I'm convinced that my success as a mother is measured, in part, by my ability to manage almost anything I've been handed.
When my three-year-old shrieks, "Here!" from the backseat while I'm driving, I deftly reach back to accept any number of things he's screaming to be rid of:
- a mashed, half-eaten banana
- an iPad/headphone conglomeration of tangled wires
- a blanket that smells faintly of vomit
- one lone booger
I deal with it, because, well you just do, as a mom. You take the things your kids hand you.
Over the nine and a half years since I've been a mom to living, breathing children (we won't get into the one who never made it earthside because that leads to tears and pre-noon imbibing), I've been handed everything from perfectly formed acorns to really crappy news.
My oldest son, the string bean in 4th grade who's learning erosion in science and euphemisms for the "f" word at recess, was playing outside one day after school and handed me a problem: two neighbor kids had banded together and shoved him off a trampoline. Then, they'd laughed when he'd broken down into tears.
As a mom to three sons, I'm used to the occasional throat punch. The choke hold. The ol' thumb-in-the-eye trick. The pinch-my-brother-under-the-arm-where-I-don't-think-mom-can-see-but-she-really-does maneuver. I don't bat an eye at occasional violence, because like it or not, I've been handed a houseful of testosterone and sometimes, someone gets a tooth knocked loose.
These were supposed to be his buddies. And these particular buddies outweighed my string bean by at least 25 pounds and out-aged my string bean by two years. So, momma got handed a problem, but those boys were about to be handed a solution.
Now before you get salty about me jumping in, please 1). calm down and 2). understand that I do not fight all of my kid's battles for him. I leave him to solve small skirmishes at school. I encourage him to use his wits first, his words second, and his walk-away third. And when none of that works, to go to the teacher. And if that still doesn't work, to connect his fist with the bully's mouth if the bullying doesn't stop. But in this instance, both those bigger boys and my own son, needed a bit of a lesson.
I took seven to twenty-five deep breaths after hearing the story (to ensure that all parties would remain unharmed and jail-free) and then took my child and moseyed on down to the offenders' home for a brief chat.
"Hey, kiddo," I said when I spotted the first boy, a sandy-haired kid with shoulders already starting to develop. Behind him, the other kid casually walked behind a tree.
"Hey," he said nonchalantly, like little boys do when they've been caught like fish at the end of a string.
"Where's your dad?"
His eyes grew round. "Why? I don't know what he said we did…"
"Go get him."
The other boy wandered from behind the tree, and made a beeline for the fence gate.
"Don't move," I said, pointing at his chest.
Sandy Hair ran in to get his dad, and while my son and I waited, me holding Frozen Boy in place across the yard with my pointed finger, I placed the other arm around my son's shoulders and told him that it wasn't his fault he'd been shoved and it wasn't a big deal that he'd cried. I reassured him that it was natural to be upset when he's been hurt physically and emotionally, and I was proud that he'd had the courage to tell me about it.
Mostly, I was calming myself down. Because, even though I knew I would never freak out on a little boy, I was inwardly at a freak-factor of 12, and was doing my best to take it down about 11 notches before the kid's dad came out.
But he did. And when he saw my face, he said, "What'd he do?"
"My son told me that they shoved him off the trampoline and laughed at him when he cried. It's unacceptable behavior and I'd like to try something to help." (I mean, probably less eloquently than that, but you get the idea.)
The dad squinted at me. "You want me to hold him so your kid can punch him or somethin'?" (That's verbatim.)
"Ahh, no." Although in reality, I'd already envisioned that same scenario.
But, you see, I'd been handed a problem. And since my success as a mom is, in part, determined by my ability to deal with almost anything I've been handed, I chose a different route.
I stood them in a circle, and instructed them to look at each other's faces. Naturally, they squirmed and smirked and sulked. But then, I asked Frozen Boy to look at my son and name three things he had in common with him. He stumbled a bit, but eventually said they both had brown hair, they both had arms, and they both had legs. Then, I asked the same thing of Sandy Hair. He said they both had brown eyes, they both had freckles, and they both were not wearing shoes.
Then, I asked my son to find similarities between all three of them. He said they were all boys, they all had scars on their knees, and they were all wearing shorts.
Then, I looked at them and said, "Since you are all so similar on the outside, do you think you probably have some similarities on the inside, too? For instance, do you all have someone to love?" All nodded. "Do you all get angry sometimes?" More nods. "Would you feel upset if a friend pushed you off of a trampoline and laughed at you?"
Frozen Boy remained frozen, but Sandy Hair spoke up. "But we didn't shove him. He fell."
"Let's say that’s true. Did you laugh at him when he fell?"
The dad poked his son in the chest. "Did you?"
"I mean, we were all laughing…"
"I wasn't," my son said.
Frozen Boy looked up. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"I forgive you," my son mumbled back.
"Let's just jump on the trampoline," Sandy Hair said.
"Not until you apologize," the dad said.
Sandy Hair muttered the insincere apology they all use, and like wild dogs, the three of them scampered away from the awkwardness and went back to bouncing on the trampoline. A minute later, they were all laughing deliriously.
So, was my kid shoved or did he fall? I have no idea. Those kinds of stories have a way of twisting and spinning so much that no one really ends up knowing who did what. What I do know is that I wanted those boys to walk, for just a minute, in my son's (missing) shoes and realize that their commonalities could combat whatever differences they might have.
And, more importantly, I wanted them to know that they were being handed something, too: mercy. Because I could have gone crazy – eyes rolling around in my head, shrieks of rage spouting out of my mouth – and even, like the dad suggested, had my kid punch one of them in the guts.
But I figured, I don't always handle the things I've been handed with the most delicate of care, but once in a while, I can at least try to get it right.