The year was 1972 and my parents had just moved our family back to Arizona from Ohio. My school-aged siblings and I were enrolled in a religious school – grades K-8. I remember that every morning, all the children in the school would file out of our classrooms, stand in two lines, face the flagpole and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the Hail Mary. I was in 5th grade.
Fifth grade wasn’t too bad for me. The trouble started in 6th grade. Joey Polanski and his cohorts decided it was a good idea to relentlessly harass me. They would call me names, steal a basketball I had brought to school for recess, and in general, make life miserable for me. I told my parents, but was told, “Just tell them, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.'” Really??!! That was the solution? The teasing continued in 7th grade with Mike Hayes and his buddies joining in on ‘the fun’. Eighth grade was a blur because my mom had my little sister halfway through the school year.
I homeschooled my children for seven years. When they finally went to public school, I told them that if they were ever bullied, to let me know and I would be down at the school office in a heartbeat. I wanted to let my children know I would defend them because my parents never defended me.
My parents knew about the bullying, my teachers knew about the bullying, the school principal knew about the bullying, and yet, nothing was ever done. I was deemed “too sensitive” and it was thought that I should grow a backbone, or a pair of balls, or learn character from the relentless bullying. Instead, it brought thoughts of suicide, running away and abandonment. I guess in a way, the years of shame at the hands of those boys did make me a little stronger. In those days, nearly 45 years ago, bullying was seen as something that built character in the bullied. I disagree. It builds fear, anxiety and low self esteem.
Nothing was done to Joey and his Band of Brothers because he was from one of the most prominent families in the church community. At that time, I was sacrificed on the altar of “Don’t make waves”. To this day, nothing makes me more angry than to hear about bullying, or to hear my mom talk about the friendship she has with Joey’s mom (I believe his dad has since passed on). Yes, I guess I need to “get over it” and yes, that experience did shape who I am today. However, I will never just stand by and let someone be bullied. Stay tuned. . . .