As parents, we spend lots of time thinking about bullying. Are our kids being bullied? Are they bullying others? What can we do about either scenario? MomSpeaker Lisa Weinstein has been on both ends of the bullying spectrum and here ponders the statute of limitations on an apology.
I stood there, frozen, with a basketball in my hands as I listened to the daring taunts of my preteen peers.
"Throw it Lisa" . . . "Throw it Lisa" . . . "Throw it Lisa!"
The target? The garage door of the Smith House (not their real name). My peers had been bombarding that garage door all day in a successful attempt to annoy the Smith family. For reasons I'll never know, they decided that I should have a turn and handed the ball to me, a shy, gawky 11-year old who most certainly knew right from wrong.
If I threw the ball I would betray all the good my parents had instilled. If I didn't throw the ball I knew that my preteen peers would find a new target . . . me.
Be bullied or become a bully? Those were my choices.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith had three sons, ages 4, 7 and 10. To this day, I'll never quite understand why the Smith family was so disliked by every kid on my street.
Those poor Smith boys were teased. Relentlessly teased.
Most of the time the assaults were verbal, although on occasion the oldest Smith boy bore the physical brunt of one or more of the brutish boys on the block.
On that fateful summer day, the kids had decided that pounding the Smith's garage door with a basketball would be a great way to while away an afternoon. Each time the ball hit the garage door, Mr. Smith screamed out the window for them to stop, giving those kids even more incentive to take turns throwing the ball with all of their might.
Then they handed the ball to me.
Be bullied or become a bully?
Much to my overwhelming regret I chose to become a bully. I threw the ball, which hit the garage door with a sickening bang.
An uneasy silence followed.
We waited for Mr. Smith's familiar scream out the window. But no scream came.
Suddenly . . . the unthinkable happened. Mr. Smith came storming outside as a group of petrified preteens scattered in every direction!
No sooner had I run into the safety of my house, a knock came at the door.
IT WAS MR. SMITH!
Even though at least a dozen kids had thrown a basketball at his garage door that day, Mr. Smith chose to speak to my mother. I suppose he thought of me as a good girl. A shy, gawky 11-year old good girl who wouldn't succumb that easily to peer pressure. He expected bad behavior from the other kids . . . but surely not from me.
I don't remember my mother's punishment that day, nor after all this time does it really matter. I just know that nearly 40 years later, the memory still haunts me.
Shortly after that incident, a "For Sale" sign went up on the Smith's front lawn. I heard that they moved to protect their kids. They found a neighborhood where their sons could grow up without being bullied.
For years I longed to apologize to the Smith boys for the small role I had played in forcing them to move. But I soon learned that saying sorry isn't always the best way to go after I received a very strange apology from a woman I barely knew.
Her guilt-ridden words came via Facebook messenger. She wanted to apologize for something mean she had said to me during our senior year of high school, way back in 1983.
I had no recollection of the incident. What's more, I had no recollection of this woman. I didn't remember her name, nor did I show any glimmer of recognition when I viewed photos on her Facebook page.
I wondered why, after all of these years, she had reached out to me. If she somehow thought her apology would make me feel better after being the target of a hurtful diatribe spoken decades earlier, she failed miserably. Why on Earth would I want to be reminded of something hurtful that had long been forgotten?
Perhaps she wanted to assuage her own guilt rather than ease her victim's pain.
That's when I realized that my reason for wanting to apologize to the Smith boys was completely selfish. I, too, wanted to assuage my own guilt rather than ease their pain.
I reconnected with one of the Smith boys not too long ago. I appreciated his warm greeting even though he barely remembered anything about me. He had been blessed with a beautiful wife and children, and most important, he seemed quite happy.
I could have apologized for throwing the basketball against his garage back in 1976, but why bring up something that had probably long been forgotten.
So I didn't apologize. There was no longer any need.
Click here to learn more about preventing, stopping and responding to bullying.
Lisa Weinstein is a South Jersey mom who blogs about parenting a teen, coping with middle age and celebrating nearly two decades of marriage. This post was adapted from her blog, The Mixed Up Brains of Lisa Weinstein.