The library was cold, despite the fact that about 100 people were packed in those walls. We were there for Challenge Day, which had been whispered about in the halls those first few weeks of school. As an educational assistant I was there to assist, but what I didn’t know was that it would forever change how I looked at my students.
A line of brightly colored tape divided the room in half; we stood on one side, and waited. As we stood there, I noticed that Aiden was in the room.
Wow, that kid needs THIS session, I thought bitterly. My eyes narrowed as I watched him laugh with his friends. All I could see was the kid who had bugged our son for years, even going as far as walking up to Kevin while he sat with us on the ferry and begin taunting him. Name calling, threats to fight, following him home, throwing stuff at him, you name it. No respect for adults. Someone that people would say was a bad kid and needed to be punished. I was incensed. My kid had already suffered enough, why couldn't he just leave him alone?
“It’s karma that I’m working in his classes,” I thought. Our eyes met across the room, and he fidgeted nervously.
“This game is called cross the line,” the leader announced. “If you’ve ever had these things happen to you, I want you to cross the line on the floor.” And then he began.
“Cross the line if a teacher, parent, or adult has told you that you’re stupid.”
“Cross the line if you’ve ever been teased or harassed because of your weight.”
“Cross the line if you’ve been harassed because of your ethnicity.”
“Cross the line if you’ve lost one or both of your parents.”
“Cross the line if you’ve lost someone you love to cancer.”
I crossed, I watched the kids cross, again and again. My heart sank as I witnessed some cross more, much more, than others. Cracks began to show in their cool teenage exteriors and by the time we were half way through, many had tears on their cheeks. It was the last call, the last crossing, that made many of us come undone.
“Cross the line if you’ve ever considered committing, or know someone who has committed, suicide. “
Whether I crossed because I lost a high school friend to suicide or had considered it myself once briefly, I don’t know. When my eyes finally left my shoes, my gaze met his- and I finally saw Aiden for who he really was.
My son’s bully was not a monster, he was just a scared and lonely little boy who, because of his own pain, lashed out at the people around him. I didn’t see it before but somehow, by playing the game, something happened inside of me.
Before I knew it, I was suddenly beside him, extending a hand. His eyes were wary.
“Clean slate.” I moved to give him a way out, if he chose to run. Instead, his brow furrowed. “I’m giving you a clean slate,” I explained. “Whatever has happened before is in the past. I’m not going to hold it against you.”
With that, I walked away and left him standing there, dumbfounded.
I kept my word. It took a long time to win him over, but each day, little by little, there was progress. He never bothered Kevin again and in fact, they formed a truce. Eventually I had to leave the school and move onto another job, but I never forgot Aiden and wondered what happened to him.
My answer came this June when I ran into Aiden, by now 18 and on the brink of manhood, just days before his high school graduation.
“It was hard, but I did it,” his eyes shone with pride as he grinned ear to ear. I couldn't help myself and threw my arms around him in a congratulatory hug.
“I knew you could, you know. I am SO PROUD OF YOU.”
His voice softened as he smiled.
“I know. You always were my favorite.”
While at times it can seem daunting to parents to protect their kids from bullies in light of the loss of Amanda Todd, I encourage people to check out the folks over at Challenge Day and Me to We. I wouldn't call them a quick fix, but I know the impact Challenge Day made on me and the kids who I attended with. Let's empower our kids, be involved, talk about it, and walk the walk. Today.