Today I read about yet another teenager committing suicide because he was bullied.
It breaks my heart and makes me mad and confuses me all at the same time. It makes me read all about him, listen to his words, hear what his family has to say, send thanks from my heart to those who supported him.
It makes me want to do some big, sweeping Thing to ensure my own kids will be neither victims nor perpetrators of bullying.
It feels like an overwhelming task in moments like these.
I live my life modeling equality and tolerance and kindness and self-acceptance for them.
But what else can I do?
While sitting here at my kitchen table looking for answers, I thought of my Nana.
My Nana was a walking talking example that Weird is Awesome. She was different, and it was beautiful. It was what made her so special to me.
I wish like anything that she was alive today to see me as a Mom, to be a Great-Grandmother to my kids. To share stories about how she taught in a 1-room schoolhouse in Vermont as a single mother. Show how she was smart and quirky and strong and funny and whimsical all at once.
I would love to hear her thoughts on the bullying issue going on right now. I bet she’d have a lot to say.
I bet she’d swipe on another layer of her coral-red lipstick, pop her lips during a pause, then point her wide blue eyes at me while wildly gesticulating during a story about a kid she taught over 50 years ago.
And I bet most of all, somehow she would end up talking about something she read. A story. Whether a NYTimes best seller or a children’s book or an old classic or a short story from her Reader’s Digest, she would have read something that suited her stance.
My kids are 4 & 6yo and, just like Nana, they soak books up like they are the most important nutrition they could get.
They refer to some of their favorite stories in everyday situations. They are connecting the dots, comparing and contrasting. They are beginning to get it.
Last week, a friend showed me her sister-in-law’s new children’s book.
I’m happy to support new authors (as I hope others will be happy to support me one day), and read her copy of Nothing Like a Puffin since mine hadn’t arrived yet. It was a fun book that used logic, compare/contrast to help kids learn how to think outside the box. Learn to look at things in more than one way.
I loved it at the time, but it wasn’t until today that I realized how it was just a piece of the puzzle that all would click into place for me today.
My Nana was religious about many things: her brand of lipstick, the length of her skirt, and the trips she took each year to Maine to see the puffins.
They were her favorite creature, these little birds who look like a cross between a penguin and a toucan. She’d send me glossy postcards with them on the front, show me photos of them in between shots of her old lady friends on the tour bus, call me to tell me how many she saw on the rocks that weekend.
I rarely met people who even knew what these birds were, but to Nana? They were cherished for being unique.
This kids’ book helped me realized why Nana loved them so much.
I had run my hand over the bright happy artwork as I read along with this puffin who sees a little bit of himself in all he passes, yet relishes in the fact that he is still unique. As I sat here remembering, I knew what I instinctively felt back in that moment, what drew me to think of this book today:
This is how my Nana felt. This is how I want my kids to feel.
I don’t know how to make my kids have the thick skin I seem to have been born with.
I don’t know how to make people who don’t live in my house be fair and kind.
I don’t know how to help those parents who have lost their kids to bullying, whether physically or psychologically.
I don’t know what big, sweeping Thing I could possibly do to help my kids.
But I believe that if I think small, if I do things like talk to my kids how special their Nana was because she was so different, or have them read books like this that reinforce the logic that we can all have things in common and still be wonderfully unique at the same time, then maybe – maybe – my kids will have a better chance in the world of cruel bullies and unfairness that they will someday likely have to pass through without me by their side to shield them. Maybe they will be so used to thinking about how quietly connected and special everyone is, that they will never feel the desire to hurt any of those special people.
I have to start somewhere, and can’t think of a better place to start than by opening a book that opens conversations about my beloved Nana and how amazing it is to just be yourself.
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