Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of bullying and eating disorders, which may be triggering to some.
“Kiara will be 11 coming this March. She is half black and a quarter of each, white and Mexican. She was born with the most beautiful head of curly hair. Many people, from day one, would stop us out in public and compliment her hair. I always assumed it was a good thing, and it would help build her self-esteem as she grew up, but it did the opposite.
I started noticing her behavior about her hair changing around the age of 3. Whenever we would go out in public, whether it was the park or the grocery store, people would stop us and compliment on how beautiful she was and how beautiful her hair was. At age 3, she started not liking it. If someone would come up, she would grab her head and look down. I wouldn’t stop to chat with the person. I would just say ‘thank you’ and keep walking because even being so young, she clearly was bothered by it. It’s something I regret constantly, letting people stop us all the time.
The first time she had a moment of a break down was when we were picking up her brother from school. She just, out of nowhere, starting tugging her hair pulling it out, crying she wanted ‘mommy’s hair.’ It was enough to make me concerned and I voiced my concern to my family and friends, who stated it was just a phase. Fast forward the next couple of years, she had more ‘moments’ like this—more than I can tell you. I tried my best to do whatever I could to make her feel good about her hair. Myself being half Mexican and white, my hair type is just wavy. I knew nothing about her type of hair and I tried to become educated on what products to use and how to take care of it properly. I joined many groups of parents with biracial children and groups for hair care. I really thought I was trying my best as her mother to teach her self-love and care when it came to being her. Every doctor’s visit, I would talk to them about how deeply saddened she is about her hair, and every person would again just tell me, ‘It’s just a phase, she will grow out of it!’
When she started kindergarten at age 5, everything got worse for her. There were two boys in her class who would constantly make fun of her hair and her beautiful brown skin. She would come home, often upset or crying, because of what the boys would say to her. Telling her that her hair was ugly or fluffy, saying her skin was dirty. I would complain to the school and they said something would be done. Then things would be quiet for a few months and it would start again. By this time, it was summer so I didn’t feel the need to pursue anything with the bullying. She still had her sad moments of wanting to change her hair. She attempted to cut her own hair on many occasions. Whenever I would reach out to the groups I was in, no one understood the pain we were going through. How to get her to love herself. We also live in a very non-diverse town, so seeing children or even adults like her was rare. I couldn’t financially afford to move to a bigger city. My parents live here too, and being a single mom, they helped so much, so I couldn’t just up and leave our only support. I would have in a heartbeat if it was simple.
When first grade started, we had high hopes. During the summer, we worked on self-affirmations and tried new hairstyles she picked out, in the hopes things would get better. It wasn’t long into first grade when she started coming home from school sad again. It was the same two boys from kindergarten who would pick on her. Calling her the same names and not leaving her alone. Of course, I went to her teacher, letting them know what was going on. They assured me they would keep the boys separated from her. Like the last year, things went quiet again for awhile, and when she would come home upset at what those boys said to her, I would run right to the school to deal with it. All I had was their word they don’t tolerate bullying. This is the biggest lie a school will tell you—they don’t tolerate bullying. We couldn’t wait for the school year to be over, and the school said they wouldn’t put those boys in her class again.
During this time, nothing ever happened to the boys. Because it kept happening. Luckily, summer was right around the corner and I was positive things would get better for her. I tried to get her out of that school, but the only other school was out of our district and I didn’t have anyone to drop her off or pick her up. So, we let the school year finish and hoped second grade would be better.
The first day of second grade was when I found out those same two boys were in her new classroom. I refused to put her in the class. It was a new principal, and she said because it was a new school year and there hadn’t been any problems she would need to start out in that class. I literally live with regret I didn’t pull her out of school that day. Again, we didn’t have an option of what to do at the time because the school district made it hard. That next week of school, Kiara came home with a Band-Aid on her shoulder. I asked her why and she was afraid to tell me. I took it off, and there was a deep little hole with a large scratch. I asked her to tell me what happened, and she broke down crying, saying one of those two boys got mad at her and sharpened his pencils and stabbed it into her arm and dragged it down. She was only 6, so exaggeration wasn’t out of the question. I wanted to make certain, so I called her teacher who confirmed it did happen and didn’t think it was a big enough deal to call me.
I drove straight to the school, and boy was I fuming… I demanded to speak to the principal who didn’t even want to see me. Honestly, I’m shocked the cops didn’t get called on me at that moment because I was loud and angry, and I wasn’t going to leave until they gave me an answer. This woman came out of her office and looked my daughter in her eyes and said, ‘Sweetie, he didn’t do it to hurt you. He did it because maybe he likes you.’ Again, I don’t know how the cops didn’t get called because this set me over the edge. I was livid. I was so angry I was shaking. I said a lot of words, and she did apologize and said it wasn’t right she said that.
I told her, ‘You do not teach girls abuse is okay and it means someone likes you. YOU DO NOT EVER!’ I left her office with my daughter because she refused to do anything to the boy. She was certain it was because he liked her. I drove right to the police station and I filed a police report against a 6-year-old. The officer who took the report said not a lot could be done because of his age, but it would get reported to child services and be on his record, and we would have some sort of a record of documentation as well.
After the incident it was only the first week of school. I demanded those boys be removed from her class. The principal wouldn’t move them. She said they were fine in their class, and even with the documentation of bullying SINCE KINDERGARTEN, she wouldn’t move the boys out. I went to the school board, I had all my facts and documentation of bullying/abuse/VIOLENCE, and they talked to the principal who said they would switch Kiara to another class. Again, at the time, this was my only option because I worked and couldn’t homeschool her. I was a single parent so I couldn’t financially afford to hire anyone to help or stay home. I told them it wasn’t fair she had to move classes, but they assured me she would still get her friend time at lunch and recesses.
A month into her new class, she told me the other boy (not the one who stabbed her) was put in her class now. I called the principal, who confirmed he was a disruption in the other class so they had to move him. In my daughter’s school, they only had two classes per grade. There was no other option for that kid to move to a different class.
That Halloween, my daughter wanted to be Elsa. For her birthday, she received a beautiful Elsa dress from Disneyland she wore while we were there. It was a beautiful gown and she was excited to get to wear it. The class had a Halloween party, and they got to wear their costumes. After school when I picked her up, she was wearing her normal clothes. I asked her why, and she just told me she didn’t want to be Elsa anymore. It wasn’t enough time to get a different costume, and she was so excited to be Elsa that morning… what changed?
A couple hours later, she opened up and asked me, ‘Is it okay for Black girls to be Elsa for Halloween?’ I immediately knew what this was linked to, and I said, ‘Of course they are! Anyone can be Elsa! Even a boy!’ She began to cry and told me the boy told her Black girls can’t be Elsa and if she wanted to be Elsa, she should wash her dirty skin. He told her she should be poop because she’s the same color. I was so angry. It was too late in the evening to do anything, but the next morning, I let the principal have it. I went to the school board again, who said they would take care of it. They didn’t tolerate bullying. But I knew it was a lie.
The next week at school, my daughter came home again upset. She was crying and asked me why she had to be sorry for being herself. I didn’t understand what she meant by this, and told her she never has to be sorry for being herself. That’s when she told me her teacher made her sit with the boy apologize to him. By this time, the principal was scared of me, but she confirmed she apologized to the boy and the principal apologized to me for it happening, and said the teacher would be talked to. They started making my daughter eat in the school office, and during her recess time she was in the classroom. I didn’t find out about this until a few weeks later. Instead of moving the boys away from her, instead of keeping HER safe, they treated her like she was the problem. Hiding her away. She lost her recess and lunch time, because to them it was easier than keeping two boys away. I had them stop it right when I found out.
During this time, a couple times a week I would get a call to come pick her up because her chest was hurting really badly. She suffered from pectus excavatum, where her sternum is compressed against her heart, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary she was feeling pain in her chest. Of course, I would leave work and pick her up and she would feel a lot better. It happened so often that after seeing her doctor, who assured us her chest was just fine, she sent us to the children’s hospital where we met with a pain management group. After a lot of testing, it was discovered the pain she was having in her chest was panic attacks. She was having panic attacks from having to be around those boys. Her school didn’t care about her. They didn’t want to protect her. They were protecting those boys. I pulled her out of school and said I would figure out homeschool. I live with regret every single day I didn’t do it sooner. The school district made me feel like there were no options. They simply just didn’t care to tell me there WERE options.
Kiara loved to eat. Food was her favorite! She loved everything and was far from a picky eater! During the first few months of second grade, I started noticing her food habits were changing. Her favorite meal was spaghetti and she was turning it away. I knew something wasn’t right, so I was watching her like a hawk with everything else going on. One evening during dinner, she kept getting up and going to the bathroom. She said she had to pee a lot. I knew something wasn’t right, so I followed her on the last time. She was spitting each bite of food out into the toilet. It was spaghetti night. I dropped to my knees, sobbing, and asked her what was she doing. She started crying too, saying she wasn’t hungry. I knew it was more than that. I called her primary doctor the next morning and she was seen the following day. She had a wellness check in the summer, and from August until that December morning, she had lost 11 pounds. On an already-skinny child, this was alarming. Blood work was done, and everything else to rule out of there wasn’t a more serious underlying condition. Fortunately, those were all ruled out.
Her doctor was certain it was anorexia. We were referred to a specialist, who confirmed she was anorexic. I will never forget that day. Kiara was the specialist’s youngest patient, and she had been practicing for over 30 years. It was devastating. After her diagnosis, all hands were on deck with my family and Kiara. We needed to make sure we provided a good environment to help her recover. With the specialist and her primary doctor, she would go in each week for a weight check. She would also visit with the specialist each week and a therapist. Over this time, the specialist and therapist said because she couldn’t control the color of her skin or how curly her hair was, she could control what she ate. It gave her power to be able to control something in her little life. Hearing this was heartbreaking beyond belief. I felt like a failure as a mother for not protecting her. Every moment of being stopped in public letting strangers compliment her. I was just filled with so much regret on what I could have done better as her mother.
She went from being 59 pounds in August to as low as 43 pounds by March the following year. Her eating disorder came to a point of where if she didn’t gain weight by a certain date, she would have to be hospitalized. Because she was going downhill, I knew what she missed most was school. Despite all of what she endured, she loved learning and loved school. I went back to the school district and demanded she be put in another school, and said they are the ones who have to figure out how she is to get there and get home. I had the help of Kiara’s godfather, who was president of the NAACP of our town at the time, to go with me. I also presented documentation of what the therapist said—that her eating disorder was a result of the bullying. I wasn’t leaving their office until she was enrolled in another school.
Sure enough, the next school week she was able to attend this new school. The light in her that disappeared I saw shining through again. We would constantly tell her to let her light shine. She was so happy she would be able to get away from those boys and make new friends. The first day of her new school, she met two other Kiaras. Her light was starting to shine, and it meant the world to see her smile again.
That first few weeks of being in the new school and making new friends, she gained a whole pound! It was such a huge step in the right direction for her. We were so happy and so proud of her. Over the next few months, she slowly but surely began to gain more weight, and by the end of the summer, she was back to her healthy weight. She was able to stop seeing the specialist and her weekly weigh-ins. She was doing so well in school. She was so happy, and it made us so happy. I was getting my daughter back. Going back to when it was discovered she was having panic attacks, they also said at the pain clinic, as well as her therapist, that she suffered from severe anxiety and OCD. Obsessive compulsive disorder was in a mix with her eating disorder. She became obsessive about what clothes she would wear, how many times she would fold her clothes, put them away, wear them, etc. The eating disorder was obviously a priority, and I assumed the way she was obsessed with her clothes was just her being her. Because it started affecting her new school schedule, we were constantly late because she had to fold her clothes a certain amount of times before putting them ON.
I was getting calls from the school office about how we are constantly late I knew it was getting to be more than just a routine she would do. We were fortunate she wasn’t going back to her old eating habits, but she took to controlling how many times she would fold her clothes as something she could control. We met up with the doctors at the pain clinic at the children’s hospital, because her anxiety and OCD was so severe. She qualified for their anxiety and OCD clinic. The waiting list was supposed to be a year, but because of everything she had been through, we were able to get her seen within a couple of months. Every other Friday we met with her doctor, which was a 3-hour trip each way to meet for an hour. His visits were helpful. She loved him a lot and looked forward to seeing him. We saw him for over a year, and she graduated from the clinic in June of 2020. Of course, there are still challenges, but she doesn’t fold her clothes like she used to. She wears whatever she wants, even if it’s mismatching or the prints don’t match. That’s something she wouldn’t do before. She still suffers from anxiety, but it isn’t like it was a couple of years ago.
When Breonna Taylor was murdered in her own home, Kiara started to become very vocal about being Black. She was starting to sadly realize what she had experienced is just the tip of the iceberg of what many other people of color have faced over the years we have been on Earth. When George Floyd was murdered, it made her feel more strongly about who she is. It was almost like a wake-up call to want to love herself and feel good about being herself. We attended one of the marches in my town for Black Lives Matter, and she wanted her sign to say, ‘Am I next?’ We have been learning a lot of Black history and she’s so eager to learn, even when things are so unfair and horrible. But as she says, ‘Our history is important.’ She used to only want her hair up in tight ponytails or slicked back, but now she’s been loving her natural hair and wearing it down. We’ve discussed it isn’t just her hair. It’s her crown, and she should show the world how beautiful her crown is, how beautiful her skin is! She would want to wear clothes that would hide her skin, but now she’s constantly picking out things to compliment her skin tone. She is accepting compliments, even if she still has a hard time seeing it herself. The important part is her light is shining. We work hard on self-affirmations. She still has struggles, but it’s something she is happy to discuss and share with me.
She will be 11 on March 18th, and to see her now is just so amazing. It’s been a long, hard journey for Kiara and our family. The biggest lie a school will tell you is they don’t tolerate bullying. You are your child’s advocate. Pay attention to your child. Know when something isn’t right with your child. Don’t ever back down. I constantly live with regret knowing I didn’t pull her out sooner. Don’t live with fear, because the school made me fearful that her being there was the only option. We are the voices for our children and when their voice is too quiet, we need to make ours louder. Kiara is the funniest girl. She is so talented on her piano and she loves all animals. She said when she grows up she wants to be a veterinarian and a famous pianist. Her jokes would have you rolling on the ground laughing. She is just a joy to be around and I’m so beyond lucky I get to call her my daughter.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Bethany Baker of Albany, Oregon. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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