It probably goes without saying but, with 5 kids, we've been on every side of the bullying issue. But, I'll never forget one incident that my family refers to as, "The White Ribbon Campaign." It's a saga about an unfortunate 5th grade boy, budding body parts, a spool of white satin ribbon, some Hitler-esque armbands and feminism gone awry. Unsurprisingly, my third daughter was right in the thick of things, yet again...
It started on a seemingly innocuous Wednesday afternoon in March, as I pulled into the parking lot of my children's Catholic grade school to drop something off. It doesn't matter what it was now -- a library book, a forgotten lunch, a signed permission slip. Trust me -- the events that transpired afterwards were enough to permanently erase minor details from memory. As I negotiated my parking space, I waved at Sue, another mother I vaguely knew, who was walking out of the school office with her son Chandler in tow. She did not wave back. Neither one of them looked happy. In fact, Chandler, a "spirited" boy, looked downright broken.
I hoped there wasn't a bug going around.
Turns out - there was a "bug!" I just didn't yet realize the bug was my very own daughter, one of the Queen Bees in a hive that buzzes around the 5th grade. My prescience hadn't kicked in full-throttle yet. I dropped off whatever it was in the school office and didn't give the matter a second thought, until later that afternoon in the carpool pick up line.
One thing I have to say about my darling offspring, if I listen for the right cues, and then proceed with the proper questioning, she will give herself right up. It's like watching an episode of "Law and Order" MVU (Mini Van Unit). One of the first things she rattled off about her school day was that, "Chandler went home early."
"Oh, yeah ... I saw him with his Mom. Was he sick? What did he have? What were his symptoms?"
When she hemmed and hawed around with her answer, I started to smell a rat, or at the very minimum I smelled a story. Something more interesting than a kid getting sick at school -- I mean, that happens every day, right? It's not exactly headline news.
"Remember I told you he was acting like such a PERV the other day?" She said.
"Telling other boys that he could see all the girls' training bras through their white uniform blouses?" I said, nervously, mom antennae rising. Yes, I remembered that.
"Yeah!" she answered. (She was visibly relieved that I recalled how inappropriate his behavior was, so I would be fully onboard with the consequences that got meted out at the hands of the 5th grade female criminal justice system.)
A group of girls in their class decided that the "pervertedness" of the boys in their class needed to be dealt with swiftly and surely. There was no time for pesky parental or teacher intervention. This called for vigilante justice. They would take the law into their own hands the very next day by making an example of Chandler.
Sure enough, the next morning, one of the girls brought a brand new unused spool of white satin ribbon and a pair of scissors from her mother's sewing kit and rallied several of the other girls outside of their classroom before school for a ribbon cutting ceremony of sorts. They cut lengths of ribbon, tied them around their forearms and called them "purity bands." They spent the rest of the day smugly impressed with their own homespun brand of sisterhood-inspired solidarity.
The original explanation that spread like wildfire throughout the school, was that the armbands were a sign of "the girls vs. the boys" and the girls, "not wanting remarks and undue attention called to their undergarments." (Bravo ladies -- very discreet!) But, like all things 5th grade-related, it morphed, and by third hour, kids were whispering that every girl wearing a white ribbon, "Hated Chandler!" Needless to say, it was all more than young Chandler was equipped to handle. Devastated, he could barely make it through his math class, and ended up in the principal's office until his mother could arrive to rescue him from the throes of vigilante justice.
Like an experienced priest in a confessional, I pulled the entire tale out of my daughter before we made it to the third traffic light home. The rest of the drive I was stunned and in disbelief, trying to decide the exact right course of action. There was not a doubt in my mind that I had a phone call to make and that my daughter had some serious amends to make. I was just sick when I looked in my rear view mirror at my own two innocent little boys in the backseat, just a few short years away from making their own ill-advised, pre-pubescent "bra remark" as Chandler had, only to pay a price excessively dear.
I called Chandler's mother and told her the story verbatim as I learned it from my daughter. (Well ... maybe I left out the word, "PERV!") The most important points seemed to be that:
-the girls should not have done what they did
-the girls did not dislike Chandler, just his remarks
-my daughter would be publicly apologizing to Chandler for her part and setting an example for her cohorts to do the same
In addition to acknowledging the snowball effect of her and her friends' actions, another thing I wanted my daughter to understand, was that her younger brothers, will probably "step in it" at some point down the road. Will she be comfortable with any level of disciplinary action meted out and deemed appropriate by a jury of their female peers? Something to think about ... she sure adores those younger brothers.
We required our daughter to apologize to Chandler. Her friends followed suit. Chandler apologized for his behavior as well. The entire episode blew over (as they always seem to do) after a few days.
Today all the kids involved are happy, healthy young adults who learned valuable life lessons when they were young. They love God, family, friends and are loved in return. With a modicum of awareness, parents can seize and actually embrace life's "teachable moments" to help their children grow into the kind and compassionate human beings they are truly meant to be.
For my part, I was determined that, feminist or not, with or without a bra, you've got to nip (pun intended) that homespun "wearing o' the white" to make a social statement. No good ever came from that...
Previously published on: