Once again, Little Son has attracted the attention of the class bully. All. Year. Long. And what started out as minor annoyances – poking, tripping, shoving – have now escalated into punches, kicks and a knock-down on the playground slide.
And still. Little Son keeps trying to be this child’s friend. He thinks if he is nice, the bully will be his friend. He read that in a book last year, that bullies are really just misunderstood and will respond with kindness when given the chance. It is hard to explain to a 7-year-old that some people are just plain ol’ mean. Though I think in this case, there may be some underlying reason that the school can’t discuss with me. I am not a trained medical or mental health expert. I know next to nothing about child development, but it seems to me that this is a kid that misunderstands social cues and is quick to respond with violence.
I have been a reasonable and practical mother, doing all the things I need to do. I emailed and met with the teacher, asked that they be separated during floor time and at their work tables. I called the principal. I met with the principal – twice. We have role played, practiced using his “big voice” to say stop. I have told him to avoid playing with or standing near the other child. I have tried everything I know to help him. The only thing I can’t seem to help my sweet little boy do is stand up for himself. Apparently, the only person Little Son is willing to hit back is his little sister. I called Mack Daddy, the most terrifying and overly protective parent I have ever known. I told him everything, including that I instructed my son to hit back the next time something happened. Not my proudest parenting moment. But all I can see in my mind’s eye is my son being attacked at the top of the slide and him crashing to the ground, crumpling like a baby bird that falls too soon from the nest.
If anyone would understand me, I knew it was my dad.
“Melanie, you can’t do this. You can’t tell him to hit another child. He is too little, and it is not his personality. It is not his job to protect himself, it is your job and his school’s job.”
I was so sure my dad would join me in a Game of Thrones-like parenting moment. But somehow, I felt even worse after I talked with him. But not as bad as I would feel two days later when Little Son and I discussed his upcoming Nerf War-themed birthday party.
He wanted to invite the neighborhood kiddos and his whole class to the party. The whole class, if you get my drift.
“Well, not the whole class, Little Son. We are not inviting that child over to our home. He hits you!”
His face squinched up, his eyes blinking rapidly. He pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and looked at me. He looked so … disappointed. Disappointed in me.
“But won’t that hurt his feelings and make him sad?”
Well, guess what kid. Life is hard. He needs to learn there are consequences to his actions. I don’t care one bit about that little creep’s feelings. You are the only one I care about here, my first-born babe. I would die for you. I would kill for you. Why is Cersei Lannister is the only one who understands me?
Alas, you can’t say things like that to a 7-year-old. So I told him we would talk about it later, after school. I thought about it all day, it needled my head and my heart. I did not want to admit what it was – Christ speaking to me through my son. My son was asking me to practice what I preach; that I love all children, that I will not parent from a place of fear, and that I will forgive others as I have been forgiven. How could I not invite this child to a birthday party?
Because this is me, once again, asking my child to hurt another child. And that kind of hurt, knowing that you are the only one out of 22 other children that is unwanted and unloved is devastating. For a lifetime. But being bullied has its own long-term effects. At 7, my child is afraid of another child. At 7! But my son hurts more for this classmate – a child that no one wants to play with or sit by – than he hurts for himself.
I know this is a crucial moment, for my own growth as a parent, Christian and person. I would never want to intentionally hurt another child, or two children in this instance. But I wonder, too, if 25 children, 200 Nerf bullets and 1 ton of sugar doesn’t add up to a complete disaster. And, I’ll be honest. I still don’t know what I am going to do.