I received this letter recently from a young reader named Damien.
Here is my reply:
Thank you for your letter. It’s been sitting on my writing desk, where I’ve read it over and over. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond, but I really needed to think about my answer to the very important question that you ask at the end of your letter. And I hope you don’t mind my answering you here, on my blog, because my answer is turning out longer than I expected, and will not fit on my stationary.
I had a terrible time making friends, too, when I was your age. If someone had said that they would play with me only if I traded something with them, I surely would have traded my most prized possession — a chicken egg that I had snatched from a 4H Fair exhibit, that was about to hatch any day because I was keeping it “incubated” in my socks drawer. I loved that egg like a mother hen!
In many cultures around the world, people are expected to exchange gifts when meeting. In fact, it would be considered rude not to do so. Gifts say you thought about them, and that you’re happy to see them.
But what if they don’t trade back with you? I think that this is the question you are asking. Should you “trade something,” just so they will play with you? In other words, everyone else gets to play for “free,” but you have to “pay” to play.
This is not trading. This is bullying. Do not trade with a bully. They don’t really want the thing you are giving them. They only want to control you – to make you feel a certain way, or to do something you don’t really want to do.
If you are being bullied, the best thing to do is to surprise them with something they didn’t ask for. Something really fantastic! A snake in a lunch bag is a good start. Be sure to include a note around the snake’s neck that says it’s from you. If that doesn’t turn your bully into your BFF, try a bigger surprise. Find a large watermelon. Cut it in half. Scoop out the insides and make helmets with the rind. Be sure to cut peep holes and a nose notch. Wear one, carry the other to an upstairs window or up into tree, and wait. When the bully is one step away from being straight underneath you, drop the helmet. It should slip perfectly on their head as they pass. What a great surprise! Now you’re instant BFFs, ready for a sword fight with the proper headgear!
But if your bully is particularly resistant, like a bad strain of bacteria that just won’t become your friend, there is just one more thing you can try. It’s really not a wonderful idea. In fact, you could get SO busted for it. But if you choose to do it, don’t say you heard it from me, and definitely, under no circumstances, brag about it. Here it is:
Damien’s No-fail, No-mess, Anti-bullying Treatment:
- Get a box. It should be large enough to fit your bully inside with a BSK (Bully Survival Kit).
- Put stuff in the BSK: sandwiches, water, sunscreen, a couple of books. In the box, put pillow and blanket.
- Climb in.
- When your bully sees that you’re enjoying a book in your new boat and sailing off to far-off lands without him, he will bully you again.
- He will say something like, “that’s my boat, if you want to play with me.”
- You will say, “Oh dear, it is!”
- His name, indeed, is painted on the outside of the boat with an address in a foreign language neither of you can read.
- You climb out.
- He climbs in.
- When he falls asleep reading, close and tape box.
- Call 1.800.GoFedEx.
- FedEx arrives quickly and can move most things without dropping.
- BBBFF (Bye-Bye Bully Flown Forever)!
I hope this helps.
As for your other questions, I’ll send you my answers on stationary.
Thank you again for writing to me, and for your great drawing of Alvin. I love it!!! I’m attaching it below for all to see and enjoy. Keep reading, writing, drawing and turning bullies into your BFFs, or BBBFFs.