We attempt to protect our children from the weather, illness, accidents and the boogie man. Most of the time we are successful. Sometimes, we are not.
There is one thing that proves to be a fruitless fight.
“Mommy? I had a horrible day today,” #2son says to me over cantaloupe and crackers after school. I settle in for his tale of woe.
It contained the usual. Dropping his jacket in a puddle. He didn’t get to sit in his favorite seat on the bus with his favorite friend. They ran out of pizza at lunch and he had to have chicken drumsticks. Which he loves. But still.
The worst thing that happened? It was during the fire drill. They were all filing outside and a younger kid, a kid in the 1st grade, was walking ahead of #2son. They were to wait under the tree and Mr. 1stgrade moved a branch aside and looked like he was holding it for #2son to pass. But just as #2son got close, as he was smiling and starting to say thank-you, Mr. 1stgrade smiled and let the branch go. Hard. Smacking #2son in the face. And then, Mr. 1stgrade laughed.
“Why would he do that?” my son said with tears starting to fall, “That was so mean.”
The look of innocence in his eyes broke my heart. And he wasn’t crying because of the sting on his face. He was remembering the offense. He was tearing up because of the sting in his heart.
“Why was he smiling? And why did he laugh? It wasn’t funny. Nobody else laughed,” my son implored, trying to make sense of such meanness. “And he was younger than me. I was about to thank him. He doesn’t even know me. Why would he do that?” he asked again.
I had no answer. I hugged him. And said something about sad, angry people and how they lash out at others because they want people to hurt as much as they do. But it was no consolation.
And my son’s innocence was shattered.
How do we protect our children from mean people? And if we could, should we? When our oldest daughter was dealing with some mean-girl shenanigans years ago my husband said, “Better she experience this now, when we can help guide her rather than protect her and then have her experience it when she moves out, when we’re not around to help.” I suppose he’s right. Reluctantly, I agreed with him. But why do we have to experience meanness at all?
I can make him wear his seat belt or his bike helmet. I can feed him Flintstone vitamins and make sure he drinks his milk. I put him to bed at a reasonable hour. I know his friends. I read to him and he reads to me. I do everything I can to make sure he is safe and loved.
But I can’t wrap his heart in bubble wrap.
But oh, how I wish I could.