Back to the bus stop
We'd timed the trip before school started, and he and the friend could make it in seven minutes. I'd walked almost that long, by myself, to get to second grade, and he was a year older than that.
The route has a walking path the entire way, though there is a quarter-mile gap that's out of sight of both parents and the road. We knew most of the kids from our immediate neighborhood who would get on at the same stop, and I knew that they know how to behave.
What we didn't know, though, was the trouble that could pop up along the hidden quarter-mile gap. It came yesterday in the form of a fifth grader who popped up out of the desert and decided to threaten Big Guy.
"Don't talk to me. Don't even look at me," he warned. "If you do, I'll mess you up."
I didn't hear about this from Big Guy. His friend was the one who told me. "I told Big Guy to come over by me and calm down, and he listened to me," she said later.
"You did the right thing," I told her. "You're a good friend."
"I'm not tattling, right?" she asked.
"No, you're not," I said. "You're not telling me something to get him in trouble. You're telling me because you know he needs help."
I knew I had to broach the subject with Big Guy, but I also knew it would take more tact and subtlety than I usually exhibit. If I asked him if he were being bullied, his burgeoning male ego would force him to deny it. If I gave both guys discreet tips for dealing with harassment, they'd scrunch up their faces and ask why I was telling them. If I told him that I knew what had happened, he'd get mad at his friend for telling me.
So I chose the story of a friend of Big Guy's who'd been bullied last year. That situation got so bad that the parents started homeschooling.
"I know it happens sometimes at your school, and it happens to good kids, too," I told him. "If it ever happens to you, you need to let me or a teacher know about it."
"Why didn't the parents tell the teachers?" he asked.
"They did, but bullies sometimes are hard to catch. They'll try to hide and do it," I said, thinking of the way the fifth grader had popped out of the sand yesterday. "They're actually afraid, so they feel like they need to make someone else afraid to make themselves feel better."
"That's just crazy!"
"It is," I agreed. "Some are even sneakier than that. They'll pick on another person when no one's watching, and they want someone to catch the other person retaliating so that the other person gets in trouble. You really have to watch out. Promise me you'll tell me if anyone does that to you?"
"I will," he said.
And, of course, he didn't, just like he didn't tell me for months last year when a teen-ager was hassling the littler neighborhood kids. Just like he didn't say a word until August about his dad's deployment.
I wonder if part of that is because of my "unless someone's bleeding or burning, I don't need to know" anti-tattling edict. It's not that I don't care what goes on. It's just that I don't feel compelled to micromanage every little brotherly dispute. Maybe Big Guy's interpreting that message to mean "take care of the bully yourself."
This morning, he didn't have to try to take care of anything himself. I gathered up him, his friend and Rita, and we walked the third of a mile together. It's always good to have a ferocious watch dog with you in such situations, even if the only danger she'd ever pose a kid is accidental drowning by licking.
But the bully doesn't know that.
Copyright 2011 Debra Legg All rights reserved.