Friday, September 28, 2012

Mean Kids

We went to the playground yesterday with some friends. T was the oldest one in our little group, so he gravitated towards the big kids who were already there. I overheard one of these kids telling her friends that T was in her class. She seemed way older than him, but I looked closer and recognized her. She asked me if T's name was Thomas and I told her it was, she marched right up to him and gave him a big hug. It was really sweet.

He's in the preschool room this year, so there are kids his age and a year older. With young children that single year really does make a huge difference in size, I'm reminded of that fact every time I see one of the kids in the toddler room scurry by. Was T really that tiny just last year?

T really wanted to play with the big kids. And the gal in his class told him in no uncertain terms that he could not. She also told him to get off the seesaw because the big kids needed to use it for their game. Her three friends backed her up. He sat there quietly. I didn't know what to do. I told her he really was a big boy, but she insisted 3 was not big enough. I asked her to include him. She said no.

Listen, she's a 4 year old girl. I wish she hadn't been mean to my boy, but I'm not angry at her. I don't know her or her family well, but I actually like her mom a lot and I know she would not be thrilled with her daughter's behavior. I know because if T did it to another kid (and really, isn't it a matter of when?) it would upset me deeply.

This stuff is going to happen. Frankly, this was a mild episode. It really shocked me that I didn't know what to do. How to help my little guy out. We both ended up just quietly going about our business. I did not want to let her bully him off of the seesaw and I could see the confusion on his face, but I was proud that he stood his ground, that he didn't retreat.

Later in the evening we joined Z downtown to grab some dinner before a gallery opening at which he was giving a talk.  We strolled down the sidewalk towards the restaurant together and Z asked T about his day. T said, "The girl in my class was mean to me on the playground." My heart just sank. I didn't know how much of what happened really sunk in with him. I was hoping he didn't understand that she was being unkind. Clearly that was wishful thinking.

Suddenly I found my voice. I told him that the girl was mean to him, that was a fact. He had every right to be hurt by her behavior and I was really sorry that she made him feel bad. I told him he should remember how he felt today when he gets older and there is a young kid on the playground that wants to play with him. I asked him to make the choice to be kind to the little kid, to include him rather than hurt his feelings. Because we need to be nice to each other, we need to treat each other exactly how we want to be treated. We need to give each other a chance, just because someone is younger or different doesn't mean they aren't worth our time.

I don't know that he got it, but I hope he did. I mean, clearly he got her behavior so it isn't a stretch to think he understood what I was telling him. Even if he did get it I know he'll be mean to kids throughout his childhood, dude is not perfect. Hell, he might already be unkind when he's at school. I have no way of knowing how he acts when I'm not watching.

It has surprised me how unsettled I am by the incident. Again, in the greater scheme of things it really wasn't a big deal. But jesus, it's put me through the emotional wringer. The pain I experience when my kid hurts is so extreme that my gut reaction is to do anything in my power to take that hurt away. It's one of the parts of being a Mom that is the most surprising to me. But when I stop and think for a second I realize the kid is going to get hurt. A lot. And it isn't always a bad thing, in fact in some cases it will help him grow. I saw the mother and little girl today and I'm ashamed to admit that the small hurt little girl inside me totally wanted to tell on her. Thankfully I didn't seriously consider it for a second. I do understand she was being completely developmentally appropriate. She was trying to assert her authority among her peers, to show she was one of the big girls (she looked to be the youngest of her group). And before this all happened she did greet T and hug him.

I've had a number of shrinks explain to me that folks who have anxiety disorders generally suffer from acute oversensitivity, which isn't all bad because it often leads to a huge capacity to feel empathy. If I may be so bold, I know I'm hideously oversensitive yet one of my strengths is my ability to put myself in someone else's shoes. I've spent a lot of time since yesterday thinking about what is going on in T's head, but I've also thought about how the hypothetical kid will feel when T is the mean one some day. And how that kid's Mom will feel. I don't want my son to cause that pain every bit as much as I don't want him to feel the pain. But he will. And it won't be because he is some horrible monster, it will be developmentally appropriate. It's where the little girl is right now, she is being normal. Seeing the boy T will become in her actions helps me not overreact to her behavior. Holy shit, the anxiety is helping me right now. And there is a little "turning lemons into lemonade" action for your Friday afternoon.

This kid has my whole heart. 

Especially when he's being silly. 

Syracuse as we were leaving downtown last night.

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