A doting mother noticed that her son often returned home from school in tears, so she hid a tape recorder in his backpack — what she learned had her put on her investigative goggles.
Mary was a 30-year-old single mother who lost her husband on the same day she gave birth to their son Max.
The man had been a soldier, one who fought bravely for his country and who eventually succumbed to war wounds after taking out a terrorist commander and his entourage.
Mary received a medal in his place. It was across that had the likeness of the president engraved in the middle, and it was to reward her husband for his heroic efforts.
They were also financially rewarded by some powerful friends of her husband who truly felt sorry to see him gone. That money went a long way in raising her child, Max.
He got the best things, and she tried as much as possible to make sure he lived a comfortable life. The school he attended was a prestigious one — even the elites sent their kids there.
Max fit right in because of his father’s honor, but not everyone liked him. In his class, there were precisely 28 students, and all except three loved him.
They always wanted to be around him; not only was he brilliant, but he was a good conversationalist as well — a smooth talker if you will. However, when those three boys were in the vicinity, it was all man for himself.
Nobody knew Max then. To him, the three boys were only really “one and others.” The leader was Frank, a tall, muscular boy from an average home who got in on a football scholarship.
The other two were his stooges, John and Lindo. They were mindless sycophants who, for some reason, only lived to please Frank. Rumor had it that he saved them both from expulsion once by taking the heat and getting suspended — they had followed him ever since.
Frank hated Max because even though he also seemed to be from an average home, he always looked better. His shirts were cleaner and always new, whereas Frank’s was patched in several places. His parents had a lot on their plate, so he could not bother them about changing uniforms. They had to cater to his brothers anyways.
Max was an only child, and he got everything he wanted. It made Frank see him as a spoiled child, and he considered it justice that he picked on him each time they crossed paths.
Each day after school, he would be waiting at the school gate with his two puppets ready to molest Max with harsh words and hard hits.
“Tell any adult about this and you’ll see what we’re going to do to you, this is just a tip of the iceberg,” they would tell him as they bullied him each day.
Frank was smart. He wanted his reign over Max to last long, so he ordered John and Lindo only to hit him from his neck below.
“Wear a baggy shirt or a sweater to cover up your bruises okay? If you bring me some chocolates tomorrow I’ll tell those two to go easy on ya,” Frank would tell him.
Every day Max would return home from school in tears, with a red face, and a sad countenance. Mary immediately noticed this and started attempting to find out what could have caused it.
“Max, is everything okay?” she asked him one evening when he returned from school.
“Of course, mom, everything is fine,” he told her.
It had become his standard reply whenever she asked. The constant repetition made Mary suspect that something was indeed happening in her son’s life that was making him show symptoms of depression.
Aside from his often sullen face, he had also retreated into himself. Where they used to spend hours together after he returned from school before, they now spent close to none.
Mary was a journalist for a reasonably respectable newspaper, and she was used to trusting her gut when there was a story buried somewhere.
Her instincts, which had won her a dozen plaques of honor, told her there was a lot she didn’t know that was happening with her son who began to lock himself in his room.
Mary was well and truly worried, so she resorted to drastic measures. She went into his room behind his back and checked his clothes, looking for anything that would shed more light on his behavior.
She discovered that he only seemed to wear his larger clothing. His T-shirts and any revealing clothing were left mostly untouched.
Why would he start avoiding his tees? Even the graphic ones he used to love so much, she thought to herself.
Having decided there was most certainly foul play afoot, Mary took things a bit further. The next day, just before her son left for school, she hid a thumb-size audio recorder in his bag.
She twiddled her thumbs and chewed her nails all day at work, worrying about her son finding the recorder. After work, she rushed home to wait for her boy who arrived 30 minutes later.
“Hello mom, everything is fine, as usual,” he answered before she could even ask.
As soon as the boy went to bed later that night, Mary sneaked into his room and took the recorder from his backpack.
She backtracked to the kitchen to listen to it privately and learned that Max was getting bullied by Frank and his stooges. The recorder had evidence of that day’s altercation — it had been over his lunch money.
“Hey doofus got anything for us?” one boy, who sounded like the leader, asked her son.
“No,” she heard him say, and even to her, his voice sounded weak.
“Are you sure? You look a little different today,” Frank said.
“I am, Frank,” her son growled.
Mary heard patting and shuffling, then a grunt of exhaled air. Her son had just been punched.
“That’s right,” she heard the boy’s voice say. “Your pockets looked a little heavier. Thankfully you have us to relieve you of your burdens.”
“We won’t hit you today since you just bought us a very satisfying dinner but don’t think tomorrow will be this easy — unless, of course, you bring us more money,” a different boy said while another laughed.
Mary had counted three boys, and from what she heard, they were bullying her son. She shook with anger at the thought of it. How dare they?! I’ll make sure they pay.
From that moment on, Mary devoted a lot of time to finding out as much as she could about the boys who troubled her son. Max had mentioned Frank, so she started her research with him, and the more she learned about him, the less angry she got.
She learned that Frank was from a formerly wealthy household. Before their family business crashed, he had lived the good life, but he had to manage along with the rest of the family after the crash.
Frank would often go to school dirty, wearing worn shoes and torn clothes, and seeing Max, a boy like him, looking neat and proper every day got him mad. When she reached that conclusion, Mary decided to help.
She used her connections to track down Frank’s parents, then she anonymously donated a sum of money to them with a note suggesting the money be spent on Frank.
The following week, Frank had a new set of uniforms and good shoes. Soon after, he stopped harassing Max and they even started exchanging greetings later.
Max never came home sad again. In fact, he was always in good spirits, and Mary couldn’t be happier.
What did we learn from this story?
Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. When Mary discovered Frank was bullying her child, she was initially angry. Thanks to her training as a journalist, she sought to get to the bottom of Frank’s obsession with her son, and it led her to the truth. It changed her perspective, and she was able to make an informed decision that solved the problem.
Parents need to take the leap sometimes. Max would never have told his mom about what he was going through, and she would never have discovered what was happening if she had not chosen to go out on a limb. She did that even though she knew her son needed his privacy, and it helped her help him. Sometimes nosing around yields good results.