Last week, a girl took her life in my small town. She was in grade nine, 14 years-old, attending the high school that my children will go to when the time comes, and she hung herself with a chain behind an elementary school near her home. She had an older brother and friends who loved her, parents, and depression.
I know all this fourth-hand. A woman I work with has children who go to the school the girl attended. I don’t know her name and I’ve never seen her face, so I don’t dare pretend that I’m grieving. What I am is scared.
I have no idea whether or not this girl was bullied. I don’t think so. Through the grapevine, I’ve heard that she was on medication for depression, that she’d tried this before in other ways. I don’t know what parts are true and what parts aren’t, but it’s one of those situations where you want to pay attention to every single detail. As a parent, or even just as a person who has young people in their life, I want to know everything I possibly can that may help me along the way. I want to know all the reasons that may lead a child to do this to themselves, I want to know all the signs, I want to analyze what could possibly have been done. Even though I know it’s fruitless. No two people are the same, just as no two people have the same exact reasons for doing what they do. No two people behave exactly the same way when they’re having these thoughts and, as such, we can never be completely equipped to handle these situations when they arise.
I’ve written about bullying before, as it touches me generally and personally. Eirinn is still having a tough time at school. Definitely not every day – there are some days that she has great stories to tell – but often. I don’t know if I’d classify it as bullying or if it’s just normal 6 year-old behaviour, most likely the latter, but she’s often unhappy when she gets home at the end of the day. She says that her friends are mean to her or that she didn’t play with anyone at recess or lunch. I don’t know her friends’ side of the story, but she’s my girl and if she’s not happy, then neither am I. I tell her that if her friends aren’t nice to her, then they’re not really her friends. There are kids in her class that are nice to her, so I tell her to befriend them instead. I’ve even told her to tell the particularly nasty kids “you’re a horrible person; I’m glad you’re not my friend.” To me, as one who has Been There (not the being bullied part, but the terrible pre-adult years), it’s so very easy to solve these problems but, unfortunately, to a child, it’s never so cut and dry. To me, if my choices were to feel bad about myself every single day or to simply have no friends, I’d pick no friends, but I’m a hermit by nature. I can find ways to entertain myself. I like solitude and quiet. I like being left alone. But I know that most people, including my daughters, and, in fact, including myself back then, aren’t like me now. The choice between being occassionally bullied, but having the illusion of friendship, and the effort and struggle of finding better suited children to play with at recess is much more difficult to make. She thinks maybe they’ll be nicer tomorrow. Maybe they’ll play with me if I wear something else. Maybe I said something wrong. And the problem is, tomorrow they just may be nicer. These are very, very small people we’re talking about here. None of them know exactly how they’re supposed to behave or react to others’ behaviour.
They say parenting is the hardest job in the world. Try being an oldest child these days. It’s a job that receives very little training, a learn-as-you-go type deal, and your supervisors have no clue what they’re doing. They’re just learning themselves. Sure, we the supervisors have the weight on our shoulders of trying to get these kids to turn out alright under our grossly under qualified tutelage, but we can’t do it for them. In the end, they have to decide for themselves who they’re going to be, for better or for worse, and we’re just put here to give them our opinion on the choices they make.
This 14 year-old girl made her own decisions and now there’s a grieving mother, father, and brother, left wondering what clues they may have missed. They are living a parent’s worst nightmare that I can not even bare to imagine. When Eirinn comes home from school sad and defeated, I can’t help but panic. There must be some way that I can resolve this for her. I should go to the school, tell those kids to stop being mean to my baby, and then everything will be alright. But I know how wrong that is. At this point, it’s just kids being finicky kids, figuring out what role they want to fit into. Me stepping in would make things much worse, but it’s in my nature to just want to fix it. I hope Eirinn starts standing up for herself, that she finds other children who are kind and fun and who reciprocate her adoration, and that she starts coming home happy. I know my panic is worst-case-scenerio and that, at this point, may be irrational, but as a mother I can’t help but want my child to be gloriously, ridiculously, miraculously happy all of the time, and when she isn’t, I feel my heart grow heavy. I don’t want to wonder if I’ve missed any clues.