A few days ago, my two oldest daughters had a disagreement with one another. For the life of me, I cannot begin to remember what started the verbal war between the two. (mainly because I’ve been floating in a state of little sleep and I don’t think chocolate—as a primary source of nutrition—is much of a memory preserver)
All I can recall, before my memory cuts off at the exchange of two words (idiot and moron) angrily lobbed at one another, was something about eggs. That was right before steam shot out of my ears like a locomotive and my head swiveled like Medusa. I highly doubt they said anything after my wicked transformation into pissed off Mama.
I could lie to you and tell you that discipline came in the form of them sitting in time-out for ten minutes. A solitary place where they both could think of ten uplifting things about each other. Then I made them recite those affirmations of character to one another while they held hands.
But that wouldn’t be the truth.
I got so mad that I burst out crying (Medusa cries, just so you know). And, once I calmed down, I went off the deep end about name calling being the ugliest form of a sucker punch. And as their Mama, I can’t defend a sucker punch.
It was a tirade—this episode of mine. And I’m not sure they heard what I was really trying to “teach” them. Maybe it was the tears, or my head swiveling on my neck, I’ll never know.
But now it’s been awhile; I’m more collected (basically, not an emotional basket case incapable of training up children). I feel strong enough to put into written word why I am so hung up on name calling.
First, I’d rather be slapped in the face than called a derogatory word. (Seriously, don’t slap me–I am fragile.) Call it a childhood hang up, but it’s my truth.
I can still remember the first time someone called me a name. The impact it had on me is one I won’t forget. I was in the sixth grade. My home life was weary and intensely stressful. My parents were only a few months shy of announcing their impending divorce. My childhood was on the verge of shattering.
One weekend, I’d been invited to a birthday party. The birthday party. The one where all the “cool” kids would be there. Rocking a too tight perm (that was awkwardly growing out and worse, an undercut), I’d never felt more accomplished, to be invited, at age 11. In my mind, I had made it to the proverbially inner circle of social hierarchy.
Little did I know, my fall from the “so-called top” would be swift and hurt like hell.
At this birthday party, we played ‘spin the bottle’ or maybe it was ‘truth or dare,’ I can’t remember. According to the spin or dare, I had to kiss a boy (who I will not name) who I thought had won the 1.6 (I’m not talking the measly 656 million, it was the record jackpot, mmmkay) billion dollar lottery of all genes. In my eyes, he was it–the. cutest. boy. in. all. the. land.
The peck was 2 seconds, pink cheeks and no eye contact for the rest of the party (and probably the rest of entire school year) followed. We were 11. It was the first “kiss” I’d ever had.
I’d return to school the following Monday, most likely skipping, with Cupid’s arrow surely still visible, like a love struck fool. I was standing outside the school, among a few friends, waiting for the bell to ring, when a girl walked straight up to me and stuck out her hand.
I was confused. This person was apart of that social hierarchy I’d perceived of my own free will; we did not talk. Did she want me to shake her hand?
Clearly not getting it, she reached out and took my hand and placed it into hers and then she rigorously shook our locked hands, before she said, “Congratulations. You’re a slut.” Everyone, after the initial shock wore off, laughed.
The image is one burned in to my memory. (I’d later learn that this boy, I’d barely brushed lips with, was “going out” with this girl’s friend.)
I stood there, shocked and humiliated. After the bell rang, I went into the bathroom and locked myself into a stall, sunk into the metal barrier and cried. An ugly cry.
Those words, for longer than I care to admit, clung to my fragile self-esteem. The adhesive was my own insecurities, my broken home life, and the blooming idea, amid my humiliation, that I held little worth.
It was the “bully” moment of my childhood and it changed me.
I think my emotions, upon hearing my daughters name calling with such vengeance, pulled me under an ardent tide because my oldest daughter will be 11 next year. We are encroaching on territory that holds a painful landscape of mine.
She could break someone, or be broken by someone.
I cannot change the past, nor do I hold any ill will against this memory, or any one in it. But this is my chance, Lord willing, to place power into changing my children’s culture.
What I told my girls, when I was ready to broach the subject again, was this.
“Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21
I told them I wanted them to understand the value of a word. A word is profound. No matter the size. It holds power, casted negatively or positively over, against, and for someone.
Even just a single, negative word can cause a deep-seated fissure upon someone’s heart; striking a negatively false belief in their self-esteem and their self-worth.
One. Single. Word.
Is all it takes.
I shared with them the responsibility we shoulder using words and the value of “why” we need to choose to communicate our frustrations versus the easy way out–the verbal sucker punch.
I want them to be cognizant their words could break a child’s heart, one who is suffering. Who feels unloved and lost. Who wants to desperately fit in, because there isn’t a fit in their home life.
Their words could scar someone, stranger or friend alike.
In truth, we never know where someone stands, in light or the shadows of darkness, but our universal culture has to be kindness mixed with a little bit of bite. your. tongue.
It’s easier biting your tongue, than eating your words. (Here’s where I tell you I had a mind to go to a speciality grocery store and find the most disgusting thing–sure to have the worst taste–and labeling it ‘idiot’ and ‘moron’ and then making them eat it.)