Manhattan Mama and the Rabbit have already been there (on the other side of the Pond) and now it's Firstborn's turn to be bullied. And there I was thinking that kind of thing wouldn't happen in a nice pious Church school - guess I was wrong.
Firstborn has always been a really extroverted and confident little girl but since she started at this school last month she's become shy and withdrawn. The most marked change has been at birthday parties at the weekend - whereas she used to dive into the melee with glee, the past three parties (two this weekend, gahhhh) have been marked with tears and a refusal to be parted from me for even a second. Firstborn has also been having nightmares, major tantrums and being extremely contrary -she's no angel but this is all unusual behaviour for her.
Alpha and I have been getting concerned and suspected that all was not well at school, but when questioned Firstborn has been unusually reticent, only wanting to talk about what she's had for lunch that day (a major high point as they get pudding EVERY day). But tonight, just before bed, it all came out.
Two little boys (or, as Alpha put it, little sh*ts) in Firstborn's class have been pushing her, hitting her and pulling her hair, not to mention calling names and jeering. Then, to make it worse, two girls who Firstborn became friends with in the first week have now withdrawn that friendship, or as Firstborn put it: "Mummy, they forgot they are my friends and they're being yucky to me." Not only are they refusing to play with Firstborn, they have been taking her things and hiding them, have stolen her school tie and dirtied it, keep pushing her out of 'home corner' when they're playing in there, and have also resorted to the old favorite of hair-pulling and name-calling.
No wonder poor Firstborn's eyes have been rolling in terror whenever she encounters a group of children. She's finally lost her innocence and no longer sees all other children as potential playmates - she now realises how truly hideous other kids are.
Part of the problem is that Firstborn is one of the few children in the class not to have attended the school's nursery class last year, and so she is 'the new girl' just as I was so many times while I was growing up. But unlike my parents, I refuse not to take it seriously. I refuse to dismiss it as 'kid stuff' and I refuse to pass on a message to my child that I will not fight her corner. The look on Firstborn's face when she told me about what has been happening, and the general change in her since she started school, tells me that this is not, or should not be, 'just stuff that happens at school.' I refuse to see being bullied as something that will toughen her up. I will not let sticks and stones - verbal and otherwise - break her kind, outgoing, generous spirit.
I was bullied often as a child; my parents moving around a lot meant that I would often join a new school halfway through termtime which exposed me as an easy target, especially as my accent was usually different to that of the other kids. The fact that I was forced to wear black-patent Clarks t-bars, an A-line skirt three sizes too big, and have my hair scraped into a ponytail (with the halo of frizz around my hairline that only curly hair can produce) didn't help when all the other girls sported Princess-Di hairdos, pointy-toed plastic shoes from Stead & Simpson and straight skirts hoiked up to their wotsits, even at the age of eleven.
I always swore that I would never allow the same thing to happen to my child. I would never let her feel that pit of fear in the stomach on entering a classroom, lunchtimes spent skulking at the edge of the playground, the loneliness of the sidelong glances, of hearing your name whispered, the muffled mocking laughter. However, while I can ensure we don't move country, county or borough every five minutes, it seems I can't control whether or not other children are nice to my child. Feeling impotent is not a good feeling.
Whoever said it gets easier as they get older?
A letter to Firstborn's teacher is in her book bag. Watch this space.