“Then There’s a Pair of Us”: My Son, The Bullies, and a Tattoo

You’re never prepared for the hard conversations. You’re never prepared for the conversations that you needed someone to have with you when you were young, back when we didn’t really have the words we have today. You’re never really prepared for that anti-bullying tattoo to be something you use to remind your child that he is loved instead of something you use to teach him to love.

And you’re sure as -insertinapprorpriateR-ratedwordhere- not prepared to do it at 7:10am on a school morning.

Me: So, do you remember why I got this tattoo?
Kid: No.
Me: Well, there was a little boy who was teased and made fun of so much, that it made him so sad, that he tried to hurt himself.
Kid: Why would he do that?
Me: Well, he was so sad that he thought he would be better off if he wasn’t here anymore. So he tried to hurt himself.
Kid: That doesn’t seem like a good idea.
Me: No, but sometimes people feel really alone. They don’t know what to do. Do you know what this is? (I pointed to the line of poem)
Kid: ” Then there’s a pair of us”
Me: Yup. It’s a line from my favorite poem.
Who are you?/Are you Nobody too?/Then there’s a pair of us/ shhh don’t tell/ They’d banish us you know/ How awful to be somebody/ How public like a frog/ To tell your name the livelong day/ To an admiring bog
Kid: So… what’s it about?
Me: Well, it’s about how it’s better to have really good friends who understand you and are like you than a lot of people all the time. Do you remember who this is?
Kid: Twilight Sparkle.
Me: And this?
Kid: Spike.
Me: And is Twilight ever really alone?
Kid: No. She has Spike.
Me: That’s right. And I want you to remember you’re never alone. Whenever you’re worried or sad, you have someone. Just like Spike has Twilight Sparkle.
Kid: You mean like my friends, and my teacher, and you and dad?
Me: Yup.

When I first got my MLP tattoo, all the bullying of my child was in the abstract. He was in a small, private daycare program. His teacher was amazingly kind and thoughtful and supportive. My son’s quirks were ones that were both age appropriate but also slightly outside of the norm. We are a geeky family, and our hobbies don’t always match up with the mainstream local society around where we live. People don’t always understand my son’s colored mohawk or his painted nails. However, up until that time, my wanting to teach him about bullying lay more in my own history of being bullied and not wanting my child to bully others.

Kindness before anything else. Follow the Golden Rule. Don’t laugh at people, laugh with them.

Then he went to school.

Kindergarten, and now first grade, have changed these conversations. Towards the end of Kindergarten, one of the boys in my son’s grade started picking on him for wearing pink or purple. The gender divide hit hard in our home. My son began expressing fears over being himself lest this kid tease him.

Suddenly, my conversations from a few years ago felt less abstract. Suddenly, it wasn’t about teaching my own child not to be cruel but about helping my child overcome the cruelty of others. Suddenly, the conversations about bullying were not directed towards my son’s actions but his reactions.

This year, it has gotten worse. A few kids on his bus pick on him. One clocked him in the throat on the bus one day. We’ve spoken to the teacher and principal. However, ultimately, the best we can do is help keep him separated from the kids and talk about why they don’t matter.

Except, as we all know they do.

I ask myself every day, “what can I do?” As his mother, I can love him. I can teach him to be independent. I can teach him the values of self-reliance. I can impress upon him the difference between “friends” and “Friends.”

I want to tell him the truth. I want to tell him that he will always remember the kid who told him he looked like a girl for wearing pink, the same way I remember the kid who called me “four eyed tinsel teeth” (yes, I’m not kidding. It was Fourth Grade. I even remember the kid’s name.)

I want to tell him that he will cry again. I want to tell him that the same way I remember coming home after school and curling up to watch old black and white classics with my mom, that he will probably remember coming home and playing FIFA16 with me.

I want to tell him that some day when he’s older that he’ll have the courage to say, “Screw you all.” I want to tell him that day will be one of his proudest moments. I want to tell him that when that day comes, I will wait for him at home and be ready with cookies or whatever else he wants.

But right now he’s seven. Right now, he’s a little boy trying to pretend he’s not sad. Right now, he’s a little boy hiding all the things that make him different behind colored hair and fingernails and sports. Right now, I don’t have the heart to tell him that it stays the same for a long time but that some day it does get better. Right now, I don’t want to show him that the road ahead might be long and kind of lonely.

Right now, all I can do is teach him that he’s loved.

Right now, all I can do is help him find friends who love him no matter who he is.

Right now, all I can do is remind him that now there’s a pair of us. And that where there is a pair, you are never alone.

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Karen Walsh is a part time, extended contract, first year writing instructor at the University of Hartford. In other words, she's SuperAdjunct, complete with capes and Jedi robe worn during grading. She also works as a contract internal regulatory compliance auditor for banks. In addition, she writes comics and artist reviews at www.cosplayconnectuniversity.com.She works in order to support knitting, comics, tattoo, and museum membership addictions. She has one dog, one husband, and one son who all live with her just outside of Hartford, CT.