My playground heartbreak
It had to happen. It just did because things are what they are. My son is an extremely happy child. Everyone notes that about him from random strangers in Japan, to his doctor, to his school principal. He is after all “the mayor.” We sit and laugh together at times at totally random bits. We both exclaim that we “crack ourselves up.” I couldn’t be happier with his demeanor. Then we moved to California.
While en route to our new house cross-country, he told us not to worry about him because he is a friendly guy. He felt sure in his ability to make new friends. We took that to heart and internalized it; perhaps a bit too much. See the thing is while he is happy, kind-hearted and focused on fairness, not everyone he meets in life will be. I have come to learn the hard way that I can only protect him so much. I truly wish I could envelope him in a coating of my love that would protect him from all the mean and evil elements that are out there. But such a coating mechanism has yet to be invented. Although, most assuredly he goes out into the world everyday knowing that mommy loves in unconditionally. That is a good enough coat, at least I had hoped.
We were all sure as our car hit that California state line that he would be ok in his new school. He is confident, nice and friendly. Then I went to pick him up on his fourth day of school (which was the first real full day) and I scanned the playground. As I scanned, I knew it in my bones and in my heart, that there was something wrong. He was sitting to the side crying, his head down and his cheeks bright red. There were kids playing around him ignoring his puffy red face. How could anyone ignore that face?
Turns out, he had been bullied by a kid that just right off the bat didn’t like him and told him and everyone/anyone that would listen. The mean kid had yelled at him, ostracized him and tried to turn him into an outcast. My son was devastated that this kid didn’t like him. He thought it was unfair that the kid would completely outright dislike him without even knowing him. He didn’t understand. He truly couldn’t wrap his head around that concept. He kept noting that it was unfair. A teacher explained to us that he talked to the mean kid but in that moment my son’s bubble had been burst and I felt that pinprick right in my gut.
I wept inside for I could not let him see how sad I was. I had experienced a difficult day at work. But seeing my child cry in that moment for that reason, was the worse feeling I had experienced. This type of pain that includes mean, vindictive others, is hard to prepare a child for. He was used to people seeing him as a nice kid and treating him in such a similar vein. Hearing this mean kid state that he didn’t like him just made him ache. My whole being ached in turn. We talked through it. At least we thought we had. Yet I couldn’t sleep well that night.
Then two days later I showed up at the playground to find my son playing kickball by himself. I looked at his eyes and asked what was wrong. The mean kid had resurfaced and was even meaner. I took my son’s hand and we walked home. He didn’t want to talk about it. He was obviously sad and hurt. I got mad at the kid and told my son “well next time just be mean to him.” My son looked up at me and said “mom, it is not nice to be mean.” I inhaled and frowned. I suppose my son was going to take the path of turning the other cheek and just paying the mean people with kindness.
I was sad but proud and primarily worried. Is there still a place in this world for such a kind-hearted little boy to grow up in? Look at the recent VMA (Video Music Awards) on MTV, for example. There were so many feuds and cat-fights that I doubt anyone remembers any award that was won or even cared. People showed up with “squads” to show they had support. People pretended (i.e. Kanye West) to be asleep while someone else won an award up on stage in order to not have to smile or clap. And of course, said sore loser went on to announce that he would be running for President in 2020. In jest or not, this is what our youth of today are watching and learning from. Being is mean is played up as being cool. Sure, there have always been mean kids. Remember Nellie, on Little House on the Prairie. Bullying exists and has always been a fabric of the teen years. It just seems more vicious now when social media can turn a buying incident into a rapidly wide part of a person’s network.
I believe his goodness will triumph. I sound melodramatically, I suppose. It is just that I have been traumatized. It may very well be that I am more traumatized than my son by this incident. I remember how it was being the new kid and having people look at me funny. I remember kids lining up to look me up and down as I returned from boarding school every summer. I was a freak show. I guess I had hoped to shelter my son from such actions. It is not possible. But I can be proud that he is kind-hearted and even when I got angry and recommended he be mean in return, he just could not imagine it. I can cry with pride at him and sadness at the world.