I was only bullied for one week as a kid.
Just one short week, the week of Super Sports Camp, a daytime program run in Milwaukee each summer. That’s all it took to leave scars on my heart for the rest of my life.
And I’m one of the lucky ones.
My mom signed me and my brother and sister up for the camp, and we were all pretty athletic, so no one made fun of us for being clumsy or overweight. But we didn’t have any money when I was growing up, and there were five kids in the family, so everything was stretched pretty thin, up to and including our clothes.
We all wore hand-me-downs . . . even I did, as the oldest. I would get them from friends, or cousins, or sometimes rummage sales, and the younger siblings would get them from me. And not only were we in hand-me-downs, but we didn’t have many to choose from either, so we would always wear the same clothes for three days in a row before throwing them in the wash.
On Day Two of the sports camp, one of the kids started calling us The Unchangeables. I was embarrassed. That night I said “Mom, I want to wear different clothes tomorrow.” She said I still had one more day to go.
On Day Three of the sports camp, other kids joined in mocking as the three of us ate our lunch together, still wearing the same clothes from Monday and Tuesday. I wanted to hide, but couldn’t.
Thursday finally came, and we were able to change into different clothes. The kids were quiet, maybe thinking we had finally given in.
On Friday they realized that we had not given in, but were just on our second set of clothes for the week. The taunting and laughing started again, even more hurtful than before. I prayed for the day to end.
On Saturday, the last day of the camp, I felt like I was going to throw up. I was so scared to go back. I tried not to cry in front of my brother and sister, but I think I did. The jeers came again that day, all day, until it was time to go home. I was counting down the minutes. When I got home, I wept. I can still remember the feeling of shame and fear and pain even now as I write this.
And I’m one of the lucky ones.
But I’ll tell you one thing: to this day I HATE being judged by the clothes I wear. I didn’t take that pain from childhood and go in the direction you would think – always trying to be the best-dressed person in the group. I went in the opposite direction, dressing down and daring you to judge me by my clothes. To this day I still do that. It’s foolish, I know. And yet there it is, that chip still on my shoulder after all these years. Usually I wish it wasn’t.
Watch this. All of it. And think about the ones back then who were not so lucky. Or the kids you know who are not so lucky today.
Maybe this was you. Maybe it’s one of your own children right now. These are the real casualties of bullying: the woman with the loving husband who still can’t believe she’s beautiful . . . the teenager who attempts to kill himself rather than keep facing the pain. These stories and millions more pass by our lives every day, largely unnoticed by the majority of parents who will offer a quick “kids can be mean,” and then resume their hectic lives.
Please don’t be one of those parents.
Talk to your kids. Make sure they’re okay at school, at day care, with their friends, and wherever else they live and play and grow. Make sure they know that you deeply care about their lives, and that they can talk to you about anything and everything, and you will always take the time to listen and love.
And please, model good behavior for your children. Show them that you love and accept others, and defend those weaker or more vulnerable than you. They will do the same in their own small lives. Instead of a legacy of pain and suffering, they can give those unlucky ones the gift of hope and love.
Sometimes that’s all it takes to change a life.
— Nate (one of the Unchangeables)