For the past week, the twelve-mile drive between school and daycare has been occupied with an unwelcome passenger – apprehension. It began with an innocent conversation one morning during drop-off when I mentioned that Calder has repeated some words I hadn’t heard him use before and he said he learned them from another student in his pre-school class.
“Actually, Calder has been having a bit of a hard time lately,” his teacher reported.
“Oh, I see,” I replied, adjusting Seneca’s weight on my hip. “What’s going on?” She shared a few examples of how he’s not listening well and needs several reminders to make better choices, how he’s been talking back when redirected by various adults.
“He got upset and acted out when his friends weren’t ‘playing the way he wanted them to’ last week,” she said. Hearing the report, I pictured moments at home when I’d seen similar behavior and offered reminders or checked out library books about friendship and sharing. I see the same things that she’s seeing. Except I have a greater responsibility.
Yesterday, concealed only by distance, I waited by the double doors and watched him approach some boys at a breakfast table. He proudly presented his toy that was just like the one someone else brought yesterday. They looked, and an older boy whispered something to another younger boy. The next thing I know, Calder pulling back his toy and shouting, unbecomingly, “IT’S MINE!”
I scoop Seneca into my arms and head over to where the teacher is trying to sort this out as she was busy serving food and didn’t see it all unfold. By now, Calder is crying and the older boy has a smirk on his face as he turns to another and says, “See, I told you it would work.”
That’s when it hit me that no matter how hard I try, despite every effort to encourage and inform, there’s really very little I can do to protect my kids from the influence of those around them. This was my first encounter with bullying as a parent, and never did I think it would happen when my son was just four-years-old.
Fighting the protective instinct I felt surging inside, I calmly informed the teacher that the toy was, in fact, Calder’s and that he brought it to show his friends. I hugged him and dried his tears, and said the hardest good-bye yet.
When I left that day though, I realized something about myself as a parent and a teacher. Too often, I’m otherwise engaged just like this woman was this morning. And when I turn around and find an argument, I too, jump to conclusions and diffuse the situation by “dealing with” the one who seems to be the culprit. As much as I try to create a safe classroom environment, how often am I playing right into the plans of the bullies?
And how often, are kids pigeon-holed into “types” before they’ve really had a chance to prove themselves otherwise? How much had I, been even sub-consciously, blaming Calder for his “bad” behavior, and assuming everything the teacher said was true?
It’s a fine line, for sure, because we all need to support one another and keep the best interest of all kids in mind. But after this experience, I realize that I need to support my child. I need to believe him, and love him, and guide him, and protect him when I can. And I need to pray that God will place just the right people in his life, when the only thing I’m able to do is wave good-bye and let go.