I worried about bullying before either one of my boys stepped on a school campus. Just leaving them in the nursery at church was a stretch for me. My girlfriends worried about their kids too so only the more confident parents labeled me neurotic.
This was over ten years ago when bullying wasn’t considered an epidemic. Of course autism hadn’t hit the radar back then like it has now either. I knew my kiddos were different as toddlers, but I didn’t know what to call it. I did know, however, that putting them in any setting with more than a handful of children presented challenges. Relationally speaking, they were awkward then and they are awkward now. Even after years of effort, neither of them is considered “socially savvy.”
Fortunately, teenage boys are given more social grace. You don’t have to be the coolest guy on campus to be popular. Boys also seem to work out their issues faster. It’s a whole different world for girls, and I’m thankful it’s not one I have to deal with. My anxiety about bullying, however, has not proven to be without merit. Both boys have had to deal with more than their fair share of hard knocks.
In elementary school, Chase had his head cut open by a rock intentionally thrown at him. Later, his wrist was broken in another unprovoked incident. His first year of middle school was a nightmare with weekly incidents involving other students who thrived on teasing him.
Luke received a death threat in middle school and was jumped by a group of thugs two years later in high school. Even though Luke is the socially stronger of the two, it’s not easy for him. He works hard to understand a social landscape that doesn’t make much sense to him. You’d like to think his tennis success would create a nice buffer around him but it has actually set him up for jealous teasing from lots of kids.
People don’t typically suggest that I have no cause for concern, given my experience. Sadly, almost every other parent in the United States worries just like I do. Bullying at school is now consistently ranked in the top five health concerns parents have for their children. This is a staggering statistic. Bullying ranks number four with childhood obesity, drug abuse, and smoking in the top three. Issues like school violence, depression, eating disorders, suicide, and driving accidents don’t even make the Top 10 list now. I can’t wrap my head around this.
When I look at the list of what parents worry about I can’t help but wonder if bullying ranks high because we all recognize the enormous impact it can have on a child emotionally. Case in point- Monday, when Chase went to meet the principal and case manager at the high school he’ll be attending, he had only one question, “You’re not going to let other kid’s bully me are you?”
It broke my heart because I can’t undo what’s done. I’ve put my kids in settings I knew would challenge them when instinctively I’m wired to protect them. It’s a decision I’ve wrestled with since the day they started school. How do you let your kids, who aren’t quite like all the others, go out into a world that can be cruel? Why would you, when even seemingly “normal” kids struggle?
I can’t answer that question for anyone else. Every child is different and I respect the choices other families make, acknowledging that only they know what’s best for their children. For me, it comes down to what God has consistently told me every time I put the issue to the test. When things get lumpy and my protective sense kicks in, I ask God, should I home school them? Is that what you want? Did this happen because it’s time for them to come home? Every way I can think to ask, I put it all on the table and wrestle with God.
Despite my best moves God doesn’t budge. He continues to make it clear that the boys are right where He wants them. Still, my faith gets shaky. I was in that place Monday night after the transition meeting for Chase. His new case manager is very different from his current one. She has a fantastic reputation but she’s not a known entity in our family. There will be a big learning curve for us.
Chase and I were both nervous walking around campus. His current teacher got teary-eyed during the meeting just talking about what a special kid Chase is. High school is to middle school what a Broadway show is to community theatre – a whole different kind of production – And we have stage fright. I went to bed tossing and turning even though the meeting went well. Yesterday, I could barely write a word when I needed to the most. I was too anxious. Would Chase be okay next year? Was I missing something God had said? Plagued with doubt I headed to pick Chase up from school and the whole picture changed.
When I drove up things didn’t look right. The principal and Chase’s teacher were standing next to him with boxes. I couldn’t make things out so I zipped in front of the other cars and jumped out asking, “What’s up?” In an instant, smiles broke loose as they told me that Chase’s friends had surprised him with a party at lunch to celebrate his birthday. The boxes were his presents.
I stood there shocked while his teacher told me it came as a surprise to everyone. The boys he eats lunch with had planned it with help from their parents. They brought pizza and cookies, shopped for presents, and made cards telling him how much he meant to them as a friend. As all these details were shared, Chase stood there beaming while I fought back tears.
None of the teachers or administrators had put the boys up to it. It was their idea. The eight boys that took Chase under their wing on his first day at school last year wanted to do something nice for him. They know he’s a little different which is precisely why they love him. They’re the coolest kids at school and they like hanging out with Chase. As one of their lunch buddies, they take care of him. When we got home I couldn’t help but cry. I can’t think of a better illustration of why God would want Chase right where he is. There’s no better example of why he’ll be okay where he’s going.
After drying my eyes, I went out for a prayer walk and thought about all the other great experiences the boys will miss if I keep them home. I reflected on the very unique contributions they’ve made to the school communities they’ve been a part of. Between them that is eight different schools where the light they carry into this world has shined. My mind was finally still.
Walking past the cross in the field near my house, I thought about Jesus dying at the hands of bullies. Pilate found him innocent, but he gave in to the social and political pressures of the day and allowed him to be crucified. What I’ve watched my children bear over the years pales in comparison to what Jesus suffered. It’s hardly right to make any comparison at all. I am supposed to learn something from it though. This Easter what I will remember is that the bullies never win. Any advantage they gain is temporary. The greater battle is won. God’s love triumphs everything.
My boys are certain to experience other hardships in their lives, and just as I will hate every single one of them. I’m also likely to question my choices again, in the midst of that, however, I hope that, I can cling to this memory God has graciously given me. I wasn’t at the tomb to see Jesus rise from the dead but I know the story, and now I have this story and others to remind me that Christ is risen – He is risen indeed. Love wins.
Happy Birthday Chase! Today, remember all the ways God is showing you He loves you in the midst of this confusing world! To Jack, Caleb, Nathan, Ben, Ridge, Stockton, Scott, and Brendan – you rock!