This year my youngest son, Stephen King Junior, started at a new school. At his previous school he’d been the victim of bullying, sustained abuse from one particular bigger boy, and a bit of mob mentality overflow. We had regular contact with the school. They were working with the bigger boy, but you know, the teacher can’t be there all the time, in the playground, the toilets, the library. SKJ became withdrawn, cranky, worn out. He didn’t sleep, and he’s still not much of a joiner, but he did write. Stories of survival are his favourite kind.
He loves his new school. He has friends, he plays games at lunchtime, he even involves himself in sport. He loves his teacher, says he’s the best teacher he ever had. I love his teacher, too. Monkey (teacher’s nickname) has done everything he can to help SKJ feel at home.
On Monday afternoon, close to the end of the school day, SKJ was attacked by a boy in his class. Monkey was steps away, but this kind of thing can happen fast. SKJ was pushed into a bin, the bin toppled over, SKJ toppling with it, and while he was on the floor the boy kicked him several times in the chest. The boys were separated and parents were called.
By the time I got there the boy and his parents were already in the principal’s office. They were there for an hour.
When we eventually caught up with Monkey he looked like he’d been crying. And when he told me what happened – what he saw – he cried again and asked for our forgiveness.
Everybody in the place was in shock.
Except me and SKJ, we’ve seen this before.
When SKJ was asked by the Vice Principal if he was feeling okay, he said, ‘I’ve had worse.’ Unfortunately, that’s true.
SKJ was fantastic. He was clear in what happened, he was quick with his answers, and when he was asked if he felt he’d be safe to come back to school the next day, he was generous in his, ‘of course.’
He didn’t sleep well that night, but he often doesn’t sleep well, too many ideas, I think. When I woke him the next morning I found him in his school uniform.
‘How come you’re dressed already?’
‘To save time,’ he said. No, he wasn’t worried about getting back to school.
Adversity can breed resilience. And safety too, I think.
SKJ has had his share of bullying, he’s been called names, isolated, he’s been kicked and punched, he knows about rough treatment. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why he handled Monday’s events so well.
And he feels safe. His new school showed him exactly how they feel about bullying, the vibe in the office was serious and me and SKJ got it. We felt supported. Also, they let us know what will happen when the boy returns from suspension, that he’ll be brought back into the group and looked after, too. Support and forgiveness. Everybody will bounce back.
In fact, SKJ already has.
Yesterday after school I took him to Bounce, the giant trampoline centre. He had the place to himself and he ran and jumped and jumped and ran for fifty minutes. When he got back to me he was red-faced and exhausted. Sweat along his hairline, big smile.
There’s nothing like seeing somebody experience a moment of joy. Such abandon. So much smiling. It could make you cry.