“Hey! Give me that back!” I shouted after the kid who had just taken the bag of chips out of my lunch bag.
He didn’t even respond, just opened my favorite chips with a mean smile and started eating them.
I didn’t know whether to yell or cry. I couldn’t make him give me my chips back – he was twice my size!
That was the first day of school, and Jake has been bullying me every day since.
Sometimes he takes the best snacks out of my lunch bag. Sometimes he trips me on the playground. Last week, he called me Farty Charlie when my sneaker squeaked in the bathroom and everyone laughed at me and started calling me Farty Charlie too.
Now I hate going to school.
When I faked sick to get out going back to school on Monday, my mom knew something was up.
But how do you tell your mom that someone is bullying you? I didn’t want to be a tattletale.
I didn’t have to say anything though, somehow she just knew. When she figured it out I thought she was going to give me permission to fight back, sign me up for boxing classes, or threaten to call Jake’s mom.
But she didn’t do any of those things.
“I’m going to give you some advice when it comes to dealing with bullies. But before I do, I want us to go for a drive ok?”
I nodded my head and got in the car and only got more confused as my mom started to drive toward the bad side of town.
We drove past houses that looked nothing like ours. They were old and some of them looked like they were falling apart. There was laundry hanging on clotheslines in front of most of them and mom explained to me that not everyone had a dryer at home.
Then we went to the soup kitchen. She talked to the ladies who worked there for a bit and then they gave us a tour and showed us around. It was almost lunch time then and they even let us help serve lunch to everybody. My mom explained to me that everyone eating lunch here was homeless. They didn’t have a big kitchen full of food or even a cozy bed to sleep in at night.
Everything my mom showed me that day made me so sad. How could so many people live with so little. It didn’t seem fair.
Finally, my mom drove us back to our house, and it felt like I was seeing it for the first time. I couldn’t believe how nice it looked or how big it was. I felt really lucky.
“Are you ready to hear my advice now?” my mom asked me when we got inside.
I nodded my head with no idea what she was about to say.
“As hard as it may be. Instead of getting mad or getting even with the kid who’s bullying you, I want you to remember that bullies aren’t just bullies. They’re just like you. They have a mom and dad and maybe even some brothers and sisters. They have feelings, like sadness and joy. And they have all kinds of experiences that you do too. The first time they rode a bike. Their first day of school. The first time someone embarrassed them and made them feel small. Yes Charlie, they have that memory too.”
I had been about to say something, but I stopped.
“I’m not saying what he’s doing is right. It’s not. It’s NEVER right to be mean to someone. But I hope that after everything you saw today you can start to understand that you don’t always know what someone’s life is like. I called your teacher and asked about Jake. And from what she told me, his life is much harder than yours. So, no, I don’t want you to stand up to him or try to fight back. I want you to try to do something much harder. I want you to try to love him and be kind to him. Because when it comes to enemies and bullies, the best way to kill ‘em is with kindness.”
I thought a lot about what my mom said and everything I’d seen that day and I knew she was right. The next day, I asked my mom if she could pack me two lunches, because now that I thought about it, I don’t think I ever saw Jake bring a lunch to school.
When no one was looking, I put the extra lunch into Jake’s cubby. That day he didn’t steal anything out of my lunch bag. Instead, he sat down excitedly at the lunch table with everyone else and ate every last bite of the sandwich my mom had made that morning. I started to realize that maybe he hadn’t been stealing my food because he was a mean, nasty, awful kid, but just because he was hungry.
My mom was right – she usually is – bullies need love too.