9: Tired

This is the ninth post in a series about my son’s recent experience with bullying at school.

I am tired.

In the last month we have met three times with the school principal, twice with the head of school, four times with the school counselor, and once with an awesome group of parents.  When not in meetings, we have had an hourly string of email conversations with anti-bullying trainers, teachers, and concerned parents at our school. Each meeting has to be carefully prepared for; each email painstakingly crafted. It takes time—time I used to dedicate to work, family, and watching old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Of course I want to make Sam’s school a safe place for him. Of course I want to build acceptance in the world for him and boys like him. But I did not anticipate how time consuming and emotionally draining this process would be.

I called my friend Meredith to whine about these things, because she’s always good about not pointing out that I’m whining. Meredith reminded me that I’ve always been committed to social justice work. Since high school, I’ve either worked for nonprofits or volunteered with organizations trying to make the world a better place. I never imagined that my social justice work—at various times focused on affordable housing, education, and the environment—would take this particular form. But Meredith said that we don’t always get to choose how our values are expressed. Working to better Sam’s school, she said, is perfectly in line with my values.

I know she’s right, but that doesn’t keep me from being pissed off. As Christopher, one of my readers, pointed out in a comment on the fifth post in this series, the work I am doing should be the school’s job, not mine.  And yet here I am—today, for example—consolidating editorial comments from 16 parents on an email to school administrators. And I’m reminded in every line of text that this quest for justice isn’t abstract, that it is about my child.

I complained to my husband Ian about how drained I feel, how this work is eating up my work time.  His reply? This is your work. There is no more important work.

I know.

But I’m still tired.

 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    You have every right to be tired. You’re doing an amazing job, and I believe so strongly that your work, and your blogging, are so incredibly important – not just for your son, but for other kids that are bullied. But you have to remember to take care of you, too. Maybe it’s time for an afternoon at the spa, a movie with your family, some laid-back time with Sam, or a date-night with Ian. Reward yourself for your hard work – that’s a must!! :)

  2. Jill says

    I understand your pain, somewhat. After getting a divorce going back to school for a MA in education, I ended up having to advocate for my child as well. I got tired of being stared at blankly in the face by a Ph.D. principal; I ended up selling my house moving 3 miles away to be in a different school district for my child, where I knew they would understand me. So we live in an apartment in one of the most expensive part of the city, but my child is 1000 times more joyous. She has even cried when she thought she may have to go back to the old school.

    In school I am studying and trying to improve education for children of lower SES families; however when it came down to it, I had to move to a “better” part of the city for my child’s education. Basically going against what I had believed prior – I wanted her in a diverse setting with many types of people, I wanted her to see reality and appreciate things. However, the administration and teachers there were so stuck in their ways, treated me like the other parents who may have not had as much education as I did, and they would not listen to me. I said some of the children were bullying my child – they said that they don’t have discipline problems. I tried to explain that it is because most of these children are taught not to tell on people, complain, and their parents do not know how to advocate, but I do. So we moved. In this higher SES school, the administration knows how to listen, take suggestions and are much warmer and not as jaded. And I see that we had to leave because the problem would never be fixed and I didn’t want to spend my energy trying to fix it. My solution was immediate and it worked.

    Basically, you never know what you will do for your child until you have to. If you feel fighting for this is your thing than that is what you have to do. And I firmly believe that God only gives us what we can handle. So, I think God must think you are very strong.

    • shoffman says

      Or God has too much on her plate like the rest of us and mistakenly thinks I’ve got things under control.

      It’s awesome that you have gotten your child into a place that’s best for her!

  3. Joy says

    Sarah! The work you are doing as a mother and advocate for Sam and other’s like him as you blaze the trails IS the most important work you will ever do! Ian is right! It is not something getting in the way of your path, it IS your path! Thank you for leading the way and sharing the experience so that we can ALL learn throughout your journey down this path! I so appreciate and respect all that you do! Thank you!

    • shoffman says

      I love that….that this is not getting in the way of my path, that it IS my path. I will try to remember this when I think this work is taking up time I think I should be dedicating to other things…

  4. matthew says

    it sucks that ANYONE has to do this work.

    In fact, it sucks that Mother Teresa had to do the stuff she spent her entire life doing…for pretty much everyone other than herself….

    i believe we are given the (real) work we are given to do because we are uniquely gifted with the ability to accomplish it.

    and my childhood self who grew up without a Sarah Hoffman anywhere around thanks you more than you’ll ever know..not only for what you’re doing for your child, but for every child. you are a peacemaker, a world-healer, a light-bearer, and a revolutionary, and there is no higher calling.

    i’m glad you now have a growing group of people working with you who can support you face-to-face..but even if they disappeared, never doubt that you are watched over, prayed for, and partnered throughout the world on this path.

    • shoffman says

      Matthew, thank you, what a lovely thing to say. That makes me feel like it is entirely worth it.

  5. says

    I hear you on the exhaustion. Know that we are all supporting you in our own ways. Know that it’s okay to laugh at the ridiculousness, and cry when you’re wiped out. Know that you are an amazing mother, and one of my heroes.

    • shoffman says

      Thank you…….that makes me feel much less bad about being a whiner. And I’m one of your heros? But you’re one of MINE!

  6. says

    I think it is much more exhausting than your average job (that you aren’t getting paid for), what you are doing. It is personal and, no matter how you slice it, it is that connection that makes this so much more painful, painstaking, and essential. So … how could you not be bone-weary, even IF it is going in a healthy direction. It’s flipping personal.

    I don’t know if it helps to know how much you are inspiring me, dealing with my own issues in our little school, giving me new ideas for how not to be a bystander … rather than being the person that blows things skyhigh without effecting change.

    Spa day. I second, third, forth, one hundredth that. Or, you know, nightly baths.

  7. Laura says

    and I thousandth the spa day. Get massaged in all manner of oils–grapeseed, macadamia, etc–and aloe with whatever fragrance feels like CALM to you (I’d recommend you also have some of it for home to bring you back to the dim quiet space with nature sounds and smushed back muscles!! Groupon makes me able to do frilly stuff I’d otherwise not afford!)… And maybe you need to be wrapped, control-free, in seaweed and mud with nothing but a warm room to make the moist mud feel awesome and someone there massaging your head for fifteen solid minutes while that happens (my fave spas have 7- or 10-way showers with massage shower heads hitting every inch shoulders down and the top head for your hair… And they oft have amazing cleaners you could never justify the $30/bar or teeny bottle of…

    Another must when I stress is related: I change up my bath plan… Use different hair stuff-luxe types (check a site truthinaging to get tips–I just found it and was in awe and am determined between that and antihairslave to get Wen pomegranate stuff and one I forgot already; I use Samy ATM: 97-99.5% natural and non-toxic hurrah)… Find something that when you are busy and stressed will make you HAPPY to smell in your hair–seem weird? It works though!! I STILL have a decade old “special occasion” bottle of a dc’d shampoo that smells like heaven JUST to feel better, and I hate perfumes/sprays/gunk. Unscented still smells so I even pay attention to my deodorant as my snout is sensitive and nearby :p

    Point being find FUN little diversions to “obsess” over to get you totally OUT of stressed mom mode since I know killing the fierceness is not only bad but impossible without drugs (oh fonseca 20yr tawny port=$20-25 bottle of sweet delectable awwwwyeah; I haven’t had the 40yr yet but the 20 scores 93-95 points and the 40yr 97-98… I dislike the taste of alcohol but that one goes SO WELL with chocolate or nothing at all… Local truffle shops or spots that sell regional stuff like Claudio Corallo or Moonstruck I must recommend!!) When I stress over my own human rights/advocacy initiatives, I have to find another obsession, a purely fun, inconsequential one (apart from a planned, utterly necessary budgetary consquence), to refocus and renew. The spa not being so feasible so often for so many, I also found that knitting–which takes all my attention as I am rather bad and it requires pretty diligent counting to not, well, produce a sock that is either closed on both ends or shaped like a fish hook and not a hockey stick–is an option/any crafty focus stuff works and kids can typically crochet really really well (not to mention cross stitching)… You could work on a throw blanket for YOUR babies to share on the couch while they work on blankets for THEIR doll babies too. Customization is über important! I find chenille is the best of the best! For snuggling if any US companies still make safe organic stuff. Same could apply to clothing–you can sew something super cute for your kids and they can “bedazzle” the old fashioned way, perhaps: needle and thread! They are old enough to help in the kitchen as well; you handle the stove, Ian handles the knife work, they handle measuring and fetching. Adjust to your favorite task–you may love chopping instead… Or if you hate it all, let him teach the kids while you sink into a tub and a captivating excellent book (I just real The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell and MUST RECOMMEND to all!)

    When all else fails, BY YOURSELF (so you feel no mommy can wes) go to Petsmart and see adorable kitties&puppies to get goofy-faced at! ;) my own cat is more my salvation and Zoloft than imaginable; most wonder why I don’t take any SSRIs with my stress but I have a better lasting seratonin boost. :•) I hope you do get yourself the perfect cocktail of relief–the recipe changes all the time… But your fave food probably doesn’t! Curry soothes my soul, as does deep southern cooking I have to make myself here in the PNW. Sweet tea is my blood type. Others have type coffee. Never hurts to vary one’s vices! If you had a PO Box I’d send you some stuff to brighten days for all (including a tutu a friend wore to burning man and left here–washed many a time mind you!!–before returning to Chile).

  8. Laura says

    yikes, I didn’t think I typed (rather left in) that much. My iPod is poor for editing. It dislikes the return and delete/backspace keys. Oooops, sorry!

  9. rachel says

    Hang in there, kitty on a branch.

    Having taught in elementary school for 12 years, and now teaching educational psychology at a university, I have seen parental advocacy that is admirable and tiring. My hope for you is that you find (win) allies within the system that can translate your efforts for your child into advocacy for all children.

  10. says

    Sarah,

    The other day, after getting news that my advocacy work for my father had resulted in a good outcome, I felt good for a few minutes and then… I was SOOO tired. This is absolutely not the work I had intended to pour so much time into, but it is what needs to be done. My father has severe dementia, Parkinsons, and debilitating asthma. What I’ve learned in the last four years of being his primary advocate is invaluable and has helped not just him but many other people in our lives as they encounter similar struggles.

    What you’re doing for your child is critically important, and you are incredibly good at it, but it is totally appropriate to wish you could direct your energies and talent towards other things, or just kick back and watch Buffy once in a while.

    If I kept running into brick walls and difficult people in what I’ve had to do, I don’t think I would have lasted. Instead, I’ve found that my passion and hard work are appreciated by people who are equally stressed, equally stretched, have good hearts, but probably wouldn’t or couldn’t do as much for someone like my father if there wasn’t someone who acted like me (appearing tireless while being exhausted).

    A parent walked into our shop a few months ago and found herself at the anger-management / anti-bullying area. She came up to the counter with a handful of books and we started to chat. Her son was being bullied in a local school. She’d offered to work with the teachers and administration to come up with an anti-bullying program. She said she’d pay for the materials and volunteer as many hours as it might take to get a program in place, and had a few other parents willing to help lead. She was told that “no school time could be used” for such a program. Test scores were the number one priority. If she wanted an anti-bullying program it would have to be after school and optional. She was crying as she told me this. Her plan was to move her child to another school or home school him.

    Keep working at it Sarah, BUT, please also keep a little list by your phone and computer, of small and big things that people could do FOR YOU. That way when they ask (as people always do), if there’s something they can do to help, you’ll have a handy list right by you and you can pick something on it for them to do.

    OK – now go off and sneak some time in for Buffy.

    • shoffman says

      Craig, I’m sorry to hear about your father’s diagnosis, and commend the work that you are doing on his behalf. Clearly you are taking the best possible care of him, and inspiring others!

      You said that it was AFTER you discovered a good outcome from your work that you got tired. It was the same way for me. We were driving home from a great meeting with the head of school when it hit me, just how tired I was. It’s only after the adrenaline rush of working through a disaster fades, and we realize that things might be OK, that we feel how much work it is.

      You have an anger-management/anti-bullying section in the shop???? I think it’s time for me to visit.

      Last night I got in some Buffy, and I’m certain it’s given me more energy today. :-)

  11. says

    Have you considered, economically, that it’s not viable, likely, nor perhaps even ethical for the school system to devote such a significant amount of resources to one “problem child”? While you insist that other students besides your son “Sam” are having issues similar to the ones that he’s facing, it is clear that either those children are not having problems as severe, or that their parents are simply not as proactive as you are.

    Assuming, though, that a significant number of children are in a similar position as “Sam”, it seems likely that at least one of them would be as outspoken as you. Considering that you’ve given us no indication that this is the case, we’re led to believe that you and Sam are likely the only parent-child combination to be having issues of this magnitude, and that your delusions of commiseration are simply that: delusions.

    While, on the surface, you’ve seemingly received quite a bit of “support” from the parents you’ve spoken to, it seems likely that they are merely expressing their support out of social obligation rather than out of actual unwavering commitment. Further, even if they are vaguely supportive of your ideas, it seems improbable that they will be as devoted as you are to an initiative that primarily benefits your child only.

    Essentially, I would ask you this question: why is it the duty of the school, and of the taxpayers at large that fund it, including the parents you’ve attempted to “rally”, to devote so much time, effort, energy, money, and resources to such a small proportion of the population served by it (your son is only one child, after all)? The world doesn’t revolve around anybody in particular.

    While individuality is a right, it comes, like all rights, with corresponding responsibilities. One of those corresponding responsibilities is to accept the consequences of your individuality, that others have their own individual natures that may come into conflict with yours.

    There won’t always be a “mommy” or an institution to come to your son’s rescue, and it’s about time he realized it. Instead of attempting to corral an undeserved army to defend your son, why don’t you cut the cord and realize he needs to defend himself? If he doesn’t learn to fend off “bullying” (although I’d more accurately term it “a series of interpersonal disputes” in this case) now, when will he? Will you accompany him to college, the office, and the retirement home, too?

    Sometimes people conflict, and there are no institutional policies that can ever solve this. People who don’t like your son for whatever reason will never like him, regardless of whatever policies you draft or punishments you dish out. In light of this, your son has really two options:

    1. He can grow a thicker skin, a quicker tongue, and faster fists, learning to advocate for himself instead of having mommy fight his battles.

    or

    2. He can stop acting so femininely, lose weight, be less conspicuous about his illnesses, and learn who is actually interested in hearing about his obscure hobbies.

    This is a dog eat dog world, where you either learn to blend in or, if you must stand out, stand out on your own two feet, not being propped up by the rudimentary defenses of an overprotective mother. The method that you’re working at will only waste your time, and make you look asinine and obstructionist to society at large. The response you’re choosing to your son’s “bullying” is an instinctual one, understandable, but not logical. As much as we’d like to, we can’t bulldoze down everything about the world that we don’t like.

    Now, I hope you don’t take this as a personal attack. As an unconventional man myself (a pariah in the violent world of economics, no less), this is advice that I deliver from experience, not condescension. Your son sounds like a perfectly lovely boy, who I’d have no qualm about associating with, but, even still, he is, like everyone, bound to have his detractors, detractors who you, try as you might, will never be able to shield him from.

    Thus, it is better for you to instead endow him with the personal, unbreakable shield of a good self-esteem, which comes not from having the world molded to your preference by an external force, but rather by having the power to mold the world yourself. Consider it.

    “Give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you will feed him for life.”

    P.S.: I, myself, have used the “Atkins diet” to much success. I recommend it. While you have suggested variously throughout this blog that diets are mostly ineffective, and often damaging to one’s self-esteem, I found the situation to be the exact opposite. Overcoming one’s natural inclination to overeat is liberating and esteem boosting, and the physical effects were demonstrable.

    Point is, you may wish to consider that “Sam”‘s weight issues are health issues, not just social ones. Being “the fat kid” is easily preventable with a little bit of self-control, diet, and exercise.

    Have “Sam” put down the video games and go for a jog, perhaps? I know it doesn’t seem that easy, but as someone who has struggled with weight issues, it truly is usually just a lack of willpower that keeps the pounds from flying off. You have to take control at some point, so why not today?

      • Laura says

        While my overall feedback is on the update…

        Robin, I suggest, as I’ll take you at your word that this is not your doing (as WordPress lacks the verification means that Blogger and LiveJournal etc have), you attempt to find out either who, if you share a computer ANYwhere (public library, wifi cafe, home, or work), posted as you or, more likely, who is trying to defame you…

        Since finding a troll’s real identity is really only something the 4chan crew are adept at, why not instead post, as your readership is pretty large, a general post to somehow get across a notion that “someone is posting hateful responses to bloggers that are not in any way in accord with my views or my standard of integrity; if you see suspicious posts linking here and claiming to be me, please reply here!” kind of post explaining that someone is attempting to attack your character by giving hostile/hateful responses on posts that in some cases at least regard very heated issues… I would keep it as a bold/red notice at the top at all times, as face it, many will only visit your site after seeing something charged and defiant and just-plain-mean. We’re all included in that, and who knows what other blogs have been spat upon in your name? Your viewers can help, maybe even more than Google, as a notice up top will let new visitors know stuff like ^that^ is not your doing.

        It will not only clear a little of your integrity here to publicly denounce this crap but may also allow you to both know where else people are seeing you defamed and give you a clue into the pattern of abuse through wordpress and other sites that do not require a proper login…

        • says

          Giving this faker more attention seems exactly the wrong approach. That would tell everyone “Just fake Robin in a comment somewhere and he’ll write a whole post about you.” Makes a lot more sense to ask sites who publish his fakery to take it down, or at least change the name/picture.

          • shoffman says

            Robin, I’m not giving the “faker” attention, or even writing a post about him in particular. I’m calling attention to what is unfortunately a common perception in our society: that victims are to blame for their bullies’ behavior. So this comment, regardless of authorship, is quite a useful way to start a necessary conversation.

            If you are worried that additional people will be drawn to pretending to be you, I’m certainly open to suggestions about how to change your name/website/image. I simply don’t have the technological expertise to figure out how to change the origination of a comment to my blog.

  12. says

    I’m not entirely sure the reader above has read enough of your blog to fully understand the scope of the issues, and the fight that you have undertaken. He sounds a lot like my childhood bully, a woman who today follows the Ayn Rand school of thought, and expounds upon it at every opportunity, especially if someone says something about the loss of social services in Canada. The funny thing is that she suffers immensely from depression, one of her three children is on and off the streets (the slack is picked up by our social services) but she lacks the ability to connect her actions and beliefs with her troubles in her personal life.

    Sometimes it IS a dog-eat-dog world out there, but it is not called a man-eat-man or woman-eat-woman world for a reason. We CAN do better, we just have to do it together.

    I do wonder why this writer has picked this particular post, labeled “tired” to write such a comment. This choice alone stands out.

    Keep going, Sarah. There are so many of us who (a) stand behind you; (b) are taking cues from you in our own schools and communities; and (c) believe that by advocating for your son, as opposed to coddling him. As someone who desperately needed just one person to stand up for me when I didn’t know how to do it for myself (starting in about grade three, and continuing to grade ten), and a successful in every other way person who struggles even today with working within groups, your words are salve to the damage that was done by the absence of someone on my side.

    Your son will figure it out, and part of the reason why he will is because he is well backed up.

    karen

    • shoffman says

      Oh, oh, oh, Karen, you’ve made my day once again. And my heart aches for what you’ve been through–as it swells at your conviction to help others not experience what you did.

      I didn’t approve this comment for quite some time, because it made my blood boil, and because I struggled with ow to articulate my response. But I believe we need to hear all sorts of voices, and to understand the element of society that condones and perpetuates bullying. And so I am preparing a response, along with fabulous anti-bullying ally Carrie Goldman Segall as my guest blogger–it will go up as a blog post soon. I’d love to hear what you think when it goes up!

      As I am working on the response–at this very minute–I really needed the boost that your comment gave me. Thank you.

  13. says

    I believe you did the right thing in posting this man’s response, and allowing his words to hang out there for all to see, instead of keeping such a response in the dark to fester. I’m sure he “meant well” … whatever that means. But conversation, by it’s nature, begs the differing opinions brought out into the bright lights.

    I have recently been struggling with my own issues of working within a group in two places, one with a coterie of “mean girl” parents at my young children’s school — and they existed, made trouble, and formed the PAC (PTA) long before I arrived so it wasn’t me … but I became a focus because I was interested in being involved, and didn’t know the “lay of the land”. These women would absolutely be the ones the man describes, people who would pay lip service to supporting an anti-bullying stance, but would gossip and whisper and plant undermining seeds on the side. What I know is that there are twice as many parents who are not polite, who would be very much interested in finding solutions to poor, and even unconscionable behaviour in their school.

    The other situation I am personally struggling with is a group of women on the Internet, working toward a common amazing goal. My insecurities were really triggered last week, during a conversation about triggers! I know here the problem is in my head — I am reliving something I experienced 30-some years ago! The journey to being okay is long, hard and exciting, and I fortunately have gained the skills to get through it, learning the entire way … But there are far more functional people than I who had decent advocates, and now have much simpler lives with regular careers. I know because in my life I come across them regularly. And so I really, really believe in what you (and I) are doing.

    As an interesting aside, there is a teacher at our school who is being bullied, quite obviously, by the principal. The teacher is about 50, and this is her first experience with being bullied. The other teachers, most of them young, are onside with the principal but there are a couple of others (ahem, more mature) who are not, and we are standing together to subvert a big bully in a position of power. How do you think that children are learning to not bully in a school where the behaviour is being modeled by a principal?!

    Bullying is what is creating crap societies where governing is not about making our countries great for everyone, but for a choice few wealthy people. Do you really thing so many homes would be foreclosed upon if some “strong” greedy personality didn’t insist that employees do work that is wrong, and indeed illegal? Do you think that we would have such concentrations of wealth and poverty if people learned to operate with a modicum of care and concern for those without cash that their children will be standing next to in the years to come in the bank machine line up? Bullies do not see where their actions are leading, only what they can get for themselves immediately. The more bullies we encourage and incubate, the crappier our societies will become. I, for one, am not willing to be party to the creation of that kind of world for my children, and their children, to live in.

    You have to believe that what you are offering here, on this blog, is big and oh, so essential to improving, not decaying, our once good North American society.

    Write on!!!

    karen

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