I like to think that I am raising compassionate boys. Boys with a conscience. I know this is a work in progress and that there may very well be many stumbles along their way to becoming men. Yesterday my super six year stumbled a little, in a very big way. And I was surprised by my reaction.
When I stepped into my son's summer program classroom last night his teacher pulled me aside and said, "Matthew has homework to do tonight." Homework? It's summer! I immediately thought, "Uh oh, this can't be good." And turns out, it wasn't.
Even though the teacher and my super six year seem to have differing opinions on what exactly went down yesterday afternoon one thing seems to be true: my young son allowed himself to get sucked into the type of mob mentality that can really hurt someone. He may, or may not, have participated in a game of keep away involving a ball and a developmentally challenged classmate. Cue huge sigh here. My sweet, compassionate, loving boy purposely threw a ball over the head of a young friend who couldn't get it back? Oh no no no no. No!
I walked to the car with my boys, all of us quiet. Every so often the persevering preschooler actually interprets the situation at hand correctly. This was one of those times. He held onto my hand as we left the building, looking back and forth from his older brother to me, his eyes questioning. I loaded everyone into the car and climbed into the front seat. After asking my son for his version of the event I took a deep breath and put on my "teaching moment" hat. "How do you think the other boy felt?" "How would you have felt?" "What would have happened if you had stopped the game and given the boy his ball back?" "How would that have made the boy feel?" "How would that have made YOU feel?"
My sullen little guy answered each question as I would have expected. As I listened to him tell me that he would be sad if that happened to him, I felt tears in my eyes. It could happen to him. It probably will one day. Not because he is delayed. No. Because his eyes are different than his friends. Because his little nose is smushed in. Because different, any kind of different, is fodder for cruelty.
Suddenly I asked my oldest son, "What would you do if you saw someone treating your brother badly?" His answer surprised me a little. "I would stand next to Alex and tell that other boy to leave him alone. And then I would take Alex's hand and walk away to the other side of the playground." Wow, that was, uh, specific. "Has that ever happened?" "Yes." Suddenly my earlier question of "How do you think that other boy's mom will feel when she finds out how her son was treated today?" became "How would I feel?" Overcome. That is how I felt. Overcome with sadness that my young son had already been bullied for being different. Even if has only happened that one time, it happened. And also overcome with a little joy that my boy made the right choice when trouble faced his family.
We talked more on that drive home. About how doing the right thing is not always easy. About how the other boys being mean might be mean to my son when he takes a stand. About how that stand needs taken despite this. About how this will one day happen to him, because it happens to everyone at least once.
"Why are you crying Mommy?", he asked me. I explained that I want both of my boys to be happy and comfortable and that the thought of another child picking on one of my boys made me very sad. "Do you think the boy from school- do you think his mom is crying tonight?" Yes, honey. Yes I do.
When we got home my super six year sat down at the kitchen table to write his letter of apology to the boy's mother. (His homework) He said he was sorry, and that he won't do it again. Then he added this: I will never let this happen again. Never. Again.
Wow. With no help from me, except for spelling a few words, this is what he wrote. Never. Again. I let my young son see my raw emotions, I let him into my fear of how his younger brother's life might turn out, and I let him see me fall apart. And he learned.