When I was in the 2nd grade my Mother was a 1st year law student. I spent many afternoons in the student lounge at the law school and as I played with my catalogue paper dolls I subliminally picked up on language that was less than ideal. I had no idea what most of the “bad words” meant but I could easily decipher advanced name calling.
I say all of this as a way to maybe explain what happened. But it doesn’t make it any easier to share with you.
When I was 8 years old I got frustrated by a girl shoving me in the lunch line. Since I wasn’t a physical kind of gal I reached into my word bank and unleashed a word. I yelled at her, “fag!”
I had no idea what I had said, no idea what it meant, the weight that the word carried. But the girl, the one that had been stepping on the back of my Keds, jumped back as if I had launched a canon at her gut. I didn’t know what the word meant – but she did. And so the damage was done.
This is No Name-Calling week, an annual week created by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) to promote activities aimed at ending name-calling.
One of the things that awful moment (that I created!) from my childhood taught me is that I need to know words. I need to know the horrible, cruel, offensive, wrong, evil words. I need to know what they mean. I plan on teaching W the power that words have and I hope to create a home where he feels comfortable coming to me with questions.
I remember coming home after school and telling my Mom what had happened. I explained that I used a word to hurt someone. She explained what the word meant. I was ashamed.
Even though I was told to apologize to the girl at school the moment a teacher heard what had happened I made a point to apologize to her the next day as well. Before I was apologizing because she was upset. Once I knew what the word meant I needed to apologize for hurting her.
I am still haunted by words that were said to me in various moments of my life. I imagine many of us have scars.
I feel like these kinds of weeks are reminders of how we can do things better with our kids. GLSEN has put together a resource page geared towards teaching the message: think before you speak.