It happened last Friday after picking up my daughter from school.
Every day when I pick her up, I ask the open-ended “How was your day?” when she hops in the front seat. Unlike Jacob, who promptly gives me one word utterances when asked such preposterous questions, Emma knows what I want to know. Well, to be fair, Jacob also knows what I want to know, but chooses not to elaborate.
On Friday, when I picked Emma up, we exchanged the usual niceties. But when she got to sharing about her European History class, she told me there’d been a substitute that day and they’d been assigned an essay to complete during class.
She said she was busily trying to complete the essay during the time allotted, but was finding herself distracted by a group of three boys in her class. I asked what they were doing that was so distracting.
“Well, Mom, there is this boy in my class who I know has some special needs. He reminds me a lot of Jacob actually. A lot. His name is Alex.” *
“In what way does he remind you of Jacob?”
“Well, he talks to himself a lot like Jacob does. And he gets really upset sometimes, like when he misses something on a quiz. He will bang on his desk or be flipping though the pages of his textbook saying, ‘That’s not fair! That wasn’t in the reading!!’ or something like that.”
“Yeah, that does sound a lot like Jacob back in the day.”
“Yeah, well, it wasn’t Alex who was so distracting. Today, these other boys in the class were being really loud talking to each other and one of them was all the way across the room. And, well, they were making fun of Alex, Mom.”
<Insert the sound of a record scratching and the world coming to a screeching halt HERE>
“They were what??”
“They were totally making fun of him. I guess I never noticed it before because Mr. L is always talking or we are having a class discussion.”
“What do you mean? What were they saying?”
“Stuff like, ‘Ooooh, watch out! I bet Alex is gonna get all rage-y today’ and then, Alex got up to sharpen his pencil and when he was walking by, they said, ‘Oooh, I hope sharpening his pencil doesn’t send him into one of his rages!’”
Here’s where I started to lose it.
I was so upset at the thought of this happening. I know bullying goes on every day in every single school setting (and non-school setting) in this nation. Not only to kids with autism but also to scrawny, nerdy, overweight, effeminate, unpopular, shy, or <fill in your own adjective here> kids.
But, y’all, this hit me in such a tender spot.
That could have been Jacob.
It could have been your kid. Maybe it is your kid. Maybe it was you when you were a kid.
I could feel myself going off the deep end.
“That is just so wrong! Do you think Alex heard them? Do you think he realizes they are making fun of him?”
“Yeah. He was kinda glaring at them as he was at the pencil sharpener.”
I was totally weeping now and babbling incoherently about Emma needing to tell those guys that they were a bunch of ignorant jerks and needed to cut it out. And how if she didn’t feel comfortable doing that, that I would email Mr. L and tell him myself.
Emma was giving me the “uh-oh, Mom’s really lost it this time” look.
And I think I had lost it.
“This, THIS, is why I will never, ever regret not sending Jacob to that place!” I said through my tears.
My heart was breaking knowing that, without the one-on-one assistant Jacob had in public school from third grade through eighth grade, it would have been him. He would have been relentlessly bullied. I know it. Regardless of my mama bear interference.
And my heart was breaking for Alex.
A boy who is obviously capable of doing AP European History level work. Who has as much right to be in that classroom as those other boys. Who doesn’t deserve the treatment he was receiving.
I wondered if Alex’s mom was aware that this is happening. I wondered if it had been Jacob, would someone have spoken up for him? I wanted to go punch those three jerk-y kids in the throat.
But then, I know that ignorance and insecurity drive kids to say and do such things. And my insane knee-jerk behavior would not be the right response.
And so, I haven’t taken any action—yet. But for six days I have not been able to get Alex out of my mind.
I just keep asking myself, who will speak for Alex? WHO?
This past Sunday morning as we were worshipping in a church we have visited a couple of times, I noticed a family walk in just a couple of minutes late and and get situated on the front row. Emma looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Mom, that’s Alex! That’s the kid in my history class!”
My eyes started welling up again. The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I fought to regain my composure as I watched Alex.
I do not believe in coincidence. Though I did not meet up with Alex and his family that day, I am thinking our paths will cross again.
We—collectively—have a responsibility to these kids. Both the bullied and the bullies. The bullied need to be loved, protected, empowered and encouraged. The bullies need to be held accountable and taught how to love themselves and how to respect others who are not like them. We have a responsibility to love on them both and to teach them about what love is—about WHO love is.
Bullies definitely need to be held accountable for their actions. They also need to be shown that there is a different way. I ask you, who will love the bullies enough to hold them accountable? Who will love them enough to tell them they don’t have to be that way?
We have a responsibility to teach our kids to friend the friendless, to stand up for the ones who can not or will not stand up for themselves. We must teach our kids to speak truth, to stand up for truth and for what is right. If enough kids do that, then the voices of the bullies will be silenced and kids like Alex will be more free to be who God created them to be.
*name has been changed