Hello, My Name Isn’t Jessica Alco-Hallock and I’m Not Anorexic.
I was at the park with Wes, when three middle-school-aged boys dashed in front of us, heading toward the swings. The smallest and slowest of the three boys trailed behind and by the time he caught up, there wasn't a swing available for him. "Dummy!” said the tallest and fastest boy. Though it seemed playful, I couldn’t help going to that empathetic place, thinking about how that impacts the little guy’s feelings. Then I thought about Wes. Will he be called a “dummy” in front of a group of friends? How will it impact him? My heart felt heavy for a moment, then I picked up our butterball son, gave his squishy cheek a kiss and walked to the slide.
From calling a friend “dummy” in the park to posting humiliating things on the Internet, bullying in essence is public shaming. Making someone feel small, to feel big.
Every morning in middle school, I was greeted by a class clown, Milton, with “Good morning, Jessica Alco-Hallock!” to which, everyone guffawed. He constantly made fun of my glazed eyes when I came to school. Only close friends knew at the time, but my eyes were glazed over because my dad smoked pot in the morning and I essentially ate breakfast in a hot box. If I look at the scenario, it may have been bullying on paper but my attitude has always been to shake it off and ignore it. I never felt bullied. I dealt with much worse and names like this didn’t rattle my cage.
Then there was the time I walked into Mr. Orloff’s geometry class a few minutes after the bell rang. “Hey look! It’s anorexic-girl!” said someone in the sea of seats. When my classmate, Rachel, had kindly announced to the class that I had entered the room, I smiled gently and found my way to my seat. Was I irritated that she didn’t announce me as my proper name, Queen Jessica? Sure. But I brushed it off, went on to write a letter to my best friend (making the most of my time in geometry, clearly) and folded it into a perfect little heart.
Rachel apologized to me after class. I thanked her, accepted the apology and moved on. But she wasn’t the only one who made fun of my weight. Those comments were directed at me for years and on our Senior Grad Day at a water park, various groups of classmates visited where I laid-out in a bikini to let me know I wasn’t as skinny as they thought I was. Thanks, I guess?
And funny enough, Milton showed up at my house years later to smoke pot WITH MY DAD. What? Yes, I’ll say it again. The same guy that made fun of my glazed eyes in middle school was sitting on my living room couch hot boxing with my dad in our twenties. Everything comes full circle.
If I think of where my attitude about bullying came from, it’s from my parents. My dad has a “you can’t (and you really don’t want to, trust me) mess with me” attitude and my mom is a spirited fighter that looks sweet, but she’s feisty and tough. I never told them about either of these exchanges. Not because I didn’t feel safe to, but because they never felt like a threat. Through their actions and interactions in public, I saw my parents stand up for themselves, take action, and never let anyone walk all over them. I’m not saying we were perfect. We had a ton of heavy things within our family that we were constantly working through but I learned how to shake off the small stuff, stand up for what s right and take action, through my parent’s example. If you asked them one thing they’re proud of that I got from them, this likely wouldn’t make the list. It was just a way of life for them.
Kids are mean. People will be mean. Looking back, I feel stronger that I never let bullying words get to me, and ironically, the two classmates who spearheaded "Jessica Alco-Hallock" and "anorexic girl" are in my close circle of friends back home. I love them dearly.
Wes will no doubt get hit, called names and someone may post a humiliating photo of him online, since social media is a popular hangout for trolls and bullies. And I know it hurts our entire being to think of our sweet babies getting bullied but we cannot prevent them from it entirely, so we must teach them how to handle it by our example. While I wouldn’t choose to spend extra time with the baby who hits, scratches and pinches, I do think it's good for Wes to be exposed to him so he sees how to deal with it at an early age.
If we didn’t have a voice before, let’s use this new chapter of being parents as an opportunity to practice and build our problem solving abilities, become better and stronger communicators, take action for what we believe in, and let our kids see how we work through challenges. They will learn from us. As I’m writing this, I am reminding myself that I got through “bullying” and those challenging awkward years, and all of our kids will get through them, too. Let's be their advocates and protectors when they need it and be an example of how to use strength and endurance to power through.