Can’t Stay Home…

During the winter, spreading viruses and infections happens a lot more frequently than at other times of year. People are stuck indoors more, which means they’re in closer proximity to others for longer periods of time than when they’re able to go outside.

Some viruses tend to be more prevalent during the winter as well. The combination of that and people being together in small spaces for hours on end makes getting sick in the winter far more likely. If you’re sick, it’s best to stay home, rest, and be away from other people who might get sick from being near you.

Unfortunately, schools and workplaces don’t always make it easy for us to stay home and take care of ourselves when we’re sick. A lot of schools, particularly high schools, have attendance requirements. They might have a policy that says “Don’t come to school within 24 hours of having a fever,” but also have a policy that says “If you miss more than three days per grading term without a doctor’s note, you fail all your classes.” (These policies both existed at my older offspring’s high school.)

Meanwhile, doctor’s offices often won’t see a patient for a mild fever, or for cold symptoms or an upset stomach. Calling the office results in hearing, “There’s a stomach bug going around, just have your child rest and drink lots of fluids, there’s no need to bring them in.”

The child or teen is too sick to go to school according to the school’s illness policy, but not sick enough to see a doctor, which means you can’t get a doctor’s note so the student doesn’t fail their classes due to being absent. So they pack up, go off to school even though they’re feeling miserable, and half their classmates end up getting sick and having the same problem. And the illness cycles, and the family members of those students get sick too, and so on.

Workplaces also often penalize employees for taking sick time, or they don’t offer sick time at all. Someone who is living paycheck to paycheck at a job that doesn’t include paid sick time can’t afford to miss a day of work, because that means losing a day of pay. Someone who gets paid sick time might be afraid of repercussions from their boss if they take a day off. So these employees head to work, where their coworkers catch the illness and end up having the same problem. And the family members of those employees get sick too, and so on.

Too often in our society, we’re taught that being sick is weakness. We have to achieve and meet our responsibilities no matter how we feel, and no matter the risk to others who might contract an illness from us. But how much good are we doing ourselves and others if we push to go to school or work when we’re sick? I don’t know if there is a solution, but I do wish things would change.

Holiday Stories

When I was in, I think, eighth grade, we were assigned to write a Christmas story for English class. I don’t think my teacher completely expected what I ended up with: a 20-page typed story about a department store Santa who’d seen much better days and a little boy with no family.

I wish I still had that story. It was actually really good considering I was only 13. I think I might poke around in some boxes and see if maybe it is still here somewhere.

I was really happy about that story. So happy I made up my mind I was going to write a Christmas story every year. I figured it wouldn’t be hard, and I would write lots more great stories.

That didn’t happen. The following year, I had to write a story for little kids, which I did. I don’t even remember what it was about; it was another school assignment. After that, it just didn’t occur to me to write Christmas stories anymore.

I’ve written a few Christmas stories as an adult, though I don’t think any of them really struck me as much as that one when I was 13. Two of the stories, though, are on my Free Reads page. One, “Superaser Saves Christmas,” was written last year because I wanted to add a Christmas story to the Free Reads page. The other is the re-release of a slightly revised version of my story “Accepting Me.”

Both of those are free PDF downloads, along with several other non-holiday-related short stories, so I hope you’ll go check them out.

Standing Up

I don’t mean physically standing. I’m just not very good at coming up with blog post titles that make sense. Especially when I’m still on my first cup of coffee.

I’m talking about standing up for yourself. For others. For what you believe in.

That isn’t always easy to do. You might be surrounded by people who believe differently from you, and it’s hard to be the only voice on your side of the issue. There might be that one person in your school or workplace or social group that no one else seems to like, and even though you’d like to get to know them, you’re afraid you’d lose your other friends if you tried.

Some reading this might now be thinking “Workplace?” Yeah. Workplace. Aside from the fact that a lot of teens have jobs where the social atmosphere might not be a whole lot different from school, bullying, shunning, excluding, etc. doesn’t end when someone reaches adulthood. It happens at work; it seems to happen a lot in social groups. Some of the worst bullies I’ve known in my life are a group of women in their 40s-60s.

When you’re faced with things like “Don’t talk to them or no one else will like you,” or you know that everyone around you has the same beliefs about an issue and you disagree with them, or you’re the “them” other people are being told not to talk to… It isn’t easy. You feel like you’re alone, or you’re afraid you will be alone if you don’t go along with the crowd.

Here’s the thing. Even if it’s kind of scary, sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe, or for yourself, or for someone else who might not be able to stand up for themselves. One voice might seem like a whisper in the middle of a concert crowd, but it can still make a difference to those who hear it. And it might have an ongoing effect.

Try. If you can’t stand up, that’s okay… but try.

Back to School

In a lot of places, at least in the US, school has already started for the fall. Those who haven’t started yet will within the next week or two.

School Desks

For me, this year is kind of odd. My older offspring started kindergarten in fall 2000. Since then, every year in late August or early September, I’ve seen one or both of my kids off to their first day of school. And I’ve waited at home for them to come back and tell me how that first day went–or not, since when they were teens they didn’t always tell me anything.

But my younger offspring graduated in June and is leaving for college this week. The older one graduated in 2013, and is moving out of my home sometime in September.

I have no one going off to their first day of school, at least not the way it’s been for the past 16 years. No bus stop to walk to or bus stopping in front of my house. No one walking out the door with backpack and books, and coming home to tell me about their first day and all the things on the supply lists their teachers handed out.

I’m not quite sure how to feel about that. It’s a huge change for my offspring, but for me as well.

We’ll see how it goes.

Apologizing for Bullying

A couple of years ago, as my high school graduating class was preparing for the 25-year reunion, I got messages from a couple of people apologizing for bullying me or for not sticking up for me in high school.

The ones who apologized for bullying me hadn’t actually done so, in my perception. They weren’t necessarily nice to me, but they didn’t outright bully me. No one who actually bullied me has acknowledged they did anything wrong. Some have actually said that it was “just kid stuff” and I need to “get over it”.

I’ve posted before that bullying is not necessarily something you can “just get over.” When you spend five days a week, 30-something weeks a year, being insulted, called names, and basically told you’re worthless and don’t matter to anyone, it leaves one hell of an impression. Especially if, as in my case, that’s all you hear, you don’t have anyone telling you differently.

I’ve heard from other people who were bullied in school that they’ve had bullies apologize to them…and those bullies have then gotten angry when the apology wasn’t accepted.

It’s cool to say to someone “I’m sorry for the way I treated you.” At least, it’s cool if you’re saying it because you mean it, and because you recognize that you might have wronged that person in some way and wish you hadn’t done so. And if you receive an apology, it’s cool if you want to say, “I accept your apology.”

But it’s also cool to say, “Thanks for the apology, but I don’t accept.” You might have forgiven the person for bullying you. You might have put it all in the past. You might not even remember the person. But that’s something you’ve done for *you*. It doesn’t mean you have to accept the apology, because that’s something you would be doing for *them*. Accepting an apology isn’t the same thing as moving on or forgiving, because moving on and forgiving are things you do for yourself, while accepting an apology is more for the benefit of the person apologizing.

I’m talking specifically about bullying here because that’s what was on my mind as I sat down to write this post, but the above applies to any apology. An apology, in my opinion, should be given as an acknowledgment of wrongdoing; and should be accepted only if the person receiving it *wants* to accept it.

So if someone who has bullied you comes to you and says they’re sorry, you aren’t obligated to say “I accept” or “It’s okay” or anything like that. If it’s what you *want* to say, great. But if you want to say, “Nope, not accepted, you were crappy to me,” that’s okay too.

Just Standing By

What do you do when you see someone being bullied? Do you speak up? Do you walk away? Or do you stand and watch and hope someone else intervenes?

One of the reasons bullying is such a huge issue is that even when people witness it, sometimes they turn away. They believe it isn’t their problem, or they fear they’ll be next on the bully’s list if they try to stop what’s going on. When a group is bullying someone, often at least one member of the group doesn’t want to be part of it, but they believe they can’t stop it and if they try, the group will turn on them.

Sometimes, sadly, bystanders ignore or even encourage the bullying because they think the victim “deserves it” for whatever reason. They aren’t afraid or reluctant to intervene. They don’t want to stop the bullying because they think it should be happening.

Being bullied feels horrible. You lose confidence and self-esteem. You feel anxious and fearful about going to the place where the bullying happens. Sometimes fear makes you physically ill. Even decades later, sometimes those emotions and impact don’t go away. And the aftermath can be even worse when you know people are seeing the bullying occur and choosing not to do anything about it.

I’m not only talking about schools, by the way. Bullying happens to adults in workplaces as well. It isn’t only physical fighting; it can be shunning someone who’s “different”. Whispering behind their back. Spreading rumors. Making threats. All of it has an impact on the person who’s on the receiving end, and sometimes that impact turns deadly.

If you see someone being bullied, please speak up. Tell the bully to stop. Report what you’ve seen to someone who has authority. At the very least, tell the person who’s being bullied that they aren’t alone, that you’re on their side. Don’t just stand by.

Back to School

school-desks-1418686

In my area, kids have either already gone back to school or are going back this week. For some, school is a pretty good place, where they enjoy at least some of their classes along with having time to socialize with friends.

For others, school is unpleasant at best. Maybe even a nightmare. That might sound overly dramatic, but for a kid who’s being bullied or harassed, or who knows they’re different from everyone else and doesn’t have friends, school might be one of the worst places in their life.

My current work-in-progress, Midnight Chat, is about a boy whose school life pretty much is a nightmare. His home life isn’t all that great either, but at least at home he isn’t getting smacked around, shoved, and called every name in the book. And at school, even though he and his best friend, from whose point of view the story is told, have reported the bullying and harassment, not much is done to stop it.

Unfortunately, even though most if not all schools have anti-bullying policies, bullying isn’t always reported. And sometimes even when it is, if it’s one person’s word against that of several others, as is the case in my book, the victim isn’t believed.

As people prepare to go back to school, or ease into the new school year if you’ve already started, I’d like to ask you to pay attention to what’s going on around you. If you see someone who seems to be completely alone, talk to them. Maybe you’ll make a new friend. If you see someone being bullied, report it. Even if you feel like you’re tattling. No one deserves to be treated poorly. Wouldn’t you want someone to stop it if it was happening to you?

Be kind. That’s pretty much what this boils down to. Just be kind.

Shyness

When I was growing up, I was very shy.

Who am I kidding? I still am. If I walk into a room full of people I don’t know, I have no clue what to say to any of them other than hello. I get lost in conversations, and tend to gravitate to corners. Unfortunately, this makes some people think I’m bored or snobby, which makes them less likely to talk to me, which makes me more anxious, which makes me more shy.

Sometimes it’s easier just to not go places.

When a child is shy, people don’t always understand. They might say, “Oh, she’s shy, she’ll get used to you”…or they might say, “You get over there right now and talk to those people! What’s the matter with you? Stop acting this way!”

I heard a lot of the second one when I was a kid. It didn’t make me less shy. It made me more so, because on top of being afraid to talk to people, I thought something was wrong with me, which would mean they wouldn’t want to talk to me anyway.

I’m still shy. And some people don’t like to be around me because of it. They think I’m bored or angry, when the reality is I’m scared and have no idea what to say to anyone. Or I try to talk and people talk over me. When I’m doing an author appearance, it isn’t so bad, because there’s a set protocol for that and I know what I’m saying. And the people are there to see me. But at a party or event where I have to be social? Not easy.

If you see someone standing off to the side at a party, or at school, or anywhere like that, don’t assume they’re a snob or don’t want to be there. They might just be shy, and they might appreciate it more than you realize if you just walk over, say hello and introduce yourself, and ask if you can hang out with them or walk around the room with them. Sometimes all it takes to get over the shyness, or at least make it not so bad, is someone else to help.