Last week, Tom (age 7), came home near tears and wearing his heartbreak on his sleeve. After some gentle prodding, he stared down at the floor of my car, and in a fragile voice said, “Mummy someone said something very mean to me at school today in front of some other people.” My mental rolodex started spinning, and I envisioned myself confronting this child and his mother. Visions of Patrick Swayze reminding us that “Nobody puts baby in a corner” flashed through my head. Yes, he’s a boy, but he’s still my baby. The one with the big round head and wide hazel eyes who used to stand in his crib at 18 months, shake the rails at 5 a.m., and yell, “I get up so early.” The one who has always been tentative about trying new things, and typically observes until he feels confident to perfect the task on the first try. My first impulse was to want answers and redemption for any injustice done against my sweet son. After a short pause I asked, “Do you want to tell me what happened?” He pondered this for a bit, chewed on his lip, sighed, and said, “He told me I’m awful at sports.” He looked crushed, and later told me who it was. It was someone he considers a friend.
Later that night, I went to tuck him in and told him about my mom (Nana, to him) and the story she has told me countless times about her experience at ballroom dancing school when she was twelve or so. My mother is as blind as a bat, and has been wearing glasses since she was two. She was also unfortunate enough to be born with chronic eczema, which has since subsided, but she was covered with it as a child, so much so that people often mistook it for poison ivy. I told Tom how Nana had big, thick, ugly glasses that pointed out at the corners. She knew everyone thought she was ugly. Nobody ever asked her to dance. Even worse, her own older brother and sister, who had class after her, would come down early to watch her. They made it clear watching her have nobody to dance with was entertainment for them. Tom listened keenly, and afterwards said, “That is so mean. She must have felt so sad.” We talked then about how great Nana’s life has been, and how that one negative situation was just a blip on the radar of her life. She went on to have a family, be a teacher, and have lots of nice friends who love her for who she is. We talked about how unfortunately there will be more times like this, and it’s what you choose to make of them that will determine your outcome. He seemed at peace with the situation, and it hasn’t come up since then.
Incidents like this are tough wake-up calls for mothers. We realize that we can’t protect our children forever, not emotionally and not physically. It is part of the contract of Motherhood, that gradual letting go that comes with letting our little ones slowly grow up and away from us before flying from the nest some day. They will find themselves waylaid on the corner of Nasty & Mean now and again, and we must believe that they will look around, believe they are strong, believe in themselves, and keep right on going.