Family Life

Mum shares her family's experience with bullying and it is incredibly eye-opening

Stories touch people; you either ponder what you have heard or read, or you can relate to the information in some shape or form. 

But sometimes, we're left perplexed, shocked and completely heartbroken by the story lying in front of you. 

Sometimes it just hurts. 

When Deirdre Fell-O'Brien began typing her son's story she hoped it would help one family know they weren't alone, and while her mission was accomplished, she has done so much more than just share a story. 

Deirdre has spoken up for her son, Liam, and others who have, unfortunately, become the victim of bullying; she has become a voice that needs to be heard. 

Liam just turned 13-years-old, but instead of attending school and celebrating with friends, he is currently lying in hospital, being cared for by doctors and nurses, where he has resided for five weeks. 

Deirdre writes: "He is being treated for depression and an eating disorder. He hasn’t been home or slept in his bed. He hasn’t been able to watch football with his dad on Sundays. How did we get here?"

When Liam began school last year he was happy, he had friends he used to meet after school, and even made the school soccer team which both he and his family were incredibly proud of. 

"As the season ended and winter came, Liam gave me back his iPhone. He said, 'too much drama mum'. Then he stopped going to 7th street. He hung out at home with us. I was happy but I kept asking if anything happened and was everything ok? He said he was fine."

"He played soccer in the spring with his travel team. Soccer was the one thing that remained consistent. He played every day. He carried a soccer ball everywhere we went. I kept asking don’t you want to go hang out, make plans with friends? He said no I’m fine."

At the end of the year, Liam came home with a bruise on his face, and when his mum enquired about the injury, he revealed he was punched at school. 

Reporting the incident, it was stated there were no cameras or monitors where the incident supposedly occurred, so there was nothing which could have been done about the episode. 

"School ended and soccer tryouts came and Liam made the team we thought he wanted to make."

"Liam didn’t pick up the soccer ball for the rest of the summer. I was so confused. He started going to work with his dad at the racetrack. He started to ride horses and really liked it."

He went up to Saratoga at the end of July for almost three weeks. While he was there my husband said Liam wasn't eating like he used to, and when he came home I noticed the weight loss."

The 13-year-old had resorted to eating just one meal a day. Deirdre tried to talk with her little boy to find out what was wrong, but each time he reassured her that he was fine.

Taking him to the doctor, the mum learned he had lost over 10 lbs, and he was admitted to hospital until he started school again. This time Deirdre took action, and made sure her son would be properly cared for on school grounds. 

"I went into Garden City Middle school on the first day and met with guidance. I met with the nurses and made them aware of what was going on with Liam. I was told staff would be aware and he would be safe."

"Liam came home on Friday with a bruise on his face. I kept asking what happened? He said nothing, he banged it by accident."

What was supposed to be a celebration meal for his 13th birthday, turned into a solemn date where Liam didn't eat. He lost five pounds that first week back to school.

"That Monday he didn’t go to school. We sat at the kitchen table and we cried and I said please tell me what happened. He finally couldn’t hold it in anymore."

"He told me he was bullied terribly in 7th grade. It started when he made the soccer team. Two kids told him he sucked and shouldn’t have made the team. There were unnecessary pushes and kicks."

"He was told he was weird, he was fat, his freckles were weird, his eyebrows were weird. They used horrible language and called him nasty words."

"I asked him how often it happened. He looked at me crying and said: 'Every day Mum'."

They had got the better of him, broke him and made Liam think he wasn't good enough.

Liam began to speak to his mum, explaining what happened to his face on the day of his birthday – another boy pushed his face against the gym locker. 

"He was alone in the locker room. There are no monitors in the gym locker room. There are offices with glass windows where teachers and coaches are but not always."

"One of the most vulnerable places for a child is in the gym locker room. He was not safe as I had been assured he would be. I was told 'eyes would be on him'. Liam was re-admitted to the hospital."

"My husband and I reported the incident to the school. My husband sent a letter to the principal. We met with the guidance counsellor and social worker. The principal didn’t even show his face."

"The school conducted an investigation."

While the investigation was taking place, Liam was in hospital where a feeding tube was placed and a heart monitor fitted as his heart rate was low from malnutrition. He was transferred to an intensive facility.

"He is opening up more and talking about what happened, he has a long road ahead of him. I wish he had come to us and told us earlier but he said he didn’t want to make a big deal or for anyone to get in trouble," shared the mum. 

Nonetheless, when Deirdre arrived for the results of the school investigation, she was met with disbelief as once again there was nothing which could be done for her teen.

"The results were unfounded. I was told Liam’s perception may have been different from reality."

"They just couldn’t find evidence that this happened."

"I have a picture of a bruise on his face, they said staff said he didn’t exhibit behaviour that would suggest something just happened to him."

Liam's parents have been left frustrated by the lack of support as from what they can understand the bullies who have left her son unwell will continue to bully.

But what really struck the mum was the mail she received the following day: "I just got an email about unity day next week. Wear your orange shirt to show you are against bullying."

"Seriously? What a crock of shit."

"Parents, watch and listen to your children. I had a parent tell me her son had a heart of gold and Liam must be a sensitive boy! Again, I was speechless!"

"Liam should be able to finish 8th grade with the kids he started school with. […] Liam is truly a wonderful boy. He is kind and he loves his family. We miss him and want him to be home with us."

"So when you put on that orange shirt, really stand behind what it is supposed to mean. I think we can do more than an orange shirt."

Deirdre is making the point that there is a lot more which can be done bar wearing a T-shirt, both in schools and by parents surrounding such a life-altering issue. 

We would like to commend Deirdre for sharing Liam's story and for highlighting the realities of bullying. 

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