Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Make a Difference!"

So when I took two of my teenagers to the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, IL Saturday, I had NO idea what an experience was in store for us!

My kids are somewhat Holocaust Museum connoisseurs, they have been to museums all over the country on school and family trips. I was excited to go and see this beautiful newer center but I do not share their love of the study of the Holocaust, per say.

Let me just clairify, this is not an endorsement of the Illinois Holocaust Museum, just the personal story about my experience there with my family. However, I would like to point out that IHM&EC did invited myself and other ABCters to participate in teacher trainings that they host regarding bullying and acceptance. We were honored and excited to attend and learned a lot from them :)

So, back to my story... We walked through their main exhibition for hours - reading the abundant plaques, watching videos, listening to stories of survivors and perusing the rare artifacts. We were all immediately horrified by merely standing inside the authentic German rail car they have on display, the type used in Nazi deportations. H.O.R.R.I.F.I.E.D!

We continued on to their current special exhibit, "Keep Calm and Carry On", about the history of the textile industry and studied many pieces of artwork in their gallery filled with artist's depictions of the Holocaust. We were saving the Room of Remembrance and the Hall of Reflection for the end of our visit.
Well before we left the first level of the Center, I told my teens, "let's check out the children's area". It is designed for kids ages 8-12 and my kids seemed less than thrilled by the idea but they happily followed along. (They're awesome like that).
All I can say is when I walked into "The Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition" I was immediately blown away. I mean, being the Anti-Bullying enthusiast that I am, I believe I heard the Angels sing... 'aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaa'! This was the very first thing that I saw when I walked in:
Then this:
Welcome to "Make a Difference!", the exhibit that teaches children they have the power to be upstanders, not bystanders. L.O.V.E. First set of computer monitors is where you can createe your own "Upstander Oath". Here's mine:
Everyone gets to sit at a computer, pick their three favorite pledges then add them to their personal oath. They can print it off and sign it there, email it home, or both. It's awesome! My kids chose, "Brighten the world and smile often!", "Get involved" and "Lead by being a good example", just to name a few. (Yes, I'm super proud of them!). There are private computer stations where children can share their personal bullying story without fear. And there are inspiring signs and screens EVERYWHERE:

Just imagine a world where THESE were the message children were seeing everyday. Imagine a community where adults were living by these words. Just I.M.A.G.I.N.E. what a different world this would be? The power of one is real, that's why at ABC we say " <3 Together We Can <3 " Each one of us alone, yet each one of us together, we can make this the atmosphere in our communities, in our schools, and in our homes... We just have to DO IT! And then we have to inspire others to DO IT too!!! And then we can't idly stand by, we MUST speak up to injustices each and every time we have the opportunity.
The Holocaust was bullying. Genocide, still in existence today, IS bullying! Racism, sexism, anti-religious AND rigid pro-religious are all bullies. Homophobias are based on beliefs of ignorant bullies. Mean girls are bullies. Angry boys are bullies, social isolation is bullying, segregated countries and neighborhoods are based on bullying. These situations can ALL be eliminated by ONE person standing up, YOU! All of us should read the six signs above and write down our answers... this could be our personal 2014 New Year's Oath!
I will not give away all of the secrets of the amazingness of The Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition, but I will tell you this... If you live within driving distance or you are EVER in the area - GO. Don't think about going - GO. And maybe you're even lucky enough to have something like this available in your area of the world - GO. And if there is nothing available - maybe THIS is YOUR chance to make it happen. Start a movement. Start a lesson plan. Start or continue to stand up!
And as we left our amazing experience, thinking it just could not get any better. We walk up to the gift shop on our way out and there is the sweetest most soft spoken man sitting at a table outside the doors. We walked into the shop and looked around, the next thing I hear was this little tap on the window from the foyer. The little Mister summonsed me to him which I of course immediately obliged. He told me his name was Joseph and he was a survivor. I took his hand and told him I was SO glad that he was. And not only a survivor but a warrior to fight threw all of the mental anguish he must have felt in the years since. He just looked at me with a tear welling up in his eye and nodded yes. I asked if I could give him a hug, he replied "but of course!" in his thick accent and opened his arms. He gave me a true hug, a loving, appreciative, grandfatherly hug. I loved it! Then he handed me a copy of his book and said "This book, it's my story of how I made it". He had autographed a copy for me, it's called "I CHOOSE LIFE - Memories of a Holocaust Survivor Joseph Koenig" by Beth Hawkins Benedix So then,  as any self respecting gentleman would do, he planted a kiss on my lips and then gave me another HUGE HUG and we shook hands for a few more minutes looking into each others eyes. I never once felt sorry for him, I just am SO happy he survived and even more appreciative that he's willing to volunteer at the IHM&EC so that we can meet him, hug him and tell him we are proud of him.
I bet Joseph Koenig has been an upstander a time or two in his life. BE. LIKE. JOE.
Aunt T~



Monday, September 3, 2012

A Chance to Grow

I am always grateful when I see articles about bullying in the media today; not because someone is being bullied, but because people are starting to realize that bullying is NOT something that a child should have to deal with, or simply a rite of passage. I am grateful that is starting to be recognized as child abuse and there are resources for children to turn to, adults to help stop the act, and organizations for empowerment. This topic hits close to home for me because I was bullied in high school, much to the amazement of people who know me today. I went through puberty very early, and starting in middle school my large breast size became on object of ridicule for my classmates. Whether it was out of jealousy or just plain cruelness, I was tormented on a daily basis. I was called vile names and false rumors were spread about me, making it even worse. There was nobody I felt I could turn to, no one I felt that I could talk to, not even my parents. I was so unsure of myself, felt so ashamed, and seemed to be so alone. As a result of this, I did things I never thought that I would do in order to be accepted by others, and ended up being a teenage mother at the age of 16, the only thing I will publicly admit to ;-) Thankfully, I was taken away from that environment and went to an Alternative School in the city. Here I began to flourish and gain the self confidence and acceptance that all children need and desire. Thankfully, I was able to grow and put behind me everything that happened to me early in my high school years, and I thought that I was completely over it. Fast forward 15 years: These days I am the president of the parent group at my daughter’s school. The Friday before school started, the principal called me. She had a new family to the school who lived a long ways from the school, but not far enough to be considered bussing district. The dad called her and explained that they were a one car family and he was wondering if there was anyone close to him that would be willing to car pool, and she thought of me since we live just a couple of blocks away from them. I told her absolutely, another mom and I who lived close would work something out. The principal gives me his phone number and says “His name is Mr. __________” My heart felt like it skipped a couple of beats, my pen froze. I know this man. I ask her what his first name is and she says that she didn’t get it and asks me if I know him. I tell her I am pretty sure that I do because the last name is very unique; I knew he was one of my biggest tormenters all those years ago. She asks me where I know him from, and this amazing, fantastic, self-confident woman that I am is too ashamed to tell her. I immediately felt the same way I did as a sophomore in school, sitting in my school desk red faced, ashamed to tears, hunched over trying to block everything out while this person and his friend made “jokes” about me. I told the principal I would set something up for them, and quickly got off the phone. I didn’t make the phone call that day. I didn’t make the call the whole weekend. Instead I debated on what to do. Reflected on what this person did to me and tried to decide if I was going to help him, even if it was passing along the duty to another mom who lived a couple of blocks down the street. Trust me, the adolescent in me did not want to help him at all. I wanted to get back at him, to get even in some small way, even if it was only making him walk 1.3 miles twice a day to pick his child up from school. But there was his child to think about, making a child suffer because of the sins of his father isn’t the type of person I feel like I am. Walking that far isn’t too bad now, but when it is raining or 10 degrees Fahrenheit out, it would be much worse. The weekend passed and Monday rolled around, I had to make a decision that day, one way or another. I took a deep breath and made the call, hoping he wouldn’t answer. Of course he did, and when I asked him his first name, it was who I thought it was. Once again, while in his “presence” I ashamed of myself, but this time it was because I was tripping and fumbling over my words. Damn it! At this point in the conversation he has NO idea who I am, and I am far from the person I was back then, why can’t I get my composure together? After a few minutes of conversation I finally feel like my old self. He explains his predicament, and I surprisingly hear myself volunteering to pick his son up for school on Wednesday. The relief he feels when he knows someone is going to help him is apparent in his voice. As we are wrapping up the conversation, he asks me for my name again, and I tell him. Feeling a surge of self-confidence, I tell him my maiden name. There is a pause on the line, and I let the silence spread out. What is he thinking? Does he remember me? Does he have ANY idea of what pain he caused me? Finally he answers me with a simple “I remember you! We went to school together!” Really? That’s it? I don’t know what I expected, but that surely was not it. We end the conversation and get off the phone, and I sit and try to reign in my galloping heart. The very next night after the initial phone call (Tuesday) I ran into him at the school’s open house. I found myself in conversation with him and his son, a real, casual conversation. I helped him find his way around the school, introduced him to his teacher and the principal, and helped make them both feel more comfortable for the first day of school the next day. At some point during the first week of school, I found out that my son’s cross country coach was not going to be able to coach the team this year, and asked Mr. ________ if he was interested in coaching (I had learned that he was trying to get a coaching position in the school system over the summer but didn’t get hired for the position), and he is now my son’s coach. This past weekend I found out that his wife’s brother’s family were victims of a house fire, and without thinking was working on getting donations set up for them. AS the school’s parent group leader I was working last week on setting up a donation drive for armed service members when my son mentioned that Coach P said he served in the Army, so I called him up and asked him if he would like to co-chair the drive with another retired service member at the school. It has only been two weeks since school has started and I am continually surprised by my actions. Neither of us has mentioned what happened all those years ago; I don’t know if he is ashamed by the way he acted or if he truly doesn’t remember, and you can bet that I am NOT going to be the one who brings it up. I often wonder WHY I am so nice to him now when for years I fantasized about some harm falling upon him. Then, in a moment of contemplation, I realize that he is the reason I am so nice to him. He and all the others who ruined my first two years of school have helped mold me into the person I am today. I like to think that I am a caring, compassionate, and empathetic person and I know that it is because I know what it feels like to be nothing; to have nothing. Never in a million years did I think that an opportunity like this would come up; a chance to help one of the people who I hated. Never did I think I would be presented with this chance to grow as a person and as a human being. And now that is has, I am happy with the choice I have made; regardless of what happened in high school, I have helped this families life today. As Ralph Waldo Emmerson said; “To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived-that is to have succeeded.”

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Upstanders Plus Cyberbullying Tips

Today has been an emotional day for me. On the way to drop off the kids this morning to school, I received a voicemail from a parent in Nebraska who has been advocating for stronger anti-bullying measures in her child’s school and community. We talked for quite some time, and it was like talking to one of our fellow ABC directors or a soul sister. She spoke of her son who is currently a high school student and how she feared for his safety; she spoke of how close they were and her fear when he was suicidal at the thought of returning to his school. Tears flooded my eyes in empathy for her son and the heartbreak and determination I heard in her voice. Her passion and drive reminds me of me and I’m looking forward to working together with her in future endeavors.

Emotional and inspired by the phone conversation, I am working along when I get tagged in a local group I belong to. A parent had posted her frustration of a cyber-bullying closed group her child had been “added” to targeting a fellow student. Her child immediately told her about the group and she put in calls to the school, but there were no return calls. Another parent knew that I was a part of ABC and tagged me to draw my attention to the post. I asked the parent to call me immediately and she gave me access to the group in which the image they had photoshopped of a young boy made me nauseous. I immediately started taking screen shots and with her help drafted an email to the administration with attached images. I then followed up with a phone call and it is being investigated immediately.

I was at first going to create a status update on ABC of what to do in situations like this, but then recognizing my long-winded capability I decided to instead create a blog post.

I would urge ALL parents to have login information for your children if they are on Facebook or any other social media site. It is our duty as parents to ensure safety of our children everywhere, web or otherwise. Monitor your kids on social media!

Here are some tips if you are in a similar situation:

1. Take screen shots of images and members of the group by hitting Ctrl PrtScn (Control and Print Screen) simultaneously. Open up Paint and Paste the image, crop as needed and Save as a JPG. Continue to do this to get all pertinent information.

2. Once you have images saved, Report any Abuse by clicking the X by the post and selecting the Report Abuse option. In Facebook, they will give you options such as Violence, Targeting a Friend etc. You can also report the Group.

3. Call the school administration, go to the school with print outs and Follow Up with an Email with attached images.

4. Contact a local advocacy group or contact us at

5. Talk to your kids about cyberbullying and the importance of being an upstander.

I want to commend the child who immediately told his mom about this group and the mom for taking action with the school and ABC.

Together We Can!

Monday, November 21, 2011

We Hear You Series #3: Don't Feed the Mean

In the beginning of my 5th grade year a few of my good friends, from the previous years, decided to turn on me. I had no idea why. It started with not talking to me and staying clear of me at recess and after school. Then the name calling began. I had very short hair for a girl, so they'd make rude comments or call me names based on that. They'd make fun of my clothes, too. I can remember just getting home as quickly as possible to share this with my mom and bawling my eyes out. I didn't understand why these girls had been my good friends before and now it seemed they hated me. I will never forget one girl that stood by my side through all of it. She never said anything, she was simply there with me, which was so comforting to me to know that one person liked me and at that same time was not bad-mouthing the girls that were being mean. I would run home as fast as I could to get away from that atmosphere every day. My mom would listen to me and then she would always say that sometimes when people make fun of others, it's because they have something they would like. In other words, my mom thought they were jealous of me. I just had to tell myself that over and over and never shout or comment mean things back. My mom made that really clear- no matter what, do not do what they're doing to me. Ignore the comments as hard as it was sometimes. No need to call names back at them, etc. I can also say that being involved in a sport at that time helped tremendously, as well. It was not associated with the school, so I had different friends there to hang out with and take out my frustration through the activity!

The bullying continued and led to prank calls that eventually were almost 24 hours a day. It got so bad, we intervened with the police to find out where the calls had been coming from. We did find out it was the same few girls. They had to apologize to me and my family. After that all happened, I remember being friends with these girls again. Even though I was hurt deeply by their comments, my one friend that was always there for me and my mom, helped me understand that some kids can be mean, but usually they have some issues of their own that they are trying to deal with. The best advice was not to feed in to their "mean-ness", but to ignore what they said to me and move on. Be the best me I could and surround myself with positive people and positive activities (sports, clubs).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Palm Tree by Scout

It was a cold, snowy day. Scout went to Florida with his step-mom Lynda, his aunt Shelby, and his Dad. He flew on an airplane for the first time, and thought it was awesome! But on that plane ride, Scout got an idea of getting a palm tree.

He arrived safely, went to the hotel, and fell asleep. The next day, his aunt Shelby and his Dad took him souvenir shopping. He looked and looked for a palm tree, but couldn't find one. Finally everyone gave up on him, but he didn't give up on himself.

They were on their way to the airport, when Scout thought his dream of buying a palm tree for home might not come true, but he never gave up.

Scout and his family were a hour early to the airport and to waste time, they walked through the stores. In one of those stores, Scout found a palm tree "in a box" for sale and bought it.

When people don't believe in you or are just mean to you, that's no reason to give up.

Scout never gave up even though his family doubted. Anything comes true when you are determined and never give up. Scout is happy to wake up every morning and look at his palm tree.

So do yourself a favor, and NEVER GIVE UP.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Proud Mommy Moment

As a parent and an advocate against bullying, I continuously communicate with my children about being kind to one another and if someone hurts them in school, then they need to tell their teacher or a trusted adult.

I have a very shy and introverted 7 year old little boy. Dylan has anxiety, an adjustment disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and a touch of oppositional-defiant disorder. When things don't go his way, he gets angry and it's hard for him to listen to reason. He has been getting much better this year than last year, however and that is a good thing.

At the end of September, I received an email from his first grade teacher, saying that Dylan was bothering other boys in his class by poking them and shoving them. I just sat there, staring at the computer screen totally dumbfounded. I knew I had to have this conversation again, especially since I do nothing but talk about bullying on facebook and other areas. How could people take me seriously if my own son wasn't following what I have been preaching?

After school, his father and I sat him down and had a long talk about this issue. At first he denied it (of course), but I can usually tell when my children are trying to lie to me. He finally gave in, and told me that other people were picking on him, so he was poking them to get back at them.

This is where I went through the list of what he needs to do, in order to take care of the situation, without being a bully himself. He tried to rebuttle by telling me that he's not allowed to tattle (something his father and I can't stand when it's the petty stuff like "He's looking at me!"). I explained to him that tattling and telling are two different things, and it's ok to tell his teacher that someone is picking on him. I explained that if he were to take care of the problem by being a bully back, then he would get into trouble as well, and that is not acceptable. I explained again about kindness and learning to accept others, even if we do not necessarily like them. He just kept nodding and was getting irritated with me, and I know my son well enough to know that when he starts to get irritated, he starts to shut down.

Just recently, we had our first parent/teacher conference. I was nervous about going because of this situation, but I needed to know what was going on since that incident. I asked her how he was doing, and she smiled and said that she didn't know what I had said to him, but that his entire attitude had changed. She said that he now stands up for himself, and if someone picks on him, he will FIRST tell them to please stop and that he doesn't like what they are doing (I didn't actually go over that part with him, but he picked it up on his own!). She said if they don't listen to him, then he will go straight to her and tell her what is going on, and then he lets it go.

Can we say HOORAY??!!! I am so incredibly proud of him!! I almost cried during the conference!! After the conference, I went home and immediately picked him up into this huge bear hug and told him how proud of him I was. I asked him to please keep it up, and to always stand up for himself in an appropriate way. Dylan apparently wasn't shutting down on me. He was listening in his own way, and he wasn't really irritated with me. He was processing the information given to him, and I should have known better to think he had tuned me out. We ask our children to listen to us...and we should listen to them in return.

Communication is the key for our children to be successful. Open up the dialogue and discuss the important issues with them. Trust me, they ARE listening.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Open Letter to My Children

I love each of you in ways indescribable by me.

I want you to grow up knowing that you are loved.

I want you to grow up knowing that no matter what I am here for you.

I want you to grow up being able to be whatever you want to be.

I want you to grow up being whoever you want to be.

I want you to grow up knowing there are always options.

I want you to grow up in a world filled with random acts of kindness.

I want you to grow up being an upstander.

I want you to grow up being strong young women and men who advocate for those in need.

I want you to grow up in a world without bullying.

I want you to grow up.


Your mom