Can I Sit with You?


www.canisitwithyou.org
September 7, 2008, 1:28 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

We have made the permanent rather than forwarded-from-Wordpress.com move to www.canisitwithyou.org. We will no longer be posting here at canisitwithyou.wordpress.com.

Please change your links so you can keep up with our wonderful schoolyard stories.



Transitions and Story Selections
September 5, 2008, 8:12 pm
Filed under: publishing

We are in the process of transitioning our blog to a dedicated server. Apologies for the next few days’ design and interface hiccups.

We will announce which stories were selected for Can I Sit With You, Too? on September 30th.



Cookie

by Pamela Merritt
Kindergarten and First Grade

When I was four years old my parents moved my family to a middle class suburb in St. Louis county. When I looked around our neighborhood I saw a sea of white faces. Our family was one of only two black families in the neighborhood. The ramifications of that didn’t hit me until the first day of kindergarten when I walked into the classroom wearing a brand new pink frilly dress and white patent leather shoes only to find myself greeted by looks of disgust and distress from my fellow students.

By the time that first day was over I had been pushed, spit at, called a monkey, and ignored by my teacher. I went home in tears and announced to my parents that there was no way in hell I was going back to that miserable place. My parents responded by telling me that there are ignorant racist people all over the world and, sadly, they teach their children to be ignorant and mean too. The basic message was that I was going to have to learn how to cope because my parents held the value of a good education over the pain of prejudice.

My parents came of age during the 1950s and 1960s, so they were well aware of the pain of in-your-face racial prejudice. But their generation had risked their lives to get a decent education and both of my parents felt that a few bruises or hurt feelings were par for the course for any person of color trying to get ahead. As far as they were concerned, I was learning a lesson young that I was going to have to learn eventually.

So I suffered and learned how to cope. I sat in the back of class and knew better than to try to make friends. After a particularly vicious beating in the girl’s restroom, I even taught myself to hold my pee until I got home. Yeah, I was coping but I was also miserable and terrified. And I wasn’t learning much other than school survival skills either.

All that changed the next year when Cookie transferred to my school.

Cookie was also black –- a pure dark chocolate brown some people are blessed to be born with. She was solid where I was skinny, fearless where I was cautious, and she became my first friend at school. With Cookie I could conquer the world or at least conquer my phobia about the girls restroom. She talked loud and didn’t take crap off of anyone and I quickly became her fan club of one. I began to laugh and play and ask questions and some of the other students began to hang out with me.

When I looked at Cookie I saw a strong black child and I began to realize that the weeks of racial taunts and physical attacks had taken something very precious from me. I realized that Cookie hadn’t inspired something new in me, but that she had revived a spark that had died such a quiet death that I didn’t even notice its passing.

I recall swinging on the playground next to Cookie one Friday afternoon, thinking that I was having fun and that I couldn’t wait to come back to school. I couldn’t wait to share my weekend news with Cookie over lunch and gossip about the other girls or our older sisters. I remember going to the bathroom without fear of assault, my head held high as I walked past girls who used to haunt my nightmares but who now held no power over me. And I remember hugging Cookie goodbye and getting on the bus, not knowing that everything would change that weekend.

That Sunday after dinner my mother sat me down and told me that Cookie’s mother had called.

Their family was moving because of a work transfer.

Cookie was moving away.

I cried as if someone had died, but my mother said that I should save my tears for a real tragedy. I was well grown before I learned the meaning of that and, at the time, I thought Cookie moving away was the world’s greatest tragedy.

Our parents took us out for burgers and fries but neither one of us ate. We promised to write and call and that we would be friends forever. But then Cookie turned to me, took my hands and leaned forward and whispered in my ear.

“But it’ll be okay if you don’t write or call.”

She pulled back and looked me directly in the eyes.

“You’re going to be okay … you know that, right? Because we made a memory and that’s what’s really forever.”

I nodded but my throat closed up and I couldn’t form the right words.

“Come on, girl.” Cookie said, and stood up with a smile. “Let’s go play!”

And off we went to play together for what was to be the last time.

We quickly lost touch after Cookie moved away, but I thought of her often over the years. I hope she’s happy and as confident as she was when we were young.

The cool thing is that Cookie was right.

She moved away but she left me with a memory and she also left me with an awareness that I am worthy of kindness, friendship, and laughter.

And that is still one of the most precious gifts of my childhood.



Aug 31 Is the Deadline for Inclusion in Second Can I Sit With You? Book
August 25, 2008, 6:44 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

If you want your wonderful, fabulous story about your social experience in elementary or middle school to be included in the Can I Sit With You? project‘s second print collection, you’ll need to get it to us by August 31st. ciswysubmissions@at@gmail.com.

Though we have more than enough material for the second book, we want to include as many voices and perspectives as possible. Please make good on your good intentions, and send your story in by this Sunday!

Please note that while Shan and Jen are nice people, that deadline is a rock wall. Don’t run into it headfirst.

Submission Guidelines: http://canisitwithyou.wordpress.com/submission-guidelines/



My Longing to Belong

by Elisabeth Ellendorff
Kindergarten through seventh grade

“Tell me, are you looking forward to going to kindergarten?” The friendly lady, our neighbor, bent down to ask me. I was standing next to my mother, clutching her hand for safety.

I had heard that question so often now. Everybody asked me. After all, I was four years old, and I was sure that beginning kindergarten next fall was going to be the biggest adventure in my life. And like always, I looked at her and said, “Yes.”

I thought about kindergarten. It was all so mind-boggling thrilling. They had built a brand new kindergarten in our part of Zurich, and the kids of my age group were going to be the “first” ones in it. Like with all kids, the fact of something’s being NEW added to my excitement.

As spring merged into early summer in 1961, my anticipation rose from day to day. But I hadn’t reckoned on the world of adults.

My father, a German physicist, was busy expanding his career. His big international Swiss company decided it would be a good idea for him to go to New York. So my parents packed up our household, gathered their five children together, and before I could realize what was happening, we were in a different country, different culture, and immersed in a different language. So much for my plans to attend that lovely new kindergarten.

We moved to a small town on the Hudson, about two hours’ drive north of New York City. I was placed in a preschool attached to the local elementary school. Here, in this new country, my brothers and I could prove that even if we had no say in what adults did with us, we were much better than those adults at learning languages. I don’t honestly know how it happened. I learned English like magic — at least, I thought so.

But then there was that morning at preschool. We had been doing finger-painting. When everybody was finished, we sat at our tables, looking expectantly at our teacher.

Only something was wrong. The teacher had her eyes fixed on me. And she looked very angry. Apparently, my table hadn’t met her standards of cleanliness, but I had no way to know that.

“Go,” she said fiercly, “Get a sponge, and clean that away.”

I just stared at her, not comprehending. Sponge? Never heard of it.

Now the teacher, who was usually very pretty and very composed — I liked her — glared at me and grew very loud. I think she would have liked to slap me.

“A SPONGE!” she yelled. She must have thought I was being stubborn, maybe even rebellious.

I was bewildered. What had I done to make her so angry? I think I put my head on the table and began to cry.

“Please, Miss,” said one of the other girls as she raised her hand, “Please. I don’t think she understands. She’s from Germany. She doesn’t know what a sponge is.”

The teacher stared. Then she whipped around, grabbed the sponge from the sink and practically threw it at me. “THAT is a SPONGE! And now you clean that up, Madam!”

With my heart beating and my face red from humiliation, I did as she said.

Time flew, and soon preschool was a thing of the past. I now went to elementary school and spoke English as well as anyone. But, somehow, I was always “the kid from Germany.” I never belonged. And I would have loved that. Oh, I how I would have loved to belong!

My brothers didn’t “belong” either. We had classmates with Italian names, friends with French and Spanish names, but we were somehow condemned to stay strangers.

Then one morning, waiting for the school bus, one of my classmates was bored. She began looking for trouble She pointed at me.

“My Dad says, if Lizzy is German, then she’ s a nutsie,” she said.

“A nutsie?” the other kids giggled.

“Yeah, a nutsie, nutsie, nutsie.”

They took me in their middle and began dancing around me, sticking out their tongues and singing, “Nutsie, nutsie, nutsie!”

The bus stopped to pick us up and they broke off their singing. I was more confused than sad. A nutsie. A nutsy? I said the word over and over in my mind. What could they mean?

Curious, I asked my mother after school, “Mummy, what is a nutsie? The other kids said I was a nutsie.”

My mother frowned. Then she knelt down and looked into my face.

“Listen. Nazis were bad people who did very nasty things in Germany. That was during the war. That was before you were born. You can’t be a Nazi. I was never a Nazi, nor was your father. Your grandparents were very pious Christians. They got into very dangerous situations for not belonging to the Nazis.”

For not belonging! For someone like me, who fiercely wanted to “belong,” this was a new aspect. My parents and my grandparents obviously were proud for “not having belonged” in those days.

Seven years passed, and my parents packed up again and moved back to Germany, where my father had been offered a professorship at a university. My parents were glad to go. My brothers were almost finished with school now. It was the time of the Vietnam War. Although we were officially “just residents,” they, like any American boys, could be drafted.

Once again, we children were not asked. The adults decided for us. With heavy hearts we said good bye to our teachers, friends, and neighbors. I never really had succeeded in belonging, I never was invited to the really cool parties and social events, but I did have one or two dear friends I knew I would miss.
But, no matter, we were going back home now. We were Germans, and for the first time in my life, I would be living in “my” country. That would make up for a lot of sadness. Now I would belong.

So I thought.

I adapted to the so very different German school system. I gained new friends. I got used to speaking German, rather than English.

Then one day, one of my new girlfriends said to me, “Do you know what everyone calls you? How the kids who don’t know your name refer to you?”

I shook my head. “No. Tell me.”

“They call you ‘The American Girl’.”



An Open Apology to Kirk

By: mom2spiritedboy
Age at the time: 6

Dear Kirk,

I am sorry that I did not stick up for you more in the first grade
I am sorry that I didn’t ask you to come to my house to play
I am sorry that you didn’t get to live with a forever family
I am sorry that the kids at school were so horrible to you
I am sorry that they called you “Kirk the Jerk”
I am sorry that I do not remember your last name

If I could have it all to do over
. . . I would have played with you at recess when no one would, EVERY day, not just sometimes
. . . I wouldn’t have let go of your hand when we were walking home and other kids were coming
. . . I would have shared my Jos Louis with you on the field trip and sat with you on the bus
. . . I would have been your best friend

I am glad that I kicked those boys HARD with my Cougar boots that day they were bullying you after school. I wish that there wouldn’t have been a need for anyone to have to protect you – I wish people could have been nice to you and that grown ups would have made the world a safer place for you.

I think of you often. I feel much shame and sadness for the things that never were and all that should not have been. When I watch my son as he struggles so much to fit in, I often think of you. I will do better by him than what was done for you.

I am sorry and I hope life got better. I hope you found someone to sit with on the bus and who would share their lunch with you.



Imagine This (A Narrative on Bullying)

by Lastcrazyhorn
Age 12 at the time

Let me set up a scenario for you.

Imagine first that you’re a kid, maybe 11 or 12, possibly 13. You have Asperger’s Syndrome, which means that your social skills are impaired already; plus you’re a preteen/young teen, which means that the rules for your social world are constantly in flux. But as of yet, you’re not diagnosed; nor has anyone in your life ever heard that word, let alone know what it means. As if that weren’t bad enough, you’re a girl who is more of a tomboy, who doesn’t see the point in following the social rules or norms, either because it seems like a waste of time, or you’re just mostly oblivious to their existence in the first place.

Most kids don’t like you very much. You don’t know why. Vaguely, you understand that there is something about your being that offends or bothers these kids. You don’t know exactly what it is. You think that if you smile at them, if you laugh at their jokes (their very unfunny jokes), if you make a point to be really nice to them, then they’ll see your effort and be friends with you. You think that if you can find a topic that you both can talk about, that you both like, then maybe you can have something in common and that’ll help the situation.

They laugh at you a lot, these other kids; sometimes you know why; sometimes you don’t. They seem to be speaking another language from the one you know. They use slang that’s unfamiliar to you, because no one in your world speaks it. Your world consists of what you’ve learned from books (specifically fantasy and fiction and children’s literature), games, adults and perhaps a few highly specialized interests that you really think are cool, that no one else ever seems to get quite as well. You start thinking that maybe you shouldn’t mention these interests, since they aren’t very well received; but sometimes you just can’t help it, because it’s something that’s important to you, and after all, other kids talk about what’s important to them all the time; so why can’t you?

Other kids bump into you in the hall. You try to be more careful as to not bump into them, thinking it was your fault to begin with. You slowly start to realize that they are purposely trying to hit you. Maybe it’s a new kind of joke. Maybe not. Just to be safe, you always try to smile at them and say “excuse me.” They laugh, like you’ve said a joke, even though you’re pretty sure that you haven’t.

Sometimes they trip you and you fall. When they laugh then, you think maybe you had a stupid expression on your face as you fell or maybe someone said something funny that you missed. Sometimes you laugh with them, because after all, someone falling flat on their face is kinda funny, right? Sure.

Sometimes when you fall, you bruise your knee or cut open your lip on someone’s foot that got in the way of your fall. You try to smile, even though it really hurts, because maybe they can still be your friend if you show that it doesn’t really hurt. Maybe you can show that you’re one of them, because you’re laughing and having fun, even though you are bleeding on the floor of the hallway.

Eventually, you might figure out that they are doing these things to you because they like seeing you hurt. Somewhere between them putting a bee down the front of your shirt, setting fire to your backpack, stealing your backpack, flushing your inhaler in the middle of your asthma attack, pushing/throwing you down the stairs, spitting on/at you, giving you Indian rope burns, drawing on your shirt in permanent ink, giving you the silent treatment at lunchtime (or just getting up en mass whenever you sit down), grading your homework wrong, threatening your life by showing you a knife that they brought from home just to cut your throat with, you start to realize that maybe they really might not like you.

Slowly, you start to realize that those videos your class watched a few months ago on bullying and bullies were demonstrating things that could really happen in your life. Who would have thunk it? So, you think to yourself, like anyone would after having seen those videos, that maybe you should tell someone about it. Either that, or the thought just never occurs to you as a viable option.

Say you try to talk to the principal about it. You ride a bus to school filled with these kids that don’t like you. In fact, as you think about it, you’ve started getting diarrhea every morning before you get on the bus, just from worrying about what might happen that day. Most of the time your bus gets to school late, and your bus driver tells you to go straight onto class as fast as you can. Thus, you can’t talk to your principal then, because the bus driver told you get to class as soon as possible.

All of the breaks in the day, when the kids push you and hit you going through the hall, are only about 5 minutes long. The halls are crowded enough, without kids purposely trying to run into you; so what should take 2 min. to get down the hall now takes 4 minutes. Plus, you have to go the bathroom on your breaks, because as it slowly is revealed to you, none of your teachers like you either, and rarely allow you bathroom breaks. Apparently you are considered a difficult student, because you have to ask a lot of questions just to know what’s going on consistently during class. Your teacher gives you instructions, but you aren’t sure who they pertain to. Is she talking to all of the students in the class or just the ones that think that particular way? You don’t know, so you ask.

You can’t talk to the principal on any of your breaks. So you think, well, maybe I can talk to him/her at lunchtime. At lunchtime, in-between the food fight that seems to be only directed at you, you go over to your teacher, who is far off at their table, and try to ask them to let you go to the principal. The teacher, thinking that you’re onto some new ploy to be allowed to go the bathroom, or just because they don’t feel like it at the time, says no and tells you to go back to your seat and quit bothering her. When you leave their table, you hear them all start laughing and wonder to yourself who told the joke and what was it to make everyone laugh so hard??? Boy, if you had that joke, people would fall down at your feet to be your friend.

You ride the bus at the end of the day. You have to get to a seat fast, because otherwise, you’ll end up standing/sitting in the aisle for the rest of the bus ride since no one thinks you really deserve to sit down. Plus, you have to carry on a french horn and even though you might be a little slow socially, you can tell for sure that no one likes trying to accommodate that thing in their seat. You have no time to talk to the principal because if you miss your bus, you’re stuck at the school even longer, and school isn’t really that great, so why be stuck longer?

Eventually, either you realize that if you go to the principal, the other kids will see and really will follow through on that threat to come to your house at night and hang you from your front tree; or else you do manage to see the principal and he either:

1.Doesn’t do anything
2.Doesn’t believe you
3.Calls you overly sensitive
4.Does something, but tells everyone who got them in trouble to begin with, resulting in your getting beat up by an entire crowd of kids, instead of just one or two

Or some combination of the above.

Now, the kids that aren’t actively trying to hurt you/embarrass you don’t do anything to you, but sometimes they sit back and laugh while some other kid fills up an entire wall full of spitballs why you crouch on the floor during the lesson.

There isn’t anyone you can talk to, because either they’re like the principal and don’t believe you, or they call you overly sensitive/compare you to their days of woe and explain that what you’re really doing is building character, because, you see, you really don’t know how it feels to be bullied and they do.

Every time you walk down the hall, either someone trips you, laughs at you, hits you, or whispers behind your back about how shitty a human being you are. In fact, sometimes everyone whispers and laughs at you as you walk down the hall. They say things like, “Hey what is THAT? Is that an IT? Naw, it’s a SHIT. Hey SHIT! Wanna blow me? No,” another one answers, “you wouldn’t want THAT to blow you; think about what kind of diseases you’d get if THAT touched you. Bleah.”

In the meantime, you start writing essays that are centered on themes portraying your violent death, which your teacher awards with A’s, saying things like, “wow, creative, but make sure you work on your handwriting next time.”

One day, you decide that someone has just pushed too far; that, throwing your inhaler in the toilet was bad enough, but throwing it in the toilet that was full of shit was just a little too much; so you hit someone back for the months of suffering they’ve inflicted on you. Instantly, the principal is called or the teacher sees it, and you find yourself on lunch detention for a week or better yet, you’re suspended and have to see the school counselor for a month, in order that you might work out your more violent feelings and the ways in which it might be better to handle yourself, should a situation ever arise again.

Or, say you try to hit someone and you don’t get caught, but everyone laughs it off and starts calling you a freak, or rather a nervous and crazy freak . . . and hey, you remember that one time when the nervous freak tried to hit me? Yeah, that was a laugh riot, wasn’t it.

Imagine that everyone you tell laughs you off or gets you in deeper shit when they try to do something about it. Imagine that you have teachers who purposely give you bad grades so that they can call you up in front of the class and show the class how “stupid” you really are. These same teachers also find great pleasure in not letting you go to the bathroom, even when you’re really sick, because it’s obvious to them that you just need a little toughening up.

Imagine that during PE, when you’re not losing the game and people aren’t throwing basketballs directly at your head just for the hell of it, you’re instead sitting on the floor drawing your name in your arm with a sharpened pencil. Imagine that no one sees or if they do, they don’t say anything.

Imagine that this goes on, day after day after day. Imagine that once every 20 to 30 minutes someone either hits you, kicks you, calls you shit, laughs at you or does all four. Imagine that you still think that agreeing with them will make them just suddenly like you. Imagine that there are good Christian kids that you go to church with that either stand back and let it happen, or that they are the ones doing the worst of the actions against you.

Imagine that every time you try to fight back, either someone overpowers you, or you get caught and in trouble. Imagine that every time you tell someone about it, they just tell you to grow up and get over it. Imagine that you tell the cop at your school and he tells you to quit bugging him and get out of his hair. Imagine that when you’re at home, you start cutting or burning your arms just for the sake of feeling something, since it seems that unless people can see physical evidence, then it didn’t really happen. Imagine that you ask trusted people for help and they ignore you and laugh.

Imagine that you start sleeping in a box on top of your bed for, say, 6 weeks, because it’s the only time you really feel safe. And your mother just thinks it’s a phase. Imagine that you start sucking your thumb again, as well as coming down with pneumonia. Imagine that you start pulling out your eyelashes and eyebrows, and all your parents do is get mad at you for making yourself look bad. Imagine that you suddenly realize that all there is to life is to hear the laughter of other kids while you hurt and no one helps you, no matter how much you smile or laugh with them.

Imagine that you have sleepovers with your teddy bears because no one would want to come to your house anyway. Imagine that for an exercise in your computer class, you have to make a spreadsheet with the names and ages of your ten best friends, and you have to use the names of your cousins from both sides of your family just to make up the difference.

Imagine that it’s like this every single day. Imagine that you start dreaming of ways to commit suicide. Imagine that this goes on for more than a year; more than two; more than three. Imagine that every day of your teenage life is like this.

What do you do?




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