From Paper Bag Princess to Paperback Mom

“Why did I drink all that juice for lunch?” I thought to myself, sitting there in the girl’s restroom stall at school. “Maybe I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom so much if I drank less. Just maybe she won’t come this time.” CLANK! CLANK! CLANK! Breathe Arlene. Breathe.

I had developed a sixth sense for the sound of her shoes. Gold, strappy sandals with a slight heel that made the loudest noise as it hit the concrete floor. Her laughter to many I’m sure was the most pleasant sound, but to me it was a siren. A warning of what was to come.

She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Her blonde hair was a perfect combination of wavy, long iridescent strands. She had the most put together outfits for an eight year old, and appeared to have a sweet disposition in front of teachers or adults.

I stood there in the bathroom stall, already finished, but I lacked courage to just dash out and make a run for it every single time. For two consecutive years she was in the same class as me, so she would follow me to the bathroom. I still don’t know how her two friends managed to also come along. It’s quite baffling actually.

“Is the ugly, wet, hairy dog in here?” She would utter in the most condescending tone. “I know you are in there, I see your ugly fake Little Mermaid shoes. WOOF! WOOF!” The three of them all barked and laughed.

I could vividly hear the rustling of paper towels as they were pulled out of the dispenser. The sound of rushing water as the faucet was turned on, proceeded by crumpling of those paper towels. I knew the inevitable was coming.

“Every ugly, hairy dog loves wet balls.” The undertone of her voice was filled with sarcasm. They proceeded to throw those large, wet paper towel balls under the stall and through the top as well. They would all yell “FETCH!”

This was the second year of this ongoing scenario. I had learned how to maneuver getting hit by all the flying balls, but some still managed to hit me and others plopped in the toilet. Which to my dismay, meant getting splashed by disgusting water. I would whisper to myself, “You are brave and strong like Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth was the princess who saved Prince Ronald from the dragon in the book The Paper Bag Princess. This book not only made me fall in love with reading, but helped the process of coping with being bullied. It was my first personal alignment of purpose. Elizabeth’s intelligence, bravery, confidence and determination helped me cope with my struggles as I lived vicariously through her character’s message of being your own heroine.

To my misfortune, there were also other incidents. One day during lunch in the cafeteria, half of her sloppy joe sandwich magically leaped on to my hair as she was walking behind me. Another time she pretended she wanted to talk, sat next to me while her milk “accidentally” spilled on my lap. She would instigate some of my classmates to bark and throw small erasers at me when the teacher was distracted. She also had a passion for occasional sand throwing in my eyes at the school playground.

Why did she hate me so much? I was consistently polite and even tried to play with her despite what she continuously did to me. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I am a people pleaser.

As a child I would describe myself as a lanky, awkward, head in a book day dreamer. I had a silly personality and a tendency to trust easily. I assumed there was something good in every person.

Despite being bullied, I flourished greatly in school. Both academically and socially. My parents and teachers never saw any serious red flags, but that had to do with my personality. I never wanted anyone to worry, I truly believed in being strong and forgiving others.

However, as I became older I realized being bullied was determentally scarring in my self-esteem and the ability to see my self-worth. My struggle has been in the search of validation and approval from others. Words can be a weapon of destruction, especially to a young child.

I shared this story with my eldest son when he began first grade. Any form of bullying is never acceptable. He looked at me and said, “I will never let others treat anyone like that mommy. I am so sorry those girls hurt you. I wish I could go back in time so I can help you and tell that mean girl to stop!”

I had tears in my eyes, primarily because I was proud of what he was saying, but also because how I wished someone would have told my bully to stop.

I often ponder about her, what she might of been going through as a child that caused her to target me in such a way. I know through studying early childhood development that she must have been dealing with a difficult situation at home or in some other aspect of her life. I wish I could have helped by being her friend.

As parents, it is pivotal to share personal childhood stories of adversity. Do not be afraid to open up a powerful line of communication between you and your child. It will establish an ever greater bond of love and trust. Read books together consisting of themes that convey meaningful messages.

Within books are words, stories that have the power to heal, shape, and transform lives. They are also a portal to worlds filled with endless imagination and discoveries.

I used to dream of being the witty and courageous Paper Bag Princess. Little did I envision that my personal alignment with this book, would be the compass that navigated my path to become a writer and the Paperback mom.

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