At day camp the other day, my son’s friend, let’s call him Bobby, was being tormented by a self-anointed “King of the Wedgies.” The Wedgie King’s real name was Charlie. When I asked Jake why Charlie was King, Jake explained: “He told us to call him that.”
Charlie delivered a trademarked turbo wedgie. He’d chase a child around, jump on top of him and pull his underwear high up until his victim screamed for mercy. This week, Bobby was the target. The first time, the wedgie wasn’t a big deal. Kids give wedgies. Underwear is a fascinating things for boys who are consumed, like my kid is, with poop jokes and farting. The next day, the wedgie abuse continued, but was much worse. For the three hours Jake was at camp with Bobby, the King of the Wedgies dolled out multiple wedgies and tackling to Bobby. Bobby, it should be known, is a fast, tough, smart kid. So it was a surprise that he was getting hammered by this other child daily.
Bobby’s mother–who has been one of my best friend’s for 20 years–talked to the counselors. She and her husband talked to the camp director. They talked to the boy’s parents. The next day was the same as the day before. Bobby was getting wedgied by The King of the Wedgies. “He chased me, knocked me down and gave me a turbo wedgie,” Bobby explained.
Please don’t tell me that multiple wedgies are boys-will-be-boys behavior. Repeatedly putting your hands down someone’s pants and grabbing someone’s underwear until it hurts them is behavior from a shitty kid. This is not boy-like behavior. This is bullying.
Literally a day later, I heard from another friend that her son had been picked on daily at completely different camp. This friend talked to counselors. They coached their son to use strong words. In the end, they told their son that if someone was pushing him, that it was okay to push back.
Here’s another example. About a year ago, a boy punched Jake in the face. I told him that if someone hits him that way, that he has my permission to hit him back. There are moments in life where defending yourself or hitting back is acceptable. It sends a message, doesn’t it? One hit back and there’s a pretty safe chance that the other child is going to steer clear of my child. Playground mentality hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years. There’s always been bullies. Of course I told my son that you use strong words first. You say, “Don’t hit me.” You tell a teacher. You tell me. You walk away. You play with other kids. But someone punches you in the face? Nah. Maybe my hard edge is from my father who used to box in his younger days. He was never bullied.
Here’s another story: my mother, one of the biggest pacifists I know, was called a “dirty Jew” by someone on the playground. This was in the 1950s. Flatbush, Brooklyn. She turned around and hit the kid in the face. The principal –who also happened to be a Jew–said to my mother, “I know why you did it and I’m glad you did.”