My son was called a “sh*t face” by his so-called friend at school a few weeks ago. You read that correctly. Sh*t. Face.
You should know that Henry, my son, scored a goal while playing soccer during recess and this was the kid’s response. You should also know, my son Henry is six years old. And so is this kid. What six-year old knows the word sh*t face?! The worst insult my son yells is, “you’re such a poopy butt.” I probably sound a little bit relaxed and casual about the above mentioned situation. Perhaps you think that when I retell this story to my friends I illustrate my points with my usual sarcasm and dry sense of humor, but please don’t be fooled. I’m rip-sh*t pi**ed.
It’s been a few weeks since this incident but I’m still processing every moment.
My son arrived home from school, was his usual over-tired moody self and had a snack. “How was school Henry?” “Good, nothing new.” This is his usual response. He went to play at his best friend’s house across the street and came home an hour later. We sat on the front lawn eating popsicles and chatting. “Hey Mom, can I go to Wally’s house?” (Wally, isn’t his real name but let’s pretend it is for this story.) “Um, no Henry you can’t go to Wally’s house because it’s almost time for me to make dinner, and also, he hasn’t invited us over.” Crying ensues. My initial inclination was to tell Henry to go to his room and take a little time to himself to regroup, but something stopped me. (Can I get a high five for mother’s intuition?) “What’s wrong buddy?” “Wally never invites me to his house, he hates me. He said I was stupid today and threw stuff at my face in class. I’m so stupid, Mom.”
I die a little when I hear this. I’m not joking. When my children were born, my heart was ripped from my chest, and it re-formed into these two children of mine. They are my heart. So when bad stuff happens to them…bad stuff happens to me.
I knew this conversation would eventually happen but I just didn’t think it would have to happen so early on in his little life. I was tormented throughout high school. I was repeatedly sexually harassed during lunch by a bully. It wasn’t until I confessed to my father about this happening that he confronted the principal of the school and threatened major action if this kid wasn’t removed from my personal space…and lunch table. But that was high school.
Regardless, I took several deep breaths and started to talk my son down from the proverbial ledge. We chatted about how people say mean things and I told my son I believed in him. Always. It seemed like a sufficient enough talk to make him feel better about himself. We sat on the front lawn quietly; the only sounds were a lawnmower in the distance and my 22-month old babbling about popsicles. “Hey Mom?” “Yeah sweetie.” “Wally also called me a sh*t face today.”
You see, these are the kind of parenting moments when you’re really called upon to step up and be a “parent.” Because in all honesty, what I really wanted to be was just human.
I wanted to tell my son, “You know, Wally is really a sh*t face. I’ve seen him before and frankly I think he’s a huge turd and a bully, and he deserves to have Santa poop in his stocking this year.” But I didn’t say that. I didn’t even say disparaging things about that little sh*t head. There I go again. We talked again about people and how they say mean things and how it’s hurtful. I asked him how he handled the situation and was impressed by his finesse and control despite falling apart when we talked. I was proud of him. I’m still proud of him.
So now I’m left wondering what to do next. I’m wondering who to blame for this kids bullying? His parents? Do they know that their son not only throws things at my kids face, calls him a sh*t face, and oh, yeah…makes fun of him for painting his finger nails?! What kind of horrible world does this kid live in? The naked truth? I don’t even care. I have no empathy for him. I know this makes me sound cold and heartless. I know the world needs more love and more people to forgive each other…for God’s sake, my Dad is a retired professor and social worker, my mother a retired nurse and fire commissioner. I come from a line of people who care for others, who empathize with the plight that those face in life. And I just don’t care about that right now. Instead I want to wrap my son up and protect him, teeth bared, eyes aglow with fury.
The challenging part about this whole situation is that my son still wants to see this kid…like hang out with him. He desperately wants to be included and when we see Wally on the street, he treats him with kindness, while I silently scowl. I have talked openly with Henry about how I think Wally makes bad choices and that he sometimes can be really nice but other times he is very mean and hurtful. So now I’m left wondering how much control I exhibit over my son’s friendships. If Henry has forgiven Wally for his behavior, shouldn’t I do the same? My son’s livelihood is spending time with friends and other children…he craves it. I expressed my concern about control to my cousin Jayme, who is my resident go-to child development expert. When I told her I was worried about being an “over-controlling” parent, she had the most amazing response: “We have a limited window of opportunity to (somewhat) control the influences on our children while we try to help them form their moral and ethical foundation. We can pick their friends now…we can’t later.”
So you’re probably wondering what I’m going to do now. What will I say the next time Henry asks to have Wally come over for a play date? I don’t know yet. I’m secretly hoping that he won’t ask me again. But who am I kidding…kids perseverate on everything. Like that toy they never play with anymore so you toss it in the give-away pile only to have them ask for it right before bed a few weeks later. I know he will bring it up again. I have to grow up. I’m toying with the idea of allowing this kid to come over to our house for a play date. That way it will be in my space, and I am able to (somewhat) control how the few hours play out. I’m hoping that either a). Wally will redeem himself and everyone, including me will be happy, or b.) Wally will continue to be a challenge, and Henry will realize that his mom was right.