What’s wrong with bullies?

screechThat’s what my 13 year old wants to know.  He came home in tears yesterday.  He explained what had happened at school and then asked if he could write on his blog instead of practicing the piano.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I knew that if I was dying to get something out in writing, I would not be able to focus on anything else until I had.  Instead of relaying what happened, I’ll let you read it yourself.  This is what he had to say about the situation:


My son has dealt with his share of “bullying” through the years.  I use bullying in quotes, because a lot of it is just the result of people saying stupid things…not intending to be hurtful.  Most of it has been because of his size.  He’s small for his age — he’s always lagged about 2 years behind his peers.  He’s starting to catch up, but people have always made comments.  Even grown ups.  I remember once when he was six, I met a friend of a friend at a playgroup outing.  Jake was standing next to me and the woman asked me, “Oh, is your son three?”.   “No, I replied…he’s six”.  Her response floored me:  “Oh wow…he’s so small.  What’s wrong with him?”  She was genuinely curious to know why he was so small.  But, she obviously had no filter and I was way past worrying about people’s feelings when it came to this issue.  “Nothing”, I said.  “His ears work perfectly fine, too”.  And, that was way nicer than the “Nothing, but clearly something is wrong with you” reply that I wanted to give.  She was clearly embarrassed, and she should have been.  I hope she learned her lesson.  And, by the way, it’s not just small kids who deal with this ignorance.  I have a friend whose son looked three years old when he was one.  He didn’t walk yet and certainly didn’t talk.  And, people constantly were wondering if he was “slow”.  Contrast that with my 12 pound one-year-old who was walking and that freaked people out, too.   The point is, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.  And, kids come in all shapes and sizes…it’s best not to try and guess how old they are.  Just ask the child, “how old are you?” and be done with it.

Truth be told, my son was pre-mature and born with a heart defect.  Both of which contribute to his small size.  But, I don’t like to use that as an excuse because it makes no difference.  Nor does it change anything.  I don’t think people should have to make excuses for how they look.  My friend who had the giant one year old didn’t say, “Well, he was full term…”  Now, when Jake was younger, he sort of had a preemie “look” about him and I would often tell people that he was 7 weeks early. When I was feeling especially feisty  I would deliberately try to make people feel stupid for their insensitive comments by telling them that he’d had 4 heart surgeries by the time he was 8 months old.   But, he’s 13 now.  He leads a normal, healthy life.  He shouldn’t have to defend his stature in that way.  It’s not like his dad and I are big people.  Part of it is his genes.  And, I maintain that it doesn’t matter and you can’t change it anyway so just let it roll off your back. And, he has done that.  Even when presented with the opportunity to take growth hormone, he declined because he was, in his words, the way God intended him to be.  (Now, in his case, the growth hormone was not because he has a deficiency…it was simply going to help him get to his adult height quicker, not give him more height.  So, this is not a commentary on people who choose that for their child).

The other contributor to the “bullying” is that he marches to the beat of his own drum.  He’s not afraid to be who he is.  He spent an entire year in a Scooby Doo costume.  When you are 6, people don’t really make a big deal out of it though.  When he was in 3rd grade, he played Wolfgang A. Whale in “A Whale of a Tale” and insisted on wearing a Mozart wig.  It was perfect for the role (and if you really know Jake, it was just perfect in general).  He continued to wear it after the play as well….once donning it for a piano recital.  It was just HIM and it was refreshing to see a kid just embrace his quirkiness.

Oh and then there’s the drama thing.  People tend to lump men who act into one category:  Gay.  Some of them are, yes.  But, take a look at some of Hollywood’s leading actors and you will see a much different picture.  George Clooney.  Sean Connery.  Brad Pitt.  Leonardo DiCaprio.  These are men who undoubtedly were teased for being gay at some point in their lives.  And, they aren’t.  But, it brings up a point that Jake himself made a couple of years ago:  Who cares?  Why is calling somebody “gay” an insult, he wondered?  It should be as benign as being heterosexual.  He’s right.

Fifth grade brought a new level of bullying (notice the quotes are gone).  Mama Bear had to go grizzly when a kid in Jake’s class started calling him a midget and gay.  It’s hate speech, plain and simple.  And, luckily, the administration handled it swiftly.  And, things seemed to tame down as he got to 6th grade and started to find his own niche.  Admittedly, he doesn’t run around with the “popular” crowd, but that doesn’t bother him. He came home last year and asked me why popular kids were (air-quotes) popular when lots of people didn’t actually like them.  Great question, right?  I still wonder that.

And now, here we are again.  Yesterday, he threw his hat across the room and said he wasn’t wearing it again.  I told him that just means the bullies win.  If you want to wear it, I told him, wear it.  Those people don’t define you. Them telling you that you look stupid does not make it so.  Don’t give them power because these are people who, if they don’t have your hat to make fun of, they will find something else.  And if they see that,even after yesterday, you are wearing it….they will move on to something else.  Bullies only attack people they perceive to be weak.  When you show them you aren’t weak, they will lose interest.  But, sometimes it takes a while.

I promised him that this won’t last forever.  I told him to focus on the people who thought the hat was cool….because when I asked him who they were, it turns out they were his friends.  He got the point.  I told him that so many kids his age are afraid to express themselves because they are desperate to “fit in” and that the truth is, when you are 13, everyone questions whether or not they fit in.  And, yes…I told him that he can’t hit someone with his backpack because even though it felt good and the kid deserved it, it’s not worth getting into trouble over.

And intellectually, he gets all that. But, he doesn’t understand why people are deliberately mean.  And, I don’t either.  It’s hard not to care about this stuff when you have a heart of gold and you genuinely like people.  It’s easy to SAY to just ignore them and let it roll off your back, but it’s often hard not to believe the things people say.

On Saturday, we were walking around DC on inauguration weekend and Jake was wearing his hat.  He got lots of positive comments from complete strangers on it.  And, at one point, we happened upon the Reverend Jessie Jackson who shook our hands and commented on the hat.  I reminded him of these things. I told him to hold his head high and be himself.

Today, I drove him to school rather than making him deal with the bus (although he was willing to).  And, I was super proud of him as he walked in to the school with that Screech hat on, not because he was being combative, but because he is okay with who he is.

He’s showing a ton of character and courage.  But, as his mom, I wish he didn’t have to.

Life according to Jake

It’s been hard having a 13 year old these past few days.  In the past, I’ve been able to avoid talking about national tragedies by avoiding turning on the television.  I remember being so grateful that he was only 2 on 9/11 because I had no idea what I would have said to him.

Then, Friday happened and I had no idea what to say to him.  But, I had to say something.  I quickly realized that you don’t have to have an answer about “why?”, but the most important thing to do is listen and encourage them to talk about their feelings.  And, as we talked, I found that my sweet son was being as comforting to me as I was trying to be to him.

I was trying to explain to him about how I react to things —  I told him about a character in The Secret Life of Bees that I relate to.  May Boatright is a complicated personality. Highly sensitive to the pain of others, she carries the weight of the world in her soul.  She built a wailing wall in her backyard and goes there when she is upset.  And then I told him that I often joke that I need a wailing wall of my own in the backyard.

He looked at me and said, “Mom, you don’t need to build a wailing wall.  You have one right here”, and he patted his chest.  “God knows what’s in your heart”.

Tears filled my eyes as I looked at this child, who has no idea how wise he is, even though sometimes he still puts his pants on backwards.  I thanked him and told him that this was a conversation I will never forget.

I’ve said it before….I take no credit for how awesome he is.  But, I do like to share the insights he has.  Usually they are funny and light-hearted.  Today, I hope his wise words can bring someone else comfort as well.

Feel free to use this post as your own wailing wall.  My son and I would be privileged to join you in prayer for everyone affected by the Newtown shooting.  And, that means everyone.

wailing wall

Please pass the Mother-of-the-Year Award

Anyone who’s a mother knows that when we publicly proclaim that we have earned the “mother-of-the-year” award, it’s likely that we have experienced an epic parenting fail.  And, let’s face it, we’re looking for some commiseration. (Wow.  Commiseration really is a word…I wasn’t sure.  Either that or the auto-correct gods are mocking me for trying to use big words.)  Anyway…it makes us feel better when others tell us how they’ve done something similar…or worse.  The truth is that most of the time, it’s usually nothing that is going to land our kids in therapy.  Most of us don’t post those things on Facebook.

At the end of the school year, my 12 year old had a culminating project in his Reading class.  It was one of those projects that just seemed doomed from the start.  He was in the middle of rehearsals for two different plays and worked really hard to get a head start on it.  I was proud of him for having the foresight to get ahead of it.  Then, he lost the folder that contained all of his research and drafts.  Incidentally, this portion of the project carried the most weight in his final grade.  I encouraged him to talk to his teacher and see what could be done.  This particular teacher is not especially gracious and they had a rocky start to the year.  He’d eventually won her over though and I know that she was aware that he was doing to the required work.  She agreed to let him stay after school to recreate the folder, which he did for several days.  He learned an important lesson around it all though — and that is that relationships are important.  Sometimes they are the most important when it comes to things like this.  I had tried to impress that upon him when he was having trouble getting along with this teacher.  It ended up being a blessing that this had happened because he was able to see it all play out. Well, then came the day to turn everything in.  It was a Friday.  He was finished with it and was so happy to finally be getting this thing out of his head.  He’d been wearing the jump-drive around his neck for days so that it wouldn’t get lost.

I dropped him off at school and headed to work.  I was the second one there and I remarked to my co-worker that I always have such high hopes for Fridays, but they rarely end up going the way I expect them to because inevitably something random comes up that I have to deal with.  Just then, the phone rang.  It was Jake.  He was in tears because he’d left his jump drive at home.  I wrote a quick email to my boss, telling him what happened and that I’d be back in an hour.  I quipped that they could leave the Mother of the Year award on my desk.  And when I got back, there actually was one on my desk.

Some people said that they wouldn’t have done it and that this was an important lesson for him to learn.  Lucky for him, those people aren’t his mother.  I knew how hard he’d worked.  I knew how devastated he was.  I knew that he was sorry.  Now was not the time to rub it in.  His grade depended on it and sometimes I think we just need to extend a little grace.  Although I did put a note in the envelope that read “Not Happy”, which kind of negates the grace thing, but I felt like he needed to know that this was a huge inconvenience to me.  I never once have held it over his head, but I do remind him regularly how important it is for him to be responsible, especially now that he’s almost…ahem….a teenager.  Mom isn’t always going to be there to bail him out.

These past two weeks, he’s taken part in a Counselor in Training program at the YMCA.  He’s been working with kindergartners.  He has always loved little kids and they love him too.  He’s just got a way with them.  One of the things that is nice about the program is that he earns Student Service Learning (SSL) hours, which are required for graduation in Maryland.  He has to have 75 to graduate and students can start earning them in 6th grade.  There is a special award for kids who have earned all of them while still in middle school and that’s a goal of his.  The hours he put in the last two weeks were going to get him really close to that goal.

As I was driving him to camp, I asked him if they were going to get the SSL forms today.  The blood drained out of his face as he remembered that he was supposed to print it out and fill it out to turn in today.  He begged me to go home and get it.  He could fill it out on the way back.

As hard as it was for me to do, I said no.  I reminded him that he came home from camp yesterday and basically did nothing but work on his fantasy football team and watch baseball all evening– which is fine.  It’s summer.  But, he knew that he had a responsibility.  And, I know that he genuinely forgot (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), but this was an instance where I wasn’t going to bail him out.  I told him he had to figure it out.  He needed to talk to his counselor and figure out what his options are.  He may miss out on those SSL hours.  It’s not the end of the world if he does.  There will be other opportunities to earn them.  I told him that I did my part — I signed him up for the camp, I paid for it and I got him there on time every day.  That was the extent of my responsibility.  He was mad.  He wouldn’t look at me when he got out of the car.  He didn’t tell me that he loved me back and slammed the door without saying goodbye.  It’s okay.  He can be mad.  I know he’s more mad at himself.

I wanted to rescue him.  My instinct was to rescue him.  But, that doesn’t teach him anything.  Sometimes, my job is to rescue him but at the end of the day, parenting is really about giving our kids the tools they need to rescue themselves.  Days like today are when the rubber meets the road.  And, I look forward to finding out how he went about dealing with it when I pick him up today.

On a somewhat related note, right before this happened, Jake was telling me about how he was being peer pressured to chew gum. He has braces now and knows that gum is off limits.  One of the things about having a kid with a black and white personality is that they usually will follow the rules, if someone else lays them out.  He told me that he knew I was serious by the “evil eye” I gave him when I told him that if he breaks anything because he’s eaten something he wasn’t supposed to, he will pay for the repair.  And, since he has no money, he’ll have to do it by doing the grossest chores I can come up with.  Then, he went on to say, “Don’t tell Dad, but I’m more afraid of you than him”.  He said it is because of the “look”.  I said, “surely your Dad has an evil eye, too”.  He replied, “Well, if he does have an evil eye, I’ve never seen it”.  I realized that when we got on the discussion of the SSL form, I was giving him that “look”, which he describes as wide eyed, eyebrows raised and serious.  I think it would scare me too.

So I think sometimes, we really do earn “Mother of the Year” (or at least, Mother of the Day) and my sense is that it isn’t always pleasant for anyone involved.

Vacation according to Jake

We have been in Cancun for several days now. I’m not sure how many because I don’t know what today is. I know that it is the opening day of baseball stateside and that fact is driving my baseball fanatic son crazy. Truth be told, it’s driving my husband crazy, too. But, there is TV here and as luck would have it, the Nationals are not playing at home until next week, so we aren’t missing it.

This is the second best vacation Jake’s ever had, he says. Spring training in Florida is still #1. It is the best international vacation ever though. And no, it’s not the only international vacation. He’s been to Canada. 😉

We are here with our dear friends, whom we met because our boys became instant friends when they were in choir together in Olympia. They are among the few people that I would spend a week with and the truth is, the trip wouldn’t be as fun without them. Our kids keep each other busy and free from boredom. Apparently, you can get bored sitting by the pool. I don’t get it, but it’s what I’ve been told. The adults keep each other busy and free from throttling our kids when they get bored. It’s been a great week so far. Lloyd always dreads taking me to the beach because he’s afraid I’ll never leave. After this vacation, I think he might have to worry about both of us — meaning me and Jake.

The surf lesson started it. I wasn’t sure he’d like it, but Jake will try anything once. And after he got up a couple of times, he was hooked. After his two hour lesson (shared with his buddy), he wanted to know if he could have a lesson every day that we were here. I also want to take a minute to give a BIG shout out to Dave at 360 Surf School in Cancun. He was awesome and really made the difference for the boys. He also saved Jake from getting pulled out by the current when Mr. King of the World decided that he could go further out than was safe. Dave didn’t miss a beat and swam out to get him as the lifeguard stood by and watched (although I am sure he would have helped if needed). He also used it as a valuable teaching lesson, which made a much bigger impact than anything we could have said to him in that moment. If you are ever in Cancun, definitely look him up.






Last night, we went to Margaritaville Cancun to celebrate our friends’ granddaughter’s 10th birthday. It was a blast. We all sang Jimmy Buffett songs at the top of our lungs. Jake had his first “piña colada” and shortly thereafter was on stage dancing. Give this boy a stage and he is completely at home. It’s a little scary sometimes to see him embrace the party scene the way he does, but I envy that he is willing to have fun without worrying what other people think. I wish my dad could have been with us. When I was in 5th grade he took me to see my first concert–Jimmy Buffett at the Greek Theatre in LA. It was then that I decided I wanted to be a Coral Reefer Girl when I grew up. I still want to be a Coral Reefer Girl when I grow up. Now, watching my son sing “Margaritaville” while wearing a Fins Up hat made me smile as I realized we had three generations of Parrotheads in the family.




The best part of the night though was doing Tequila shots with my bestie and then hearing Jake say: “Well, that was awkward”.


Life According to Jake

I don’t know what is going on lately but my kid has absolutely been cracking me up. I swear I don’t post every single thing he says. On that note….

We stopped to get lunch this afternoon and Jake asked if he could have a chocolate chip cookie. In the car on the way home, he takes a bite and says “Ewwwwwwwww, it’s oatmeal raisin”. I sympathized….not many things are worse than expecting chocolate chips and getting raisins. (Ok, a lot of things are much worse, but still…). He says,

“I know that some people like oatmeal raisin, but I really think they must have started as a practical joke”.

My thoughts exactly.

Life According to Jake

Nothing to report from Free Lunch Friday today. Conversation revolved around March Madness (and the pronunciation of Gonzaga) and St. Patrick’s Day plans. My plans consist of cheering my husband on during the DC Rock n Roll marathon and buying Jake a Shamrock Shake for his 1/2 birthday. I didn’t share those plans with anyone, although if I had, I’m sure I’d have something more to report from Free Lunch Friday.

Instead, I’ll share some recent 12 year old wisdom. I had a particularly crappy day at work yesterday. It’s unusual, really. I can’t remember the last time I had a bad day that was caused by stress at work. It completely wore me out and I was sound asleep before 10pm. When he was headed to bed, Jake said “I’m sorry you had a bad day today. Bad days are…well, bad”. Genius.

And last weekend, we were in Florida, staying at a beachfront hotel. While we were walking out to the beach, we passed by the hotel and Jake said “I don’t get why people would swim in a pool when the ocean is right there!”. Me neither.

Finally, on that same trip, my husband made a comment that he was going to have dessert first because life is short. Jake muttered under his breath that “he’s only in his 40’s. That’s middle age. it’s not that short”. Touché. At least he doesn’t think we’re ancient. Yet.

Ronderful Rismastime!

Driving in the car this weekend, we were listening to the local 24 hour Christmas station. “Blue Christmas” came on and my son asked us to turn the channel. Upon being questioned as to why in the world he didn’t like Elvis, he replied: “Because he sounds like a mixture of Paul McCartney and Scooby Doo”.

Maybe it was funnier in person, but that is Life According to Jake.

Life According to Jake

Every day, my son has something witty, wise or downright hilarious to say.  Instead of blowing up my Facebook feed with it, I though I’d just create a spot here.  Here is this morning’s gem:

I have to preface it with telling you that recently, he has gotten very into “pop” music (much to the dismay of his parents…especially his dad).  This morning, he made the observation that much of the pop music he hears is just the same chorus over and over and over.  And —-

I like P!nk a lot better than Katy Perry because it seems like her songs actually say something important instead of just partying and falling in love.

And that, my friends, is Life According to Jake.

Life according to Jake

I had one of those days.  You know the ones….when everything and everyone irritates you….for no reason at all.   I woke up tired and cranky and from the moment I got out of bed, nothing seemed to go right.  Things that I normally wouldn’t get worked up about — well, let’s just say I made mountains out of mole hills all day.  I can point to several reasons why the day went like it did. Lloyd’s out of town and I don’t sleep well when he’s gone. Tomorrow is Jake’s last day of elementary school, which is pretty emotional for all of us.  I managed to unintentionally make somebody angry the other day and even though I have apologized (twice), I think they are still mad and it’s still weighing on me.  I just feel a little defeated by life today.  All day, I kept thinking of things I would blog about — and they mostly centered around how irritating and stupid I think people can be.  Lloyd and I have a saying, “Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you”.  Today, I got eaten by the bear.

And, then I was going through Jake’s backpack, full of all of the items from his desk at school.  I came across a composition notebook that had “warm up journal” written on the front.  His teacher would ask a question and they would have to answer it as a writing exercise.  There were questions like “What was the coolest thing you did this summer?” and “What was your favorite part of the weekend?”.  Reading them brought back memories of our trip across country last summer and going to see various museums on the weekends when we first moved here (and had fewer commitments than we do now!).  But, then there were things I learned about him from questions like “If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?”.  Jake answered:  “I only wish I had one more year to see my family and friends” (back in Washington State).  I learned that if he had one superpower, it would be to be invisible so that he could sneak out of the house.  I learned that he would like to invent a dog trampoline and he’d like to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by producing the longest running cartoon ever.  I discovered that his favorite thing to do in the snow is stay inside because his ears freeze too quickly and he’s worried about Diptheria.  Whatever that means.  I learned that he thinks he’s apathetic about soccer. If he had one billion dollars he would save his money and get a job.  If he could have any job, it would be a classical composer.  If he was to go to a deserted island, he would bring a box of candy, a bottle of sprite an Xbox 360 with a game and controller, his best friend Cameron, his 2nd grade picture and Lola (our dog).  I learned that his favorite thing about spring is Easter because we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I learned that he thinks that Jayson Werth needs to learn to catch a ball.  And, then there was this:

Describe your dream house.

His response was “Really, I don’t have a dream house.  I like where I live”.


And all of a sudden, all of the things I have been irritated about all day just seemed so silly.  Instead of complaining about all of those things, I needed to stop and count my blessings.  My life is full of them.  But, the biggest one of all is my sweet, smart, handsome, witty, insightful son who teaches me something every day.