I forgot that I was a bully once. Yesterday, I was sitting on my living room floor making knots in the carpet with my fingers while my friend Kayla mentioned a devastating Netflix documentary about bullying. I was in the middle of saying, “I would be so heart-broken if I found out Ellie ever treated anyone that way,” when I remembered, making me choke on the words coming out of my hypocritical mouth.
I was seven, trailing behind my big sister and her best friend who lived just across the street from us as we walked home from school. They were 4th graders. Big girls. And I was trying to match their quick pace so that we could make it home in time to watch a rerun of Full House.
A chubby girl with orange hair that lived in our neighborhood walked in front of us. Her hair was short. Boyshort. My sister’s friend pointed out that her short hair and round figure made it hard to tell if the orange-haired girl was a girl or boy. It’s ‘Girl-boy!’ she said, loud enough for her to hear. And me, being offended that any girl would choose to cut her hair boy short, joined in the chorus, the three of us singing “Girl-boy, Girl-boy, Girl-boy!” between fits of laughter. The girl turned around and even tried to laugh with us, which made us laugh even harder.
The memory. It hurts me to even remember.
A short time after that I was riding my turquoise and purple Huffy in front of my house when my untied shoe-lace wrapped around the pedal of my bike, causing me to fall to the ground and scrape my arms and knees. I was crying, trying to unwrap my frayed shoe-lace from the pedal, when the orange-haired girl stopped in front of me on her bike. I felt a mixture of dread and shame having to face her. I anticipated her insults, I was being a cry-baby and this was her moment for payback. Instead she tapped her kickstand with her toe, hopped off her bike and started helping me to get my shoelace untangled.
“Are you okay?” I couldn’t believe she was being nice to me.
“Yes.” I said, sniffing.
She told me her name was Brianna, and once my shoe lace was tied she asked me if I wanted to ride with her. I told her I did. While we pedaled the wind blew both of our hair into a frizzy mess and as we coasted she rambled on happily about lots of things. She used the term “hoot and a half” to describe the old man that lived next door to her, an expression I hadn’t ever heard before, and she laughed easily at everything I said. She was kind. She never mentioned the bullying. And to my regret, neither did I.
When I look at Ellie, my 4-month-old daughter, I see nothing but purity and goodness. How willing she is to smile at anyone who smiles at her first. How amazing it is that I get to hold someone and love someone who hasn’t a mean bone in her body. It isn’t so much that I feel like I need to teach her to be good and kind, it’s that I feel I have to help her to stay good and kind. I have to teach her to be brave. To be the one that doesn’t laugh at the cruel joke. To stand up for the one who is being mocked for looking different.
I have to teach her to be better than I was. I have to teach her to be like Brianna.