The death of my puppy at the beginning of this week really tore my heart out.
I’ve been avoiding watching the news because I can’t handle the Willy-Wonka-ized political landscape or the sadly mundane horror stories of the tragedies humans inflict on each other. I can’t stand the way those stories are doled out in emotion-obliterating handfuls, swept along in the in-other-news tornado. Put on your red slippers, Dorothy, we’re gonna need them soon.
So I just now made the mistake of clicking on an article about Nicole Lovell, this little girl who was murdered by two college students in Virginia. Maybe it’s the stark parallel I can’t help drawing between her life and the life of my dog, but I find myself sitting here with hot, wet tears pouring down my cheeks. They both faced down such terrible circumstances, they were both survivors. And they survived for what? To be brutally, senselessly killed.
From all reports, she was sweet and socially awkward. Precariously balanced between little girl comforts and teenage daydreams. She was bullied over the scars left from her medical battles and seeking companionship and validation via social media. Which is what left her open to be hunted.
She will never grow up. She will never get to find out that all of those “It Gets Better” messages are true. I want to grab the ribbon of time, spool it back in. I want to find her and hug her tightly and tell her that it’s ok, she doesn’t have to rush off. I want to tell her that someday her scars will be a sexy story, a sign of her strength. That she can still be a secret mermaid and a fierce woman, you can be all the things, you don’t have to choose, you don’t have to conform.
But I can’t fix that. The blood is on the knife. She’s a carcass now, a hunted and discarded thing.
Is that a harsh way to put it? I should say she’s an angel dancing in heaven with all her pain removed? Sorry, no.
I want you to think of her with her neck slit open like an animal. Then perhaps the next time you’re too tired to get involved in your children’s lives and the lives of other kids around you, that image will flash in your mind and you’ll suddenly find some extra energy.
This sounds like some kind of judgement against you, against parents everywhere, but it actually isn’t. I think most parents want the best for their kids and try their hardest to make that happen. And it’s never been more exhausting. You have bloggers and health-gurus insisting you must feed your children only nuts and berries that fall naturally to the ground and are hand-gathered by packs of friendly squirrels and delivered with a high-pitched Disney song to your doorstep. You have more electronic devices than you can find the cords for. You have tech savvy kids who will make three accounts on every site: one for you, one for their friends, and one for total strangers. (If you don’t think this is true, just try to remember yourself as a pre-teen or teenager. Then add the internet. Get real.)
That’s why it’s more important than ever to reconnect with your kids. Make no-device times and stick to them yourself. Give your kids your undivided attention for even a small window each day, and really talk to them. Most kids are not master criminals. If you spend enough time talking to them, their true feelings, fears and desires are going to come out. Kids crave someone who truly sees them, listens to them and doesn’t treat their concerns as petty.
If you think your child is being bullied, take action. This can be hard. Often kids will hide bullying because they fear having a parent involved will lead to further bullying. This isn’t an unfounded fear. In all of my personal experience with schools, my girls and their various friends, the common consensus is that schools talk a good game about zero tolerance policies, etc. yet are practically useless in reality. In many cases adult teachers and coaches vicariously reliving their glory days are just as much in on the bullying as the kids.
You should be prepared to meet a wall of resistance and maybe even fail. That doesn’t matter. Children aren’t nearly as delicate as we often see them. What will matter in the long run to them is that you stood up for them. You heard them and treated them like they mattered. You stood up and took their hand and fought beside them.
If you don’t take their hand, I promise someone else will.