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The Ballad of the Bully and the Nimble Parent

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Normally I'd crack wise about busting up the little bully and at the same time cartoonishly exaggerate my right fist pounding into its opposite palm, but this time I... okay, well I did exactly that BUT I also quickly pivoted to gentle tones, listened more than I got ticked off, and comforted more than I began harboring weapons of mass humiliation to destroy the 6-year-old fool who's making my first grader's daytimes more miserable than they ought ever to be.

My youngest daughter loves school. Always has. Until two weeks ago when we spied a hairline fracture in her colorful armor. And then there was that day she came home, and collapsed crying into her over-sized stuffed animal bear. He's named Barbaloot, but that's not important right now. She looked up at me, eyes puffy, the color of pink Valentine sweeties, and said, matter-of-factly, "I hate school." What I did in response surprised me, and, I think, both of my girls too. Maybe it was because I was on the phone with my wife at the time all of this went down. Being near her, even if it's only our voices and the space occupied by our intermittent pauses that share a proximity of closeness, makes me want to be a better man and a legendary father.

After we wrapped up our what's-for-dinner-tonight chat, I got down on the floor to lay next to my littlest girl, who was by then completely underneath of and engulfed by the plush bear. Seeing me on the family room carpet, something of a rarity these days, instantaneously made her want to be nearer to me, to be made warm, protected, and loved immensely. We talked, both of us smothered by Barbaloot, about how the things the mean boy was saying to her -- that she is stupid/that he is the smartest kid in the class -- are not, in reality, him talking about her at all, that she is just the one he is saying these hurtful things to right now at this precise moment in time. But last year, at the other school he attended, it was someone else and next year, someone else again. He'll go on projecting his own fears and insecurities outward, because he doesn't actually believe that he is smart or safe or loved or has any prospects of ever being a productive human being capable of feeling honest emotions for another person. Okay, maybe I am taking it too far, it wouldn't be the first time... or last, but you get my point. I hope. And I think she did too. I hope.

I went on to say that if she felt like she could, that she might want to embody, not exactly verbalize mind you, a "whatever, dude" 'tude when the stooge spews his verbal diarrhea again in her direction or in the general direction of her buddies. My Brave Little Toaster of a child said that she'll try and added that she knows she's smart and that she doesn't really believe what he says about her but that it still hurts.

My daughter, along with yours and yours and yours too, deserves way more from this one boy and from every single person she'll meet from here on out. I'd like to think that the nimble, less-reactive version of me is being of some assistance to her as she starts to realize this fact, and begins to demand better from those with whom she shares space in this world.

*An unedited version of this story first appeared on Jeff's blog, Out With The Kids.