Tuesday, December 1, 2009


My 10-year-old son, Owen, loves singing. Loves it. And it's not as though he walks around the house singing all day or that he has a song for every topic (that'd be me) or that we ever have to beg him, please, for the love of all that's holy, stop! No, he loves it in a very healthy way. He sings solos at church during the children's performances and he's singing at the Christmas party this year. And . . . he sings in the school chorus.

The week before Thanksgiving, his school had their annual choir performance, and the day before the parents got to attend, the student body did a run-through. Each grade sang two or three songs, and then the extracurricular chorus sang. Owen, I knew, was the only boy in that chorus this year, but he wasn't embarrassed. But after the run-through, Owen came home for lunch nearly in tears because a couple of the boys in his class teased him for being the only boy in chorus this year. I said, "Do you like singing?" Yes. "Do you want to keep singing?" Yes. "Are these boys kids you'd want to be friends with if you weren't in chorus?" No. "Do you know we love you and your friends love you just as you are?" Yes. "Then what's the problem?"

He went back after lunch and I wanted to follow him so I could go yank those boys around a little, ask them if they're enjoying all of their Miley Cyrus cds, because obviously they think only girls should sing and therefore they only listen to girls sing. Instead, I waited to hear how the second half of Owen's day went. He came home happy. I said, "You seem like you're doing a little better now." He said, "Yeah, I thought about what you said and it really helped."

The next day, when the kids all sang for their families, I was prouder of him than maybe I've ever been. He stood up against the bullies just by getting back up there and singing again. One of the parents tapped my shoulder afterward and said, "Good for him for being willing to be the only boy up there. That took a lot of courage."

I said thank you, but what I really wanted to do was ask why. WHY should it take courage for my 5th grader to be himself? And why do adults acknowledge that it's a matter of courage? Something is very wrong there, isn't it? It should take courage to stand up and deliver a speech if you dread public speaking. It should take courage to go shopping this time of year if you're claustrophobic in crowds. It should take courage to sleep in the dark if you're afraid of what's under your bed. But to sing when you love singing? No. That should be easy. Should be.

I've been thinking a lot since then about what I might have given up along the way because I was bullied, either by kids who meant to hurt me or kids who didn't know what impact their words would have on me--or by adults who were unintentionally callous or casual.

And what have I given up since becoming an adult? What do I risk giving up if I listen to the bullies? And are their voices any louder than my own doubts? How badly do I want to be a writer? Badly enough to keep doing what I love even when I think people are snickering behind their hands? Even when one person says, "This story sucks"? Twenty people? A room full of them?

What have any of us given up by giving in to bullies?


Suzan Hollist said...

But, it does take courage. Should it require courage to do something you enjoy? No. But, unfortunately, some believe that there is a proscribed list of what is acceptable behavior for a boy. And to stand up to the likes of those who believe that somehow a boy should be punished if he violates this code, does take courage.
I really like that Owen has a good sense of who he is and what he likes. I know many who have just relinquished. You have given him the freedom to thrive and flourish, so he is more likely to be happy in the end than anyone who feels bound to the approval of others.

Bobbie said...

It's a tricky tightrope at times, isn't it, Suzan? You want your kids to be happy, and sometimes you think that must mean conforming, not drawing attention to themselves. Being yourself doesn't mean you'll be happy, so you think perhaps the right thing to do is to try to convince them they're someone other than who they really believe they are. And that never works. I've thought a lot about these "proscribed" behaviors recently, and they're so poisonous.

I have a good friend who isn't a parent, but he'd make an incredible one. He said he imagines one of the best things about having a child is watching them develop into beings separate from us. It's certainly one of the best things, but also one of the hardest b/c we're so ill-equipped to know how to just watch.