When I first started blogging,I had a sense that my posts would one day serve as a map of sorts — a map of how I’ve grown and changed as a mother, of all the things I’ve learned since my children were small.
What I didn’t expect was that one day, I’d re-read an old post and think, “oh man. I’ve regressed so much since then.”
We tell our children that they are “the cutest in the world” and then inevitably, one day, they will realize that they aren’t. What happens then? Either they go into denial and continue believing that in fact, they are more attractive than everyone else, or they become depressed and sometimes resort to desperate measures to make themselves more attractive. Anorexia, bulimia, plastic surgery…how much of these dangerous body-altering behaviors can be traced to unrealistic beliefs about oneself, instilled in childhood? The same is true of other oft-repeated parenting lines…
So maybe we, as mothers, should take the initiative. Maybe, just maybe, we started this whole mess with a phrase as seemingly innocent as “I have the cutest children in the world!” And maybe, just maybe, we can end it by striking that phrase out of our vocabulary and telling our kids the simple, honest truth: someone out there will always be cuter, more talented, taller, faster. But talent, looks and physical ability can easily crumble when set up against pure, old-fashioned determination.
Oh, 5-years-ago-me. You were so full of crap.
Now that my oldest child is entering the terrible world of tweenagehood, I feel like a contestant in the Hunger Games. Of course my child is better, more special, and a thousand times more wonderful than every other child who ever existed in the history of history. Of course when someone hurts her, it’s their fault, because they are terrible children who don’t deserve to breathe the same air as my child. Of course I will step in and deliver unto the neighborhood 4th graders a world of wrath, because I will not sit by and watch my child suffer the same kind of emotional trauma that defined my middle-school years.
See, this is the part of parenting that is really hard, and that sucks a lot. This is where the rubber meets the road, where my ideals come up hard against bitter reality. I had to physically stop myself from marching down the street and unleashing a special kind of hell last night, because my kid is being bullied and that makes me furious.
The Ogre and I have all these theories on bullying. Bullying is part of growing up, and no amount of anti-bullying campaigns will ever be able to stop it. It’ll just mutate, becoming harder to detect, taking on subtler and more sinister forms until teenagers are being bullied into suicide. Our theory is that adult intervention in the earliest forms of bullying actually facilitates this mutation, so that kids who would have learned to fight back or grow a thicker skin are unprepared when their bullying peers, bitter that their first attempts at cruelty were quashed, try again with a subtler, more refined cruelty.
Of course, that’s just a rough outline. We talk a lot about it, actually, because we were both weird, awkward kids who got bullied and learned the hard way to fight back. For years, we’ve talked about the fact that our kids likely won’t find it easy to fit in either, and we’ve discussed hypothetical situations and worked through our potential responses.
But no amount of thought exercises prepared me for the moment my daughter told me that her former classmates had christened her “the fat lady” in the two weeks since she started a new school. All my plans to see these moments as opportunities in which we could teach her to overcome adversity, find strength in herself, and most importantly, to always choose kindness instead of cruelty, flat-out disappeared in face of red-hot mama-bear rage.
I wanted to thrash the hell out of those kids, the higher road be damned.
The Ogre talked me down, of course. His 4th grade year was the beginning of childhood nightmares, and he reminded me that intervening would only worsen the situation for Sienna, and make her appear weaker to the bullies, unable to fight her own battles. What we had to do was be there for her, remind her how special she is, how strong, how beautiful, and how these kids didn’t have the power to take that away, so she mustn’t give it to them.
I calmed down, and agreed with his rational plan of restraint and encouragement. And then I regressed, spectacularly.
Did I say, “someone out there will always be cuter, more talented, taller, faster. But talent, looks and physical ability can easily crumble when set up against pure, old-fashioned determination”? Oh, hell no.
What I actually said was, “you are the MOST AMAZING CHILD IN THE WHOLE WORLD! You are worth ten thousand of those kids! You are SO MUCH BETTER than they are! You are so much better than EVERYONE is!” And then for good measure, the Ogre threw in, “those kids suck, sweetheart.”
Oh yes, it was a major win for parental detachment, rationality, and restraint. In our first real test of teaching kindness over cruelty, we taught our kid that insulting other kids is perfectly acceptable, if they were mean to you first.
It’s a good thing today’s Sunday. We need some grace up in here.