I knew the day would come when Jay would experience the bewildering meanness of another child.
I experienced it myself as a child - often. And, since I was a chubby, non-athletic child, wrapped up in books and music when it wasn't really all that cool, I experienced the meanest kind of treatment that I think was possible at the time.
Of course now, children are so tormented by their peers and influenced by an increasingly violent world, that it causes things like Columbine. Perhaps not a popular stance, but I've always felt like those boys who committed the terrible tragedy at Columbine were pushed beyond their breaking point by their peers.
Please don't misunderstand me, I don't think that the results were at all justified. I'm just saying that it isn't beyond comprehension that the meanness of a child can drive another to unspeakable things.
We are, by nature, seeking acceptance and love. We don't want to be pushed, teased, hit, laughed at or pummelled with insults. And when the pecking order that nature seems to awaken in our children begins to manifest itself, all the worst of our human nature comes out.
At the birthday party I talked about yesterday, another little boy, about a year older, was pretty mean to Jay, pushing him, hitting him and yelling at him. At first, the other child took a toy from Jay while his mother stood by and watched.
I waited for the other mother to guide her son, but she remained mute. So...I jumped in to talk my son through it. "Its OK, Jay. We take turns, OK? You had it for awhile and now its his turn. Soon it can be your turn again." He let it slide, and patted the little boy on the shoulder...to which the little boy said, "DON'T TOUCH ME!" Which again left my son bewildered and me wondering what was going through his mother's head. I jump in again, "That is so nice of you, Jay! Thank you for being nice. He doesn't want you to love him just now. Give him some space." And so on and so forth. The little boy pushed Jay out of the way to get to the slide first, pushed him down in the bouncy and was just, well...a brat.
And his mother looked on without saying a word.
Finally, just the two boys were in the bouncy and I got into the bouncy to play with my son. It was just the three of us, with the other mother looking on from outside. The boy pushed Jay down. And this time, I set a boundary for this other child, "Oh, sweetheart! We shouldn't push other kids. Lets just play together without pushing or hitting. What game would you like to play?" and FINALLY his mother spoke up, backed me up. We had a nice conversation. And then she began to encourage her son to use positive behavior.
But what I can't get out of my head is the precious bewildered expression Jay had on his face each time he was treated meanly. He has no idea how mean people can be. We have filled his world with teachers, children, family, and friends who love him. He is encouraged to share and be loving and his normal playmates are encouraged to do the same. The children normally included in is daily life watch out for each other and take care of each other. He has no idea how to navigate the meanness that some kids bring with them into a situation. And he was genuinely confused and shocked to be pushed, hit and yelled at by a boy that he only wanted to play with.
For me, there are two issues. One, that I not project my own breaking heart onto his situation, and two, that I teach him how to navigate these kinds of things with confidence, courage, and compassion.
So...how do I instill in my son that the treatment he may experience at the hands of another child does not have to affect his bigger picture? How do I instill in him that he is Blessed of God, loved mightily beyond his wildest imagination and that he is to love those that are mean to him? How do I teach him that he is to be caring, compassionate, understanding and respectful, while still enforcing boundaries? How do I acknowledge his feelings about being rejected, guide him through the situation and then prepare him for handling situations like that in the future?
Its a fine balance...especially in the moment. When what I want to do is jump in and protect him, defend his honor and scold that other child, I have to guide him carefully and with thoughtful purpose. I have to remain positive and firm. And above all, I have to remember to do it all with love and grace.
I know I'll be pondering this for some time. Navigating relationships will be something we talk about the whole of Jay's life...and each time, I will have to find a way to put on my game face, and help him find the right tools, the right way to handle himself and others that might be involved. And all the while, my heart will be aching to take over and fix it.
God has, once again, given me amazing insight...