Before my daughter, Annabelle, even drops her backpack, she bursts into tears.
"Today she told me I was ugly and said that no matter how cute my outfit is, I'm still ugly," Annabelle cries.
The name-calling has been relentless. One ringleader and a rotating sidekick have been tormenting Annabelle for weeks now. The worst part? These aren't middle-school kids. The perps and the victim are in kindergarten. This bully, in her twirly skirt and glittery shoes, is 5 years old.
I pull Annabelle onto my lap and hug her good and tight, mentally trying to figure out my next step. I've already talked to the teacher, who pronounced the girls' behavior unacceptable. After she lectured the class about the importance of being nice, Annabelle got a reprieve of a whole day.
The next time she came home crying -- the girls had pulled on her beloved stuffed animal, Piggy, hard enough to make some of his stuffing fall out -- I took it upon myself to talk to the child myself. She was sitting on another girl's lap, getting her hair braided. The bright colors of the classroom, the oversize puzzle pieces, and fat crayons littering the table reminded me that these were little kids. So little that they don't even use pens yet. They still take a nap every afternoon and keep spare clothes in their cubby in case of potty accidents. How can kids this little be so mean? I wondered as I kneeled in front of Annabelle's torturer.
"You have to stop being mean to Annabelle," I told her. "You are making her feel really bad. You have to be nice to her. To everybody."
She looked in my eyes. And laughed.