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.