Words Do Matter and I’m NOT Ugly!

Sticks and Stones

Edgewood, Illinois.

Just the mention of that town brings back bad memories.  About three months into my sixth grade school year, we moved from Mason to Edgewood (both small towns about 10 miles apart).  For me, they were opposite sides of the universe.  Mason Grade School was one of my happiest times in school.  I had lots of friends, was always busy playing with the group at recess.  I took my hula hoop to school each day and we would all gather in the playground after lunch to see who could keep the hoop going the longest.  It was great!

My fifth grade teacher was very impressed with me and told mother in testing they had done I tested as a genius.  She also thought I was the most polite child she had ever had in her classes.  When I began sixth grade my teacher designed extra curriculum for me and talked about advancing me to the next grade.   I was a very confident and happy girl.

Then came Edgewood

Shortly after sixth grade started my family moved to Edgewood and there I lost my confidence and happiness.

The school building at Edgewood had eight grades in four rooms.  The first four grades were on the lower floor and the last four grades were upstairs.  My first morning at Edgewood, I started climbing up the stairs to go to my new classroom.  About half way up the stairs, I met two boys coming down the stairs.  As they got about two stairs above me, one of the boys grabbed the other boy, pointed at me and in a very loud voice said, “Move over!  Don’t get near her.  That’s the ugliest girl I have ever seen.”  They both laughed and moved over as far to the other side of the staircase as they could get from me.  I hurried on up to my classroom hoping they would not be in my class.

Shortly after the teacher had showed me where I would sit and I was settled in my new desk, in walked the young boy who had just called me the ugliest girl he has ever seen.  He was sitting in the next row over from me.  Every time the teacher’s back was turned, he would look at me and make faces as if the sight of me was making him sick.  Kids around him started laughing.  Of course, when the teacher turned around and wanted to know what was funny, nobody seemed to know.

The harassment continued on the play ground.  When we played games that required us to pick participants, he would always yell out, “Don’t pick the ugly girl.”  Everyone would laugh and I would be the last one picked.  He was obviously the leader of the kids and he saw to it that no one played with me or sat with me after lunch.

Every day I cried as I walked to school.  I couldn’t wait for the dismissal bell to ring so I could get out of there.  I quit bringing my hula hoop to school because no one wanted me to play with me.  Most of the time after lunch I would sit and read my Bible.  Of course, that probably brought more ridicule for me.

Until that time I had not really given much thought about how I looked.  What little thought I had given was positive.  In second grade I had been in a style show at the high school with my oldest sister  She had made us matching dresses and we were part of a program at the high school showcasing the talents of the students.  My sister practiced with me over and over how I was to walk out on the stage, how to turn around to show off my dress and then return to the back of the stage.  I was the hit of the show.  Everyone had commented how cute I was, how beautiful my red hair was.  My sister was clearly very proud of me.

Everywhere my family went, people would comment on my beautiful red hair so I had a pretty positive image of myself.  But the experiences at Edgewood Grade School left me feeling very ugly.  All though my teenage years and even into adulthood, I felt ugly.  Although the compliments on my red hair continued, I always thought “Yeah, my hair is pretty but it doesn’t make up for the fact that my face is ugly.”

It was only years later that I came to understand perhaps why this boy made so much fun of me.  He was a poor student, barely passing.  He was also a bully and a trouble maker and spent a lot of time in the principal’s office or in detention after school.  And guess who his mother was?  My fifth grade teacher.

I, of course, do not know, but as an adult I realize it is very possible that his mother had told him about me transferring to his school and perhaps bragged on what a smart and polite student I was.  Or, maybe he was just a bully who picked on me because I was the new kid.

Looking at pictures of me as a teenager now I realize while I was no Miss America, I actually was a pretty cute kid.  How sad that it was not until I reached my 40’s that I began to gain confidence in my appearance.

Words matter!

So sad to see today how bullying on social media is causing other young girls and boys to have no confidence in who they are.  I also hate it when I hear parents in the stores yelling at their kids sometimes telling them they are stupid, dumb, mean.

Words matter!  Think before you speak.  Speak up when you see someone bullying another.

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