"Dunno," said my son, shrugging his shoulders when I asked him at the beginning of school term why he took someone's PE kit and put it down the toilet.
"Dunno," he repeated this week, when I asked him why he called a boy in his class a loser.
It's a response I've become used to. My son, who is nine years old and in year four, has earned himself a label as the School Bully.
As you'd expect, this has made him unpopular among children, teachers and parents. But it has also made me unpopular among children, teachers and parents – sometimes even my husband and often my son - and it has been a living hell.
The irony is that James (not his real name) settled into the school nursery quicker than most kids. He used to skip into school, where he just adored his teacher and friends. I made friends with a lot of the mums. We used to meet at each other's houses for coffee.
Sure, James used to use his strength to resolve arguments now and then. But so did most of the other children and none of my friends or his teacher seemed to think much of it, especially as we all worked hard to teach the children there were better ways to communicate.
But then James entered reception where the teacher, who was known for preferring girls, seemed to have it in for him. She even used the word 'bully' when talking about his behaviour, which I thought was outrageous at such a young age. When I quizzed her, she talked about the odd poke or push. But wasn't that normal among children that age? The other mums agreed with me and no incidents seemed serious in any way.
Year one was better, at least at first. It was wonderful to see James bond with a teacher again. He worked harder and was apparently much less physical. But by spring, the pokes and pinches returned, only to be coupled by scratching and biting.
Mortified, I phoned the mothers of anyone he hurt in order to apologise. They were understanding and nice. The teacher was nice too, working with us on a behaviour plan.
But the behaviour plan didn't work and the parents slowly became more frosty. Not just the ones of the kids who were hurt, but others too. They had clearly been talking. The invitations to playdates and parties – not to mention the coffees - ground to a halt and I started to dread approaching the school gates.
My husband, who was stressed with work, blamed me. Even my son seemed to think it was my fault. "The other mummies don't like you and so they don't want me at their house," he once said, glaring at me. He started picking on his younger brother too. There were days I felt very lonely and sad.
I was dreading year two, when James would have the teacher with the softest reputation in the school. Even his nickname was Mr Soft. Sure enough, James played up and this time he seemed intent on getting the other kids into trouble. On parents evening, Mr Soft said he spent most of his days dealing with James. This time, the behaviour plan fell to the headteacher, but still it didn't work.
I took James to a child counsellor, but he wouldn't open up. I tried to talk to him at home, but he refused. I bought every parenting book going, I joined parenting forums online. I tried everything.
And then, a few weeks into year three, something amazing happened. James made some friends. The teacher (a good one) said he was generally much better behaved and enjoying his work. Could it be possible?
But then the bubble burst. It was just before Christmas and James excused himself from class to go to toilet, only to destroy a child's work hanging on their peg. It was a school project that the child had spent many weeks on. None of us could get to the bottom of it. "Dunno" was all I could get out of James.
Perhaps it was a one off, I allowed myself to think. After all, he had looked very guilty and I found him crying that night. What's more, a couple of months went by with no further misbehaviour – well, nothing on a grand scale, anyway. But then he did something similar. And that has been the pattern ever since – a few weeks or even months go by with no problems and then bam, he blows it all with some snide prank or nasty remark.
And that's pretty much where we are with James, who is by and large the same at home. That is, fine for a few weeks, then lashes out, usually at his younger brother. My husband still thinks it's just a phase, whereas I think we have a real issue here and that we need to address it is a family. It is a source of many arguments between us.
The school can't seem to decide where they stand on the matter. Depending on who you talk to, they think either me or my husband is right. But the parents are very clear on their view and so are many of the children – James is the School Bully.
Nobody wants to think of their child as a bully. As a mother, it makes you feel horribly guilty and disloyal. It makes you feel responsible and frankly, ghastly inside. And thanks to the alienation of the other families (and many of the teachers) at the school – not to mention what things are like at home - it can be extremely lonely, sometimes devastatingly so. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.
This article has been written anonymously.
More on Parentdish: Is my child a bully?