The Bully’s Mother

I did something terrible. Unforgivable. Abusive.

I denied the Little Monster’s request to put a pack of Gummy Bears in his home lunch.

That we even had Gummy Bears in the house was a fluke of nature. The fluke of nature being the Man I Married himself, who thought he was going the extra mile by picking up juice packs while at the store buying something useful like a gallon jug of pickled jalapenos. But somehow he confused juice packs with Gummy Bears. I can understand his confusion at the feminine products aisle, where even I end up mistakenly bringing home Extra Longs (which make me feel like I’m atop a gondola), or, worse, Deodorant (which is like advertising to the world This Woman Has Her Period, either that or she has a scented candle in her pants).

But mistaking candy for juice? Didn’t the candy on the shelves surrounding the packs of Gummies clue him in? I suppose both products are dolled up with enticing silver packaging and cartoon characters, and both probably have the same amount of sugar. In the long run, I appreciated MIM’s attempt at stocking the larder.

So now we were saddled with a supersized box of Gummy Bears. Which could serve only one purpose:


I decreed that the Little Monster could have Gummies in his lunch whenever he exhibited some sort of perfect behavior. Which meant he didn’t get them very often (all part of the dastardly plan).

Obviously he and I disagreed about the definition of perfect behavior, because on this particular day he thought he deserved them in his lunch, and I did not.

He was angry. Very, very angry in the way that only 11-year-old boys denied candy rightfully theirs can be angry. But he wordlessly, without argument, accepted my answer and continued with his chores. Believe me, “wordlessly” is not a word I often associate with the Little Monster.

While walking the dog up the next block, he ripped up a row of almost-mature onions from a woman’s front-yard garden. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, rip, rip, rip, rip, rip, rip, rip.

One problem: through her front window, she watched him do it.

Poor Little Monster always, always gets caught.

She confronted him. He couldn’t deny her charge, seeing as he was standing there clutching seven onions next to seven fresh holes in her garden. “Where do you live?” she asked him.

He considered lying, but he’s showing some developmental progress, because he actually thought through to the next step in that scenario, which would involve leading the woman to a house in which nobody knew him.

The Man I Married opened the door to a knock, to find her standing there with the Little Monster, one quaking dog, and seven onions. MIM thanked her for letting us know about what had happened, and she went home.

I was mortified when I learned what LM had done. Ashamed. Livid. I had once been a gardener, back when I used to have energy and could fathom activities other than dumping something frozen into the crockpot. I know how much thought and work and fondness and hope and pride went into those seven onions. I could relate to my mother, who used to tell me and my brothers that she was going to smack us so hard she’d be scraping us off the walls. She never did, but, believe me, we got the message that she was slightly irritated.

The Creative Punishment Police thought long and hard. Oops, we don’t say Punishment anymore. That’s so seventies. It’s now a Consequence. More specifically, it’s a Logical Consequence. My idea: have him eat the seven onions. But I had a feeling the payback on that one would be me cleaning the toilet. Scratch that.

First, he sat down to write the neighbor an Apology Letter. The Little Monster rocks the Apology Letter. Last year, when he loudly booed his own school team at a citywide competition, because he didn’t make the team, and he further gave them the thumbs down and bet that they would lose, he wrote his very hurt teacher not one, but three Apology Letters, each analyzing and apologizing for different aspects of his transgression. His teacher said, “I must say they are the best written apology letters I have ever received in my 20+ year career.  They are going into a special teaching drawer I have at home where I save the best of the best.”

The Little Monster also rocks the Yard Work, so as a Logical Consequence, Yard Work it would be for the neighbor whose garden he had vandalized. But when he knocked at her door and handed her the letter, telling her that he would like to do some yard work for her, she read the letter and said to him:

“I don’t need anything in return from you. I just want to get to know you a little better.”

Ladies and Gentleman, there we have the simple, heartfelt solution to Bullying. All of the Public Service Campaigns, all of the rhetoric, the slogans, the books, all of the Hate Bully sentiment that our society loves to righteously gush, will not solve a damn thing.

The Little Monster would never, ever have destroyed the garden of someone he knew. The Little Monster destroyed the garden because he had terrible feelings that he didn’t know what to do with, and, let’s face it, ripping up onions feels good. Pulling those bulbs from the earth is a pleasurable, visceral sensation, and it didn’t—in his mind—involve hurting a person. I think I will fill my back yard with onion starts next spring, because I know how good it will feel to go rip them out whenever the Little Monster yanks my chain.

I put the Little Monster’s vandalism in the context of bullying because of the neighbor’s response, compared to an email I recently received from school. The Little Monster has been chasing a girl during recess and calling her unrepeatable names. She complained to her parents, who contacted the school, requesting:

a no contact contract between the Little Monster and her daughter.

I totally empathize with the mother. The Women’s Rights, Feminist me is horrified that my son would harass a female. My son is a big kid. I might demand the same thing if the shoe were on the other foot. LM knows better, and he is making bad choices.

But I can also guarantee you it was at school that LM learned whatever words he is using. I know that he is lonely and having a hard time fitting in at middle school, and that none of the boys will pick him for basketball at recess.

Our wise, onion-growing neighbor demonstrated the surefire solution to how to end his bullying of the girl:

Get to know him.

If you invited him over for mac and cheese, he would never bother your daughter again.

My son can be a bully.

My son is a good person who had the shittiest first six years of life than you can possibly imagine. That’s no excuse for his behavior, I know. He knows it, too. But he also knows how to make up for it, if you give him the chance.

My son is the hardest working child in the entire school district. He works hard every day to be a survivor. He works hard every day to un-learn things your daughter will hopefully never know.

He is a terrific cat- and fish-sitter for neighbors; eagerly volunteers to help unload groceries from the car; loves to read; is adored by everyone on our block; is friendly, charming, and talkative; takes good care of his dog without being asked; wants to be a professional baseball player; plays the violin beautifully; knows Jabberwocky by heart; has mastered two sides of the Rubik’s Cube, which he keeps beside his pillow; knows how to erect his own tent; cries and whines about dismantling his tent; behaves well on airplanes; loves fruits and vegetables; unicycles and juggles; loves the library and the farmers market, where he gives his own money to the street musicians, even if it means giving up a bag of chips to go with his hotdog; is stubborn, exasperating, infuriating, and wonderful.

He wants to be loved. And included. And he would rather be in trouble than be ignored. There are days when I’d like a no-contact contract, too, at least for three seconds of peace and quiet.

But you will never know any of these things. You will only know that he is a bully.

And your daughter will remain a faceless onion to him.


7 thoughts on “The Bully’s Mother

  1. Beautiful, Jennifer. I love Sam, and I love your fab neighbor. I will try to love that woman-with-the-daughter who is letting fear and ignorance (rather than Love and compassion) rule her life. Did I mention that I love Sam?

  2. Your neighbor is super wise. I don’t think I would’ve even thought to say something like that. And I probably would be a lot like the mother of the little girl because that seems like the knee-jerk protective thing to do. Good post, JDM.

    • Right? The neighbor lady is a superhero in my book. She re-framed my own thinking. I will be delivering a bag of Asian pears to her when they are ripe. Or hard cider, depending on which she would prefer.

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