This article is written by a contributor who would like to remain anonymous. We would like to thank them for sharing their story.
Content Advisory: Bullying, violence, self-harm
I thought I would share a story, which as I’m writing, actually happened four years ago to this date.
Four years’ ago today, I’d finished work ready to pick my kids up from school – my son was in year 7 and my daughter was in year 8. Part of my job involved working with young people and going into schools. Because of this, I thought I had a good idea of if things at school were okay with my children or not.
My eldest daughter is pretty quiet and doesn’t really talk about her feelings. She’s not a fighter, she doesn’t get into conflict, she always walks away. My son is very different – he wears his heart on his sleeve, stands up for what he believes in and can find himself in sticky situations. Heart wise, very much the same, personality wise – very different.
The school I sent them to is the same school I attended when I was younger. I was bullied almost every day for not fitting in with the clique. So, why did I send my children here?
Well, that was back then, and my daughter wanted to go, because that’s where all her friends were going. They weren’t proper friends, they were just friends from primary school that you play with whenever. I allowed her to go wherever she wanted, then her brother follow suite.
In hindsight I realise, the school is not that great. The kids were taking pencil sharpener blades out, the teachers weren’t allowed to close their classroom doors for their safety and the Headteacher had to patrol the halls.
Usually they walked home from school, or went to see friends, whatever. But on this day, I very intentionally gone to pick them up. Let me explain why…
The Week Before:
A few years ago, my stepdad had passed away and left me an antique blunted knife – it was like a family heirloom, probably not worth anything but it has sentimental value. I kept it in a sweets tin on top of my fridge, it had been there for years and I didn’t think anything of it.
One day, when the kids were in school, I got a phone call from my kids’ dad, who’d I’d been separated from for 6 years’. He told me my son had been threatening to end his life and use the knife at my house for this. This had apparently been going on for about 2 months, but this is the first time their dad had told me about it! He also told me that when my son was staying with him, he’d been refusing to go into school. My children are hardly ever off school sick, but suddenly my son was getting a lot of sickness, a lot of anxiety. I wasn’t aware of any of this – when they were at my house, everything seemed fine.
After speaking to their father and my children, it transpired that there was a boy that both my children had gone to primary school with, in my daughter’s year, who was bullying my son. He was quite a known, violent bully – he had made my daughter’s life hell, other children’s lives hell, now he was doing it to my son. He had been pinning my son against the walls and harassing him, this boy had quite a big gang and my daughter felt helpless that she couldn’t do anything.
I got off the phone, didn’t go into work and instead marched straight into the school – work takes second place when you’re a parent. I will tell you something - you will never know what you have within you until you have children.
"When I saw it happening, I knew I couldn’t just sit and watch this boy being hit. I’ve done this for other people before, it’s like a cross to bear"
I demanded to speak to the Headmaster and they said he was busy. I then saw him, walking to teach P.E. They were the priorities of the school – my son was wanting to kill himself and the Headteacher couldn’t help. Instead I spoke to Mrs.Wallis.
Mrs.Wallis is responsible for the children who are disruptive or facing exclusion and you can tell she’s lived her life and knows her stuff. I sat in her office and I cried because I was petrified for my child and everything felt like it fell into place. My son had been behaving weirdly, but I’d put it down to moving from primary to secondary school. Mrs.Wallis knew of this child who’s a bully and she was working with him, he was on the brink of exclusion already.
She put her hand on my hand and looked me in the eye and said - “I promise you, I will look after your son.” I asked her if she had children and she said “yes”. She promised to look after my children, how she looks after her own. Throughout the whole thing, she kept to her word. Sometimes you meet people in life and you just know they mean what they say. She told me to leave it with her and she’d try to sort it.
I also spoke with my son, who broke down in tears and told me everything that had been happening.
For the rest of the week, I phoned Mrs.Wallis every day to check on my children and see where things we’re up to, I even met up with her a few times.
I felt like I was in limbo. What should I do? Was I being dramatic? Both my children started telling me everything was fine, they were adamant they didn’t want to leave the school, they thought they were safer in what they knew. But, was everything “fine” just for now?
The Day, Friday:
We’re a week on and I had completely changed my routine to always be there to drop them off and pick them up from school. So, there I was, parked outside on a very snowy day, waiting for them in my Honda 4x4, which is basically just a metal tin on wheels.
All of a sudden, I see my friends’ son come out of school – crying his eyes out, snot coming out of his nose, begging these two boys to stop punching him – they were bare knuckle fighting him. I know my friends’ son and he couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag.
I sat there and all of a sudden, I flew out of my car. I don’t know if it was a mother’s instinct, I don’t know what it was – but with what had happened the past week, when I saw this child getting beat up, I could imagine it being my kids.
I can’t watch violence. I just can’t watch it and I can’t walk by anybody being hurt, I can’t stand it. When I saw it happening, I knew I couldn’t just sit and watch this boy being hit. I’ve done this for other people before, it’s like a cross to bear. You end up in so much drama – but no kid deserves to get hit. Loads of other parents were sat around in their cars – just watching.
But I flew out of mine and I grabbed these other boys and pulled them off him. I grabbed him and threw him into my car – I wanted to just get him safe. I got in my car and said to him – put your seatbelt on! He was just crying and screaming in the back, I think he was shocked by how quickly things were happening and he was so used to being beat up that he’d just got used to putting up with it. I think it had confused him that I had jumped in to help him.
Then, suddenly, it was no longer just the two boys that had been beating him up around, it was loads of groups of boys suddenly surrounding my car. They were giving each other snowballs, stones and sticks to throw at my car. There were about 30 kids surrounding the front of my car just throwing things at it – all because I pulled the kid being bullied into the car. As I said, my Honda is made of tin so as all these things are hitting my car, it sounds like the sky is falling, seriously!
Then, out of nowhere, I turned the car on. All I was trying to do in that moment, was just keep him safe and disperse the crowd. I turned my car on and slowly started moving it forward, I wasn’t knocking them out the way, I was just trying to disperse the crowd… slowly!
I looked out my windscreen and the person stood at the front, in the middle, was this kid that had been bullying my son. He was stood in front of my car and looking me directly in the eyes and held out his arms and hands. I could lipread, he said to me - “Come on then, come on”. He’s a 13 year old.
So I got out the car, I said his full name and he said to me “What of it? You can do f**k all”. I stood there and I realised... I can’t. I can’t do anything. I turned around and saw my son and daughter standing there, not wanting to get in my car, because it’s guilt by association.
A woman walked over to me and said “come on love, just get back in your car, it’ll be alright”. Just some random woman – who'd been sat in her own car the whole time! I’m just stood there, these kids are all still throwing stuff at my car, they might have been throwing stuff at me... I just, it’s all fuzzy, I just can’t remember. It all happened so quickly.
I then just feel all this guilt come over me, of all this trouble I’ve caused – all this trouble is down to me. It’s escalated because I put this boy who was being punched into my car. It was all probably a matter of minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. I think I’d looked like I’d lost the plot – as if I was about to take out all these kids in my car.
Then this teacher walks out and I said “He’s just been attacked! They’re all now attacking my car!”. She just went "well, there’s nothing I can do”. Then she went over to my car, asked my friends’ son to wind down the window and said “do me a statement for Monday won’t ya”.
In the end, I got my two kids into the car and I drove them all home to my house. The saddest thing about it all was, this kid who was being punched, he was fine. Because this happens to him every single day – but it absolutely was not fine.
"There’s a difference between running away from bullies and providing your children with a safer, better life. We need to show them that they do not have to put up with this every day and that there is a better world than that for them."
When I got home I was in shock. I could have drove into all those kids - I can honestly say that my only intention was to disperse that crowd, but lets say I went further? Lets say at that moment, I was capable of that. I don’t know what stopped me and I’m not proud of myself. I’m ringing friends and I’m trying to justify what I’ve done, they’re saying it’s fine but I’m so upset, I feel like I can’t justify what I’ve done. I’m like – I've shocked myself, I have it in me, I could go to those levels.
I don’t think there’s any justification for what I did, but I was just trying to keep my friend’s child safe.
That was the Friday night and I just can’t sleep – what happened was circling my head. At this point, I start to get concerned about CCTV. Has CCTV caught me in my car driving forward? Will I be seen as a perpetrator? I do everything I can to be a nice person. I’m going to lose my job, my kids... what if everything is taken from me?
I was likely catastrophising in that moment.
Saturday came and I’m in my house doing some house work. No word of a lie, I look out my front window to see one of the boys, who’s been punching my friends’ kid the day before, stood in my garden, looking at me, laughing.
He then came out of my house and went down the road to my friends’ house and stood outside, shouting up at the window to my friends’ son - “see you Monday”. To me, that’s a threat.
These children were not just your standard, bored bullies. They are violent, dangerous and come from a family of bullies. It’s not something that can be changed overnight. I have worked with young people and I believe there’s good in everybody, but it fundamentally starts with the parenting. As a parent, I cannot blame the world for how my children turn out. My impact and influence on them has to be far greater than anyone else’s.
I also spoke to my children about what they were going through, I spoke to my son about how he was feeling. I didn’t actually move that blunt knife, because we talked it through and I trusted him, but I checked it three times a day for a while… he never touched it once.
If they went through their school lives being bullied and wanting to self-harm, if they survived through that – what type of relationship are they going to be in when they’re older? Be that romantic, sexual, friendships, whatever way – that they don’t know any different. They would become the bully, or the bullied. I needed to give them another choice.
The last few weeks just hit me and I decided – my kids are leaving that school. There’s a difference between running away from bullies and providing your children with a safer, better life. We need to show them that they do not have to put up with this every day and that there is a better world than that for them.
When Monday came, as you can imagine, the rumours were circulating the school – “your mum nearly ran over a bunch of kids, your mum is a nutter!”. It was a whole thing.
At 7am I rang the school, explaining what had happened and ended up again, speaking to Mrs.Wallis. She thanked me for what I’d done to help my friend’s son.
I was so confused! I was expected to be pulled in, I thought they’d get everyone involved. But, Mrs.Wallis had my back. She knows what I’m like, she understands the situation. Speaking to her made me feel better, but I still feel like I’ve had to carry this for 4 years.
I discussed removing my kids from the school with her, she liked my children because they were well-behaved but informed me she’d support me with this and gave me a list of other schools.
I ended up ringing one school and speaking to Mrs.Bailey. Now, I don’t know if I believe in god or not, but I think in a way, people cross your path when they need to. Mrs.Bailey was an older lady, a transition teacher. I explained everything that had happened the last few weeks and asked if she had any places for my kids. Turns out, Mrs.Wallis and her are very good friends. This was a school you just couldn’t get into, it’s a great school, it’s oversubscribed but it’s literally round the corner from my house – the stars were aligned!
"Weirdly at the time, the people who I thought would have supported me at the time, just didn’t. Whereas people I hardly knew, saw the best in me and my children, they came into my life and really helped me."
She said to me “I’ve spoken to Mrs.Wallis, I’ll do everything I can to help you. When do you want your children to move here?”. Her and Mrs.Wallis put everything together for me and sorted it by the end of the day. She offered to help kit my kids out in uniform, because they knew I was basically a single parent... and I just broke down into tears. I couldn’t believe people were helping me.
By the Wednesday, we had arranged everything. By the Thursday, they turned up at their new school. My children were crying saying they didn’t want to leave their current school – they were conditioned into their life, accepting they would be bullied every day and scared of change. Being bullied was their safest bet. I told them to just try it and if they wanted to go back, they could. I wanted to give them choices.
Looking Towards the Future:
They came home from their first day at the new school and I’ve never seen two children so happy. It’s like they were completely transformed, they’d already made friends, teachers had been supportive. The friends they made on the first day, they’ve still got now! They’ve told me since, they’ve had disagreements with other kids, but they’ve never once been picked on in that school.
This school was very multicultural, which I think has done my kids the world of good. There’s people from different backgrounds and sub-cultures and there’s a lot of support, but a lot of boundaries there too. It was very different from their previous school where the kids had been walking around with knives in their pockets.
However, the story about me in the car still goes around. That’s the burden I’ll have to bear. I’ve spent my whole life trying to change labels people have put on me and when this happened, it scared me as I thought – I’ve just fulfilled everything that everybody has ever thought about me – that I’m angry and difficult. Rather than actually, I was stopping a young boy from being beat up.
Weirdly at the time, the people who I thought would have supported me at the time, just didn’t. Whereas people I hardly knew, saw the best in me and my children, they came into my life and really helped me. I’m not expecting hero status, but I wanted to have the right intentions.
Four years’ on, my daughter left that school with incredible GCSE grades. She’s now in college studying subjects like Chemistry, Maths and Computer Science. My son is now leading extra-curricular activities in the school and he stands up for what he believes. I compare that to before when my daughter was in the average set for everything and my son was a boy who wanted to end his life.
The reason I say this, is not to brag, it’s to show that they were put in an environment that allowed them to achieve their full potential. They were shown something different – that life could be different. They had an opportunity and they know that if you’re in a situation that isn’t acceptable, another way is possible.
I suppose the legacy I would like there to be from this is that actually, I was trying to stand in the path of bullying. When I put this into context now… without that happening, my children most probably wouldn’t have moved schools and be where they are now.
I do regret what I did on that day with the car, but I definitely don’t regret making changes to my kids’ lives.