Dear Lily June,
When it rains, I can hold an umbrella over your car seat. When it’s cold, I can pull you into me and tuck us both under a blanket, calling us “snuggle buddies.” When you pick up a popcorn kernel from the middle of an otherwise spotless carpet and go to swallow the offending BB, I can race to your side and pry it from your superhuman pincer grip before you choke (and wonder what it’s been longer since–your parents popping Orville Redenbacher’s or either of us doing a proper vacuuming job).
The extent of my motherly protection for now revolves around keeping you safe from the elements, and I take my job seriously. But I know that time is slipping away from both of us quickly. I know that soon you’ll be one, and from there, one will be five, and then, you ride a bus away from my loving embrace and into popularity’s cannibalistic jungle sometimes referred to as school. And Lily, I am terrified.
Your mother was, once upon a time, a target for bullying. At the peak of my eating issues and at my smallest weight (over a hundred pounds ago), I was still called fat. When I dated a dork from our high school band and would lean over to kiss him in the cafeteria, people used to toss full and empty soda bottles at us.
I was fifteen and dressed like a black-lipsticked, dog-collared Goth when the Columbine school shooting massacre happened. Two students, who regularly dressed in black themselves and and were pushed to the edge by their own taunters, brought guns to school and opened fire. There was no excuse for their violence, Lily, but at the time when I was going to school and felt so isolated, hated, and ostracized by so many of my peers, I relished a certain power when they began to eye me with suspicion, wondering if picking on me or my friends might be lighting an emotional powder keg to its terrifying conclusion.
It didn’t stop their cruelty, but gave it a kind of sadistic vision. Everyone, at the time, felt like they had the power to be the next potential bully-gone-wrong, the next attacker-turned-victim. It was only luck that divided us–those who were stereotypically visually appealing from those who had the kind of beauty that was more unique. I remember as tensions were peaking, one pastel-clad mean girl leader flung the greatest insult she could think of at our group of midnight-hued weirdos: “At least I can pull off color.” In response, the next day in school, we wore signs painted to look like rainbows.
When an overweight friend of mine wrestling with diabetes and thyroid issues was cackled at by a popular clan for her size, my own group struck back further, not with weapons but with creativity. They say the pen is mighty, Lily. We used ours to start an underground newsletter that would run a regular fashion column, commenting on the clothing choices of our taunters. The comments were never cruel or even judgmental; they merely described the outfits in great detail. We called the column something like “How to be a Great Human.” It was meant to be satire, a comment on how the superficial ruled all of our mindsets at the time (ours included). It was immature, but it wasn’t dangerous.
And yet, it got us branded as “hostile” by the school’s administration, and for that column along with the crime of writing critically about other issues in the school (like the school board’s choice to send certain students home with a note from the school nurse describing their BMI’s in great detail–letters that were going to be passed out publicly in front of fellow students in home rooms, a choice which just felt, to us, like bullying taken to an institutional level) we were sentenced to counseling.
For what it’s worth, our counselor loved us. She knew we weren’t a threat; she knew we just needed to blow off steam. She admired and encouraged our creativity, and heeded our pleas when we asked for the mandatory counseling hall pass to not get us out of lunch, but out of Algebra classes. We were offended, not by her, but by the principle of the thing: We, and not our taunters, were the ones who “needed fixing.” It was a game of pin the tail on the victim.
It was a problem then, Lily, and that was back in the dark ages, when, to pick on someone, you had to actually face them. These times, they are a-changin’.
There were a few months there, right after you were born but before I began this blog, when there was a gap in your letters. I was healing from a lot of things, not the least of which was a hatred of the body I felt betrayed us both during the delivery. It was in that mindset of self-loathing that I came upon this video, posted to a mommy’s group on Facebook I had, at the time, been following:
In the video, called “You Look Disgusting,” a user named “My Pale Skin” talks about how free those watching her videos felt they could be in commenting on her personal attributes, from the acne she used makeup to cover up, to the covering job her makeup did. It seems, Lily, that to the anonymous waves of online bullies crashing into her psyche everyday, she was damned if she didn’t and damned if she did.
It inspired me to write you this short little letter on my Facebook page, which later would prompt me to get a blog on which to publish my epistolary opinions:
Dear [Lily June],
There once was a time before the internet, when, to say mean things to people, you had to stare them in the eyes and witness their real live faces crumple in pain in reaction to your words. Within my lifetime, I saw cruelty go wireless, high speed, and viral.
*Obviously* you’re a raving beauty, and anyone who doesn’t see it is a raving lunatic. That being said, please resist the urge to reduce anyone to the sum of their body parts (even yourself). And when you see a bully attack someone behind the safety of a screen–even if the intended target is you–I hope you’ll have the strength of spirit to rage on, my little lovely.
Maybe with art. Maybe with words. With wit. With grit. And always with an infectious and inestimable smile. ‘Cause *that* is where your beauty lives.
And it’s true, Lily: Your beauty is and will always be inside of you and will radiate to the outside from within. I am terrified beyond the capacity for rational though, though, that you won’t know or believe this. That cyberbullying may flex its jealous or petty or self-conscious fist through your computer screen someday, and that you may take the hit not actually to any of the genetic “gifts” I will have physically predisposed you to–your likely glasses, your probable acne–but rather to your enormous heart.
There is no umbrella I can hold up to this. There is no blanket I can hide you under from it. There is no way to snatch the pain out of your hands which will surely turn upwards in the same Why gesture I was, as a girl, a pre-teen, and teen so often making.
I can only tell you that There is no Why, Lily. The school years (excluding, for many, college and after) bring more pain and self-consciousness with them than what make up the rest of a lifetime, and most adults you meet are still reeling from them. There is truth to the adage that “It Gets Better,” just as there is truth to whispering to a Green Mile inmate, “This won’t last forever.”
That kind of “truth” doesn’t seem to mean much at the time. But as someone calling back to you before you get there from the other side of that horrible hormone-filled chasm, I hope what you’ll hear is a lot of love echoing across the depths of it, even when I also admit to tossing up a lot of shrugs, too. I don’t know, yet, how to protect or prepare you entirely from the predators you may call your peers. I don’t want to placate you. It will be hard, and I admit it. I remember, and I promise, for your sake, I won’t forget it.
I won’t blame you for the moods it puts you in, so long as you try to remember there is a season to everything. The cold winds of high school will blow on you until you’ll feel your arms are bare branches, overloaded with cruelty and ready, under pain’s icy grip, to snap. And then, just as suddenly as the difficulty arrived, it will have ended. Spring will restore everyone you know, the victims and the bullies, and it will be up to you all to make peace with the ways you’ve bloomed away from it.
There will still be bugs in the garden with stingers you’ll get better at spotting from farther off and avoiding. But there will also be beauty and compassion and forgiveness beyond your wildest reckoning. And if nothing else, at least each school year has a summer where you can say “To hell with it.” And if nothing else, as you get older and realize your self-worth has nothing to do with others’ appraisal of it, when someone is cruel to you, you can say, with “To hell with them.”
And, if you’re truly a beautiful person outside and in, you’ll pronounce it: “I forgive you.”
- By Bpenn005 at English Wikibooks – Transferred from en.wikibooks to Commons by Adrignola using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9455103