Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dear Katie & Friends

Allow me a serious "Mom" moment. This is going to be long. So find a comfy spot to read this.

I just heard about the boy at your school that took his own life a couple days ago. While I know some of you were friends with him, I don't know if you all were, but it doesn't really matter. This was a boy your age and in your school that clearly felt his life had no meaning or was of value to anyone. And sadly he's not around now to see this is not the case. I can only imagine the kind of devastation this has brought to his friends, let alone his parents and family.

I know that most teens think no adult can understand how they feel, because we're old and don't know what it's like to be a teenager in this day and age. And maybe there is some truth to that -after all, we kept in touch with long-distance friends by physically writing letters to them - on paper! With ink! And spell check meant having your mom edit it (and then you'd have to rewrite the whole damn thing because your mother was a perfectionist and she didn't care that your friend wouldn't care if you weren't grammatically correct because her parents would care, and how would that make your mother look?? But I digress) – but some things are always the same, no matter the generation.

Everyone goes through a point in their life that they don't think they'll survive, or feel as if they want to. God knows I've had my share. I was bullied and teased and basically tortured when I was a kid because I looked different than the other kids at my school. Girls held me down on the ground during recess while other girls threw rocks and sticks at me. I was pushed off swings, tripped, locked in coat closets and mercilessly ridiculed with "Chinese, Japanese, whatanese" which, as stupid as that chant was (and always accompanied with the oh-so-clever slanty-eye face), made me feel about as horrible as one can feel about oneself, especially when you add to that the fact that I was adopted and all my siblings (save one sister, 7 years older who was also Korean, but was actually the popular kid so there was no common ground to be had) and my mother are White. I endured this on a daily basis. For 5 years. Until one day I lost it - I tried to tell my mom I was sick and didn't want to go to school, and she said, "no fever, you're fine, you're going" and I burst into uncontrollable sobbing. When my understandably baffled mother was finally able to get the truth out of me, she immediately pulled me out of that school and transferred me to the local public school, and my school life vastly improved (Katie can relate to this last part).

Here’s the thing all of you have to understand: you are never alone. Not completely. There is ALWAYS someone that is willing to talk to you, help you, and listen to you. There is a 95% chance that your parents are these people you can go to. Yes, you may think your particular problem is embarrassing. You may think there is NO way you can talk to your parents (they’re old!) and have them understand. But they will. And they do. No matter what it is you have to tell them. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, you have done by this stage in your life is so big and bad that you can’t find someone who will understand. Unless you’re a serial killer. But even then, there is still someone who loves you. Other than that – it’s been said/felt/heard/seen/done/attempted before. Probably by your very own parents at one point in their lives. And if you really, truly, absolutely can’t go to your parents? Find a friend. A counselor. An adult you trust & respect. A hotline. There is someone that can help you realize your value & make you understand how much life you actually have left to live.

And if this is another incident in which bullying has taken the ultimate toll? Enough. The time to turn a blind eye to the taunts you hear, the kids getting shoved, the brutal names that people are verbally assaulting other kids with is OVER. You HAVE to step in when you see/hear this kind of thing going on. No, you don’t have to get physical – fighting violence with violence never really works out well. But you can call those kids (boy OR girl) out on it. A simple “Leave him/her alone!” can be the difference between a kid going home feeling completely alone, lost and defeated or having that small, shimmering hope that someone does care. If YOU make it clear you won’t tolerate that kind of behavior, others will follow your lead. And if all of you that saw someone being mistreated actually DID say something? You know what? The bullying would decrease. Because people who taunt others and make them feel bad do that because of their own insecurities and they will stop when they realize their own peers won’t tolerate it. And if you happen to be friends with a bully (statistically speaking chances are good some of you are) – take some time to talk to them and explain to them they don’t have to treat people that way. That if folks can see the same good qualities you see in them they’d be friends with them too. Sometimes all a kid like that needs to hear is that they too are worth more than what they think they are.

Because what can’t happen is one more kid thinking there is no end in sight and the only way out is death. There’s too much out there to experience and enjoy and discover. Your first boyfriend or girlfriend (yes, it will happen - trust me). Driving a car. College. Living on your own and eating junk food all day long and staying out all night long. Starting your first job. Quitting your first job. Collecting all the spare change from your one room apartment or dorm and hoping you have enough to get a taco from Taco Bell, then realizing you don’t but that you do have enough for 2 packages of ramen noodles! Meeting people crazier and more messed up than you are (THAT will happen too) and finally feeling like you belong. ALL that happens. But it can’t if you cut it short. You are all old enough to make your own decisions. You’re old enough to see when something is wrong and old enough to be part of the solution. Take a chance. TALK to someone when you’re having problems. TALK to someone when you see him or her doing something hurtful. Reach out. Send an email or private message on FB or IM them or text them or call them or whatever. Take the chance and trust that someone will understand what you’re going through. Just don’t feel alone.

If you can’t talk to anyone else, then talk to me. I can listen. Believe me when I tell you there is not a single thing you can say that I have not either experienced myself or won’t understand. I won’t judge. And I will help in any way I can. Just please, don’t keep things to yourself. Because losing a classmate this way is senseless and my heart hurts from knowing this young man couldn’t find the words or the clarity to make his way through this one part of his life when I know SO many would have been willing to help him.

Feel free to pass this on to anyone you think could stand to read the ramblings of a concerned mother. And take care of yourselves. And each other. Because as cheesy as it may sound, you ARE loved and you ARE important and these are the thoughts you should remember during your moments of doubt and insecurity.