Why My 13-year-old Thinks I’m Awesome

For most of his first 15 years of school, from pre-K through high school graduation, Son sat next to a sweet girl I’ll call Angel. Although not close friends, Son and Angel always got along, and I have a lovely picture of the two on their senior trip. I never had occasion to get to know her parents, but of course I’d see them across the room at school events.As it happens, Angel has a brother — I’ll call him Ralph —  the same age as Son’s sister, and of course seating by last names also lands these two next to one another.  And there the parallels end.

This is the second year that Ralph has been nasty to Daughter. If this were a workplace and not a middle school, she’d have no trouble winning a sexual harassment judgment against Ralph. Use your imagination. Then there are the insults about her acne: a face like raw hamburger meat run over by a truck. Daughter lightens her hair and Ralph says she looks like a crackhead streetwalker.

Ralph is cruel but not stupid. His proximity to Daughter, a command of sotto voice techniques, and a craftiness to keep one eye on the teacher mean he can get away with this. I don’t blame the teachers. They have 25 kids to keep track of. Unless they hear the remark themselves, it is hearsay and they are forced to tell one kid that they think he or she is lying when the other invariably denies the accusation.

I tried the usual: ignore him; if you don’t react, he’ll quit. And the reassurances: he must be a very unhappy little boy to treat you that way.

But really, no one should have to put up with being verbally abused day after day.

And then it came to me that this was the rarest of cases because maybe, just maybe, I could bring it all to an end without involving teachers or principal.

I know where Ralph’s father works. I put on my skates and headed for his office for a little talk.

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