I see him sitting under the playground structure. Let’s go, buddy. He looks at me and doesn’t move at first. Then, as if realizing he isn’t imprisoned, bolts to me and I can see that he was just waiting for someone with a set of keys to come release him.
I’ve looked for it before. His eyes are the palest brown, clear like amber so that I’ve always known I would be the first to see the pain. I saw it then when he tried to climb over the fence into my arms instead of enduring the walk through the gate. He wanted me to lift him over like I did when he was small, but we both realized…
this was a new kind of hurt-he would need to be on his own two feet to walk through this.
It takes the whole way home for the story to come out in pieces. It takes a little longer for him to sort the pieces out and make sense of them. It’s the name calling that hurts him the most. We name our children from the moment their warm wet bodies hit the cold air. Jude. Thanks-giver. Kind hearted. Generous. Steady. A stream of names follow them through childhood and we hope that on the day they hear one that doesn’t land soft in truth, they will know who they are.
I want to say, those kids are jerks-you are worth a million of them. Instead I tell him that words are important and we should always speak only things that are true, and what they said was not true. I tell him that he did the right thing, that he can always speak up to them but being silent and finding an adult is also ok. I tell him that he is important, beloved, and those kids are as well. We talk about how one of the hardest things to do in life is to forgive someone who hurts you-to show kindness to kids who are rough because they may have hard things going on that we don’t know about.
He tells me that they hurt his feelings and it isn’t fair, and I say yes, unfairness always hurts worse than getting what we deserve. Then I tell him he should probably steer clear of those kids next time.
I want to keep him with me, to help him process more, to keep him company and make him laugh and give him ice cream. I want him to not be sad. Then I think of all the ways our hurts heal us. I think about how faith thrives when it is tested, and hope grows best when we are low. I know he needs space to decide what he believes-is he Jude, named in love and knowledge, or can his name be changed by just anyone?
He’s never been targeted before, and I suppose this won’t be the last time. I’m all in for this, but it feels heavy.
I’m all in because when I see this kid with the posture of a prisoner, I feel the weight of freedom in my pocket and know I can show him how to be free. I reach for keys and hand them over. I hand them over more often now, letting him get used to the burden.
The years spin in a circle as if they return back where they started, but his legs are too long to be lifted over fences. As mothers we reluctantly share our influence with teachers and friends and bullies, and if we are lucky, our children know by now what’s in a name.