Mama Says
by Laura Fratus

(Plain Press, October 2006) The only thing worse than a big bully is a little bully.

I don’t have a lot of complicated feelings about big bullies; I just dislike and avoid them.  Who needs them?

Little bullies are a different thing all together.

When you run into a little bully, it’s impossible not to wonder what prompts the smacking around of other children, the threats and the name-calling that are a little bully’s most obvious behaviors.  When the bullies are still shorter than you, it’s hard not to feel a little protective toward them, even when it’s your child they’ve chosen to victimize.

This past weekend, I spent about 20 minutes following our neighborhood’s little bully around the playground and schoolyard.

Our two sons had walked over to the park to play with a friend after church. Within a few minutes of their leaving, the kids came flying back into the church hall, reporting that the little bully had just “attacked” one of our boys.

My husband and I have tried to teach the kids how to manage their own conflicts, but we do draw the line at any sort of physical assault. So off I trotted to the park with the boys and our friend’s father, to see what, if anything, there was to be done about this latest incident.

Almost every parent in my neighborhood has had a little bully encounter at some point.  A few of them have been disturbed enough by his volatile temper to track down his mother for a firmly worded heart-to-heart, apparently with little effect. But more often, we choose avoidance, or else try to talk directly with the perpetrator of these relatively minor but troublingly regular acts of violence.

When we tried that on Sunday, Little Bully skittered away rather than deal with the confrontation. For a few minutes, we followed him, calling out to assure him that he wasn’t going to be hurt or yelled at. He took a moment to turn around and throw rocks.

We never caught up with Little Bully that day, but because he seems to spend his lonely days haunting every nook and cranny of our neighborhood, I’m sure we’ll have another opportunity sooner or later. What’ll I do when we finally corner him?

Actually, I’ve been considering asking him to meet us at the park to play.

It’s not that I actually believe that under his rock-throwing exterior there’s a soft little teddy bear with a heart of gold. No, I suspect that under this little bully’s rock throwing there lies the latent seed of a big bully’s car theft habit.

But I also suspect that there was a point in every car thief’s young life when the right shift in the breeze could have sent him tacking in a different direction. As I watched this child scooting down the alley to avoid the lecture I was intending to give him, he didn’t look so much — from a distance, mind you — like the name-calling brat who had shoved my son into a bicycle. He looked like a lonely little kid who has driven away practically every child who might have been his friend.

Okay, this is a naively optimistic notion. I’m not exactly Fr. Flanagan, and I doubt I’ve got the charisma to tame this wild child. But if someone doesn’t make the effort soon the very worst will happen. He’ll become a big bully, and then we just won’t care about him any more.


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