I tried to sit there impassively so that I could hear the story be told without interruption. I tried to sit there and look supportive so that he would feel comfortable telling the tale, but I am not sure that I succeeded.
Had you seen my face it likely would been contorted in a snarl, my hands pulverizing the rocks contained within them into dust. He struggled to get the words out. He struggled to tell his mother and I that another child had been bullying him. Hot tears of shame rolled down his face and I felt my stomach turn.
Anger, revulsion and sadness coursed threw me. My son, my son. Another one of life’s lessons taught before I would have chosen for him. I would have preferred that he remain innocent for a bit longer. Let him be naive for just a while longer. He is young, at 8.5 he doesn’t need to know that humans can be so cruel to each other.
But we don’t get to make those decisions. Life moves, things happen, and changes take place and you are forced to respond. And so we listened to him describe what had happened to him and my heart sunk.
As I listened I remembered being that boy. I remembered the anger and the shame of it. I remember not wanting to tell my parents and thinking that they couldn’t help me. Eventually the kid who was bullying me pushed me too far and I exploded.
Thirty years or so ago it was a different world in some ways. I used my fists and learned that they could be very influential. That ended the bullying. It didn’t solve all of my problems, but it helped fix a big one.
But it is not about me. It is not thirty years ago. Fighting is seen differently now. There is far less tolerance of it and it brings different issues. But that is not where I want this to go, not really.
More importantly, this situation is different because the bully is a friend. Another boy who my son once considered to be his best friend has been taking advantage of my son’s good nature and I am sad. I am sad because I feared that this day would come
I am sad because it just makes the situation worse. It doesn’t matter to me that the boy who did this comes from a good family or that his parents will be horrified by this. He robbed my child of a certain amount of innocence. The thief has stolen something that can never be returned.
For years I have listened to stories about him. For years I have listened to mothers and fathers tell stories about this boy was mean to other kids. I have warned my son about him, told him to be cautious. I always wondered when he would turn upon him.
But we are loyal to a fault. And my son was not just a friend, but a good friend. He tried to help this boy be better. He tried to show him how to be a better listener and student. We tried to explain to him that you can only be responsible for yourself and that you can’t change people.
And then tonight I listened as he talked about his friend and how sometimes he’ll hit him or hold him down. I listened as he told the story in between tears about how he didn’t want to tell on his friend and my broken heart was torn open again.
Even now he tries to protect his friend. Even now he tries to shelter him. Even now as his body shakes because he is crying so hard. Even now he fights for his friend and in return this boy is almost assuredly asleep.
And when he tells me that it has only been going on a short while I cringe because I know my son and I can tell it has been longer. It is only now that it has reached the point that he can no longer take it.
As I console and reassure him I cannot help but think that I want to grab this boy and show him what it means to be terrorized. Let him cry for help as I drag him by his collar. Let him cry as I use my strength to force him to dance for me.
But that won’t happen. I am 40 and he is eight. In my anger I might appreciate the idea, it would never happen. I would feel guilty immediately. It would be as wrong as his behavior. But what can and will happen is that I will impress upon his parents the urgency of the situation.
They will understand that this is unacceptable. They will see that his behavior changes immediately. They will see that he apologizes. And then they will see that their son has destroyed a friendship, likely beyond repair.
I can’t say for certain that the friendship is completely done. My son will have to make that decision, but it has been damaged to the point that it is not what it was.
In truth I am ok with that. I am still sad and angry about it all. I am disappointed that he had to learn such a hard lesson, but this is what it is. Life is filled with these moments. And as much as I want to protect and shelter him I won’t coddle him to the point that he cannot cope.
In the end we cannot always be there. Our job is to love, teach and support him so that he can be a good person who can easily navigate through the challenges that life presents. And we’ll keep doing that.
Before I go I’ll share just another thought or two. My son has been taking Krav Maga for a number of years now. Tonight as he lay in bed we talked for a few more moments about it all. In a soft voice I told him that we had a plan. I told him that we were going to speak to the parents of this other boy and that it would be taken care of.
And then I told him that sometimes need to have a back up plan. I told him that if this behavior didn’t change he needed to tell his friend to stop. And then I told him that if it didn’t, that he is entitled to defend himself. I could feel him looking me in the dark. He said, “but he is my friend” and waited for my response.
I told him that friends don’t treat their friends like this. I told him that people in general should never treat others like this. And then I told him again that if he did as I said I wouldn’t be angry. “If you have to hit him, hit him hard.”
He fell asleep a moment later.I leaned over and kissed his forehead and walked out of his room. Hours have passed since I had that conversation, but it has stayed with me. Some life lessons are harder than others. Sometimes the pain is…considerable.