Because I was you I know you’ll regret it.
You’ll be moved out and moved on, but you’ll reflect. And you’ll remember these days clearly.
You’ll remember how it sounded when you snickered, and encouraged the others to follow your lead.
You’ll remember seeing just the top of her head, face looking down.
You’ll remember the flush of purple that came to her cheeks when she was near.
But guess what? Those flushed cheeks will streak across your own face and you will get yours- when you’re older and wiser.
And you will feel the embarrassment, sure, but mostly, you’ll feel the shame. And it will rip your heart in two, just like you did hers.
I was you, and so I know this- that’s why I approached you this past week. Because you deserve to know what’s coming.
At 14, you are beautiful. Your hair is silky and your legs lean. You are tall and proportionately slim. You’ve branded your body with designers’ names that seldom feature a clearance price tag.
You’re on vacation, but you don’t dare swim in the pool, for the inconvenience of needing to redo your hair and to have to coat your body once more in your preferred perfume. You’re on vacation, and your wrist is adorned in bands declaring your parents’ small fortune spent on parks and amusement. You’re on vacation and you, being young and beautiful, have a small posse of preteens following you about the property of your rented accommodation.
And you walk with prowess. You walk with confidence. You are the dominant presence here.
From your perch on top of the playground slide you see her coming. Fluorescent pink athletic tee and black sweats. She, an eight year old girl on her vacation, just like you. She, hair dripping from her recent trip to the pool. She, hoping to join in at the playground.
She, making that brave and lonely walk. She, alone.
And you make her arrival known.
Whipping down the slide and to the furthest corner of the property, you and your people flee. Your younger sister, about seven years old, remains back on home base- you’ve not gotten to her yet- and your friend yells, “Good luck!” at her as you and the rest collapse into laughter.
They swing beside one another, and the target of your ridicule thanks your sister for her time on the swing. Thanks your sister for staying behind.
She thanks her for letting her play.
And I push my baby on the swing beside. I watch my preschooler on the monkey bars beside. I gather my thoughts beside.
And as I’m figuring out my own adult emotions and remembering to watch my four year old’s every single move, you come back. And like the queen bee you are, you instruct your people to swarm that eight year old girl on the swing and to physically remove your younger sister from her presence.
Your sister, who was playing innocently, normally, casually, with an eight year old on vacation, was taken away. And you announce proudly that you’ve saved her.
This after at least thirty minutes of similar behaviour, of following and taunting, and then straight exclusion.
And that’s when I lose it. That’s when I, the only adult at the playground, make my move. That’s when I can’t stand to see if you’ll work things out on your own.
Because I know too well how this shit goes down and what you were about to get away with.
That’s when I speed walked to my four year old and dragged her off the monkey bars. That’s when I scooped my baby out of the baby swing, and with one under each arm, began marching them toward the cottage so my father could keep watch.
But half way there, I stopped and I froze. Because I realized I shouldn’t be taking them away. I realized they ought to be privy to what I was about to do. Because though I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say to you or how I was going to say it, I knew part of the solution was having them there.
I have an obligation as a parent, as a human, to normalize standing up for what’s right.
So when I tore a strip off of you, 14 year old girl in a PEI playground, know that I thought about going to your parents first.
When I approached your personal space with my kids parked under each armpit, voice trembling with a mixture of fear, pride and rage, know that my emotion was real.
When the woman with sunglasses over her eyeglasses approached you last week, the one with the mustard stain on her white t-shirt and the unshaven legs, know that she wasn’t really trying to single you out.
But I did so because I know you are smart enough to do better, and that’s why I brought it straight to you, hard and fast.
I told you to stop being a coward and I told you to stop acting weak. I told you to use your power wisely and I told you to take a page out of your little sister’s book. I told you she, although youngest, had far more to teach you than you had to show her.
And I meant every word.
When I screamed at you, surprising even myself at the volume of my voice and the spit forming on the corners of my mouth, know that I did so having felt the hurt for that eight year old girl on vacation. Know that I did so, too, for knowing the hurt it feels to be the 29 year old version of you- still regretting each and every day having been in your shoes.
Because I, like every bully out there, know the feeling of having been bullied myself.
And I, like you, was too weak to fight my insecurity, and chose instead to stalk a vulnerable prey.
As my children squirmed and I shouted my truth, my every feeling of adolescent insecurity revisited me, but I hope that didn’t show.
Because you may feel strong today, 14 year old girl, but you are indeed acting weak. And you needed to hear that.
I worried about the other adults, now looking on and watching, for about two seconds. But they needed to hear it, too.
I imagined the eight year old’s stunned face behind me, and my four year old’s too, but they very much needed to hear it most.
And when your immediate reaction was to deny fault and to act confused, I saw through your bullshit and you deserved to be called out on that, too.
Because every person deserves respect, and you, 14 year old, should know this best of all.
Because I know you didn’t always have breasts or fit into clothes nicely or have a posse. I know you didn’t always carry the confidence you do today.
Something happened to you to make you feel insecure and act out this way. And I don’t know what it is exactly that happened to you, but I do know that chances are, at eight years old, you were her.
And that was me too.
So do better. Be better. Take this day as a lesson in tough love.
Because as much as I hate you and as much as I still hate myself, I believe in you.
Because you can turn it around. You can choose courage.
You can’t and won’t make it all right, but you can save some future heartache. For others and for yourself.
14 year old, please listen. There are many things I don’t know in life, and I’ve no clue what direction your life will take you. But I guarantee you’ll look back on these days with clarity and regret.
I know this much to be true. I know that shame is a hard pill to swallow.
Screaming at another person’s child never felt so good. So right. I never expected the sense of closure it would give me.
I only wish a complete stranger had yelled at me 15 years ago.
Because I was you.