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243: Bullying and Judy Blume’s “Blubber”

By June 20, 2023November 6th, 2023Mastermind Parenting Podcast

Judy Blume’s book “Blubber” is a vital book that looks at how kids experience bullying. Judy writes for and about kids with such honesty. Her characters are full, complex people that she trusts her young readers will relate to. She writes with humor and heart, without sugarcoating the struggles that kids face growing up.

In “Blubber,” she writes candidly about how bullying happens, and how even the threat of bullying can make kids turn on their peers. As an adult, it’s such an important read because it reminds us that we can never know all the tough things our kiddos are going through. As parents, we have to lead with compassion, even when they’re taking their bad moods out on us.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  1. Why kids are so reluctant to speak up about bullying, even if it’s happening to them.
  2. The huge impact bullying can have on bystanders, and why they might join in to keep themselves from becoming a target.
  3. How to keep ourselves from taking it personally when our kiddos are lashing out.
  4. What sets Judy Blume apart from other children’s authors, and why her books are so often threatened with censorship.

And much more! 

As always, thanks for listening. Head over to Facebook, where you can join my free group Mastermind Parenting Community. We post tips and tools and do pop-up Live conversations where I do extra teaching and coaching to support you in helping your strong-willed children so that they can FEEL better and DO better. If you enjoyed this episode and think that others could benefit from listening, please share it!

About Randi Rubenstein

Randi Rubenstein helps parents with a strong-willed kiddo become a happier family and enjoy the simple things again like bike rides and beach vacays.

She’s the founder of Mastermind Parenting, host of the Mastermind Parenting podcast, and author of The Parent Gap. Randi works with parents across the U.S.

At Mastermind Parenting, we believe every human deserves to have a family that gets along.

Randi’s Web and Social Links

Links & Resources

Mastermind Parenting Live Assessment: https://mastermindparenting.com/live-assessment/

Judy Blume is having a Moment. Her classic book “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” has been adapted into a movie: https://www.itsmemargaret.movie/

“Judy Blume Forever,” a new Amazon Prime documentary, explores her life and the lasting influence she’s had on generations of kids: https://www.amazon.com/Judy-Blume-Forever-Davina-Pardo/dp/B0B8SYKSVS

Thanks so much for listening to the Mastermind Parenting podcast, where we support the strong willed child and the families that love them!

If you enjoyed this episode and think that others could benefit from listening, please share it using the share button in the podcast player above.

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Transcription

Randi Rubenstein: [00:00:00] My name is Randi Rubenstein, and welcome to the Mastermind Parenting Podcast. At Mastermind Parenting, we’re on a mission to support strong-willed kids and the families that love them.

Hi. How are you guys doing? Uh, summer, summer’s here. I don’t know, I have mixed feelings about summer. I loved summer so much as a kid, and I don’t know, as an adult, as a mom, I think that it was confusing to me, because, summer’s here and kids are like woo-hoo summer’s here! But as a mom, I always felt like life just got way more intense for me during the summer. 

And it’s just like they’re with me longer. And even if they went away to sleepaway camp, I still just felt like it was, you know, when they’re at school every single day, you know, school – originally school actually was designed to be glorified daycare. And can we all [00:01:00] admit that, like, when your kids go somewhere and you know where they are for seven, eight hours a day, it’s not on your plate, but during the summer there’s just like a constant management.

And even when they go to camps or they go to day camps, I don’t know, it’s just like the schedule’s always changing up and I’m not the most systematic structured person, so it always just felt like a lot of my bandwidth.

So, my kids are older and I still have a little PTSD when it comes to summer. I also live in Houston, Texas, so let’s be honest, summer is not a season that is particularly joyous if you’re an outside person during the summer, or in my opinion, it’s not. It’s so freaking hot here. Yeah. Okay. Enough with my bitching about summer.

What do I wanna talk about today? I wanna talk about, I don’t know. I just go down these rabbit holes sometimes where I wanna learn about things and I get obsessed with a [00:02:00] certain topic and I don’t even understand why. And then later on I understand why. 

So, I started reading, because Judy Blume is everywhere. I haven’t seen, , the movie that’s out, Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret. But all of a sudden I just saw Judy Blume everywhere. I saw that she had a documentary out on, , I think it’s on the Amazon Prime. And so I watched it twice. Of course, because it was so nostalgic for me and it just took me back. You know, I read all of her books when I was a kid and loved them, and I knew they were impactful, but I’d never really seen Judy Blume or, I don’t think, as a kid I was that interested.

 So I watched this documentary and it was so interesting to me that I needed to watch it again. And then I started getting obsessed with rereading the Judy Blume books. So I’ve reread a couple of them now. I’ve reread Deenie. [00:03:00] I reread Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. And now I’ve reread Blubber. 

I knew that Blubber had something to do with bullying. I remember reading it as a kid. I remember it being impactful. I wanted to reread it, but I kept finding myself procrastinating. I had even checked it out at, from the library. So I had like a finite amount of time to read it. And I just kept putting off reading it. Like there was something about it that I was just like, ooh, I know I wanna read that, but not yet. Not yet.

So I read it, I binge read it, and I read it like one afternoon a couple weeks ago. And, it’s an interesting story. It’s a hard story to read, and for those of you who remember, it’s really just a classic story of bullying. And Judy Blume tells the story, not really from the girl [00:04:00] who got the terrible nickname Blubber, the girl who was bullied, she doesn’t tell it from her perspective. 

 Tells it from the perspective of one of the girls who was one of the bullies. She wasn’t the Queen Bee main bully, but she was in that Queen Bee Court. And so she took part in the bullying. And so she tells the story from this girl’s perspective, and I just think it’s such an interesting way that she told the story because in reading these Judy Blume books, what I realize is, is like-

for any of you who have read like the Berenstain Bears books or just, all the children’s books out there from when your kids are little and they like talk about this issue. And there’s a lesson that we wanna teach and we wrap it up in all in a nice, neat bow, and here’s the lesson that’s been presented. 

And then as the Berenstain Bears, like the older one, [00:05:00] or not the older ones, but the newer ones. I think the kid, the Berenstain Bears kids, you know, the original authors, their kids took over and then they started getting sort of like religious and it was like really, just, there was no nuance. It was like, here’s the lesson and now let’s, they don’t talk about Jesus, but it almost feels like they’re talking about Jesus. and it’s just all kind of like too obvious. 

And I think Judy Blume’s books, why they’re so interesting and why they resonate so much with kids is because she doesn’t do that. She gives the reader, the child reader, the benefit of the doubt to, to learn the lessons that are meant to be learned from this story.

And also seeing that like, it’s not as clear as the child being bullied is a hundred percent the victim and the, all the children bullying are a hundred percent [00:06:00] the – I don’t even wanna say the aggressors because they are the aggressors, but like she allows humanity to come through each character.

So the bullies, and especially this, one girl, I can’t even remember her name now, who she tells it through, the story, through the lens of this girl who is one of the, if you’ve ever read Queen Bees and Wannabees, she’s probably like, you know, she’s like a lesser person in the mean girl Queen court. So she’s got a secure place in the court, but she’s not like the leader of the pack. And you see the story from her perspective. 

And so everybody kind of gets to be this layered, messy human, including the girl who gets the nickname Blubber. You feel terrible for her in what she’s enduring. And it really is, like it’s, some of it to me was hard to read. And I think [00:07:00] that was why it was hard, because it must have been hard for me to read, even as a kid, just to hear how cruel kids can be and how it can spin off the rails. but also, there’s elements, to the little girl that’s Blubber, that doesn’t just make her like the pitiful little victim. She also gets to be a whole human. 

And you also see that like she has a mind of her own and they’re, and she does try to fight back. And she’s also not telling the adults around her and advocating for herself, but it sounds like she’s not advocating for herself because she’s also got some stuff going on at home.

Like, I just think that the characters are, complex and isn’t that how real life is? Isn’t that how real life is? And so it’s an important book for adults to go back and read, just to remember what it was like to be a kid and how [00:08:00] much kids, like in their kid dynamics keep between themselves and that adults- there’s things they hide from the adults.

I think kids learn, you know, when we’re like, we don’t talk that way in our family. Like, Judy Blume is the most censored children’s author that I think has ever existed. And the reason is, is that she’ll, she like incorporates masturbation and she uses bad words, you know, curse words in her writing and she’s really been chastised.

But Judy’s perspective is, this is the way kids talk. Like I’m gonna write something that feels like they’re reading the way kids actually interact with each other. She wanted it to be real for them. She wanted them to see themselves. 

She didn’t want it to be an adult writing what we want kids to know all the lessons we want [00:09:00] them to learn. She wanted to, like, write about a kid’s real experience. And so in doing that, I think those books were so empathetic for kids because they were reading their own stories. They were reading about the things that they don’t show adults. Right? And they felt less alone. 

And you know, in the documentary, she, you know, they really cover how kids poured out their hearts and told her about, you know, their sibling’s suicide and I mean tragic things. And they wrote to Judy and she wrote back to them. And this one, girl that she had been writing to for years, who had a tumultuous relationship with her own parents. She ended up going to her graduation and, she’s an amazing human and has really been a child advocate for so many years.

And so in the documentary, she, somebody said, one of the [00:10:00] interviewers was saying like, ” How do you write in a way that kids relate to so much?” And she said, “Well, I have total recall from back when I was in third grade.” Which means that she remembers how she felt and thought from the time she was a third grade child on. So when she writes books, she writes from that perspective, not from the perspective of the adult who wants kids to know things, right? She writes from this place that kids really identify with. 

And then I kept waiting in these books for her to be, like, wrapping it all up. Cause I wanted to see like a happy ending to the story. And I was so surprised at how many open ends she left. Like she really left it to the reader, which her ideal reader is like a, middle school, young, middle, like 11, 12 year old. ,”And so she’s really [00:11:00] leaving it to this 11, 12 year old to connect the dots. And to learn the lessons that they were meant to learn from these stories where these characters were layered and complicated and had good qualities and bad qualities.

so I thought it was interesting how at the end of Blubber, they write this thing and I wanna read it to you guys. It says, Judy Blume talks about writing Blubber. She says, “When my daughter was in fifth grade, the class leader used her power in an evil way.”

So this is classic mean girl. Okay. Um, so think Regina George. Okay? So that’s the main character that she’s talking about here. Not the main character, but this is who she’s talking about. And in the book Blubber, the Regina George is named Wendy. So the class leader uses her power in an evil way to turn everyone in the class against one girl.

“This bully, like Wendy in the book,” or Regina George, [00:12:00] “made the other girls,” so the girl Blubber, her life, “miserable. My daughter,” so Judy’s daughter, “was the shy, quiet girl in the class. The observer, like Rochelle,” who’s just like this peripheral character, not in the Queen Bee Court, but she’s just like this girl that you don’t really hear about until the end of the book.

So Judy’s daughter is like this Rochelle, she said. So her daughter comes home and she was upset by what was going on, but she didn’t know what to do about it. 

“And I think she was scared. Like many other kids in that class, she worried she could wind up the next victim of the bully. I wrote Blubber because bullying is often kept a secret by the kids who see it happening. And even by the person who’s being bullied. Being bullied feels so humiliating. It’s such a terrible and frightening experience that kids are often afraid to tell anyone, even their [00:13:00] parents. But keeping it a secret doesn’t help anyone. It just makes it worse. It leaves the bully thinking she or he can get away with anything. I hope this story will help kids, parents, and teachers to start talking and working together. No more secrets. If it happens to you, talk to the people you trust the most. It’s too hard to worry alone.” 

And I just kept thinking, where are the adults? Why in – granted, this was during the 1970s, I think, was when Judy wrote Blubber, maybe early eighties, but I think it was the 1970s and it was a different time. And I do think parents were more checked out. 

So you’re reading the story and you’re thinking, where the hell are the adults? Like, what’s going on in this classroom? The teacher leaves the classroom. The class is eating lunch in the class. They have lunch in the classroom, and that’s when a lot of the bullying goes on is when there’s no adult present.[00:14:00] 

I might be naive to say I don’t think that’s going on quite as much. But if we compare that to what goes on online, right? 

Like how much is going on in terms of bullying, when our kids have access to devices that we’re just not even aware of. 

And, I don’t think the answer is to hyper-monitor things. I think the answer is to learn how to be a family that talks about all the things and is, you know, everything I teach in Mastermind Parenting, which is learning to quit taking it personally when your kid has a shitty attitude after school and they’re taking it out on you. Like, understanding, there is probably more to the story. You don’t know what [00:15:00] is coming at them all day long, 

and our sense of belonging as humans, like it’s primal. That’s why I think it, you know, it’s so upsetting to us as adults to imagine our kids being victimized by a bully. And it’s probably why I didn’t even wanna pick that book up to read. It was like, I knew that story must have been painful for me to read way back when. 

I remember in third grade I remember being bullied. I was not that athletic. I was a little chubby. I went to a new school, and I definitely didn’t feel like I fit in. It was like this little kind of country private school and I was different. I lived in South Texas. My parents are these New York Jews transplanted to Texas. I um. Yeah, I remember being picked last for, you know, a sport [00:16:00] and, I don’t know if I read Blubber around that time, but I know it was like, ugh, I know this is an important book for me to pick up and read, but I don’t really wanna. And then reading it, I’m like, ugh, I bet you anything It was like, reminding me of that time. 

I just think that it’s so easy for us as adults to be like, ugh, I don’t wanna look at the things that are too hard. They were hard enough for me to go through when I was a kid. Like, I just wanna pretend they don’t exist. But that’s not what our kids need. 

And even if it is that your kid isn’t being bullied, but your kid is, like Judy said, like her daughter was like the peripheral character. She wasn’t even in the bullying group. She wasn’t the one being bullied, but just being a fly on the wall in that classroom, day after day, seeing how terrible these kids were to this girl, it made her feel [00:17:00] like her sense of belonging was, was in jeopardy too, because if these kids are capable of doing all of this to this girl, what makes her safe? Like no one feels safe.

So even the kids that were in the Queen Bees Court, or the kingpin boys, right? They might be taking part in the bullying because if they don’t take part in the bullying, then what if the kids in power start to bully them? You know, they succumb to the peer pressure because it’s better to, you know, in their mind it might be like, well, I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure that I still have my sense of belonging fulfilled, and I’m in less of a position to be bullied if I, if I’m part of the bullying team, then that probably makes me, you know, be in the clear a little bit here. [00:18:00] Right? 

It’s so nuanced. It’s so interesting, and I just love the way she tells this story because I think, we gotta remember these times. We’ve gotta think about it. When you have a kid that’s coming home from school, and I hear this so much where they’re just in a piss poor mood.

I remember I had lots of times over the years where my kids would come home and they’d just be in a piss poor mood and, of course take it out on me. My daughter was just talking about it the other day. She was, she’s about to turn 22. She, she’s finishing up her junior year of college now and, she was a, at, um, her boyfriend’s sister’s graduation, and the boyfriend’s sister, she loves her. She’s adorable and she loves the whole family. 

and Avery’s like, oh my God, she was being such a bitch to the mom. The mom is lovely, wonderful. And Avery said to the mom, she was like, I was the exact same way to [00:19:00] my mom from like 16 to 18. I was just like the worst. And we were laughing about it. 

And right now, Corey at 17. He takes his mood out on me too. He, he said to me the other day, I sent him a text his school sends out these things that they have missing assignments. So I sent him a text with like a screenshot of the missing assignment and he like jumped down my throat via text. He’s like, don’t send me these things. You don’t even understand how it works. Like he was like annoyed with me, like, I got it. What are you doing? 

And so I said to him when he got home, I was like, I don’t think it’s you not turning in the assignment. I think teachers are human. And if I just got notified that there’s a chance that the teacher maybe lost your assignment, that looks like it was from a couple weeks ago and I just wanted to let you know so you could go make sure that the teacher had the assignment. I wasn’t saying that you didn’t do the assignment. 

And he is like, y’all always do this, and I’m on top of everything. I don’t know how many times I have to tell [00:20:00] you. I go, I know you’re on top of everything, but you don’t have to be a jerk to me about it. And he is like, well, it’s so annoying. He’s go, this is what he says to me. He’s like, and you know what? I think I’m just gonna block you. I was like, okay.

He was like, because yeah, like there’s just nothing good coming from text from you. And I was like, I need to remind myself that your sister was just sharing that when she was your age, she also was a total bitch to me, and now it makes sense. You’re in that stage.

And he’s like, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m blocking you. That’s it. And we were kind of laughing about it, right? We were, it was a joke. We were laughing about it, whatever. I mean, you know, it’s not a tumultuous relationship between the two of us, but

 the truth of the matter is, is, they’re gonna take stuff out on us and when we start to attack them, berate them, take it all personally, you will not, you know, I did say like, you don’t have to be a jerk to me about it.

[00:21:00] but when we start to berate them, when we don’t even know what all they’re navigating and how much “kid business,” adults have no idea about the nuances and what’s really going on.

 And so this might not make anyone feel any better, but I think my point in all of this is I just think 

this bullying topic and conversation, I think it’s a big one. I think it’s nuanced. I think the main point. Back in the seventies or whenever she wrote Blubber, to now in this age of AI and social media and all the things, is that 

there is a lot that kids are navigating that adults have no idea about. And if we can all just keep that [00:22:00] in the back of our minds, I think it’s important. Because when we start to talk to our kids about things, we don’t just assume that we have all the information and we, you know, start to, I think, have conversations where we let them know, I went through some things too, and maybe you don’t wanna tell me everything you’re going through and I want you to know that I’m your person. And when you’re going through something, like, it’s really important that you don’t keep it all locked up inside.

And so whether you’re talking to me about it, you know, for teenagers, whether you wanna talk to a therapist about it, it’s really important to get this stuff out. Because having to sit with hard things and not having support is just not the way anyone is meant to live. 

And you deserve more than that, and I want more. And so if you can’t, if you don’t, if you can’t talk to me or if you can’t talk to [00:23:00] dad, or if you can’t talk to older sibling, we have to make sure that you’re talking to someone when you’re navigating hard things. 

So, that’s what I’ve got this week. I know it’s a heavy topic. I’m sure there’s gonna be more Judy Blume updates because I’ve only just begun. I have many more books to get through. That’s what I got. Have a great week. Bye guys.

Thanks for listening today, guys. I hope you picked up some tips, tools, maybe some baby steps for creating more balance and boundaries in your life. And I just wanted to let you know, if you want to continue moving the needle forward in creating this for yourself, having a happier household, I want you to go to my website and check out mastermindparenting.com. We have three beginning programs and if you need some accountability and more support then please, look for the one that would be a good fit for you and [00:24:00] as always, we’re on all the social channels under mastermind parenting on Instagram. It’s mastermind_parenting. And, you know, periodically I do pop up on different Instagram lives, Facebook lives where I give you teaching and coaching and I love engaging with you live to help you help your strong-willed kids so that they can feel better because when they feel better, they do better.

And, I love, love, love getting to know you guys. 

So thanks for listening. If you like this podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review. Super, super appreciative

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