Sticks and Stones

My mother often quoted “sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you” to me as I was growing up, usually after I had suffered some form of torment at school. After the first couple of incidents, the saying no longer comforted me. My father would tell me school days were the best days of my life. In a way he was right but it had nothing to do with school. I sometimes long for those days of no responsibility where I could laze around and watch the world go by. But the years I spent at school, especially high school, could never be described as the best.

I was not a beauty. As a child I was the clumsy, tallest kid in my class. I grew into a gawky, gangly teenager who was always a head taller than anyone else. I was skinny, covered in pimples and wore glasses. Sad, but true. I was also socially awkward, I never said the right thing because my parents had never taught me what to say. I am an only child with parents who were far older than those of my peers and who were very much involved in their own work, friends and lives. They didn’t mix with the parents of my peers which in turn did nothing for my social life.

I was ten when my family migrated to Australia and I soon discovered there were huge differences in school culture. In Australia if you were good at sport, nothing else mattered. You could be ugly, but if you were a champion it was forgiven. I was useless at sport. I was always picked last for any sporting team except netball. My classmates figured I was so tall it would assist them if I stood under the goals and played defense. I’m pretty sure I was still bad at it.

Not only was I bad at sport, I was also a bookworm. There were very few of my classmates, including my friends, who understood the attraction books held for me. Books were my safety mat. I could disappear into other worlds with the turn of a page and I often did.

Back to the sticks and stones. Being picked last, being excluded, having your school mates stop talking when you walk up to them and then giggle when you pass, are awful things to deal with at the same time as you are dealing with puberty and growing up in general. But of all the torments to deal with, it is the words which stick with me.

I still remember one of my high school peers telling me, very seriously, I would have made a far better looking male as I was a not very good looking female. I remember the height jokes, the comments about pimples and the off handed remarks of “square eyes”.

Over the years my love of words has persuaded me to become far more careful with them. I admit there are times I have deliberately chosen the most hurtful words during an argument, or worse in a situation when I should have been more thoughtful. As a parent I learnt the importance of words. The wrong words can devastate a child. So I try to think before speaking because words can hurt just as badly as sticks and stones.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jill Lefroy

    Dear Sandy,
    It makes me very sad to think I was a part of that school cohort of which you speak. I too hated my high school years. I was small in stature which made me wish I was tall. I wasn’t good at sport, nor was I particularly interested in school work. All I wanted to do was escape to the country and be with my father on the farm.
    I too remember the taunts and sniggers. As mentioned, I was small and late to develop physically so I always felt inadequate – no boobs, no underarm hair to shave, not even any hairs on my legs to make me feel ‘grownup’.
    When my parents’ friends asked how I liked school I would always reply “I hate it”. My mother was quick to tell them it wasn’t so – how would she have known? She was never around when I needed her.
    I don’t remember your glasses – just your long, dark hair and you were tall. How I would have loved a couple of your inches!!
    I reckon I could probably name the person who told you you should have been a male – she was not a nice individual . I hope she has changed in the ensuing years. Schools are not nice places.
    As for sticks and stones – they leave marks for all the world to see that’s why bullies don’t use them. Names, or words always hurt and leave far deeper wounds. They are far more difficult from which to recover. I’ve discovered in my adult life that those who bully are quite often in need of help. I’ve also discovered that the words only hurt if we let them. People who are meant to love us quite often hurt us the most.
    I’m sorry for your hurt and hope you have managed to leave it where it belongs – in the far distant past. There is too much good stuff ahead to let this spoil the journey. Cheers Jill

    1. Alex

      Thank you Jill for your comment. I have to say, similarly to your mother, both my parents insisted I liked school! How wrong, or perhaps blind, they were! Memory is a strange thing because I don’t remember you being particularly short. Although I towered over everyone, so you were all short to me! Also, even though I remember the unkind words, I don’t remember who said them. This is probably for the best. Despite understanding why we should often leave these things in the past, I also think they need to be remembered. Because it is only by remembering that we, hopefully, ensure neither we nor our children repeat the bullying.
      Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

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