Nancy Davis Kho

Nancy Davis Kho
Oakland, California, USA
April 30
I'm a writer, a reader, a bike wife, a mom, and a music fan. And they don't call me Aunt Blabby for nothing. I figure if half of you are laughing WITH me and the other half AT me, we're all still laughing. I look forward to finding out which side you're on.

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JUNE 27, 2011 11:22PM

Bully for Bravado

Rate: 16 Flag

 On the last day of school this year, my youngest daughter was tying her shoes in the front hall while I stood waiting with her lunchbox. She asked, "Do you remember fourth grade, Mom?" as she struggled to lace up the Chuck Taylors. She's had a great fourth grade year, loved her teacher, had fun with her friends, learned and matured without even realizing it.

I think my answer surprised both of us. "I did. I hated it. It was the worst year of school I ever had."

My fourth grade tormenter looked like a Gap Kids model. "C" had porcelain skin, perfect white teeth, cornflower eyes, and blonde hair that hung thick and straight, regardless of weather conditions. She arrived in Mrs. McKenna's classroom, took one look around, and decided that my best friend Kitty, the one whose family I vacationed with every summer, the one who shared the troll love, was better suited to be HER best friend. She just needed to figure out how to drive me away from the herd.

She teased me for being fat, for wearing glasses. She treated me like I was stupid, and got other kids to laugh at me. The worst of it was how, for days at a time, she was kind to me, inviting me to birthday parties and sleepovers. Then BAM - I was back in the doghouse, not knowing why. It turned out that she passed notes around to the girls in class written in her perfect handwriting and decorated with flowers - "Don't talk to Nancy until Friday." The other girls, appropriately terrified of being on the receiving end of C's machinations, complied.

I remember eating lunch alone, fleeing the classroom in tears day after day. I begged my parents to let me transfer to a different school. On the last day of fourth grade, the cage door swung wide open. The middle schools in my town went from 5th-8th grade, and C and I were heading in different directions for the next four years. I felt the specific joy that accrues to knowing that a bad situation is well and truly over.

When we met again for high school, I had gained two invaluable weapons: perspective, and confidence. I realized by 9th grade that the problem lay not with me, but with her. And with a close group of new friends at my side - one that eventually included Kitty again, much to our mutual and ongoing delight - C had no power over me. She remained beautiful and unfriendly, and completely irrelevant to me. As is always the case with a bully, I learned later that C's family life was particularly unsavory during the year she picked on me. I remember thinking, "That's a shame, but it's no excuse."

A dozen years out of high school I was working in San Francisco. I left my desk one day and went out for a late-afternoon waddle in the November sunshine, 8 months pregnant with my first daughter, and I passed C on the sidewalk. It would be cliché to say that she was shrunken and ugly from all the bad karma she'd put out into the world. The truth is, she was still drop dead gorgeous and, mindful of my spherical form, I put my head down and kept walking.

Then I thought: why? My life turned out great. And I wanted her to know it. I pivoted and called her name, and we stood there on the sidewalk chatting. Anyone walking by might have thought we were two old friends. The truth is, she had as big an impact on my life as any good friend might. Because of the way she treated me, my parents' belief that I had the resiliency to get through a hard situation was surfaced, helping stoke my own confidence. Her actions helped shape me into the person I am now, someone who strives for compassion, a parent who will never tolerate bullying by my children. I know all too well that a person doesn't have power over me unless I give it to them.

But I guess C still held one trump card, impervious to all my bravado. As I only realized the other day in the front hallway, she managed to make me hold my breath from the last day of my fourth grade until the last day of fourth grade had passed safely for both my daughters.

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parenting, school, bullies, family

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Wonderful piece! I have a daughter who just finished 4th grade, with some ups and downs with the "mean girls". Luckily, all ended well this year.
Inspiration for me as a mother. Thank you!
My 4th grade was terrible, too. J was my mean girl. I think her cruelty was a key part in my growing to be a compassionate person. If life had gone on with friendliness and good times with my classmates, I'd have thought that was normal. Now, I know to treasure it when it happens. Bullies teach us many things, some of which are valuable.
I really enjoyed that story. I have nieces that are going through the same type of thing in school. It is so hard listening to their stories of being bullied by others and trying to explain what they should do. They look to us for the answers and sometimes it's just not easy. I try my best but this story inspired me! Thanks.
You all should know that my 77 year old mom, upon reading my reminiscence of the bullying episode, claims that she never knew a thing about it. "If I had, I woulda belted that girl." So maybe I kept it under my hat more than I realized. Good to know my mother still has my back.
In third grade, my daughter was picked as the best friend of someone like C. She got the instructions not to talk to other kids. It was pretty hard to deal with, particularly since my daughter wasn't socially sophisticated and unable to see the manipulation. Then, of course, came the day when my daughter was the one to shun and she'd cut her other friends to be the best friend of C.

It seemed like second grade was way too early to learn the hard way about dealing with manipulative people.
I love this. I remember those days of being suddenly "in" and suddenly "out" with no idea why. Glad you got perspective and didn't internalize C's nastiness.
I have been the one kid who was bullied from 4th grade until highschool graduation. Sadly I never recovered from it. I don't think there will ever be a time
Wow. She gave you really strong lungs, too! Congratulations. My bully was in fifth grade...
Well told, Nancy. You had me wanting to smack that brat upside the head all the way thru the piece. And, yes, I was hoping you'd found her "shrunken and ugly" in that last chance meet. She will be, of course, eventually.
Really enjoyed this piece. I'm sorry kids have to go through this. How does a kid even think of something like organizing a shunning? Where does that idea even come from? It should be grounds for discipline, though. I guess parents and teachers need to tell kids that it's not ok and that they should report that behavior. I don't think that kids should be protected from everything and should be allowed to work out their differences alone in most cases, but ostracism is an extremely cruel weapon. As you say, it could indicate that something is going on in the bully's home, too.
Whenever I hear someone say, "Oh, these are the best years," I want to junk punch them. My bully was called Dolly. When I'd ask to play with her, she and her friend would snicker and say, "Sure. You can be our maid." Karma got a hold of her though. And while I still hurt a little remembering the mean things she said about me and my mother, I still accepted her request on Facebook. Because I'm trying to be the better person. Great post. If it hasn't been already, bullies would make an interesting open call.
I am on the internet searching for blogs and advice about bullying. I had tears in my eyes reading your blog. Especially the part about the role your parents played during your 4th grade year. I am looking for advice for my niece. Thanks!