Earlier this year Ruthie had an ongoing conflict with some kids on the school bus. She wanted to sit in the way back – in the last seat – but the older kids wouldn’t let her. If she claimed the back seat first, the older girls would kick her out.
Sometimes she got off the bus mad, sometimes she was crying. Several times the older kids had the nerve to sass me through the window as the bus pulled away.
“She called me a bitch!” one of them said through the window one day.
I know, I KNOW. Maybe I shouldn’t have smirked, but despite her inappropriate response, I was pleased my girl had moxie.
Every day after school I’d ask Ruthie where she sat, and she’d report what happened. I asked detailed questions about who said what. I learned names. I listened.
I wanted to know why sitting in the back seat was so important to Ruthie, and I learned it was important simply because she could. Kindergartners and first graders were supposed to sit toward the front, but now that Ruthie’s in the second grade she can sit where ever she wants.
And she wanted to sit in the back.
When I pressed, she held her ground. “I can sit where I want mama,” she would say sadly. “But they told me I can’t sit there.”
It broke my heart to see her so sad, but my knee jerk reaction was to sweep it away. I don’t like conflict, and it was tempting to blow it off and tell her to just move on. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t important, to do the “easy” thing and just quit trying.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to say she should back down. If she wanted to back down I would have supported it, but I felt it was something she needed to work out on her own.
I could see that Ruthie was identifying an injustice, wrestling with it, and struggling to stand up for what is right. So instead of encouraging disillusionment or apathy – my own default response – I attempted to teach Ruthie how to deal with conflict in the real world; how to choose what to fight for and how to prioritize her battles.
We talked about why people act like bullies, and we talked about the times when Ruthie herself was a bully, and we talked about the right way and wrong way to respond when someone is mean to her.
(For instance, using the word bitch is sometimes called for, sometimes foolish).
Eventually she decided to sit in the middle of the bus. She was very pleased about this because it was something she decided to do. She was choosing to ignore the other girls and sit somewhere else.
Honestly, I half expected someone to start throwing punches, and I wasn’t entirely convinced it would be the other girl. Regardless, I think Ruthie was finally able to grasp that she wasn’t an enemy of the other girls, but that they were using her to work out their own anger – something she and I know a little about.