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Sticks and Stones

I have a mini Beastie who is currently 6, going on 26.  She’s a clever little thing, and I’m immensely proud of her.  She’s sassy but with a twinkle in her eye, a proper little firecracker.  She’s also very compassionate and quite often climbs into my lap to kiss me and cuddle when she thinks I’m having a bad day (usually pre-coffee or hangry).  Whenever we’ve gone to parent’s evening, her teachers comment on how lovely she is and that she’s quite popular amongst her peers. Last school fete, it took us 20min to get out of the gate cause loads of kids wanted to talk to her!

One thing bugs me horribly; there’s this one kid, *Billy* who since the first week of reception has been mentioned at least once a fortnight for being mean to her. Beastie is pretty resilient; she came home once with a black eye and a cut nose, she cheerfully told us that ‘*Ben* hit her with a stick’.  What happened was that *Ben* was playing with a stick and Beastie ran full pelt into it just as poor *Ben* swung it back! Total accident and Beastie knew it, apparently ‘Ben’ was crying he was so upset he’d hurt her.  Most days she comes home happily reporting that she’d been chased so much that she was really out of breath and that today she bumped heads with *Stevie* when they were playing Duck, Duck, Goose, so that’s why her lip was a bit bleeding. Then there are days when she came home talking about *Billy*, and it was completely different. *Billy* keeps shouting at me Mummy’ or ‘Mummy, *Billy* keeps following me and says he’s going to hurt me’ WTF?!!!

As you can imagine, I wanted to go into the school playground and tell that little shit to leave my daughter alone!  Instead, we talk about how it makes her feel, if she’s told her teachers and that I will always be there to support her.  I tell her to tell *Billy* firmly to leave her alone and to walk away from him.  I have also told her that if he tries to touch her, she should tell him not to touch her and that she has every right to push him away if he does.  The reason I haven’t gone into that school all guns blazing is that I’m trying to help Beastie resolve the problem herself so that she learns that she isn’t helpless, that she’s confident she can defend herself and not be frightened by this kid or any other bully she might come across in her life. 

I was born in the Philippines and moved to the UK in Oct 1986 aged 5.  I was promptly enrolled in the local primary school within two weeks of arriving in the UK.  I don’t remember it, but apparently I had been the one to ask if I could go to school so I clearly had enough confidence in myself that I’d be OK either that or I’d driven my parents crazy that first week that they did that suggestive parental mind control thing of making me think it was my idea!

My teacher was a lovely lady called Mrs Headon who also happened to be great friends with my Granny, so I was in great hands.  I remember my other classmates being very nice and welcoming apart from one kid called Mathew.  He seemed to take a dislike to me for some reason and would shout at me in the playground.  One day, after about a fortnight from starting, I remember playing in the playground when *Mathew* came up to me and began shouting loudly.  I tried to go away from him, but he kept coming towards me and eventually cornered me into this little alcove kind of place between the school hall and an adjoining classroom.  I don’t remember what he was screaming at me about but what I do remember is feeling very frightened and then the little sod began punching me.  I’d been taught that it wasn’t nice to hit other children, not to retaliate, etc., etc. so I remember feeling very small, very unsure of what to do next and utterly powerless. 

I don’t know how long I was there for, but it seemed an age, it was another boy, *Paul*, who helped me by putting himself between *Mathew* and me and telling him to leave me alone.  I’m not even sure if I’d told my teacher or even my parents about it.  Nothing was done or said about it to me after so either I hadn’t told, or it was brushed under the carpet as kids in the playground.   The rest of the school year was fairly uneventful, I never had trouble from *Mathew* after that other than a few evil eyes across the playground, he never shouted at me or cornered me again, but that feeling of not being able to protect myself haunted me for a very long time.    

My way of dealing with anyone trying to bully me at school after that was to gob off so much that they got bored and left me alone.  I was a walking target for crying out loud!  I was skinny, big ugly specs (that are now trendy!?!), had wonky teeth and I was a science geek to boot.   I had a big group of friends and I was good at sport so being in every inter-house sports team as well as the school netball, basketball and hockey team saved me from total ridicule but either way some girls (the popular, pretty ones) in my year didn’t like me so they would make shitty comments directed at me at various opportunities right up until 6th Form.  Yup, Mean Girls existed.  I was bitchy back as I didn’t know what else to do. 

Looking back over my 20’s and my early career (check me out being grown up with a career), I let myself be humiliated by people who I had initially trusted and admired.  It even resulted in me being signed off with stress for three months when I woke up at 3 am one night into my 4th year and couldn’t stop crying about going into work.  About three years later I was signed off again for a total of 3 months when I suddenly lost vision in my left eye thanks to a retinal bleed.  I was back and forth to different hospitals for consultations and treatments, they stopped the bleed and my vision restored to about 90% which the doctors were pretty relieved with.  I had been transparent throughout, but my then boss (also my former mentor) had told the rest of the department that she thought I was faking the whole thing and tried to get me sacked for gross misconduct.  She then continued to treat me with contempt in front of my co-workers and patients. I was a total wreck!

One co-worker persuaded me to report my boss to senior management after she had witnessed her screaming at me down the phone.  I wrote a formal letter to our Operations Manager but was told in writing ‘…I am sorry that you clash with her management style … Keep your head down and let it blow over…She is leaving soon anyway’.  Seriously!  I left that job not long after and went to work at a World renowned centre to prove to myself that I wasn’t useless and could cut it in a big tertiary hospital.   My new boss was lovely at first and pulled out the stops to get to me take that position instead of another.  I had a round trip of 5.5hrs when the trains ran properly to get there, but I was bloody determined to do it.  It was fast paced, and I was expected to know how things worked within a few weeks and when I took a bit longer to learn six different doctors’ ways of doing things, the sarcastic comments started.  What made it worse was her mood changed as often as she stuffed Snickers bars into her chops.  Honestly, we’d be having a perfectly normal conversation, then suddenly, a biting comment would be made followed by her stomping off down the corridor, and I’d be the shit on her shoe again. 

It wasn’t just me she was like it to.  Everyone in the department was miserable, but we were miserable together which made it a bit more bearable.   Having already experienced the utter uselessness of reporting workplace bullying to senior management, I sucked it up for 11 months until one day, when I got called into the office for a ‘chat’ and found my manager with the deputy taking minutes.  For flip's sake, you don’t take minutes for a bloody chat! Besides, I had enough of their sodding condescending ‘chats’!  I flipped and got angry in front of my ‘bullies’ for the first time.  I demanded to know what the intention of the ‘chat’ really was and told them that I didn’t appreciate being made to feel worthless by them.  I told them that if they wanted to have a formal meeting, I would require written notification with seven working days’ notice and the opportunity to bring someone for support.  I swear their jaws hit the floor!  I stalked out of the office shaking but head high, and my goodness I felt F*&KING AMAZING!!! 

I was 27yrs old and had actually stood up for myself properly for the first time and not just to any old person, I called out the person who could actually cause me so much hassle at work and potentially in the future, career-wise but I wasn’t scared of them anymore!  YAAAAAAAAAASS!!!  I handed my notice in about four weeks after because The Husband was being faced with the possibility of his company closing so was looking for work in East Anglia/Midlands.   I had two months’ notice to give so we figured that if he hadn’t found a job in that time, I’d work agency so I could move easily.  My standing up for myself did something because when I told my boss this, she even offered to let me stay as agency to help me out!  She gave me a great reference and was complimentary of me to other people.

I’m still not guns blazing at the first sniff of trouble but rather than allow myself to be walked over I try to nip it in the bud pretty flipping quickly.  I hate confrontation, but I hate that feeling of powerlessness even more.  It took a long time, but I finally learnt I had a choice not to be a victim.  I’ve learnt not to let other people project their insecurities and fears onto me.  In the words of the great Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’. 

Big Squishy Hugs TP x

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