Monday, November 21, 2011

When It Is More Than Just Words...

It's Saturday night, and Hank and I are sitting next to each other on separate laptops. I'm writing and he is playing games. It's late...almost 11:00 pm. I know I should chase him off to bed...but the easy conversation we have while he waits for games to load...the sounds of him having fun...and just having him near me, are just too good to end.

Hank is 10 now...approaching that "tween" time of his life. But thankfully, he is a young 10. Still loves being with Mom and Dad. Happy to give us hugs and to just "be". Still enjoys family a bike ride to the park with the whole family, including our oldest "child",  Maverick the dog. I wish I could slow time down, so I can savor these moments. I know that these are our "good old days" and I want to enjoy every moment!

Hank is such a kind soul. He finds the good in everything and everyone. It is rare that he is sullen, or negative. I love picking the kids up from school and hearing about their days. It's noisy in the car as they all start talking at once, with little Lucy yelling to be heard above her older brothers. Hank almost always has positive things to say. Oh sure, he has his moments and if he doesn't like something, he'll tell me. "Mom, while standing in line for 4 square, the yard-duty teacher told us to be quiet!" I should say, he tells me the easy stuff. The stuff that really bothers him or he thinks will upset me...he holds in.

So in the quiet time in his room before bed a couple of weeks ago, Hank finally let it all out. In relaxed conversation he told me. "Mom, I'm being pushed around at school." My heart sank...I knew that there had been an incident in September...and that there were a few more in October...but didn't realize it was still going on. "Have you told a teacher?" I asked him. "No, I can't..." he said, "I'll get in trouble. This kid always turns it around on me, so I get in trouble!"  I hate this. Hank is smaller than a lot of the other boys in his class. Hank is 10...there are a lot of 11 year-olds in his grade. Hank seems like an easy target. Easy-going, doesn't tattle, non-confrontational, and really can't imagine someone being mean on purpose. But now, after so many weeks, he was at his breaking point.

"It happens almost every day, Mom," he told me, "It's always behind the backs of our friends and the teachers." "Is it on purpose?" I asked. "I used to think it was because he didn't want me to be friends with another kid, but now I just don't know." Do you ever tell him to stop? I asked. "I have and he tells me to 'Shut-up!'" As the smoke started to billow out my ears, and my eyes glazed over to red, I willed myself to remain calm. Seriously? Can't this kid of mine catch a break? I felt so bad for Hank. He likes this boy. We've had him to our house! He's not a bad kid...but was obviously making some bad choices.

I told Hank I would talk to his teacher and we would go from there. The next morning, I told Hank's teacher about it and asked her to keep an eye out. She said she would and I left feeling confident that Hank would have a good day.

I picked Hank up from school and the first words out of his mouth..."Mom! He pushed me again!" This time it had taken place at the lunch area. The boy had come up behind Hank and pushed him forward. Sneaky! This kid was being sneaky! Right there, with teachers present, but while they weren't looking his way. To say I was upset is an understatement...I picked up the phone the minute we got home and called the Vice-Principal, only to find she wasn't in. The secretary suggested I email her, but I wanted to talk to someone!

I told Jeff about it when he got home from work. His brow furrowed and his lips disappeared into a white line. The vein in his temple started to pulse and I knew that he was trying not to blow. He talked to Hank about standing up for himself and defending himself. Hank has had three years of karate. He knows WHAT to do...he just doesn't want to do it. (I don't blame him)

I stewed about things the rest of the evening. What do we do? Finally I posted the question on Facebook. With over 400 FB friends, I figured someone would have lived through this situation. The responses came swiftly. Some with knee-jerk advice and others with solid, plan-of-action advice. It stirred them up...and talking about it with them helped me work through the process, and gave me some good information.

In bed that night, I tossed and turned. What do we do? I certainly didn't want to make the other boy's life difficult, but Hank shouldn't have to go to school and worry if he is going to be shoved. And what if he gets pushed hard, trips and falls? We don't want him to injure his face. Or what if Hank takes it and takes it...and then finally blows? We don't need him getting in a fist fight. I finally closed my eyes and put it all in God's hands, fitfully sleeping until early morning.

When I got up, I knew what we would do. I wrote his teacher an email. I explained that it had happened again and we were very upset. I got her response before I left for school. She said she would take care of it, feeling frustrated that it was going on and wasn't being caught. She planned to talk to the boy in question and make him see how his actions affect others.

I got the kids to school and went off to chapel to listen to Lucy's class sing in honor of Veteran's Day. They were so darling, singing their hearts out to "Proud to be an American". It was a tear-jerker!  After she was done, I stayed and listened to the kids sing. There is something so special about hearing 5-7 year olds raise their voices to Christ in song. It has been known to bring tears to my eyes. As I sat there wondering how Hank was doing, my phone rang. It was the school! "Oh no," I thought, "something has happened to Hank!" I answered the phone and heard Hank's voice on the other end. My mouth went dry and I could feel the tears starting to well up in my eyes. "Mom?" he asked..I responded and waited to hear what terrible thing had happened. "Could you bring me my library book and my music? I forgot them." Phew! He was OK! He was just forgetful! I was already to his classroom by the time he finished telling me. I told him to turn around and he saw me. We hung up and I told him I would bring everything back for him.

He gave me a quick hug and headed back into the classroom. His teacher stepped out and we had a few more words about the situation. As she headed back inside, Hank came bursting out the door. He looked at me with tears in his eyes, "I want to go home, Mom." What? Why? "I need to go home, please take me with you," he said as the tears flowed. He was melting down...stressed beyond anything I had seen in a long time. He told me his head hurt, his stomach hurt and he "just couldn't take it." The bad thing when Hank cries...I cry. So there we were, out in the hallway and in tears. "He's not worth our tears," I told him, "You have to stay...because if you leave then he has won." "Don't worry, you don't have to do anything. Your teacher is going to take care of it." He nodded and hugged me. The kindergarten class who are the "reading buddies" with Hank's 5th grade class had arrived. "Your reading buddy needs you, you can't leave, Hank." "OK," he said and wiped his tears away.

Another hug and he went back into the classroom, leaving me there feeling wrung-out like an old dishcloth...emotionally drained and extremely worried about him.

I went about my day, with Hank in my thoughts. I brought him his library book and was so happy to run into his cousin Zachary at school. Zack is in 8th grade. He is big for his least 6 ft tall and the size of a football player. He is big...really big compared to a 5th grader. He already knew Hank was having trouble, so he went up and gave Hank a hug. He put his arm around Hank's shoulder and walked him down the hall. "Everything good Hank?" he asked, "Is anyone bothering you at school?" It was a beautiful sight! Now everyone knew that Hank has a big cousin.

I was back at the school at pick-up. I didn't get the chance to talk to Hank's teacher and waited on pins and needles to see how the day went. Hank burst out of the band room like he does every day, with a smile on his face and a loud, "Hi Mom!" I waited until we got to the car to ask how his day went. "Great!" Did your teacher talk to you. "Yes, she said I can come and talk to her any time!" he said with a grin. And did anyone push you today? "Nope! He apologized!" he happily offered. I felt relief wash over me.

Now there was just one thing left to by the principal's office and make her aware of the situation, so it can be documented. I wanted a written record of what had happened, in case there is another incident. We talked for quite some time and she told me she would take care of it.
I am grateful to Hank's teacher for taking it seriously and dealing with it swiftly. And I grateful to the teacher who saw the very first incident, not knowing if it was horseplay or something bad. She brought it to my attention, allowing me to ask Hank about it and finding out it was going on.

The boy in question came up to me the other day..."Hank and I have worked everything out!" he told me. "Thank you, I appreciate it," I replied, and gave him a smile. Hank told me he is happy. That he doesn't think it will happen anymore. And if it does, he said he will remind his friend that he apologized!  "That should take care of it, Mom!"


  1. Thank you Terri for sharing Hanks story..he is an amazing young man!

  2. This brings tears of joy to my eyes. I love and miss you Hank! Trust in the Lord with all you heart and lean not on your own understanding. He will direct your path!

  3. What a gift your writing will be to Hank someday (and today as well.) He will see how strong he was as a child and what a wonderful support he had in his loving family. Beautiful. - Gretchen

  4. So glad that the situation turned around for you. Hank, I know first-hand how tough it can be to be picked on. Unfortunately not everyone has wonderful parents like you do who teach them how to be compassionate towards others.

    Ask your Mom sometime how I used to deal with the bullies at my grammar school. <>

    Theresa ~ a fellow Romberger

  5. I am so glad that things worked out in school. I know how difficult it must have been for the entire family to go through such a situation. Great job Terri for advocating for Hank. Hank great job for telling someone about what is happening in school. No to bullying!