Tag Archives: parents

Bullying: Is There A Solution?

29 Feb

In the wake of Monday’s tragic school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, I find myself wondering why we as a society have so much trouble dealing with the problem of bullying. I asked this question on Facebook on Monday night, and more than one person accused me of blaming the victims.

I want to make it clear: I am not blaming the victims, nor am I condoning these acts of violence. I am merely making the point that in spite of the fact that bullying has been blamed for a number of tragedies over the last fifteen years or so, we have made little progress in addressing it.

It would be unfair for me to say that nothing has happened. I would be willing to bet that there were no formal anti-bullying policies in place when I was in high school. That at least has changed: it took me about fifteen seconds on Google to find my local school board’s policy. This does represent a start, even though the wording of the policy is frustratingly vague. It places the onus on schools to figure out ways in which bullying incidents can be reported and dealt with. When I called my son’s school to find out what their school-specific policy is, I got an expected but highly unsatisfactory answer: It depends on the circumstances. I also got the platitudes that schools think are sufficient for parents: We do not tolerate bullying in our school. We take this issue very seriously. Instigators of bullying are dealt with severely.

That’s all great, but what does it actually mean? We don’t need policies that are there primarily to make parents happy enough to sit down and shut up. We need action plans that are followed through on. Here are a few things that I would like to see in place:

  • Education sessions for parents that will teach them to recognize (a) that their child is being bullied, or (b) that their child is bullying.
  • Anti-bullying education in the curriculum for the kids. Right from the get-go, children need to be taught what their rights are and how they can ensure that they are being respected. They should also learn about what behaviours constitute bullying. While this is more intuitive for most older kids, young children may not recognize the potential harm of certain behaviours.
  • Support for the victims of bullying. They should have a way to report their experiences without fear of reprisal, and they should be assured that action will be taken. The onus should not be on them to “stand up to the bullies”.
  • Support for the instigators of bullying. These kids could have something going on in their lives that’s making them do what they do. They shouldn’t just be suspended from school and given a warning not to do it again. Steps should be taken to find out why they are doing it in the first place and what help can be provided to them.
  • Open lines of communication between students, teachers and parents. Teachers and parents should be working together to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our kids, and our kids have to know that there is someone for them to go to when they need help.

Bullying is not a problem that can be solved by letting the kids sort it out. We cannot tell one person to stop doing something, or another person to retaliate. Bullying is a social problem that can only be solved by everyone involved working together in a constructive way, to do what is best for the kids.

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Graduation Day

28 Jun

My Kindergarten Graduate

On Friday morning we all woke up with a sense of occasion. Especially James, my five-year-old son for whom this day was happening. He had been looking forward to it all week, and now that it was here, he could barely contain himself.

In honour of the occasion, I walked him to school myself instead of dropping him off at the daycare. Once we got to the school, he ran ahead of me to join his peers, and I joined the group of parents walking towards the gymnasium where the event of the day was being held. I secured two seats in the front row, and hoped that my husband, who was taking George to school, would arrive before the excitement started.

As I waited, there was a lot of scuffling and whispering and shhhh-ing coming from behind the curtain on the stage, as the kids were obviously brought in through an unseen entrance and put into their positions. With just moments to spare, Gerard scooted in and sat beside me.

And then it began…

The curtain opened to reveal a sight that made the audience go Awwwwwwwww in unison: a class of graduating Kindergartners, all wearing oversized white mens’ shirts that had been put on backwards, and personalized graduation hats made of construction paper.

I have to tell you, they looked cute. Especially when music was cued and the kids started singing a song to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York (instead of singing about New York, New York the kids were singing about Grade One, Grade One).  And the cuteness just about exploded near the end of the song when the kids started doing that leg-kicky dance routine. They were very enthusiastic about it, too.

The music segued into I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas. This time the kids weren’t singing, but they were dancing. Even though it was supposed to be a choreographed dance, it somehow didn’t matter that at no point during the song did any of the kids have matching dance moves. Their energy and enthusiasm – and the fact that my child was part of it – made it the best dance I’ve ever seen.

When the music faded out, it was time for the big moment. The children were called one by one to receive their Kindergarten certificates, which were rolled up into little scrolls and tied with ribbons. When it was James’ turn, he solemnly received his certificate and then posed for the pictures as if it was an occasion in the White House. He had taken this graduation concept very seriously all week, even telling me at one point that “graduation is no laughing matter”.

So far, I was doing OK. I hadn’t cried yet. I hadn’t even needed to reach into my bag for a tissue.

The kids were brought down from the stage and they were ushered to pre-assigned seats in the auditorium. A projector screen appeared from nowhere on the stage, and in a slightly alarming move, one of the teachers started handing out Kleenexes to the assembled parents. “You might need these,” we were told.

The lights were dimmed and the show began…

It was a photo montage of the kids’ school year, and it was absolutely beautiful. The pictures of James showed a kid who was happy, social, and doing really well. My heart burst with pride.

Yes, I cried. So did all of the other parents. The person who was probably crying the hardest at the end of it, though, was the teacher. She clearly cares about every child she teaches. And that shows in how well the kids have done, and in how excited they are to be in Grade One.

The day could not have been more perfect. So what if the singing wasn’t exactly in tune? And so what if the kids chose, on the day, to dance to the choreography inside their own heads? We, the parents, had the privilege of seeing our kids being the wonderful, spontaneous human beings they are.

We saw them being themselves, and it was the best thing ever.

Taking Flight

9 Mar

This is a continuation of the series I started last week

The six weeks prior to my departure passed in a whirlwind of frenetic activity. I had never traveled internationally by myself, and I had assumed that all I had to do was book the tickets, pack a bag, and show up at the airport two hours before the flight was scheduled to leave.

I had not factored in things like getting my passport renewed, undergoing the requisite medical screening, obtaining foreign currency, getting travel insurance, and visiting with friends and family to say my goodbyes. I could barely find the time to pack.

Packing was an ordeal in and of itself. Cramming all of my essential belongings into checked baggage did not turn out to be easy. Of course, now that I am a seasoned traveler, my idea of what is actually “essential” has changed dramatically. But back then, the list of things that I just had to take was staggering (most of these items would end up getting jettisoned over the course of my travels).

My Mom tearfully helped me pack. Her sadness was, I think, twofold. There was the normal Mom’s angst about the prospect of saying goodbye to a daughter who was bound for a faraway land and didn’t know when she was returning. And there was the fact that the last time I had left home for any length of time, I had come back damaged and jaded. She implored me not to make any stupid decisions. If you get into trouble, she said, just get on a plane and come home.

Before I knew it, the day had arrived. My parents got me to the airport four hours prior to departure time. I was flying El Al: the Israelis, being understandably nervous about who and what they were letting onto their planes, had a rigourous screening procedure years before 9/11. They made me light one of my cigarettes (I was a smoker in those days), take a picture with my camera (using the flash), and make my alarm clock go off. I got questioned at length as to why I was wearing my blue fedora-style hat and whether I had purchased the contents of my luggage myself.

Eventually, me and my luggage were deemed fit to board the plane. I had a final cup of coffee with my parents, and then, when it was time to go, they hugged me fiercely and tried to fight back tears. I waved at them until I could no longer see them, although I knew they would stay at the airport until after my plane had departed. As I found my way to the boarding gate, I pictured my Dad with his arm around my Mom’s shoulders, comforting and being comforted. I felt my chest constrict with anguish at what I had put my parents through, and for a moment I had the urge to turn back.

I resolutely continued. I needed to do this. I knew it in my gut, and I believe that my parents knew it too. I had lost myself over the last few years, and I needed to spread my wings and give myself the space to find my way back through the woods.

In the departure lounge, I found myself chatting with someone called Wayne, who like me, was traveling on the Kibbutz program. He asked me what had prompted me to go, and I told him that I needed to get away from some bad stuff that had happened. “Same here,” he told me.

At boarding time, we joined the line at the departure gate. Further screening ensued (really ahead of the curve on airline security, the Israelis), and we got through the chaos of boarding only to discover that our assigned seats were beside each other. Neither Wayne nor I could possibly know, at that point, that this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship that would still be enduring almost two decades later.

At the moment of take-off, I pictured my parents standing at the big glass windows in the airport terminal, watching and waving, and wishing me Godspeed as the plane lifted into the air and disappeared into the night sky.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10037058@N08/2779012499)

A Scrap Of Paper That Changed My Life

3 Mar

I was numb with shock as I drove home that day. Although I was only 22, life had already jaded me to the point where I never believed that anything good would actually last, but I had no idea, when I woke up that morning, that things would change so abruptly.

I went to work that morning, just as I did every other morning. It was my first real job  – a job with a regular paycheque AND benefits – and I was so proud of it. I had been there for about nine months, and for the first time since my early University days a few years previously, I felt as if I was starting – just starting – to get some direction.

I had emerged intact – bruised and damaged and hurting, but intact – from the wreckage that my life had been, and I had somehow managed to create the semblance of a normal existence. I was proud of this. I was starting to like myself again, to feel kind of OK about who I was.

I was starting to think that just maybe, I was not a complete failure who was capable of nothing more than disappointing myself and everyone around me.

That day, I lost my job.

It was a crushing blow. All of those feelings of failure and disappointment came flooding back. I hadn’t sorted out my life at all. The sense of direction, the sense that things had been getting better – that was all a mask, something to hide the fact that I was and always would be a complete screw-up.

As I drove home, I didn’t know how I was going to tell my parents. It seemed as if they had just seen me through my last crisis, and here I was, about to show up with another one. How was I going to face my Mom and tell her that I had lost the job that she had been instrumental in me getting? She had made the initial contact and arranged the interview for me at a time when I would never have been able to do it myself. And now it was all gone. I was a disappointment once again.

I felt low. So low that I actually contemplated wrapping my car around a telephone pole with me in it.

When I got home and blurted out the news, my parents wrapped me in a bear-hug. Their love and support covered me like a soft, soothing blanket. Take your time, they said. Catch your breath, give yourself a chance to recover, and then try again.

They assured me that this was not a reflection on my worth as a person, that I would indeed make a success of my life. I didn’t believe them, not really, but I really needed to hear it.

About ten days later, I was at a loose end, so I decided to tidy my desk drawers. I must have had six years’ worth of old papers and notebooks in there. It was a veritable time capsule that took me right back to my high school days, to the time before.

I went through my old diaries and books and scraps of paper, and reminisced. I reflected on the days when my whole life had stretched before me like a blank canvas, when I had not made bad decisions that would create emotional tsunamis that would ripple through time. Most of the items went into the garbage. I was sad to throw away these mementoes of my youth, but that stuff hardly seemed relevant to the way my life was now.

I pulled out an advertising leaflet and automatically started throwing it in the garbage bag without even looking at it. Just before it went into the bag, though, my eye caught the word “Israel”.

Curious. Why would I be in possession of an advertising leaflet that had anything to do with Israel? Presumably it must have been of some value to me at some point, otherwise I wouldn’t have kept it.

It turned out to be a travel brochure for people wanting to go to Israel to experience life on a Kibbutz. The brochure posed a series of questions in the form of a checklist. Do you want to see a part of the world that is like no other? Are you trying to decide what to do with your life? Have you reached a difficult crossroads?

Yes, yes and YES. As I read the brochure, I grew increasingly excited. I called the number on the brochure and asked some questions. Yes, the company that produced the brochure still ran the Kibbutz program. Yes, it was true that all I needed to pay was the cost of the airfare plus an administrative fee. No, there was no waiting list – I could leave with the next group to depart in six weeks’ time.

With fumbling fingers, I dug out my latest bank statements. With the money I had saved up, I could just about cover the costs. I wouldn’t have spending money, but that was OK. I didn’t want to go shopping. I just wanted to go.

I booked my spot there and then, and then, with my face involuntarily pulled into a completely unfamiliar-feeling expression that I later realized was a smile, I went to talk to my parents, to tell them that I was going to Israel.

Little did I know how completely this spur-of-the-moment decision would alter the course of my life.