The day my eye doctor told my Mother I needed glasses must have broken her heart. I was 9 years old at the time and I could plainly see the disappointment on her face. Her thought process must have gone something like this:
My daughter? In glasses? Looking like some kind of a loser dork? Why not just give her some head gear and a back brace and call it a day! Oh, how humiliating!
As for myself, I happened to be pleased with the diagnosis. I thought glasses made people look smart and wildly creative and I could barely wait try mine on.
“At least tell me she only needs them to read!” my Mother begged our eye doctor.
He gave her a funny look. “Actually, she should wear them all day.”
My Mother groaned; I beamed.
Dejected, my Mother set about scouring the walls for the most fashionable pair of eye glasses she could find. I picked out a pair of heavy black frames, convinced that these were exactly the sort of glasses a brilliant scientist or a nobel peace prize winning author would wear.
“Not those!” my Mother snapped, “You’ll looked like schoolmarm!”
Finally, she picked out something atrociously feminine and pink, but I didn’t care. Even after she had the lenses tinted rose, I knew they would still make me look like the smartest kid in the class.
Of course, I severely overestimated the ‘cool factor’ of my new glasses. I didn’t make it through 5 minutes of recess before the teasing started.
My main offender was a little girl named Robin Birmheimer. (Yes, I changed her name) Robin was the type of little girl who always donned a dress, always shined her shoes, and always wore ribbons in her hair. She was pretty, she was proper, and she was constantly surrounded by a gaggle of girls who wanted to be just like her. This group of future stay-at-home-Mom’s rarely actually played during recess. They didn’t want to get their hands dirty. So, to amuse themselves, they strutted around the playground, seeking out other children to make fun of.
They never bothered me. That is, until I got my glasses.
“Oh look! V’s got four eyes!” Robin would screech.
“Four eyes! Four eyes!” her shrieking friends would echo as they laughed hysterically.
It was such a lame insult, but my cheeks stilled burned with embarrassment. No little kid likes being singled out and I was no exception.
At first, I tried to reason with Robin. But I couldn’t convince Ms. Popples Backpack that glasses were cool. Then, I tried to bribe her. But the fact that I loaned her my markers during art class was forgotten immediately after the bell rang for recess. I thought about punching her in the face, but I knew the punishment I’d receive for such a transgression would far outweigh my satisfaction in busting her snotty little lip. Finally, I realized I had to fight fire with fire. The only problem was Robin was so annoyingly perfect that I was having a hard time coming up with a clever way to insult her.
After a couple of weeks of suffering in silence, I decided to tap my one and only secret weapon. Namely, my Mother: The Queen of Mean.
Please keep in mind that telling my Mother about my little problem at school was almost as hard as dealing with it. My Mother has always been obsessed with image and status, so admitting to her that I was unpopular with even one girl in my class was a very daunting task. However, I knew from experience that no one could cut a 9 year old girl down to size like my Mother could.
Tentatively, I told her, “Mom? There’s this girl at school who keeps making fun of me since I got my glasses. She calls me ‘Four Eyes.’”
My Mother sighed. “Christ. I knew this would happen.”
“How do I make her stop?”
“Is she fat?”
“Is she poor?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Is she ugly?”
“No, she’s really pretty.” I replied bleakly. It was starting to look like the Queen on Mean was no match for the nefarious Robin Birmheimer.
But my Mom didn’t look worried in the least. She scrunched up her face a little and slowly tapped her chin with her index finger. Then, she asked:
“What’s her name?”
“Oh, that’s easy then!” my Mother exclaimed. “Just call her Robin Birdbath!”
I raised my eyebrow skeptically. “Isn’t that a little….stupid?”
“See, that’s your problem,” my Mother criticized, “You’re always trying to outsmart everyone. You’re 9 years old. It’s best to keep things like this simple.”
I was still leery, but it was worth a shot. So the next day in school when Robin hurled a ‘four eyes’ in my direction, I shot a ‘Robin Birdbath’ right back at her. You can imagine my surprise when Robin’s face froze, her friends snickered, and a nearby boy guffawed. She bit her lip, obviously struggling to think of a come-back, but that’s when the other kids started ‘tweeting’ at her. Overwhelmed by this sudden shift in power, Robin turned tail and ran.
I was victorious!
And who did I have to thank? Why, My Mother, of course!
I’ve said this before, but a lot of parents seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a kid. Sure, my Mother could have told me to ‘kill Robin with kindness,’ thus setting me up for a lifelong role as a doormat. She also could have called Robin’s parents or enlisted in the help of my teacher, thereby convincing Robin to add the word ‘tattletale’ to her repartee of insults and bad humor. This is, after all, what most parents do.
This is also why their geeky, loner, future grade school massacring kids aren’t asking them for help when the kids at school start teasing them. The kids know damned well they aren’t going to do anything useful.
A kid learns empathy not just from experiencing bad treatment, but by coming out on top sometimes. His sympathy for others originates from his knowledge of how hard it was for him personally to stand up to his abuser and demand to be treated decently. Not only that, but there is a certain pride that one gains after defending oneself.
However, if a child never comes out on top, his empathy is replaced by rage. Most kids can’t abide by being the weaker kid all of the time and all you’re doing by insisting on solving all of his problems from him is forcing him into the position of the Perpetual Loser. Pretty soon, payback will be the only thing he thinks about. He’ll become consumed with the idea of coming out on top someday, even if it means clawing to the top via the murdered bodies of his classmates.
In short, I’m saying that video games aren’t to be blamed for school shootings. Nor is it lack of religion, immoral television programming, or Harry fucking Potter. Children have been vicious, mean, little fuckers for generations. This will never change. But easy access to their Dad’s hunting rifle never made any of them into murders.
Our problem is ineffectual parents who spend more time defending their kids than they do giving them the tools they need to defend themselves. You can only protect your offspring for so long. After awhile, you’re going to need to teach them how to cope.
If you’re constantly solving your child’s problems, he’s never going to learn to solve his own. If you’re eternally reprimanding every single person who talks to your precious in anything but the kindest and gentlest of voices, he will never learn to deal with abrasive personalities. Consistently shielding him from the world only heightens his shock when he gets dropped into the jungle that is High School and realizes for the first time ever that Mommy can’t force everyone to love him. A kid can’t hide behind Mama Bear forever, so why not encourage him to start sticking up for himself as soon as possible?
As far as parents go, my Mother was probably one of the worst. She did almost everything wrong. But, in this case, she did the right thing. Instead of offering to talk to Robin on my behalf or something similarly ridiculous, she sat down with me and brainstormed my best course of action. Because of this, Robin Birmheimer ended up suffering nothing more than a bruised ego, as opposed to a shotgun shell to the head.
That day, when I got home from school, my Mother was actually waiting for me.
“How did it go?” she eagerly inquired.
“It worked! It really worked!”
“I told you so! I doubt that girl will ever bother you again!”
“Nope! But if she does, I know exactly what to say.”
I grinned happily at my Mother; she winked. I was sincerely glad I had confided in her.
For a second there, we almost bonded.
(For the record, I still have a bit of a fetish when it comes to eye glasses.)
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