Tuesday, May 1, 2018
"Mom, today at school a couple 7th grade boys asked me if I'm a furry. I asked what that is and they laughed at me for not knowing. I told them I thought maybe I am - you know - because I wear my wolf hat all the time and stuff. They laughed even harder. Do you know what a furry is?"
That was the question I got from Maddie (my 6th grader) on a recent Friday night as we walked into a store. I brushed off the question, telling her I had no idea. As we searched for the items on our shopping list, however, I began to imagine what the 7th grade boys of "my day" would have been referring to. It didn't take too much imagination or time to come up with a really good guess.
As we headed back to the car, purchases in hand, I said, "Maddie, I think I know what those boys at school may have been referring to. Usually when boys that age approach a girl and ask questions that don't seem to make sense and/or elbow each other in the ribs as they laugh with one another, it generally means they're referring to something sexual. My guess is they're talking about puberty. Puberty includes the growth of under-arm and pubic hair, and I think maybe that was their crass, rude and completely inappropriate way of asking you if you've hit that stage in puberty yet."
"Well, that's STUPID!"
"I know. It is stupid, and stupidity like that doesn't even deserve a response. ...Unless it makes you at all uncomfortable; in that case the response it deserves is telling a teacher or parent what is going on."
When we got home I decided to have a chat with James (my 9th grader). I told him about Maddie's experience, then said, "James, I'm confident that you don't partake in inappropriate and disrespectful behavior like this, but just to be 100% clear, guys are earning exactly NO brownie points when they pull crap like that on girls. It's not cute. It's not sexy. It's not attractive in any way. It's gross, uncomfortable and stupid, and that's exactly what girls think when they encounter it."
He said, "I get it, but...a furry is a person who dresses up like an animal. Geez, Mom; get your head out of the gutter!"
"Yeah. Here. See? It's kinda...a meme thing." He held out his phone with the definition scrawled across the screen as he shook his head at me with a scowl of disappointment that screamed, "I'm embarrassed to even call you 'mother' right now".
"...Oh. Well...still. Don't be disrespectful to girls; it will get you nowhere."
I was mortified. I couldn't believe I had called it so wrong! All weekend I pondered...could all the trends of teachings about anti-bullying and respect-for-all be having such a significant effect on this generation that I don't even recognize the behavior patterns against those of my own generation?
On Monday panic struck when I realized that I had forgotten to tell Maddie NOT to share my furry theory at school. If the whole conversation with the 7th graders had been innocent, I shuddered at the thought that I could be responsible for introducing a more inappropriate subject-matter to her classmates.
No such luck. Maddie promptly reported as soon as she hopped off the bus that a [girl] friend asked if she had figured out what a furry is. Maddie told her what I had said, but explained that she finally found out the real definition from her older brother.
Tuesday when Maddie got off the bus, I immediately grabbed a plastic bag and handed it to her. She was completely green and looked like she would vomit any second. I groaned inwardly. She had recently missed a number of gymnastics practices due to issues with her anxiety (more posts to come on that subject, by the way), and I did NOT want to have to call her coach - once again - to say she wouldn't be making it to another (a week before her regional meet!). I asked her what was going on.
She said that during a snack break (it happened to be the week of their standardized testing...of course), the "ring leader" of the 7th grade boys, Andrew, cornered her and said, "You don't even know what a furry is, do you?" Maddie told him she thought she did and prepared to walk away, but his response stopped her in her tracks. "No you don't. A furry is someone who wants to do it with animals. That's what you are."
Maddie was devastated. She immediately assumed that the entire school thought this of her, and that's why they had kept targeting her, specifically. She took my advice and told a teacher what had happened. The teacher took both kids to meet with the assistant principal. After that meeting, Maddie went back to her standardized testing and "tried her best" to focus on the questions asked.
I don't hold a lot of hope that she performed very well on her testing that afternoon, if her emotionally beaten and anxiety-ridden appearance at the end of the day was any indication of her level of recovery. She barely managed to keep from vomiting on the drive home from the bus stop, and she refused the freshly-made chocolate chip cookies I offered her when we got home. As all parents know, there's no more sure a sign that there's something legitimately wrong than your kid refusing sweets.
I was heartbroken for her, angry with the boys for upsetting her so, but I also felt some vindication. As I mentioned in a previous post (My Son The Statistic), kids are exposed to so much on the net from such an early age now, that it should be no surprise that boys have skipped over the stage of middle-school-teasing about puberty and moved right on to accusations of bestiality...anti-bullying and respect-for-all training be damned.
About 45 minutes later it was time to go to gymnastics practice. "I can't go, Mom. I feel like I'm gonna puke any minute," she protested weakly.
I said, "Frankly, I'm too afraid to call your coach again today. We have to try to get through this. I will personally go out there and clean the equipment, myself, if you upchuck. You've missed too many practices lately. Besides, this is how champions are made. They face adversity (a.k.a. the idiocy of 7th grade boys) and they don't let it get them down. They fight back by going about their day as if nothing ever happened." I figured there was about a 13.7% chance those words would have any effect on her. I braced myself for her to stubbornly dig her heels in, refusing to go...and an awkward, uncomfortable call with her coach.
Maddie surprised me, though, when she threw a leo on and headed straight for our car. She went on to have an absolutely amazing practice.
The next morning when I got her up for school I asked, "Do you want me to pick out clothes for today or do you want to do it?" She said, "I want to pick them out. I want EVERYTHING animal. I'm gonna show those boys they are NOT going to beat me!" She grabbed her rainbow leopard print boots, her pug t-shirt, her cat sweatshirt and - of course - her wolf hat. I beamed with pride as she put them all on (steadfastly ignoring the entirely mismatched nature of the ensemble).
That day after school, Maddie reported that she heard from someone that a few of the boys (including Andrew) had written her apology letters. She said the teachers insisted they hadn't forced the boys to write them, but she suspected either the faculty was being less than truthful or the boys' parents had made them write the letters. She assumed what would be written on the paper wouldn't really be the words of the boys, themselves, and she felt she deserved their apology. So she marched up to them at their lunch table, crossed her arms over her chest and said [in a tone dripping with attitude], "SO...do you boys have something you want to say to me in person?!" She said one boy looked down to his shoes in shame as the other nervously looked away, whispering, "sorry".
That's my furry. HEAR HER ROAR!