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The Good Life: Christina Bakerís mom: Thank you
August 29, 2013 Lisa Betz   

Read more by Lisa Betz
Bullying. We all know that itís a problem and yet as a society we seem unable to stop it. This is a topic that is close to my heart for many reasons, some personal, and others because of adults I have known whose traumatic bullying scarred them in ways I can barely comprehend.

For this reason, and also because bullying seems to be on the rise and increasingly more violent in nature, I am dedicated to doing my part to open this discussion with anyone who will have it, in the hope of inspiring people to change the way they think of bullying, and the ways they respond to it when confronted by this social disease in their own lives.

I am an only child. Because of this, I feel it took me longer than most kids to understand basic things like teasing, sharing, waiting my turn, etc. And my preschool teacher Mrs. Arterburn agreed, holding me back an extra year before starting kindergarten.

I was tender-hearted and didnít understand teasing very well on the playground. I would cry when my feelings were hurt. We all know that showing weakness is the wrong thing to do, itís like unfurling a huge flag that says, pick on me.

It began at Northfield Elementary on the first day of first grade. I was the new kid, and a group was huddled in a corner of the playground pretending they had a crystal ball and were telling fortunes. I walked up and asked if I could play. The fortune teller, who was a boy, looked at me and with a fierce tone said, ďNO!Ē I was frozen. I sure didnít expect that.

Unfortunately, I started to cry. Then they all made fun of me. I felt so humiliated and unwanted in that moment; I walked away in a daze. I found the teacher and stood with her for the rest of recess. I did that often because the teacher was a safe harbor. I didnít tell anyone at school about the incident, what was there to say? I figured they just didnít like me. What could I or anyone else do?

When I got home and told my mom the story, she chuckled a bit and said, ďHoney, why didnít you just sit down and join in?Ē That never occurred to me.

In sixth grade, my class started calling me Betsy. I guess this was because of my last name. Even the teacher did it and in fact, though I didnít like it and he knew it, this teacher seemed to relish calling me Betsy along with the rest of the class. Nobody called me Lisa in my sixth grade classroom.

I had a gap between my front teeth, so the boys started calling me monkey teeth on the playground. Always sensitive, I got upset, asked them to stop, cried, you name it, but nothing I could do would make them stop. I started to disengage from others during recess. I would take a book and sit on the steps to read. Iíd escape into my own world of the book, and not surface until the bell rang.

At one point in sixth grade, I became the target of another sixth grader named Cindy. She would hassle me and threaten to beat me up. I was a complete chicken and did nothing but try to ignore her for a long time until one day, she said she was going to ďget meĒ after school. I was really scared. She and her posse of friends circled me after school and Cindy started to shove and push at me.

To this day, I have no idea why she targeted me. During the fight, something arose in me that caused me to fight back. I hauled off and punched her in the face really hard. I still remember the stunned look on her face.

I donít remember how the fight ended but Cindy respected me after that and left me alone. She said, ďBetsyís cool,Ē and that was that.

Something about that experience empowered me and what Iím about to tell you has been a source of shame for me all these years. I became a bully.

There was a new girl named Christina Baker. Her family had moved to our area in the middle of the year and nobody liked her. I began to engage in taunting her with other kids on the playground. Then, and I still donít understand why, I became Christinaís Cindy.

One day, she was tired of the taunting and offered to meet me after school so we could fight it out. I agreed and we decided to meet at my house in the yard as my mom was working at Alco at that time. All of my ďfriendsĒ were hiding in the trees and when Christina arrived, they jumped down and started to cheer me on. I didnít really want to hurt Christina but I had started a tidal wave that had a life of its own. We threw a few punches and then some adult noticed what was going on and we all scattered.

Later that night my mom got a phone call from Christinaís mother. She explained what had happened and suggested that we put an end to it by doing a play date exchange. I was supposed to go to Christinaís house once and spend time with her in an attempt to become friends. Likewise, Christina was supposed to come to my house and do the same. I grudgingly agreed.

When I went to Christinaís house her mother was nice to me, nicer than I deserved, and Christina and I did spend a few hours discovering that we didnít have much in common.

When I went home, I asked my mom if I really had to invite her over, and she said that no, I didnít if I really didnít want to.

Weeks passed by and Christinaís mother called to remind me that it was my turn to invite Christina over to my house. I listened politely and explained that a friendship couldnít be forced, but I told her that I would leave Christina alone.

The experience humbled me. Spending time with Christina didnít cause me to like her and want to be friends but what it did do was very important. It caused me to see that Christina was a lot like me, a girl with a nice room, a mom who loved her and cooked Christinaís favorite dinner. After that, I couldnít see Christina as anything but someone who deserved to be treated better than I had done.

It makes me sad to think about how I treated Christina, joining in with the other kids at first, and then taking the lead on bullying her. I remember feeling the acknowledgement of those other kids and feeling accepted by them, encouraged by them and I guess I liked that feeling.

They say that bullied kids become bullies. Bullied kids often grow up to be adult bullies too. If it werenít for Christina Bakerís mom, I wonder what might have happened to me, because she is the one who made me see her daughter as a regular person, not some random new girl that nobody liked at school.

Both mothers had a hand in the result; my mom didnít defend me to Christinaís mother and insist that her daughter would never act that way nor did she interfere in the process of my spending time with Christina. If she had, I would not have had that much-needed, humbling experience that changed my course of behavior.

Parents today are often too quick to defend their kids. The reality is that sometimes it is difficult to believe that our children would behave in ugly ways, particularly when we believe we have raised them to behave differently. But young people test their mettle in lots of ways, some inappropriate, and guidance is needed more than defense.

Thank you to Christina Bakerís mom and thank you to my own mother who understood that I wasnít a perfect little angel. And to Christina, I truly am sorry for treating you so meanly. I have thought about you over the years, wondering where you were. I hope that you can forgive me for the pain I caused you all those years ago.

Next week, I will share with you more incidents of being bullied growing up, as it continued into junior high and high school.
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