While I was dropping AJR off at school today I witnessed him getting a little “tough love” from his go-to buddies. He was so excited to see them and started going into full-on clinger mode, per usual, even when it became clear that his friends wanted to be anywhere that he was not.
I stood next to his teacher watching it unfold, resisting the urge to dive in as they told him to stop following and leave them alone. Internally, however, I had launched into full-on mama bear mode – “I will end you. I will end your children. I will end your children’s children. And your children’s children after that…” like some sort of mobster caricature banging my pinky ring on a wooden desk demanding vengeance. Yes, I do realize these are four and five year olds I’m talking about. Apparently I’ve just been living in Jersey too long or mama bear rage is that blind.
He dutifully followed his friends around the classroom like an eager puppy, but with each rejection his shoulders started to slump and his bottom lip formed a pouty pucker. Not the sad puppy dog face! My heart broke a little bit for him and my irrational maternal side came bursting out. How could you not want to be around him? He oozes hilarity and sweetness. This is the kid that hugs his teachers goodbye every day. The kid that offered to give his sister a sticker he earned at school because she was upset since she didn’t have any. A kid that wakes us up in the middle of the night to ask for a hug (sweet, but I would prefer to sleep). Anyone would be so lucky to consider him a friend!
Before you perceive me as one of these mothers that think their child is beyond reproach, allow me to clarify. AJR can be a jerk – after all this is the kid that yelled “THIS IS DISGUSTING! WORST THANKSGIVING EVER!” When he saw the spread my MIL had put together (which was delicious by the way). Had I not brought back-up chicken nuggets and yogurt he wouldn’t have eaten any dinner. And it’s a good thing I did since it was apparently his favorite thing about Thanksgiving.
He’s also been on the giving end of the “we don’t want you to play with us” and trying to dodge certain kids when he’s with others. I’ve heard him say “mean” things to other kids and push/kick etc. I am mortified when he does it and quickly jump in to diffuse the situation if I’m around. I understand that these things are going to happen. They’re young kids learning how to behave appropriately and sometimes they just have bad days, are tired, cranky, etc. I also understand that it’s unrealistic to expect our kids to want to play with every single other kid because it’s the “nice” thing to do. As an adult, I don’t have to spend my time with anyone I don’t want to. That said, I wouldn’t scream “you’re not my friend!” in someone’s face. Instead, I would passive aggressively make up fake plans and be consistently too busy to hang out.
All that rational stuff in mind, as a parent, it still sucked having to watch your kid not be included and witness his enthusiastic little spirit crumple. It’s a hard and scary realization to know that it’s not always going to be supervised playdates. I’m not going to have access to his classroom like I do now to watch and observe and grab the teacher’s ear. Unless I move my family off the grid, preferably to a private Caribbean island, there are going to be people that say and do things to hurt his feelings. He is going to do and say things that hurt other people’s feelings. I hope that neither are the case but it would be naive to think otherwise. All I can do is try and instill in him a strong sense of self. To make him feel confident about the person he is. To encourage him to be caring, kind, and respectful of those around him and teach him the impact that his actions can have on others. I won’t always be there to hold his hand and fix any hurtful situations. That’s not life, nor is it healthy for him way down the road. He has to start learning how to deal with these situations, apparently as early as four years old. Perhaps I’m being overdramatic but when you hear about the bullying that goes on nowadays it makes me dread the middle and high school years.
Once I picked him up from school we talked about what happened and he seemed very matter-of-fact about it. He assured me that they were all still buddies and he said it was a good day at school. Resiliency in kids is amazing. I honestly think the whole thing bothered me more than it bothered him. While I didn’t want to dwell on the situation since he was seemingly over it, I did talk about the importance of using his words to ask if he can play with friends rather than diving into his silent, stalker routine. Not blaming the victim here, but sometimes it can be a little off-putting to follow someone around all dead-eyed without any regard for their personal space. I hugged him and kissed him, which was absolutely more for me than him, and explained that sometimes people are going to say things that hurt your feelings. When it happens you can simply respond with “That’s not a nice thing to say,” or just walk away and find another friend to play with because there are plenty of kids that would want to hang with an awesome guy like him.
I’m not sure how much of it actually sunk in since he was eyeing his LEGOs, but at least this mama bear is tamed for now and can focus her attention on finding an affordable private island to move to when the kids are older.