- March 20, 2014 in Columnists
Blaming the pony
A week before I started eighth grade, my mother took me clothes shopping at K-Mart. I was horrified when she wanted to buy me store brand tennis shoes. I knew if I wore those shoes to school while other kids were sporting Nike, Converse and Vans, I’d be a sitting duck for ridicule. I’d watched guys get clowned mercilessly for their shoes the previous year. I should’ve been able to wear whatever I wanted without fear of harassment, but I knew better. I convinced my mom to at least get me some Chuck Taylor’s and I was straight. Humiliation averted.
In North Carolina this past week, 9 year old Grayson Bruce is being homeschooled because the principal of Chandler Elementary banned Bruce from bringing his “My Little Pony” backpack to school, claiming it was a target for bullies. Some kids at school had been making the boy’s life a living hell for carrying the backpack.
Two months earlier in the same state, an 11-year-old boy attempted suicide after he was tormented for liking “My Little Pony.” The boy is still in the hospital with brain damage.
School officials need to grow a pair and shut down the bullies, not throw up their hands and tell a boy to hide something he likes. Grayson Bruce isn’t doing anything wrong. Why should he have to change his behavior? If a boy grabs a girl’s butt at school, is the school going to tell the girl to dress differently to ward off attention? Perhaps a black kid called the N-word should bleach his skin. Maybe the little fat kid should just start eating salads when people are harassing him.
To be honest, I bristle when I hear the word “bully” or “bullying” these days because I think it’s overused. If someone says something mean once on the playground, that’s just life. Arguments and angry words are part of growing up. There’s probably not a person who ever went to school who wasn’t called a name at some point. But not everyone was bullied.
And now, too often, we have people accusing others of bullying them just as a means of labeling someone and shutting down debate.
That’s why I wish people would use the term tormenting. That’s what’s happening and it’s not new. In my elementary school, a little girl named Jeannie was singled out for abuse. Kids said she had cooties and told her she was ugly. No one liked her. People picked on her every day. Bystanders laughed at her too because they were terrified of becoming targets themselves. I didn’t tease her, but I was just as bad because I saw it and did nothing. It’s a lonely existence when you absolutely hate going to school because you know you can’t go one day without being harassed. That’s bullying. That’s tormenting.
That’s what Grayson Bruce has had to put up with and when he sought help like he was supposed to, the school let him down by not holding his tormentors accountable. That boy should be able to bring a “My Little Pony” backpack or lunchbox to school. A school should have a strict no tormenting policy.
These kids killing themselves aren’t kids who were embarrassed once on the playground. These are kids who live a daily nightmare. That’s got to stop.
Today I can’t tell you what brand of shoes I have. My awesome ride is a 2003 Dodge Caravan. My badass dog is a Shih Tzu-Poodle puppy. I carry a “murse” with my iPad, phone and wallet in that baby. The other day, I rocked a nice Hawaiian shirt that I got seven years ago and my brother clowned me saying Carmen Miranda wanted her blouse back (that’s funny!) but it doesn’t matter. I do what I want and I don’t care what anyone thinks.
But I’m 47. Grayson Bruce does what he wants and he’s 9. Even with all the bashing and tormenting he’s put up with, he still wants to take that backpack to school. I wish I had this kid’s guts when I was his age.
I wish his school officials did now.