Grade 2: A boy in my class told everyone my jacket was the colour of poop. He called me “Poop Coat” for the rest of the day. The other kids laughed hysterically. Naturally. I mean, they were eight and anything poop related was hilarious. I was obviously traumatized as I still remember this clearly, decades.
Grade 6: My three-some of best girlfriends become a lonely party of one when the other two ditched me. I was devastated—stomach aches, didn’t want to go to school, cried my eyes out. Funny enough, one of those bitches and I patched things up the next school year and have been best friends ever since. I should really remind her of how lucky she is that I forgave her.
Kids can be mean. Even the kindhearteds can get sucked into a teasing vortex. When I was teaching I was shocked by how quickly things could go bad. Recess could quickly turn into The Lord of the Flies, with sticks and everything. Until I blew my whistle and confiscated the sticks. Children can be like a pack of wild animals – the predators sniff out and circle the weak, ready to attack.
When MY child is on the receiving end of this animal behaviour, I’m suddenly very in touch with my savage side. All parents go through it and if you haven’t yet, you will. “For example”, a kid rips a toy from your son’s hand and then pushes him to the floor at daycare (you see this through the window as you’re driving away to work). The teacher does nothing and your child starts to cry. This might push some new moms to the point where they call the daycare, roaring (though somewhat diminished by the sobbing) from their cell phone. Hypothetically speaking.
My son is now in grade one and he survived the daycare jungle unscathed. He is a sensitive, loving child and is popular at school, but still I worry. His little sister is special. He doesn’t know this yet. Not really. My husband and I are in agreement that he needn’t be burdened with medical details and information. He wouldn’t understand. Hell, we don’t understand it half the time either!
His little sister is indeed little and has speech and gross motor delays and extreme feeding issues. He thinks his sister’s challenges stem from the fact that she doesn’t eat enough. I’m fine with him believing that. He is aware however of what it means to have special needs. I was forced to explain this to him after a recent speech appointment. A child with Down Syndrome in the waiting room with us, was screeching. My son whispered, “Mummy, that girl is being very rude.” On the way home I explained about her behaviour.
“Avery has special needs,'” he said. “She needs us to help her learn to talk better.” Minutes later he started pointing to objects in the car, repeating the words slowly and clearly, trying to teach her. Oh my god it made me teary (which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to merge onto the highway).
Yesterday my son told me that he feels like crying when he hugs his sister. That she makes him feel sad when he sees her struggling. And when he cuddles her on the couch is makes his throat hurt. I think he was trying to articulate, that he feels protective. I feel it too. He told me that some of his friends were teasing him, saying that his sister was so small that babies are born bigger than her.
This was pretty tame on the bullying spectrum. But, what makes my mama lion mane stand on end is this: As my son gets older, he will become more aware of the challenges his sister is facing.
How will this sensitive boy deal with it? It is very likely that he will take on the role of protector. It’s hard enough trying to find your own way without having to worry about or protect somebody else. I don’t want that for him, but I also know that it’s not really my choice because I’m quite certain that this boy also has the heart of a lion.