I saw a girl as I walked through the campground this evening. She was riding her bike and reminded me of myself at her age. A heavy girl, trying to feel pretty. Dressed in clothes, not as flattering as they should be, but like what the other girls were wearing. I imagine she put on her strapless shirt and felt beautiful. Riding her bike down the road. Hoping others would think she was pretty.
And then a boy is there and he looks at her. One of those cute boys you just know is popular. The ones that, in my experience, always carried the most hurtful words. He and his friend are riding and are about to cross paths with the girl. As I watched, I saw the look in her eyes. The one I had so often. The feeling of confidence so quickly fades and is replaced by the nervous anticipation of the damaging words that may soon follow. She slows her bike and her head slightly drops. He looks at her and I wait. I’m ready to defend her. Ready to jump to her rescue and let this boy know that the hurtful words are not ok. That those words never fade. That I remember every hurtful encounter from my childhood. That those words still sting. I waited. Ready to step up for this girl like I so wished someone would step up for me.
But then the boy, who realized this girl so kindly waited for him to pass first, looked at her and simply said “thank you” and rode away. A shy smile immediately returned to the girl’s face and to mine. No hurtful words, no tears shed. She holds her head high once again and is free to continue on a pain free ride.
After seeing this simple encounter and feeling the feelings I did I realized how deep those old wounds really do run. We think our words don’t matter. We think a name called is better than a fist thrown. But is it really? I have cuts and bruises that have faded long ago. But those words…those hurtful hurtful words from my childhood are still present. I remember shouting “sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me!” but I lied. I lied to them and I lied to myself.
I think of my own words. My words to my little girl. My words to my son. I’ve been making it a mission to “catch them” doing good things. Trying to focus on the good acts instead of always just getting upset at them for the negative. I’m far from perfect. It’s a big learning curve. But I’m really trying to make a point of doing it. I can’t protect them from all the bullies in the world. But I can do my best to make sure I’m not being one at home. Words hurt. They hurt a lot. Talk to your kids. Be kind to them. Talk to your kids. Let them know it’s not ok to bully. Let them know that those words stay forever. Words hurt. Choose them carefully.