My dad saw Rory’s mother at church the other day. He doesn’t think of her as Rory’s mother of course. To him she’s Sister K., and an example of steadfastness, faith, and courage. To me she is simply Rory’s mother, and I always wonder how such a nice lady produced the holy terror of my early adolescence.
Mean Girls and Bully Boys
I’ve been thinking about schoolyard bullies and schoolgirl meanness a lot lately. A couple weeks ago Sally brought home a note about an incident on the playground. She seemed just the same as always, but the note informed us that the second grade bully punched her in the face as she and a friend walked towards the swings. I inspected her mouth for knocked-out teeth and peered anxiously at the tender skin around her eyes. She was unbruised, her skin unbroken, and her feelings were fine too.
I was somewhat less than fine, somewhere between “you’re never going back there again” and “you know where to kick him where it counts, right?” less-than-fine.
Usually I worry more about middle school mean girl clique-y-ness when I think of the storms of schoolday melodrama. I even had a minor dust-up with my own mean girls from North Sevier Middle School on Facebook the other day. I felt so dumb after that self-induced reminder of things long-gotten-past that I finally read the book my mom recommended, Reviving Ophelia. The task of shepherding three daughters to womanhood often makes me fierce and fearful, and reading Reviving Ophelia didn’t help. Oh, it validated my concerns about tween-age girls (unfortunately) but even though it’s fifteen years old now, it details bullying and sexual harassment from boys that makes my heart tremble for my daughters.
They’re so innocently strong-willed and invulnerable to slights now, so self-sufficient and secure. Sally is almost callous in her friendships, returning effusive greetings at the park or the WalMart with nonchalant “hi”‘s, shrugging it off when her erstwhile best friend decides to play with someone else for the day.
And as for the boys, this week Sally started riding her bike to school with three neighbor kids of the male variety. They come to get her every morning early, and off they ride. They walk their bikes up the big hill, and I imagine she forgoes the incessant “it’s too hard” whining that accompanies our family bike rides. The oldest boy, Mike, is the kind of boy I wouldn’t mind so much her dating in twenty or thirty years.
Unless he turns out like Rory, of course.
It seems impossible now that such a quiet, respectful boy could turn out like that tormentor of my early young womanhood, but I have to remember that Rory had a mother just as nice as Mike’s mother, and things are changing. Kids are growing up younger (whatever that means), and whenever I think of the — well, maybe I should just tell you what that boy was like.
My family moved in to the neighborhood when I was thirteen, at the end of eighth grade. Rory and his friends welcomed us by toilet-papering our house. My friends and I forked his lawn in return; we were pretty disappointed when we heard that Brother K. cleaned up the forks instead of leaving them for Rory, who was away for Boy Scouts.
Rory and I rode the same bus until we got our driver’s licenses. Those last few years of waiting for vehicular deliverance were excruciating, and the only alleviating factor was being old enough to command seats in the back of the bus. Naturally, Rory and his friends set up camp back there. But I was valiant, and fearless. When verbal threats didn’t work, those boys threw gum in my hair and poured Pepsi on my seat. While I was sitting on it.
One day, I think it was the Pepsi-on-the-seat day, I turned to Rory’s best friend and screamed, “Go to hell, Gavin.” I was long-suffering and patient, of course, but I wanted those boys to know that I’d had it. And even then they managed to turn the tables on me. Ever after that, every time I got on the bus, and every afternoon as I walked to my door, they chanted: “Go to HEAVEN, Shannon.”
(Stop smiling! It’s not funny. It was dang effective at the time!)
Things weren’t much better at our church youth camps. Sure, Rory and his friends usually got quiet and reverent at the final campfires and said things like “mumble-mumble-love-Jesus-my-Savior-mumble-mumble,” but by day they continued their campaign of harassment, the worst of which was the stink bombs they set off in our tent. One day we had a Learn-to-Cooperate-and-Trust-Each-Other activity involving a human chain and crossing a fairly swift-moving river. Rory disappeared (not being a fan of cooperate-and-trust, I guess), and later appeared, alone on the other side, peeling off a wetsuit he’d brought to the mountains for who knows what purpose. He always was a pretty big show-off.
I felt a bit miffed that Rory was president of the debate team in high school. I don’t want to admit to being intimidated out of joining the club, but it felt like debate was Rory’s domain, and I retreated to calculus and the Thoreau Society, despite my (vague, passing) interest in winning arguments.
Practically my last memory of Rory is the week-long Survival trip a bunch of us went on our senior year. I had Melinda with me, and Mark, who was all the protection I needed against my adolescent nemesis, but I may have been (slightly) glad that the boy who could produce a wetsuit in the most unlikely of circumstances was also there in the desert, with his well-oiled pocketknife.
I guess Rory wasn’t all bad, at least, not compared to the boys in the Reviving Ophelia book (or even compared to Sally’s second-grade bully). He never swore at me or said anything that made me feel stupid or ugly or inclined to be silent. Unwanted in the back of the bus, yes, but never unhappy or discontent in my own life. He never punched me in the face or hurt me or scared me. He never belittled me or made me question my femininity. He never made me ashamed of my changing body or feel like I should hide the brain I had. He never used sexual innuendo or said anything that made me uncomfortable that way.
I take that back. I did hear Rory talk about sex once. We were on a National Honors Society trip to Cedar City for a play. I don’t think Rory was a regular member of the Society, too nerdy for him, but he was dating Leslie, who was on the council. The girls were talking about sex, about how it was this big, scary thing, and what would our wedding nights be like? Would it hurt?
Rory said, “I don’t want to have sex on my wedding night; I just want to hold my wife.” I can still see his smirk –this big, fat smirk that crossed his face. What a funny guy! Who did he think he was kidding?
Usually for Mother’s Day I write a tribute to my mother (who, like most mothers, is the best mother ever). But this year I keep thinking about Rory’s mother. I don’t have boys. I may never have boys to raise. Bringing up my girls, because I have some idea of just what they’ll face as they grow into their minds and their bodies, this is terrifying enough.
I think raising boys must be easier in some ways — they can’t get pregnant, for one thing. But good parents know that getting a girl pregnant is just as life-changing. Women who raise boys to be the kind of men I want my daughters to know are doing hard work.
And I’ve come to appreciate certain things I never thought I would, like Boy Scouts. I always thought it would be the worst waste of my time at church to have to attend pack meeting and bring salad to the blue and gold banquet. After all, my girls will never be involved in boy scouts. Then I hauled them (Dick was busy with his 11 year-old scouts) to my first pack meeting, and we watched the little nine-year-olds bringing in the flag. They were so serious and solemn in their miniature uniforms, so guileless about learning respect and order and taking oaths of honor and loyalty.
I haven’t seen Rory since we graduated. I know he served a mission for our church and works in his father’s business. I hear from my brother that he married a smart, beautiful girl we went to school with. Maybe he has children of his own now. I hope so. I hope he has to clean up after them, as his mom and dad cleaned up after him. (And my parents cleaned up after me, a time or two).
I hope he is as good a parent to his kids as his mom and dad were to him. I hope he teaches his sons that sex is something that happens (or doesn’t) on a wedding night.
I hope my daughters have tormentors as innocently mischievous as mine.
And so even though I can’t stop worrying about my daughters, and dreading the day when their father’s warm approval and genuine interest in their lives pales before the pull of a high school crush — even though mothering is not for the faint of heart, I am heartened.
I’m not saying I wish I had dated Rory, but maybe, even if Sally’s friend Mike down the street turns out to be just like him, maybe I’ll let her date him. When she’s forty.