What Happened When I Got Really Mad at A Big Bully

Yesterday I read a post by my buddy Jaye at Jaye’s Brain that made a connection between adoption and bullying.

In a book review of an anthology by adoptees, Perpetual Child, that I’ve been reading, she wrote:

An essay by Matthew Salesses stood out for me not only by what it said regarding adoption but what it said about bullying/adoption. I started out blogging, unintentionally, by writing about the bullies on the bus. Again, I thought it was my over-sensitivity and my desire to prevent anyone from having negative feelings (or perhaps, any feelings at all) that made me a (bullied) target.

Salesses, in his essay, wrote about being bullied because he was a transracial adoptee. Jaye was adopted, and she writes about the power of the essays and other pieces in Perpetual Child. She shares her very first blog post–which, guess what, just happens to be about being bullied. Go read it (link is in her quote above)!!! And the topic is bus bullying, a subject that I wrote about here.

In 2012, I started my first blog, Don’t We Look Alike?, writing it with my daughter. The subject of DWLA is adoption, and over the past almost two years, I’ve learned a lot about the subject–and revised some of my viewpoints. I want to share with you the first post I wrote. I’m not sure that today I could write my story with the same tone I do here, but this is how the experience seemed to me for most of my life.

The post didn’t have too many readers, but a couple of the “likes” were by bloggers who I still read and who occasionally read this blog.

It’s interesting to me how different my response was to this bullying than to the subsequent bullying I myself was subjected to at my new school in 3rd grade. At the time of the following story, I was in 2nd grade, and at my familiar “old” school.

Here’s my story:

I’m the mother of two young adults, both adopted from Korea when they were babies. But my relationship with adoption began much earlier. I’m the sister of an adoptee, too. Back in the early sixties, it was still a new idea that adoption wasn’t a secret to be kept and that an adopted child could grow up knowing he was adopted and still feel loved and accepted by others. My parents embraced this idea. When they started the adoption process for a boy, they explained all this to me and I thought I understood. Yet it wasn’t quite that simple.

It was a March day, when my parents and I drove downtown to pick up my brother Teddy from Catholic Family Services. We weren’t Catholic, but Mom explained that their agency was the one with the babies and we were in need of a baby. We pulled up in front of an old house on South Street and went in. Teddy lay in a white bassinette in a small room. My parents and I encircled him, looking down at our new baby. Our case worker said, “He’s just six weeks old. Isn’t he a darling?”

Though shocked to see his face covered with a red rash, I quickly decided not to be picky since I had been waiting all seven years of my life for a brother.

A few months before, when the case worker was going to visit us for the first time, Mom and Dad had warned me that she would ask questions, and I sensed that our family getting the stamp of approval rested on me and my answers.

I kept things businesslike, asking for a brother since our family needed a boy more than another girl. Since it was 1963 and I’d never met anyone who was adopted, I assumed that kids, adopted or not, would automatically look like their parents. I had my mother’s brown hair and blue eyes, so I put in an order for brown eyes to match Dad’s.

Now I peered closer at the baby with his frill of reddish-brown hair. “He’s got blue eyes like mine!” I’m sure I sounded accusatory. The case worker explained they were fresh out of baby boys with brown eyes, so they had chosen Teddy because he looked like Mom and me. I considered the logic and figured he would do.

When we got him home, all the relatives started coming over to meet him. For two weeks, we had somebody at our house almost every day. They liked to have me sit on the couch and hold Teddy while they took our picture. Teddy felt like one of my dolls, but warm and heavier, and yet I was conscious of how fragile he was and how careful I had to be with him. Every day I rushed home from school so I could see him. Day by day, I learned to be more comfortable with him, and how to hold the Playtex bottle with its plastic bag insert so he could get formula without swallowing too much air. I learned how to burp him, patting his back which seemed barely bigger than my hand. He relaxed and smiled at me when I picked him up, and he wrinkled his forehead when I lay him back in the crib.

I’d been in the choir at the Methodist church all school year. A group of us would walk from school to the church [once a week]. We were six kids, all ages, from an afternoon kindergartener to a tall fifth grader, a girl I’ll call Jane. Her size and confident demeanor gave her a lot of authority.

That day we decided to cut through the backfields to the church, although we usually just marched down the side of Gull Road. Jane said it would save us a lot of time to cut through, and nobody wanted to argue with her, although the snow was melting in the field, leaving ruts filled with mud.

Since having a baby brother was a new phenomenon in my life, I liked to bring up the subject–a lot. After having been an only child, I loved the sound of the words my brother. As we walked, I chimed in with something about my brother Teddy.

Suddenly Jane, who was leading, turned around and said, “He’s not your REAL brother. Don’t lie about it.”

My skin seemed to peel back from my limbs, and my stomach got a sick flipfloppy feeling. “What do you mean he’s not my real brother?”

“He’s ADOPTED. That’s not REAL.” A sea of bloody red anger splashed across my eyes. Jane had no siblings and, since she was eleven, probably thought she’d never get any. But I wasn’t thinking from her perspective. To me, her words were an act of violence against Teddy.

That’s the first memory I have of being angry. I lowered my head, aiming straight for her stomach. Eventually Jane and I got back on friendly terms, but I never forgot that some people don’t really understand what adoption means for those of us whose lives are changed by it. My parents’ philosophy had become my philosophy, but I now knew it wasn’t shared by everyone.


When I was in 7th grade, a very large girl sat on me and started to beat me up, but I was rescued by my friend’s father who jumped out of his car when he saw what was happening. Other than those scary few moments, the only time I was ever in a physical fight was when I head-butted Jane. In case you’re wondering, not much happened after that point because Jane apparently was shocked somebody stood up to her and not inclined to fight.

Have you been in a physical fight with a bully?


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction

28 responses to “What Happened When I Got Really Mad at A Big Bully

  1. Thank you s much because you open your soul, even english isn’t my language, I understand you perfect. No, I haven’t been in a physical fight with a bully or something, guess lucky. But on the other side, there are more problems, other kind, I will talk about it next time or in some post, for example, my mother had cancer 10, now is 11th years. She is ok now, thank God. Blessings from me to you 🙂

  2. i’m glad you head-butted, Jane, she certainly deserved it. It’s unfortunate that kids and some adults, don’t understand the power of words. I can only imagine how hurt you were, Luanne.
    Actually, I’ve never been in a physical fight…hopefully it will stay that way. 🙂

    • Luanne

      Jill, I’m actually glad I did, too. I don’t usually respond to things in ways like that ;), but we were all (my parents and me) so on top of the world about the new addition to our family, that her words were like an extreme physical assault (on a tiny baby, it seemed to me). And I had NO idea anybody could be so vile or think of something so “crazy.” Maybe it was a loss of innocence that day.
      I’m glad you haven’t been in a fight!

  3. The head-butt was well deserved!
    I have thankfully never been in a physical fight.

    The story about real siblings or other siblings:
    A real sibling is in your family, you live together. No matter if someone is adopted or not.
    A sibling who grows up elsewhere is normally farther away than an adopted sibling in your home.
    (Real) Family is about what you feel inside. The lack of understanding that Jane showed is embarrassing – for her!

  4. Luanne

    Karen, I think so too ;). So glad you haven’t had to go through a fight!
    I agree about family being ones that grow up together, and also who thinks of themselves as family :). Have a great week!

  5. I almost got in a fight with a bully in eighth grade – but I wrote her a long letter that changed her mind about beating me up. In fact, after that letter we became friends, and she was actually a really cool person. I’ve used that story about how I used language and the power of the written word to save my butt numerous times in English classes over the years,when students complain that they don’t need to take a writing class! It was the first time I realized not only that the written word had power, but that I had a pretty good persuasive writing skill!

    • Luanne

      What a fabulous story! Wow. I’m so glad you could use it for the kids! as a model experience. Gee, i wish I had a personal example of pen over sword! Thanks for sharing your experience over here, mm(c). Starting to think of your name as an equation.

  6. Great story! I was six when my brother was born, but we had different fathers. So he was my “half-brother.” I never felt as close to him as to my cousins my age, who were more like brothers and sisters. I think it was the distant in age more than the “half” part. But I’ve always felt a little guilty about never truly bonding with him.

    • Luanne

      I think it’s the age thing, too, but sometimes it can be personalities or placement within the families. I get this “knowledge” from reading lots of memoirs! and I am fascinated in reading them to see the different ways people connect (or don’t) to their siblings.

  7. You have such a way with words. I can literally see (in my mind’s eye) every scene being painted out by your words. Thank you for sharing this open and honest piece. Adoption can open the door to so many wonderful emotions, but also open society’s door to judgment/cruelty. It’s a shame.

    • Luanne

      Ah, thanks, Caitlin. That makes me happy! I am glad that it was me that Jane attacked with her nastiness and not my brother when he got a little older.

  8. Those awful words “He’s not your real brother”, or any variation, still sting when I hear them. I fear they will never stop and it makes me so sad.

  9. Oh, how I loved the way you wrote this! I am not talking about the bully part but the ‘proud’ big sister that you were! The way you said you talked about Teddy a lot and also, that you were ready to defend that he was indeed your ‘Real brother!!’ I think bullies must have someone mean around them, for who would even think of saying such things. I am so glad that your friend’s father saved you from the other bully that you had in your life.
    Hugs for this wonderful post and I think sharing about your daughters, in another post, was fantastic, too!

    • Oh, I am not sure if you receive award nominations but I could not help including you in my Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award nominees’ list, Luanne! I meant to get a hold of everyone on the list yesterday but I ran out of time, notifying the ones on the list. I hope there is a ‘new’ someone on the list, who you may check out. I hope someone who has not noticed you before, with all of your special comments on my posts, will travel over here and check you out, too! Smiles, Robin

      • I really wish that bullies would realize what they are doing before they do these mean things! I was so proud of your being a big sister and you took on that bully!

        • Luanne

          Bullies must be miserable inside, don’t you think?

          • They must have a negative self esteem, but it is so hard to realize this, at any time the ‘assault’ or attack comes right at you! Children you can later forgive but not adults who are intentionally mean! Thanks, Luanne, sorry I wrote a few times, you may edit them away… I was not sure if I had said something that didn’t sit well, but should have realized that the wordpress system is rather clunky (runs when it wants to!)! Smiles, Robin

      • Luanne

        This is really sweet. I don’t do award nominations any more because I can’t keep up with it, but I appreciate the sentiment so much and will DEFINITELY check out the others on the list! It’s so kind of you, Robin. I hope your weekend is absolutely wonderful. I am exhausted from what’s going on at work, and I feel as if I’ll never catch up my rest!

        • I hope you will be able to rest fully. I keep reading that is one of the most important ways to ensure a long life! I tend to sleep only 6 hours, but they are really deep and I remember my dreams. Hoping for you to have a better week, Luanne! Smiles, Robin

    • Luanne

      Am I not getting notifications for some of your comments? I think I am not. Very strange. Thank you for your kind words and your loyal readership, Robin. It means the world to me. Let me see what else you wrote here!

  10. Me fighting is not as relevant as how you felt so strong a bond with your brother that you defended the family honor? Are you still feeling that strong protective bond? It would be interesting to read how your brother felt about the adoption connection once he understood what being adopted meant.

    • Luanne

      It would be really interesting to read that. Unfortunately, my brother isn’t a writer. He’s not really a “word person.” Yes, I feel protective of him, for sure.

  11. What a powerful story. Children really don’t know the power of their words. Head-butting Jane was probably the only way she’d get the point that she had crossed a line 😉

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