Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Saying Something and Stepping Up


This adage was a favorite of my mother's:

If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.


As golden rules go, it's a good one. Like most of us, she failed on a regular basis, but that's another story.


This story started in our schoolyard as I was about to lead a warm-up. While I corralled the kids into a line to begin humming and sun salutatations, I noticed Bridget off to the side. She beckoned me with a panicked hand gesture.

"Bridget, what is it?" I noticed tears streaming down her cheeks.

She couldn't speak right away so I put my arm on her shoulder and led her away.

"Rachel, can you take over?" Rachel stepped up right away with the rest of the kids.


"Okay, Bridget," I leaned down to meet her eight-year-old eyes, "what happened?"

"Darren called me a lesbian." And her tears escalated.

I didn't know who Darren was. There were lots of boys gathered around the tables. "Which one is he?"

"Him," Bridget stabbed her finger. After a few more queries, I narrowed it down to a fellow in a navy hoodie.

There are lots of recommendations on how to handle bullies. Some parents tell their kids, "Stand up for yourself!" Or "Walk away, take the high road." Or "Knock him down!"

In that moment with Bridget, an actor who had to quickly get it together and face an audience, I just wanted to clock the kid myself.

I marched over to the little criminal, gave him a hard look and motioned him over. He followed me a few steps away from his buddies. As I towered over him, I had to remind myself he was only eight and not yet on the FBI's most-wanted list.

The more complicated problem was that "lesbian" isn't and shouldn't be an insult. But in this case, it was used as such and here I was in a time crunch with lessons that needed to be taught all over the place.

"Hello, my name is Ms. Ryane and I run Shakespeare Club. Who are you?"

"Darren," he whispered, squinting up at me for one second before looking at his shoes.

"Well, Darren, my friend, you have upset one of my actors and that's a real problem for me because she has a job to do onstage. What did you say to Bridget?"

"Well...I don't know...I just...."

"Okay, here's the deal. I already know the whole story and don't have the time to listen to you mumble or make stuff up. So this is like taking a Band-Aid off really fast....You're going to do way better if you just get it out."

"Well...I...said she likes girls, I guess."

"Well, you said more than that, right?"

"Yeah...I said...she's a lesbian."

"Right. Look, you don't even know Bridget. You might think you know her but you don't. Calling someone a lesbian is dumb if you don't know the person but what's worse is that you were trying to hurt Bridget's feelings. That tells me that you are a mean person. Are you a mean person, Darren?"

Maybe the shoes had the answer to that one.

"Here we go, Darren. We're going to go walk over to Bridget now."

Bridget was sucking up her runny nose and watching me with Darren. We arrived in front of her.

"Okay, Darren, you're going to apologize to Bridget for hurting her. Bridget, you and I will hear Darren's apology — but if either of us does not for one second believe he means it, we'll say try again. Got it?" Bridget nodded. "Got it, Darren?" Darren nodded.

"Darren, go."

"I'm sorry, Bridget."

I looked at her. She looked at me. I shrugged: iffy at best. Bridget nodded.

"We didn't really buy that, Darren."

"I'm really sorry, Bridget...."

Bridget was taking her cues from me and I shook my head with a disappointed look. As I returned my gaze to Darren, he burst out with:

"Can you forgive me, Bridget?"

And I fell in love a little with Darren. He was brave in the hot seat. He claimed his guilt and came up with his own phrase for redemption. Darren should be addressing professional athletes and comedians. Darren should be addressing all sorts of adult haters.

"Bridget, does that sound real to you?"

"Yes."

"Good. Thank you, Darren for stepping up. Bridget, time to warm up."


CHILDREN'S WRITES: Journal Entries
Dear Demetrius,

Love is as rich as a pot of gold
My dear sweet hart has bin sold
To you the great love of my life
Love is as soft as a blanket
Love is as hot as an oven

Love,
Helena
—Bailey, 4th grade

Dear sweet Helena,

How I love thee, how I dote upon thee, I love thee so Helena.
—Sam, 4th grade

Dear Oberon,

Oh, how I love you! You are the treasure of my heart and the light of my life! I will give you anything you like!

Love,
Titania
—Audrey, 3rd grade

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