Less than a week after our children donned their orange ribbons to Say No to Bullying, my child has become the victim of an assault.
This isn't new. He tends to get picked on a bit - he's bad at sports, and just 'different' than others, and not someone who will fight back, he's a peacemaker. Not terribly serious incidents, thus far, but some niggling ones that we've been dealing with over time.
Last night, I pressed the button to listen to my answering machine, to hear the frazzled voice of Alexander's teacher, asking me to call her immediately (This message had been from 3.30pm, we'd not been home). There were 3 more, and another this morning, her sounding more concerned each time.
I had questioned Alexander over and over again, asking if anything had happened, and he assured me all was fine and he hadn't been in trouble (he never is) or had anything happen. I did a full body check, and noticed some bruising on his back, about the size of my hand, and some redness along his spine (just the bumps, if you know what I mean). When i asked him how it happened, he said it was nothing, he couldn't remember doing anything. I believed him.
I went to school about 45 minutes early today, curious about what I was going to hear. Not overly concerned, but there was a flutter in my stomach, and I was somewhat jittery. I approaced the classroom and asked if everything was ok. She looked at me and said "I'm so sorry, but no. It's not. We really need to talk". My heart sank.
She asked Alexander to tell me what happened yesterday. He looked at me and said "Nothing", but I noticed he had unshed tears already, and his mouth made a perfectly arched frown, the one he gets when something has really distressed him and he's trying to hold it together.
I felt sick. When bad things happen, he has a tendancy to internalise, store them up (usually just until he sees me, so I'm stunned that he didnt' even tell me this time) and deal with them when he's ready.
She asked him if he was telling the truth yesterday when he told her he fell. I had no idea what she was talking about. His eyes dropped, he wouldn't look at us. He clearly thought he was in a lot of trouble. She got down to his level and said that A had told her what really happened, and that he didn't fall at all. At this point, the tears were spilling over, and he nodded his head.
It turns out, a boy in his class (with, I might add, BOOTS rather than sneakers) had cornered him in the toilets in class time. Had backed him into a corner, forced him onto his hands and knees, jumped up and down on his back, and kicked him. When Alexander had tried to stand up, to get him off him, the boy hurt him further, then threatened him and told him to tell the teacher he'd fallen over.
Alexander did as he was told, as he always does. It turned out, there was another boy in the toilets, and just before the day ended, he approached the teacher and told him what he had seen. She was livid. I have never seen her (or any teacher) so angry. She asked him if he had tried to stand up to get J off his back.
He looked up at me and said "I'm so, so sorry. It's just that it hurt so much. It was hurting so much and I just didn't want to hurt anymore". We spent half an hour, reassuring him that he did absolutely nothing wrong, but that he should always stand up for himself, and tell a teacher.
The principal, Vice Principal and Head of SEU are involved. Apparently there was trouble getting the other mother to take it seriously, until the VP advised her that I was well within my rights involving the police, as this was unquestionably an assault, far beyond normal playground teasing.
I am a sea of emotion over this. I'm heartbroken at the image of my sweet, gently boy face down on the toilet floors. The pain he must have felt, over-ridden by his desperate desire to please, and be 'nice' to everyone. His fear of this boy. His defeat, as he accepted the line he was given, and delivered it to his teacher.
I'm seething at this boy. I'm doing everything I can not to over react. I dont' know him well (though enough to know he is a problem child), but I do know that he and his siblings are in some way attatched to the SEU. I'm 90% sure that he has ADHD, rather than an ASD, but could be wrong.
Alexander does not want to discuss it. I've tried. His teacher said that all day he was unfocused, lethargic, just wanting to sleep. He doesn't want it to be made into a bigger deal, clearly - refusing to recount details, just apologising, no matter how much I tell him he doesn't need to. The harder we pushed, the more he clammed up, so we were very careful.
This fact, and the boy's attatchment to the SEU, are what have stopped me, at this point, from marching into the office and demanding to speak to the Principal and Vice Principal. I have simply said that if anyone but his teacher wants to speak to Alexander about this from here on in, I must be there for it, so he understands he's not in any trouble, and we're trying to help him.
Alexander has a special pass that means he does not ever have to ask to go to the toilet, he can simply write his name on the board, and go - as he goes more than a dozen times during class time, and never 'realises' he needs to go until almost too late. His teacher wanted to change things so that if he needs to go, he goes to the (lockable, and almost unused) disabled toilets instead. The VP (and I, to a point, though I'm not sure) feel that this would do nothing to help him, as he would not learn to be more assertive. He does not seem to understand that he has a right to be safe, that noone has a right to bully him.
It's something we've been working on for 3 years now. The thing is, as many of my long term readers will know, he is the gentlest of spirits. A truly peaceable, loving, kind boy. A deep thinker, but very different to children his own age. A follower, desperate to please.
A combination that has long terrified Joel and I. Not so much for what happened yesterday (though every time today I have thought of it, I have felt ill, and had to hold back tears), but for what could happen. That far worse, unthinkable what if, running through my mind.
I was sexually assaulted. While I was able to extricate myself eventually from the situation, I was afraid to be 'rude' to this person, to raise my voice, to tell him 'no'. Because you're never, ever rude to people. You are always polite to adults, and you're never mean. It was ingrained into me.
And he is me. I've tried, so often to talk of this issue. Explaining that though I love how gentle and sweet he is, it is ok to stand up for himself, whether it be to Samuel, another child, his cousins, an adult making him uncomfortable. I thought he was beginning to understand.
I was so clearly, horribly wrong.
What do I do? How do I deal with this, without making him feel worse than he already does. How do I (in the words of the SEU Head) "toughen him up", or (in the much more PC words of the VP) help him assert himself, without losing that wonderful sweetness that makes everyone love him?
Where's the line? How do I protect my child, without forcing him to change who he is?
Where the hell did I go wrong, and how do I fix this for him? I'm so desperate to fix this for him.
And what on earth am I going to tell Joel?
EDITED: just to clarify. I'm giving him tomorrow off, as he's so tired, and trying so hard to just block it out. I will call the school in the morning and arrange a meeting with Vice Principal and HOSES(Head of Special Ed) to discuss a) how they will keep J from Alexander, and b) what we can do to help him be more assertive.
This was always the plan. I had no intention of not speaking up for him. But he became upset the more we discussed it. I need to be able to do this without him present, so I can hit a little harder. I will NOT, no matter how angry or sad I am, upset him further.