How to be

E is experiencing the hell that is middle school right now, and I’m trying to coach him through it the best I can. Last night we had a heart to heart where I told him stories about my own childhood, and at the end he said, Mom you should really write that down. So I am.

I started telling him this series of stories after an unsuccessful bout of  “It’ll get better, I promise, middle school sucks for everybody!” and “You can do it, I survived, you will too!” He responded desperate and deflated, “Yeah, but I’m not like you! You’re… well… you!” and I felt compelled to honestly reply that at his age I wasn’t me yet either. So the story telling commenced:

The first time I was ever attacked by a dog I was 9 years old. My mother waited in the car, outside the chain link fence that surrounded my great aunt’s home in the country. She sent me up to the knock on the door. My great aunt had an old Doberman, mean as shit and twice as blind, we had no idea if he was in the house or not. My mom told me to hurry to the door before the dog heard that I was on the porch, she said my aunt would open the door quick so the dog wouldn’t have time to get me. Now, I know this is bad idea. But I’m 9, whaddya gonna do?

I run up the steps, open the screen door, and knock. Instantly I hear the sound of claws clicking against painted cement, I look over my shoulder and see the biggest goddamned dog coming right at me. I’m so scared I start to run into the seam of the screen door. I’m yelling and screaming and the dog is alternating between snapping at my ankles and rearing on it’s hind legs to paw at me.

My aunt opens her door and starts yelling at the dog. I push pass her into the house. I look through the living room window to see my mom: she’s laughing. My aunt puts the dog away, brings me to the kitchen and starts cleaning the puncture wounds on my ankles and stomach. My aunt was apologizing and told me I must have scared him more than he scared me. Right. I’m a 9 year old girl. All I could think was that bitch was laughing? Really?

The second time a dog scared the living shit out of me was when I was 14. I was sitting on the floor in my boyfriend’s bedroom waiting for him to come upstairs. I heard someone bounding up and turned expecting to see him, but instead an American Bullie, a huge monstrous ginormous beast pounced on me, pinning me to the floor. It looked like it was two regular dogs sewn together. I was terrified. It was growling and sniffing me. I tried to move, it snapped near my neck. I stayed perfectly still until my boyfriend came in the room… and wait for it… he laughed. He shoved the dog over and they began to wrestle with glee. “Stupid dog,” he said, “she doesn’t wanna play with you!” and I watched my boyfriend bite the dogs legs and pull on it’s ears. I stayed on the floor watching and all I thought was, that motherfucker laughed at me.

Two summers later, when I was 16, I was walking through the river bottoms with a guy I had a crush on. We were trying to find a shortcut to the secret beach where a party was happening. There was an old fence with a big hole and a path leading through it. We figured that must be the way. We slid through and the next sound was the distinct bark of a German Shepard. We were in it’s territory. The curls on the back of my neck stood up, and a part of me wanted to wait to see what the guy would do. See how he would handle the threat to my safety. But then another part of me shouted “He’s just gonna laugh at you!”

As the dog approached, I waited until I could look it in the eye, I stretched my back to stand as tall as I could, yelling in my most stern parent-like voice, “Bad dog, stop barking, sit!” I pointed my finger in it’s face. I was so determined to not be scared by the goddamned dog that if it had came at me, I would have shoved my fist down it’s throat and started squeezing.

Luckily, it stopped progressing forward, but kept barking. I repeated myself louder and louder until the dog stayed back. “I’m the fucking master and you’re the fucking pet and nobody is going to laugh at me! Sit and stay!” The dog obeyed and we walked back under the fence. I didn’t look at the guy. I didn’t want to see the expression in his face. I didn’t want him to see the expression on mine. I didn’t give him the chance to save me just like I didn’t give him the chance to humiliate me. I realized at that moment how those two options were intertwined.

And that’s how bad-asses are made, not born. We’re not born knowing that all we really have is ourselves. In fact we’re born with the exact opposite expectation and only experience can convince us of the difference. We all deserve to be loved, protected and cherished. Some of us are less supported and cared for than others. So we learn to protect ourselves sooner.

The point was to tell E to be easy with himself. To appreciate that he hasn’t had to face down any scary dogs on his own. That right now he is experiencing a new kind of conflict, independent of me, and everything feels different and all of his classmates are feeling all those different feelings too.  It’s all a learning experience and who he is today is not who he’s going to be at 18. At 9 years old, all I could do was flip out when the dog came at me. At 14, all I could do was freeze. By 16, fuck you, you four legged furry piece of meat, don’t you dare bark at me.

How to be
  • asociologyphdstudent

    This is a great story! Kids can be extremely mean and it takes a lot for a kid to grow the confidence to be comfortable in his own/her own skin. I hope your son finds it within himself to see how stupid it is to care about what others think, even at his yougn age! 🙂