Friday, December 29, 2017


I saw a wonderful movie with my kids today.

It was called Wonder, and was based on the book of the same name, written by R.J. Palacio. My daughter read it a few years ago, and was very moved, which compelled me to take her, and my 11 and 9.5 yr old sons to see it during our It's Christmas Break and We're Running Out of Things to Do Before Mom Sells Us All on eBay extravaganza.

Yeah, so three weeks off from school is going well.

So without posting spoilers, which is odd, because if you've read the book, you already know everything that happens, but, I digress.....we were incredibly pleased with this movie. When we left, my eleven year old--who fell victim to some bullying last school year, and it took him to a very dark, unhappy place--announced, "That was the highlight of my day."

I'll take that as a win.

I won't do the movie justice by trying to describe all of the poignant moments in the movie, mostly because there were just too many to describe, and each of them made me--and my inner mama bear--either get my shackles up...or have my eyes fill with tears. I've felt that fear as you wait outside the school, holding your breath because you're desperate to find out how your child's day went, only to see that it was a sh*tty day, and that they're even lower than they were the day before. I've watched as the kids look at, stare at, and laugh at my child, and I've overheard as my child was the one being mocked and made fun of. I've had to sit idly by (well, let's be honest, sometimes not so idly) as my teenage daughter's friend has decided she's not cool enough, and left her in the dust, leaving her crushed and heartbroken. I've been the mom wondering, "Holy crap, am I even doing the right thing by sending my kids to this school??" while at the same time knowing that I am S.O.L. when it comes to any other options.

Yeah. The last few years--the last six months, especially--haven't been easy on my kids. And thus, haven't been easy on me. Because this Mama Bear is also--as we've discussed before--a giant marshmallow, and pain is not easy for me to bear. Is it for any mother?

My children really do go to a lovely school. I joke all the time about how overpriced and pretentious it is--and by gosh, holy Moses on toast, it really is--it is, without a doubt, a good learning institution. The teachers and administration members are kind, hardworking people who are dedicated to enriching the lives and minds of young humans like my four holy terrors. Never have I experienced a staff so willing to accommodate, support, and uplift my children the way these folks have. It's something to behold, and when I think about it too much, I get all tingly and overcome with gratitude...then it spills out my eyes, and I look like this:

So I usually try to avoid it.

Anyhoo..........I wish that this movie could become required viewing for the all the students--and their parents--at my children's school. Not that other schools don't need to see it. Because they do. We all do. But, my children's school especially. You see, because this is a fancy-schmancy private school in South Korea, most of the students who attend my children's school aren't like average kids. They've never had to go without new shoes because the car needed a new transmission. They've never had a mom who sold blood to buy milk, eggs, and bread to get them to the next payday. They've never had to wrap up gifts they found around the house for Christmas presents. They've never had to sit in a cold house where they could see their breath, because mom ran out of cash and couldn't refill the oil tank--and yes, some houses still run their heat on oil. I know, because we lived it--and I strongly recommend not ever buying a house with oil heat, because egads, what a nightmare!

Again...I digress...

The children here are driven to school by drivers, or in mom or dad's Range Rover or Ferrari. They wear real fur and carry the latest iPhones, when they're in the Kindergarten. Kindergarten! A little girl in my son's class last year schooled me on how "tacky" it was to "flash my money" (I gave my son $20 in front of his classmates to pay a school fee) while wearing a bedazzled Gucci backpack, and swinging her Apple laptop around like it was a toy. Over half the female students in my 16 year old daughter's class have had some form of plastic surgery already, and they can be overheard bragging about the thousands--literally thousands--of dollars that their shoes, handbags, or jewelry cost. They are taught by good hearted teachers to donate their time and money to good causes, but very few students or parents lower themselves to do much more than cut a check--especially if it's not a good photo op. The parents at this school donate thousands of dollars to the PTA, in an attempt to one up each other, insure their child's place in the social hierarchy, and some of them spend the entire day sitting in the cafeteria drinking latte's, in case one of their prima donnas need them during the day. Either to give them more cash, talk their way out of trouble, or coddle their bruised egos after a teacher dared to discipline them.

Except that they are.

Last school year, one of my daughter's friends was bullied for months, being called "fat" and "obese," just because she didn't fit the standard, waif like Korean body type. For three years now, we've kept my son's ASD diagnosis a secret, for fear of the retribution that could come down on him by his peers--and their parents--in a country that still institutionalizes people with disabilities. My daughter has been called--and is still often called--"white girl," "ignorant," and "racist" by South Korean students who know nothing more about her than the color of her skin and the country of her origin. All three of our children have been verbally bullied because of our religion. All three of our children (and I) have been refused service, respect, and courtesy because of our race. The staff at our children's school work hard at making the environment healthy and safe for all, but the kids here know how to be one person in front of the adults, and another person when their backs are turned, and unfortunately, that's what the last few years have been chock full of. 

(Disclaimer: I am not turned off by all wealthy people. I knew some folks with money back in America, and have even met a few here in Korea, who are some of the most kind, humble families I've ever met. This has just been our overall impression of the majority of the wealthy locals here in South Korea. Take my musings with a grain of salt, and if it offends you, consider asking yourself why? Do you see yourself in these observations?)

The school staff tries diligently to mold these kids into something other than what they're being raised to be. I am continually impressed by their efforts to broaden the perspectives of their students. But without reinforcement from the parents, their efforts are futile.

(Second disclaimer: there is a small group of about 11 students in a Kenyan service club my daughter is a part of, who are different from the rest of the student body. Yes, they come from wealthy families, but they have a very impressive need to serve others. Sadly, this club is 11 students out of hundreds of  children from wealthy families here. Eleven.)

If a child is being told at home that a person with Autism is a "retard," that's what they're going to believe. If I child is being told that money is what matters, that the brands on their clothing, or what kind of car daddy drives to work, or how much cash mommy spent on their Givenchy backpacks, then they're going to grow up thinking it's okay to brag about what they have, instead of what they have inside their hearts. If a child is being told at home that being thin and petite is all that is attractive and beautiful in this world, that's what they're going to believe, and that's what they're going to project at school. If a child is being told that any race besides their own is "inferior," that's what they're going to believe. If a child is being excused for unacceptable behavior, and bought or manipulated out of trouble when they get caught behaving like ignorant Neanderthals, then that's what they're going to believe it's acceptable to behave like! If the parents themselves act like bullies to people who are different, then by gosh, that's how the children will behave!

Parents: if you tell your children that they are the Masters of the Universe, they are going to believe it...even though it's not true.

Why am I the only parent who wants to raise good humans??

In the movie, Wonder, Auggie is disfigured. He looks significantly different from everyone else, and is bullied because of it. And while my family's struggles here in South Korea pale in comparison to that of Auggie's, it really struck a chord with me. With all of us. We know what it feels like to be different, and whether anyone likes to admit it or not, being different is not always fun. Sometimes it suck. Really hard. That's why I work my everliving tail off to raise my children to be good, kind, accepting people.

Are they always good and kind? No. They're kids. Kids can be real jerks sometimes.

But do I hold them accountable for it when they're not? You're darn tooting I do. I will never march into a principal's office and lie to get my child out of trouble when they've behaved like a neanderthal. If they've behaved like a neanderthal, by gosh, punish them for it. They deserve it. Otherwise they'll never learn. I like to joke about how much money my husband's company pays to enroll my children in this private school as a means to get out of volunteering in the library once a week, but I would never use it as an excuse to get my child out of trouble for bullying. I would love to see more parents of children at our school adopt the same mentality.

We should be raising good humans.

This past fall, there was a school shooting back in the area that I'm from. One child died, another went to prison--likely for life, and three students were seriously injured. I knew two of the injured students, one being the child of an old friend, who was shot three times. This particular friend said something to me back in August when we moved back to South Korea and my family was having a crisis of sorts. She told me that she says to her kids all the time that "they may not have it all together, but together they have it all," and in the months since her daughter was nearly killed, her words have echoed in my head at least three dozen times. She almost lost it all.

One mother actually did.

There is so much evil in the world. Ugliness that spreads like mold or cancer, covering everything, even our kids sometimes. As a mom, I don't want my kids to add to that kind of ugliness. I don't want to perpetuate ill behavior that brings anger and sadness and self hatred into another child's life. I want my children to be the source of a smile, not tears. I want them to cause laughter and joy, not hurt and shame. And I think that by watching Auggie's story today, and reflecting on our time here in South Korea, they might understand why a little more than they did this morning.

I really hope the other families here in this town will see this show, and feel the same tug in their hearts that we did. We're all fighting a battle, guys, sometimes that battle is obvious, like a disfigurement, other times it's silent and invisible, like my family's struggles. If we're all choosing to err on the side of kindness, though, it makes the battles just a little more tolerable, doesn't it?

Go see this movie. Take your kids. Make them reflect on what they've seen.