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A Message from the Presenter:
I believe in the value of friendships. I believe in positive influences. I believe we are all connected.
We can brighten each other’s world by a simple smile or kind word. By sharing personal stories of bullying … drops of hope, courage, and forgiveness can spread outward. It can touch the recipients of bullying, their family, and even all the way to the ones who are doing the bullying. But more importantly it can activate CHANGE. Change in perceptions and how we touch each other’s hearts.
The story of a brave young girl, who experienced bullying in school, shouts out the need to hear young people’s call for help. Her tenacity to overcome her pain of not being a part of any inner circle of young women … leaving her friendless and fighting loneliness, speaks volumes to the heartache bullying causes.
The blind eye or deaf ear regarding bullying must be changed; to an alert eye and an open ear. When we absorb her story as she opens her heart to reveal her scars, let us all open our hearts and become a part of the change!
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“One day a girl…just came up to me and said ‘I can’t be friends with you any more.’ She had about four or five girls with her and I remember looking at her and going ‘I don’t know what to say to this.’”
At 10-years-old, Bree Rody-Mantha probably couldn’t be expected to know how to respond to a moment like that. But it was reality for her in grade 5, in a new school with what she thought were new friends. Instead she had just been branded as the odd one out.
Just a year earlier Bree had been growing up in Kapuskasing, Ontario, a small town of just over 8000 people. She had friends who had known her since her earliest days and was the picture of an outgoing, happy kid. Things took a turn when her family moved to Timmins, when both new school and puberty hit her at the same time.
At first, in her new elementary school, she was a fascination. Enough that she felt grade 5 wouldn’t be so bad, until she ran into those three girls who had decided she wouldn’t be her friends any more.
“To this day, I don’t know what it was,” Bree explains. She’s since chalked it up to: “that’s the kind of stuff kids do.”
Bree’s new school was small, only about 24 kids in her grade, and while it wasn’t immediate, she found everyone else withdrawing from her after the incident with the three girls. She spent the rest of fifth grade with a limited social circle, largely from the boys who found her home’s pool and trampoline a real draw.
“Grade six was when it started to get lonely,” Bree said, and she found the change after summer break immediate. “Everyone had spent the entire summer having fun without me.”
When Halloween rolled around things began to get confrontational. Groups of girls would confront Bree, finding fault in everything she said.
“I was afraid to have conversations with people because everything I would say would be twisted or made offensive.”
It was around that time that many of the girls were hitting puberty, which made Bree feel as though she stuck out even more.
“Girls were growing up. A lot. I was very much a late bloomer.” Her classmates were looking like teenagers, and she wasn’t wearing a bra yet. “ Puberty for girls is fast and furious.”
It was an awkward place for an 11-year-old. “Everyone was talking about boys. Thinking about boys. They had their little boyfriends, [and] I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
Still, Bree doesn’t have any regrets not giving up who she was to fit into a role she wasn’t ready for.
“I’m glad I didn’t push myself… I think I might have really messed up my path. I was so focused on school and I didn’t feel like pushing that aside for the sake of fitting in.”
“Being different really painted an X on me,” Bree continues. “I was unapologetically different too. I wasn’t different and ashamed of it, I was pretty much OK with who I was. But that, I think especially when you’re in a small group, can really be seen as threatening.”
As the school year dragged on and spring approached, Bree took to hiding away at home during lunch. That didn’t help with the screaming matches during recess though.
“My female classmates were literally following me around the schoolyard, yelling a name at me. Every time I got up…and went to another space, they would follow me, and scream at me. I just felt so lonely.”
Ordinarily most kids would go to teachers at this point, and Bree did just that, but found they were of little help. They would tell her it was important to “work together to resolve conflicts” and “no one likes a tattletale”.
Bullies always had the numbers, claiming Bree made stuff up, so Bree was labelled as a liar and a troublemaker. “I think as a teacher you’re supposed to be an advocate for students,” and while Bree still has the utmost respect for teachers, she wishes hers had done more for her during that difficult period. “Would it have been a crime to let me go into the library at lunch?”
“It really peaked towards the end of the school year,” says Bree. “There was another confrontation at recess. Some of the girls, I think there was three of them, said to me: ‘If it weren’t for the fact that we had to get on the bus after school, and you walked home, you would totally be dead by now. We would kill you after school.’ another stepped up [and added]: ‘Or at least hurt you bad enough to put you in the hospital.’”
She started crying, ran to the teacher, who immediately said “I do not want to hear it. I’m sick of this.” When Bree screamed at the teacher, telling her that the other girls were threatening to kill her, it earned them all a trip to the office.
At the office the principal assumed Bree did something to provoke it. The principal knew the three girls to be ‘good kids’ and everyone ended up having to write letters of apology to each other, with Bree writing three letters to the girls who had threatened to kill her.
“I may be a loser girl, but at least I have an identity” she would think to herself back then. “But at that point I would have rather been so completely generic and miserable and fit in, and not have to be afraid and depressed every time I went to school.”
Her days began to fit into a pattern. “When I was walking the four or five blocks to school I could feel my stomach tightening…Every day you get to school and then you remember: ‘oh right, my life here sucks.’”
Though Bree’s parents, brother and sister were loving and supportive, Bree found it difficult to raise the issue at home. Her parents were occupied at home, and she didn’t think her problems were important enough. She was also worried she would be the kid whose parents would fight her battles for her. One regret she mentions now was not going to them sooner.
“I had my twelfth birthday alone. No kid wants to experience that.”
Looking back at that year of grade six, Bree managed to find some bright points, things that made it bearable to be a social outcast at school. At the end of the day she would look forward to returning home, away from the rough world of the playground.
“All I had to do was get out of that door and get past that fence, and then I could be home. I love my mom and dad, I love my dog, I love my brother and sister, and that was it…It never made me go to bed miserable…but I can’t ever remember ever having a good day at school.”
Even though she kept her bullying a secret for most of the year, she found some happiness at home.
“I was the happiest kid in the world, and then I went to school. And then I would come home, be a little sad, and by dinner time be the happiest kid in the world again…I knew that it was bad and I knew that I was miserable. But the misery was confined to school. Maybe thinking about it that way helps.”
She was even able to use the internet to stay in touch with her old friends, using a messenger service to remind her that there were people who cared for her.
“My friends back home all knew that I liked them and they knew that I didn’t judge them.”
She began to immerse herself in hobbies that soon became passions. She began taking dance classes, and continued her piano and singing lessons.
When middle school started she began playing the French horn and working in the school wood shop. The larger school also gave her the chance to make new friends. These weren’t mental escapes so much as they were Bree finding something to enjoy in her life.
“When I was in my music room I wasn’t thinking ‘this is so much better’ or ‘this makes me feel good because these girls were making fun of me this morning,’ it was more just like ‘this is a great way to spend my afternoon’.”
Much to her surprise, she found her bullies began to grow bored of her. And more importantly, Bree was starting to learn more about herself. Taking important lessons from her experience with bullying.
“I realized around grade 6 and grade 7, and it might have been through the lack of social life that I had, that I was and still am a very passionate person. Anything that I like, I love. There’s not that much in my life that I just kind of like, whether it’s a food or an activity or a friend. I love things. And when I had something that made me happy, I took it and ran with it.”
Things got even better in high school, and even though she had to change schools again, she didn’t repeat the same pattern of bullying. The experience had taught her how important it was to savour those positive things in her life, and remember them when faced with the negative.
In particular she remembers after opening up about her bullying, her mother telling her: “You are going to be a better person for going through this.” And she believed it.
Ten years later she ran into her grade 5 and 6 bullies at a university party. Bree was attending Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, and was visiting a few friends from Timmins in Ottawa.
Suddenly she was face-to-face with two of the girls who had spent months tormenting her.
“There was this big hug, and ‘Oh my god! How are you?!’ but we could kind of tell ‘Why are we hugging? We were never close.’”
As the night rolled on, and a few drinks were had, in the middle of the game one of the girls turned to Bree and said: ‘I don’t remember you being this much fun.’
‘You guys didn’t really get to know me. You guys just kind of excluded me from everything.’ Bree responded.
‘Yeah, we kinda did. What were we thinking?’ the girl responded.
‘I don’t know, you tell me.’ Bree replied, before they all laughed it off.
Bree opted not to grill them there, and surprisingly enough, they ended up befriending each other on Facebook. This brief friendship didn’t last as they drifted apart over the years, but it gave her some perspective on how she was treated.
“I do believe that they probably don’t know why they excluded me,” she explains. And while the two girls at the party weren’t the ringleader who told Bree they couldn’t be friends, Bree doesn’t hold a grudge against her either.
“Even now if I were to come face to face with the one girl who started it all, I think all I could say is ‘Hi, how are you?’” Bree says with a shrug. “I don’t even think I would have it in me to be cold. I don’t think I would have it in me to walk away and be a dick…I don’t know if there would be anything gained from me being that way.”
“People can do terrible things, and change,” she continues. “People who hurt others often have a lot of pain in their heart…I don’t know if she had a reason to be angry, or a reason to fight for power. If I were to turn around and be a negative person back to her, I think it would probably just be negativity that she didn’t need.”
Now she can look at her life and focus on the positive, the same skill she learned all those years ago.
“I really love my life, I love my job, I love my partner, I love my friends…If I were to hold any sort of grudge it would just drain me.”
While she isn’t completely turning the other cheek and recognizes what her bullies did was wrong, she also doesn’t want it to weigh her down, or turn her into a coarser person.
“If there was the option to be understanding or be gentle, versus returning the anger, I would rather be understanding and be gentle than be angry.”