questions and The Journey Continues

I haven’t been sleeping well.  I’m having nightmares.  I’m waking at 2:00 and 3:00 AM, unable to go back to sleep.  I am worrying.  I feel I shouldn’t be.  But I am.  The lack of sleep doesn’t help my worrying, it exacerbates it.  There are a couple of things going on that are causing this.  I am not managing the work/writing balance.  I need to work.  I don’t have a choice.  I also like what I do. So there’s that.  And I need to figure out how to balance work better.

Then there’s this…  my writing, this blog and autism.  Specifically my growing discomfort in writing about Emma, without Emma.  More and more I try to keep my writing about my own issues and how they weigh on my responses and reactions, but even so, I end up writing about her.  I asked Emma the other day, “Hey Em.  Does it bother you that I write about you?”  “Nyeah,” she said, which is her way of saying No.  It sounds like knee-yeah when she says it and she scrunches her face up and smiles while shaking her head from side to side.  “Okay, but do you know that lots and lots of people read the blog every day?  Not just family or people we know,” I continued.  She looked at me, nodded her head up and down and grinned.  “Do you care that I put photos of you on it?”  “Nyeah,” she said again.

I asked Nic what his feelings were.  Without hesitation he said he wasn’t comfortable being written about or having his photo on the blog or Facebook or anywhere else.  So Em tells me she doesn’t care or mind, but Nic certainly does and I can’t get rid of my anxiety.  I didn’t do what so many bloggers have done.  I never made my family anonymous while keeping our whereabouts a mystery.  It never occurred to me to do that.  I started this blog as a way of documenting Emma’s progress.  That original concept has changed over the years.  I don’t know how to keep writing about “our journey” without “all of us” writing it.  Nic has no interest and whenever I have asked Emma if she’d like to write something, she’s declined.  The truth is the blog has become “my journey”.  I have moved away from feeling sad about my family and am now in a place of contentment.  I feel tremendously lucky.  I feel incredibly grateful for my two children and my husband and the life we have together.  I no longer delineate one child from the other.  I don’t see one as one thing and the other as something else.

We often talk about our children as though they grow up in a vacuum.  We express shock when children bully each other and make schools accountable and yet our children are being raised in a culture where adults bully all the time.  We are a culture of bullies.  Of course bullying is a problem in schools, how could it not be?  Look at the adults they see, hear and watch on TV and in the movies.  They are surrounded by bullies, even bullied by those adults and yet we are horrified and shake our heads and wonder how this could happen?  How could it NOT happen?  Parents have strong opinions about race, sexuality and difference and their children often adopt similar beliefs.  We want tolerance?  We must begin with ourselves.  We want to stop bullying?  We must look to our own behaviors first.

So I ask myself:  Am I contributing to a culture that thrives on putting others down?  Do I do and/or say things to make people feel badly about themselves?  Do I gossip?  Am I judgmental?  Do I engage in disrespectful conversations about those I do not agree with?  Am I more interested in making my point than hearing another’s?  What sort of person do I model for my children?  I believe in tolerance, embracing difference, being of service, acceptance, but do my actions mimic my beliefs?  Do I believe that what I believe is the “truth”?  Do I consider those who disagree as inferior?  I know I am guilty of all these things at least on occasion and a few more than occasionally.

I have an ideal for myself, it is a kind of end goal, the person I strive to be, but know I will never achieve.  As long as I keep traveling toward my ideal I will have lived a good life, or, at the very least, a better life than if I don’t.  I know I won’t do any of this perfectly, but I can keep trying.  I can keep holding myself accountable.  When I make mistakes I can admit them, make amends and do all that I can to try and make the necessary changes so I won’t repeat myself.  I don’t know what the answer is to my questions and discomfort.  But I’ll keep looking, asking and being aware of how I feel.  Once I’ve figured it out, who knows? But until then I’ll keep writing about it.  After all, this blog is less Emma’s Hope Book and more “A Journey.”

New York City – Built as a Courthouse in 1874-1877, later used as a Public Library this clock tower remains standing 

Parental Bullying and Autism

I have kept the specific blog, post and commenter who I refer to in this piece anonymous because my point is not about any particular person, but about a larger issue.  But first, a little background…   I was alerted to some negative comments left on a friend’s blog.  She had written a post about learning to accept her Autistic child.  It was a beautifully written, honest and loving post detailing what things had helped her find her way to acceptance and how that journey had changed her and her relationship to her child.  The path she describes was similar to my own, except mine took much longer and was more circuitous, but I could completely relate to her process.  It was my journey, only on speed.

I went to the blog to read the comments and read this:  “”You accepted autism, I fought it.”  I stopped breathing.  I felt as though someone had taken a 2 X 4 and rammed me in the solar plexus.  I became aware of the fluttering in my stomach with the simultaneous sensation of dizziness in my head, starting just behind my eyes and then a prickly feeling at the back of my skull.  I could feel my heart pounding.  I swallowed.  I read on.  The words are no longer important.  She  related how she had “recovered” her child as though it were scientific fact and then said that her thinking would one day be common knowledge and any other view would be considered “archaic.”

I had to stop reading.  I stood up.  I left the room, walked around, drank some water and came back.  I could feel tears welling up.  I swallowed again.  I was aware that my hands trembled as I read “Seems to me a thinking person would keep an open mind and once you accept autism…there is no more thinking that occurs…just the acceptance.”  I couldn’t work out what that meant as there was no logic that I could get a firm handle on, but the feeling those words evoked was one of failure and shame.  I had to make a conscious effort to take a deep breath.  I felt the sting of her words, like a knife cutting me open.  I sat there and read the other comments and another from her, reiterating her stance, her position.  Her story, no longer a personal tale, but one given forth as though evidence in a court of law.  And her love shining through it all, triumphant, jeering, condemning.  Her actions and the outcome of her actions worn like a medal of honor, the purple heart of parenting, pinned to her chest, evidence of her supremacy.

I could no longer hold back my tears.  My tears, physical expressions of my inadequacies.  As I cried, as the tears ran down my cheeks, dripping off my chin on to my shirt, I closed my eyes and felt all those feelings of pain, of sadness, of shame that had nothing to do with autism, but are feelings I carry around, despite how hard I try to get beyond them, feelings I have had my entire adult life, long before I became a mother.  Those feelings of not being good enough, not being worthy, not being pulled together, not having all the answers.  Those feelings of being “less than” all of them came bubbling to the surface.  Those biting words from that commenter cut through the fragile dam I so carefully constructed for myself.

“You accepted… I fought…”

I am better than you.  My love is stronger, better… I love my child more than you do.

This is bullying.  Words used to personally attack or intimidate another person.  It makes us think we are not as good as someone else.  For me, her words took me back to all those years when I believed all those parents who spoke with assurance, with superiority, without doubt about something that could not be proven or even replicated, stories that are not based in any science, but are “one offs”.  All those false hopes I had and mistook for the real thing.  False promises that lead me down a path of tremendous pain, ultimately harming my daughter far more than helping her.  The biggest strides I’ve made that have positively impacted my daughter are when I was able to completely accept every aspect of Emma and put down the whip beating me to change her neurology.   This is not to say we do not do everything in our power to help her learn, teach her to care for herself and try to give her tools she can use to flourish.

Richard said to me the other day, “Parents are spending all this time and energy trying to teach their kids to be normal, when they should be teaching their kids how to be themselves.”

My husband is brilliant.

Emma – September, 2012


Richard back again, with more good news. Emma continues to amaze and delight us with her nearly continuous playfulness, mischievousness and affection. Ariane and I have also been spending a lot of time visiting the blogs of autists and aspies, which have opened up a whole new world for us — and caused a dramatic shift in our perspective on autism and our goals for Emma. I’m a big believer in synchronicity and lately it feels like we are being bombarded with ‘coincidental’ occurrences that have had the accumulative effect of completely altering the way we’ve always looked at our journey together (I only say ‘we’ instead of keeping it to myself because Ariane and I have been talking about this about twenty times a day and we have been on the same page with most everything we’ve discussed).

For those who don’t know me well, I write fiction. My first novel is a supernatural thriller called The Book of Paul, which will be published soon. It is very dark and creepy, with graphic sex and violence — in other words, definitely not for kids. So quite some time ago I began writing a book I could read to Nic and Emma (or they could read to me) — a young adult fantasy called The Dream Palace. In many ways, it was and is my attempt to process my feelings about Emma’s autism and my hopes for her recovery – in other words, it began as a fantasy version of this blog. However, my perspective on what constitutes Emma’s “recovery” has altered in ways I never could have imagined only a few weeks ago.

Let me try and connect some of the synchronistic dots: we met BL in Aspen while on vacation who also has an autistic child. She introduces us to Dr. Sandy Lowe who has a very different theory on the cause of autism. He believes that a genetic vulnerability coupled with a viral infection of the mother during pregnancy, probably also combined with an environmental toxic insult causes a biochemical reaction that alters the natural neurological development of the fetus (something to do with cytokines but I don’t want to get lost down that rabbit hole). Sandy recommends stem cell treatments which we try without any dramatic results, but when discussing one of Emma’s post-treatment brain scans, he tells us about Dr. Marion Blank who is working miracles with autistic kids with her new learning program. Lo and behold, her program begins working miracles with Emma!

In my ‘spare time’ I also happen to have run a program for K-12 schoolchildren, encouraging healthy eating, exercise, literacy and other good works via positive messaging on the side of milk cartons — as in billions of milk cartons to tens of thousands of schools across the country — a very powerful influencer. So I decide to commit all these resources to an anti-bullying effort because we have had many issues with bullying at Nic’s school — and lobbied with only partial success for a more aggressive curriculum to address those problems. Needless to say, with our steadfast goal of getting Emma into a mainstream school environment, we worried about how much she might be bullied because of her differences.

In looking for established anti-bullying programs to partner with, I run across the Kind Campaign. It was founded by two exceptional young women, Lauren Persekian and Molly Stroud who were both traumatized by girl-on-girl bullying in school. They have produced an amazing documentary called Finding Kind where they toured the country, compiling a heart-breaking collection of stories from high school girls whose lives have been devastated by bullying. By the time Ariane and I finished watching this award-winning film, our previously entrenched goal of getting Emma mainstreamed has flown out the window! No way do we want Emma exposed to this vicious, cruel and traumatic behavior! While we’ve had issues in the past with her school, one fact is undeniable — she is loved to death by everyone in that school, teachers and students alike.

Our sudden abandonment of the mainstream goal had the most unexpected side benefit — our overall stress level plunged like a bowling ball from the Empire State Building! We had no idea how much of our day-to-day anxiety was rooted in our conviction that we absolutely, positively had to get Emma into a ‘real’ school right now! Voila! Our ‘happy index’ leaps from a 2 to a 9 overnight!

Next, my truly amazing wife, partner and life-saver Ariane, in her relentless pursuit of knowledge — not just to benefit Emma, but to enlighten herself about what life is like for adult autistics, begins visiting all these blogs which she then introduces me to and also blow me away. I’m hoping Ariane continues to provide links to all these wonderful sites since this post is already approaching my typical epic length, but I’ll just say that it completely alters my perspective on ‘curing’ Emma.

I’ve never felt that Emma had to be ‘normal’ for us to have succeeded as parents, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hold out hope that someday she’d ‘lose the diagnosis.’ Now, much to my relief — and Emma’s too I’m sure, I couldn’t care less about her obtaining a ‘complete recovery.’ She doesn’t need one! We want her to be able to function in our crazy world well enough to live independently and happily, but her quirkiness is a-okay. The strange thing is, I’ve always been an oddball, OCD type and so are all my favorite people –artists, visionaries, scientists, geeks and obsessive weirdos of very stripe. To be off the mainstream kick is like getting back to my own roots.

The synchro-fun continues with Ariane’s discovery of Henry Markram’s Intense World Theory for Autism — which oddly enough is almost identical to Sandy Lowe’s in regards to the cause of autism — and goes further to postulate that all autistics are savants of one type or another — and autism itself may be the next leap in human brain evolution, though apparently it’s still working out the kinks. Which brings me back to The Dream Palace.

One morning a long time ago I remember going into Emma’s bedroom and as she woke up, she said something to me in a long and completely articulated sentence. I was shocked to say the least. I remember telling Ariane about it but I’m not sure I could remember what Emma said by the time I told her. In fact, I no longer know for certain whether or not it really happened! Had I been dreaming? To this day, I can’t tell for sure. Given how strange it would have been for Emma to talk like that when she could barely speak at all, it seems obvious that it had to be a dream. But then again…

Regardless of whether it was ‘real’ or not, that incident became the inspiration for The Dream Palace, where Emma’s character named Daisy in the book, is able to talk perfectly in the dream world.

I’m a research nut. I enjoy the research process as much as the writing. Unfortunately, I could only find one research study of dream patterns and content in autists and it pretty much sucks. So of course, I wrote my own survey! I’m trying to get it out to autists who are willing to participate so if any readers have suggestions on how I could do that most efficiently please let me know. In the meantime, I’m rewriting the story because after reading Markram’s findings, I’m now convinced like he is, that not only does Emma sense, feel, and perceive much more intensely than us highfalutin ‘normals’ — she may indeed be much farther advanced than we are — which hopefully we will discover as her communications continues to advance so rapidly.

Bottom line? Life is good, very good. All it took was a complete shift in our perspective.

For more on our journey through Emma’s childhood of autism, go to:   Emma’s Hope Book


As I was waiting for my airplane to take off at La Guardia airport yesterday, I heard a woman on the news discussing the problems of bullying at school. She was saying the prevalence of bullying was greater with autistic children. I couldn’t hear much more of what she was saying as the loud speaker came on to announce a flight’s impending departure, but it reminded me of the few times I’ve witnessed Emma being teased.
The worst was at the ARC in Aspen, Colorado where she was paddling around with a plastic ball in the swimming pool. I was watching her from a distance and saw two older boys swim toward her. There was something about the way they were looking over at each other, laughing and talking to each other and then looking at her that made me stand up. They began to circle her like sharks and I heard one of them say, “Hey girlie!” Hey! Can we have your ball?” They both began howling with laughter.
Emma, as is her way, ignored them and continued to try and sit on the ball. “Hey! Hey girlie, over here!” the other boy called out. And then he said something I couldn’t understand because at that moment Emma let out one of her odd whooping noises.
The boys began laughing. “What did you say? We couldn’t hear you!” They shouted, doubled over at the hilarity of it all.
“And she couldn’t hear you,” I said to the boys who looked at me with startled expressions.
I was standing directly over them by this time. “Why don’t you tell me what it is you want to say to my daughter and I’ll see if she’s interested in speaking with you,” I said.
“Oh, no, we weren’t talking to her,” the one boy said, putting some distance between himself and Emma.
“Oh, really, because I heard you calling out to her,” I said.
“Yeah, we just wanted to play with that ball she has,” the other boy said, looking at his friend and laughing.
“Why don’t you ask the life guard for another one,” I said. “And from now on, if you want to say anything to her, you can run it by me first,” I added. “I’ll be right here.”
The boys said nothing and about a minute later got out of the pool.
I remember wondering how often things like that happened, when I’m not there to witness it. Fortunately, Emma is never by herself in public, so the opportunities for this kind of teasing are almost non-existent. But what about the bus? I know she’s been teased on the bus, she’s told me as much. But how can we know what really takes place when one of us isn’t with her? We can’t. Emma has given us clues over the years, by repeating things said to her, capturing the tone and accent of the speaker perfectly so that we can often figure out who was saying whatever it was that was hurtful or upsetting.
I remember the bus driver last summer who made her sit in the bus outside her school for over an hour and when she tried to leave began yelling at her. We reported him, but only after he’d spent at least one morning being abusive, and we have no idea to what extent.
There have been only a couple of moments when a child has been cruel to Emma that we’ve witnessed. More often children have been kind or tried to help her, only to have me hovering nearby, uncertain as to their intentions at first. Only once I know she’s being treated kindly do I back off.
It would be lovely to think bullying and teasing would one day be a thing of the past. I’ve never heard anyone come up with anything remotely resembling a solution. Until adults take into account their own poor behavior it seems to me bullying will continue unabated.