I had never imagined the phone call or my reaction.
The call that begins with, “Hello, this is Madame. Rowan punched another child at school today.”
And my reaction that went something like, “Really? Who? Seriously? All right, Rowan!”
Of the limited “teacher calling home” scenarios I have imagined for my kindergarten child, this was not one of them.
“Rowan needs stitches.” Sure.
“Rowan spilled paint all over her clothes and needs fresh ones.” Could happen.
“Rowan is the best child we have ever had in this school; she must have a brilliant mom.” OK, maybe not.
But hitting someone? No.
And me cheering about it? Never.
Children hit each other, I know.
Just like every dog can bite, every child can hit.
But our home is pretty peaceful, and nonviolence is a strongly held belief and practice.
We are a gentle, natural sort of family.
We don’t play guns, or pretend to shoot anything or anyone.
We don’t hit each other.
And then there is Rowan.
And why this was such a (pleasant) shock.
Rowan had a rough start to the school year. It started with ongoing harassment by a classmate (unwanted touch, that is another article altogether) which reduced Rowan’s naturally shy-with-peers sense of self to dust. And into this vulnerability stepped every five-year-old bully-wannabe in the kindergarten.
While the exclusion and general meanness of the girls she relied on as friends was much more difficult to deal with, it was the physical bullying laid on her by another girl that made her feel that she was simply not safe at school and no one could or would defend her.
Almost daily there was the litany of Emily’s abuses.
Punching. Pushing. Kicking. Stealing.
Spitting in the face.
One day while I was in the classroom, I watched Emily pull Rowan’s chair out from under her.
A constant barrage.
Yes, the teacher knew, and yes, the school was doing what they could do. After having dealt with a toweringly angry and persistent Mama Bear in regard to the first incidents, they knew to take me seriously.
But it persisted.
At home we talked about it; we played it out.
We wrestled and raged and cried and made jokes.
We did a lot of role playing about how to handle the situation (and others — “You are not the boss of me!” was our favourite practiced response!).
And we gave Rowan full permission to stop Emily, physically.
Her first line of defense was to loudly yell at Emily to get away from her.
This was too challenging for my withdrawn child.
Her next was to push Emily away if she moved in close.
Again, too daunting.
She couldn’t bring herself to defend herself, partly out of lack of esteem and partly out of a fear of getting in trouble because, of course, there was to be no yelling and pushing at school!
I secured the permission of the teacher and the principal and had them, gently, share with Rowan that it was OK to defend herself. But all of this was very upsetting, asking her to act out of character and beyond the rules. And that was heartbreaking, that she should be in this position and have to carry this responsibility. But it had reached the point where she had to claim her strength and ability to care for herself as part of her growth and healing.
As we rolled towards the Christmas holiday, my vivacious five-year-old was acting like a scared three-year-old. She wouldn’t eat and was constipated (two things she could control) and having impressive tantrums. We were seeing a therapist, working on her esteem, and doing as much loving and caring as we could. These factors, time, and a holiday break seemed to make a difference.
It was the first day back after the break that the phone call came.
The call that began with, “Hello, this is Madame. Rowan punched another child at school today.”
And the reaction that that went, “Really? Who? Seriously? All right, Rowan!”
Followed by big smiles, relieved laughter and general merriment by us parents and the teacher, too.
Rowan had turned the corner.
Actually, Emily had turned the corner and Rowan had sucker punched her in the stomach.
At first I tried to picture it, thinking about Rowan throwing a punch, and then I recalled that she had been a keen student all fall in karate class…. She knew how to throw a serious punch.
Talk about a difficult conversation to hold with your child!
I ended up going with, “While hitting someone is never our first choice, or the best choice, we understand why you hit Emily and you are not in trouble. Next time you feel the need to punch her, try to use your words first and ask for help if they aren’t working. But if you need to defend yourself, do it.”
I know some said that it wasn’t self-defense.
But it was.
And that children should never hit.
But sometimes they must.
In five-year-old world, it might take four months for that punch in self-defense to work its way to the fist and out to its target.
And I was so darn glad she did it.
Because it meant she was coming back.
She felt like she could protect herself.
She believed she had the right to make the bullying stop.
She trusted again.
And after that day, each one was an improvement.
Our happy girl came back, and she began to stand up to the other bullying from her peers.
She claimed her right to be part of the group.
And even more, when she saw another child become the target of Emily (who has not touched Rowan in the six months since that punch), Rowan stepped in, told Emily to stop…and bless her heart, told her friend…
“Maybe you should punch Emily. Sometimes you have to punch somebody to make them stop hurting you.”
No, I had never imagined cheering for the news that my daughter punched someone.
But parenting takes you all sorts of places you never imagined yourself.
And teaches you lessons you didn’t know you needed to learn.
Hooray! for shocking phone calls, for life lessons and for resilient little girls with fists of fury.
Lori Campbell is the mother of one, in the process towards adopting one or two more. She has more to write about lessons learned this school year, but not quite yet. She is still mad enough to punch someone. The family lives, peacefully (most of the time), in Northern Ontario. Lori blogs at Beneath the Rowan Tree.