Bing has had a messed up back since December. Our lives have changed a lot because of this. Bing is our house muscle. She brings up the Christmas boxes from the basement in December and takes them back down in January. She flips our mattresses every six weeks. She carries in the groceries for me, is our designated driver everywhere.
That all changed in December when she started having unexplained back problems. It grew worse to the point where she had to sleep in the guest room each night because she had to get up and walk every few hours, couldn't stand the pain.
Now, a few months later, she is better but not fully back. We have someone else mow the yard. Liv and I have become expert mattress flippers. We also brought up the Christmas decorations and took them down. We bring in the groceries.
I had been worrying about getting my garden tilled. Bing tills it every Spring for me and when I brought it up, she said she'd figure something out.
Yesterday, she told me that she had a solution. She was going to have three kids from one of her classes come over and do it and in payment, she would pay their way to a movie and take them out for pizza. They had agreed on the documentary, Bully. Parents had to be asked for permission and that was achieved.
So, early this morning, we had two strong guys and one strong girl till the garden. The soil was perfectly ready. We had rain last week, but not too much, so the soil was very tillable. It took them less than an hour. Bing supervised and then they all came in and messed around with Bing's cameras and music instruments until it was time for the movie.
Liv peeked out shyly at them when they came in. I noticed that she was careful to be fully dressed with hair perfectly pulled back in a pony tail before she even came downstairs. They drew her in skillfully, asking her to jam with them on her violin as one boy played piano while another played drums and the girl played guitar. They seemed to have a good time. Bing is good with high school kids, me not so much.
And then we all jumped into the van to go to see the movie, Bully.
I was surprised at how crowded the theater was. And astounded at how much high school boys eat. But we all settled in and there was a small discussion of whether the song, Someone I Used To Know was a brilliant piece of genius (YES) or just a fluke. Then the lights dimmed.
I was drawn in immediately, sitting in between Bing and Liv. You could have heard a pin drop as the screen filled with an anguished father's face talking about the suicide of his son. Then old home movies were played of this sweet little boy as a giggling toddler being tickled by his father, taught to ride a bike and watching video games.
And then back to his watery eyed father talking about how other boys stole his clothes in gym and his son had no way to leave, no towels were left for him either and he had to stand shivering and naked, hoping someone would wander back in and then, god...have to be seen naked in order to get help.
Other bully stories were told. I thought that Bing was going to get up and storm out as we were forced to watch a completely clueless and imbecilic middle school assistant principal force a child being tormented by another to "shake hands and be friends, say sorry now!" to his bullier. And when parents came to see this dumbass educator after they received footage of their son being stabbed with pencils, strangled and slapped around by bullies on the bus, she sweetly informed them that she had sat in on that bus many, many times and "They are as good as gold!"
Right. Like they are going to act up with the assistant principal on board.
And after the bewildered and astonished parents had to endure her idiotic assurances that "Boys will be boys!"....she then further disrespected them by pulling out photos of her grandchildren to show them.
"Yes, those are my babies!" she said, proudly. As if this is what they had come to talk about with her.
Bing and I looked at each other incredulously.
The documentary is powerful and not meant for the faint of heart. It raises horribly difficult questions.
I looked down at Liv towards the end of the movie and saw tears streaming down her face.
As we walked to the car, I leaned in close to her and asked her if she had any bullies at her school. She gave me a long look before she answered.
"When I went to Montessori," she said. "NO. No bullying was ever allowed. But, this year at St. Stan's? Yeah, there are a few bullies."
I asked her if she was bullied.
"Not anymore," she said. "I just laughed, rolled my eyes and made fun of their limited vocabulary and they backed off, " she said. "But, yeah....a few kids get bullied, especially the boys, but some of the girls too. You know my friend, Aaron?"
"He used to be bullied all the time because he is so small but then he built a rocket last year and won the science fair and he said that it must have bought him respect or something, because they left him alone after that."
We were at the car, so no time to discuss it further until Bing dropped us home. But, we all talked about it and all three of the high school students admitted that while they'd never personally experienced bullying, that they'd witnessed it.
"You don't want to step in to defend the person, though," the lone girl said. "If you do that, it could turn to bullying you, you know?"
I thought about that. We all agreed that the middle school assistant principal was a total idiot, but the kids seemed to think this was a common occurrence.
"The higher you get up the high school administrative chain, the more clueless they get," they commented.
They all agreed that Bing's classroom, also known in the school as Narnia, is bully free. In fact, they said that Ms. Bing actually had a big sign next to the front door that says, "No bullying allowed. All who enter here are persons of great value."
I smiled. That is SO like her.
After Bing dropped Liv and me off at the house while she went to keep her promise about providing pizza, I asked Liv to sit down on the sofa with me to talk.
This is the new Liv, the junior high model. The grade school Liv would have jumped into my lap like a frisky puppy. This Liv is less eager to talk, discuss. More prone to "I vant to be ALONE!"
But, I felt it was important. Pointed to my watch. Said I needed 15 minutes tops. My new junior high Liv actually checked the time on my watch and said it out loud before she sat down.
"So," I asked her. "What did you originally get bullied about?"
Liv looked askance, didn't answer. Pulled a pillow up to hug.
Finally, she whispered, "You know."
I took a breath. "Because of me?" I asked her. "Because of Bing and me being partners?"
She nodded. "I was pretty stupid, even though you warned me it might come up. I mean, I was just used to Montessori, how nobody cared about stuff like that. And I wasn't the only one who had two parents of the same sex. And, I mean, I thought this being a CATHOLIC school, you know...that they would be more....Christian...and stuff."
I felt my stomach roil.
"Was it awful?" I asked.
She looked at me carefully. Finally decided to tell the truth.
"Well, yeah, at first. I mean, it was bad enough that I was the only seventh grader who made the varsity basketball team and some of those girls were really really mad at me since I beat out their friend. One of them asked me if I was a lesbo like my mother. Another asked me how it felt to know that my mother was going straight to hell when she died. It was nasty."
I thought of that first month of school when Liv was so withdrawn, so quiet, so needy, so shaky. Of the endless discussions Bing and I had about just yanking her out of this school. But, Liv had been adamant about staying, sticking it out.
I asked her why she did that, why she didn't just ask us to move her to a different school.
Liv took another big breath.
"I figured it was a fight I would probably have in most schools, I mean...bigots are everywhere, right? So, I just decided to stay put. Besides, you had WARNED me and I hadn't listened and if I chickened out, well...you would have been right and me wrong."
We both smiled. She is a chip off the old block. We both detest being proven wrong about anything.
Liv shrugged. "And then, well....I made friends with Aaron, Leah and Molly and we were kind of a band of nerds. It helped to have friends. And then when Brandy was making fun of me one day, asking me if I liked watching all the other girls on the team take showers, I just took her on. She has this sibilant s, so she sort of hisses her s's and I asked her to repeat the word showers but maybe she could speak without hissing her s. It was mean, I know...but she shut up right away and then when we were at lunch, I walked by the mean girls table and one of them said Don't even think of sitting here, LIZ and I just laughed and told them that I didn't feel like having Cassandra getting her bad breath all over my sandwich or Brandy hissing her s's and spitting, so no worries. So...one more shut up. And then, I started being a valid member of the basketball team and the rest of the girls started telling them to shut up whenever they made fun of me, so...well...I was lucky. Not all kids are lucky, Mama and not all kids grow up with a mother who models snappy comeback lines either. I'm not proud of how I behaved, but it did shut them up."
I sat there with my heart in my throat. It isn't as if I hadn't seen this coming. From the day she was born, I worried that she'd be hurt by others because of me. I just...it's hard to explain. And I kept thinking ridiculous things like why on earth would a Catholic family name their child Brandy? I mean...really?
Liv asked if we were finished talking and I said yes. She got up to go watch television while I made us grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner.
But, I will think about this movie for a long time. I think every parent, every student, every teacher and every administrator should see this. Especially parents with children named Brandy who make a sport of bullying other children.
So, what do you think about bullying? Were you ever bullied? And if so, how did you handle it?