Few things strike fear into the heart of a single mother more than learning that her child is being bullied. When that child is a boy, it can be even more frightening because, let’s face it, boyworld is a very different place; one we just don’t know how to navigate. Recently, my son Alexander, 10, was coming home from school moping and quiet.
“What’s wrong, m’ijo?” I’d ask.
“Nothin’,” he’d answer, eyes on the floor.
Eventually, he admitted that a boy I shall call X had begun to torment him and his friends. X was physically attacking my son with the help of his two “wingmen” when no one was looking, and my son didn’t know what to do.
I took the issue of this new bullying up with school officials, and they promised to get a handle on it.
Of course, schools are limited in fixing such problems, and the bullying persisted in spite of efforts to punish the boy in question. Soon enough, Alexander started pretending to be sick in the morning, so that he wouldn’t have to face X at all.
I sat my son down and gave him the following advice: “Try talking about your feelings with the bully,” I said. “He probably has problems at home. Tell him it hurts you to be harassed, and try to find out why he’s doing it, see if you can help.”
Not only did the bullying persist with these efforts, it escalated.
I called Alexander’s father into the situation, hoping that he might be able to help. His advice was consistent with his non-confrontation demeanor: “Stay away from that kid. When you see him, run.”
My son ran.
X ran faster, thrilled by the chase.
The bullying escalated.
At this point, I told my boyfriend, The Cowboy, about what was going on. You might recall that The Cowboy is conservative whereas I am liberal, and he spent much of his youth in fist-fights in Wichita. He listened to the story and responded with a deep, hearty laugh.
“I beg your pardon,” I said, “but this isn’t funny.”
“No, I agree,” he said. “Bullying’s not funny. I’m laughing at you, darlin’. I mean, are you tryin’ to get him beat up, dear? Because that’s what it sounds like to me.”
I challenged The Cowboy to come up with a better plan. He immediately said my son needed to get X alone, look him dead in the eye and say, “I don’t want any trouble with you. But if you touch me again, I’ll break your (bleeping) nose.”
I blinked at my boyfriend in astonishment. “I could never,” I stammered. “We don’t curse!”
He shrugged. “Then enjoy mopping up Alexander’s blood, babe.”
I fumed for a while, as I often do when he makes sense in a way I had never considered before, but then I told my son to do as The Cowboy suggested. Alexander, to my surprise, immediately sat up straighter in his chair at the suggestion.
“I can do that?” he asked, eyes sparkling with new possibilities. I realized he was empowered by The Cowboy’s logic.
“Yes,” I said. “You can.”
Alexander was doubtful. No one had ever given him permission to curse before, or to menace, or to threaten anyone. I assured him it was okay, because we’d tried all the other ways and nothing had worked.
After a few coaching sessions with The Cowboy, Alexander went to school with his shoulders straight and his head held high. He took X aside and spoke The Cowboy’s lines.
X never bothered him again.
“How did you do that?” I asked The Cowboy, later.
He explained, “Bullies don’t pick on kids they know will fight back, because it ain’t about the fighting for them. It’s about terror. Soon as they know a kid’s gonna fight back, they find a new victim.”
It was the first lesson The Cowboy gave me and my son about how to live in boyworld, and one that likely saved us a lot of pain and suffering. I decided to trust The Cowboy from now on when he suggested ways to keep my son safe, no matter how much it went against my girlworld nature.