Okay, so this actually occurred 3 weeks ago, since I spent the last week in writers conferences between Nashville and Las Vegas… 😉
Does life ever really slow down when you’re raising kids? Let alone 5 of them? Yeah, I’m starting to think not. It seems like less and less domestic perfection, and more… well… managed chaos? Yeah, we’ll go with that one.
So anyway. It all started last week, when I saw the phone flash with the school’s number. And all parents know, if the school is calling? You’ve either got a sick kid, or one who’s in trouble. Yup. It’s not like the school is going to call and say, “by the way, just wanted to let you know it’s a totally normal day over here!” No, a phone call is never a good thing.
So I answer, and it’s The Hulk’s gym teacher and she starts with “there’s been an incident.”
To which I think:
Because if there’s “Incident” and “The Hulk” mentioned in the same sentence… well, there’s a reason we call him The Hulk.
So I say, “what kind of incident?”
and she says, “Well, he was involved in some bullying.”
And I say, “wait… he was bullied? Or he was bullying?”
And she crushes my spirit with, “He was in on the bullying.”
And now, I’m like:
And everything in my heart just… crashes. I mean, haven’t we been teaching them to take care of other people? To be kind? Thoughtful? I feel like a complete Mom failure.
And she jumps in and says, “wait, and let me tell you what happened.”
So here’s the story:
There’s three kids, A, B (The Hulk), and C. Kid A, the epic troublemaker, and until this very moment, they’ve all been friends. Only this mom – Yeah, me? I didn’t know A was a troublemaker. That is my lack of due-diligence, since they were only “school-friends,” and not “playdate” friends. I take full blame on that one.
Right, so back to the story.
The gym teacher tells me that A, B, & C were all fabulous friends until A decided to go all Mean Girls (despite the fact that he’s a boy) on C and be all:
So A and C start fighting over the last month or so. A calls names at C, C calls names at A, and then it turns physical on A’s part that day in gym. Well, The Hulk is watching up until then, but then The Hulk teams up with A, bullying C and calls C THE DIRTY P WORD when he doesn’t fight back.
When the gym teacher tells me? Well, I’m kind of like:
The DIRTY P WORD???? WHAT?
Just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about…. Well, you know… the dirty P word….
Yeah, right. You with me?
So I’m horrified, and I say, “we don’t even USE that word here!” Because it’s true. I can’t even type that word, I had to go find a funny .gif. You know, if one of the boys whips out a “damn it!”… well, that’s probably me. It’s my go-to swear word when I drop stuff, stub my toe, realize we’re running 10 minutes late for something… you get the drift – it’s this really bad reflex that comes screaming out. Any-hoo – But that word? The DIRTY P WORD? Yeah, I can’t stand to hear it, let alone say it, so you can bet your hot little hiny that The Hulk has never heard that word so much as uttered in this house. It’s basically the most vulgar word that I refuse to even have in my vocabulary, and I’m offended and just embarrassed! And there’s explicit sex scenes in my book, people, and I STILL CAN’T EVEN TYPE OUT THAT WORD!!!!
And it’s not just the language. I get it. He’s on the school bus, he’s going to hear things that we don’t say in this house. His whole life he’s going to be exposed to things we don’t approve of, and then he’s going to experiment with how he feels about and uses those things. I get it, I promise. It’s not the language, it’s that he ganged up with another kid on the weaker kid. He chose to join the attack instead of stop the attack.
And I feel like my really cute little boy –
just morphed into some kind of… well…. scaly monster.
And I’m apologizing to the gym teacher all over the place until she stops me, saying, “I’ve had all four of your boys, and they’re good boys – all of them. This is so unlike him. Kid “A” and Kid “C” have been at each other, The Hulk chose a side, and none of them are blameless. The other little boy was pretty upset, though.”
And I get it. Having just gone through what I did the last deployment? Well… my sympathies are with kid C and not my own boy.
Then we have a little chat about the bullying that that The Hulk went through at the beginning of the year, and she says, “I think that’s why he’s doing it. If he’s bullying, then he’s not getting bullied. He’s choosing to stand on the strong side.”
My problem? He might be choosing the stronger side, but it’s the WRONG side.
And she says, “well, knowing your boys, and the way they’re raised, I figured you would want to know.”
Oh, and all I can say is, “Yes, thank you so much for telling me. And don’t worry….”
So she thanks me, which kind of confuses me, because really, it’s MY kid that just screwed up, so um…. thank YOU for not condemning me to the bad parents’ department.
I hang up the phone and then look at it for a minute and all I want to do is drive down to the school, rip him out of class and show him that he’s never out of my reaches, that when he does something wrong, he’s not getting an “until I get home reprieve…” Oh no. But I also know that I’m his mom, and therefore nowhere near as effective in this department as….
Dun – dun – duhhhhhh! Yes. That’s it. I have an idea.
I call up Jason at work and say, “Hey baby. Do you have 45 minutes you can give me?”
To which he replies, “I can make anything happen for you, what do you need?”
And my wicked-witch cackle comes out….
I tell him what I want him to do, and he’s quiet for a second.
And then he readily agrees. Time for shock and awe, folks.
So Jason goes in uniform (because the school is seriously 14 minutes from the airfield) and asks to pull The Hulk out of class, to which the secretaries look at him like:
And what they’re really thinking?
You know, with all these safety regs, it’s not easy to actually get to your own kid, but it is easy to go meet with the gym teacher.
So Jason heads back and meets with the gym teacher, who gives him the same retelling I just did. Boys fought, The Hulk ganged up on Kid C with Kid A…. The DIRTY P WORD ensued. Yup.
But there’s a little bit more. The Hulk was also caught telling a little girl, “Wait, that’s your older sister? I never would have guessed, since she’s way hotter than you.”
Right. Insensitive 9 year-old jerkface, aisle 2.
With the Gym Teacher, Jason walks over to The Hulk’s class room, swings open the door, looks at him and says,
And The Hulk, who looks like:
Right. So he slips out to the hallway with Jason, who basically lights into him about being a bully, and how that just isn’t going to fly…
… and that it doesn’t matter if he’s at school, summer camp or Timbuktu, his parents are going to FIND HIM when he does mean-hearted crap like this, and by God, it ends NOW! That the word, when used in such context is derogatory, and that he won’t be friends any longer with the child who taught it to him (ahem… A). Nope, this is where the freaking buck stops.
And of course The Hulk is appropriately contrite. He knows Jason left work to pull him out of class less than an hour after the incident, and has done the extreme parental no-no of embarrassing him. Jason sends him back into class, promising that this conversation will continue at home, and his teacher comes out, so now the embarrassment has flipped, and it’s Jason apologizing for interrupting class.
His teacher (who is a guy, and my favorite of all The Hulk’s teachers), stops him mid apology and says, “No, seriously, that was EPIC.”
And that he wishes more parents would do it. Heck, he wants to go back to the days where the State Trooper assigned (remember, our village has like 3k people…) would put the kid in the back of the squad car and bring him home to “release him on his personal recognizance.”
Apparently Upstate NY likes to do it old school.
Jason leaves the school, after promising The Hulk that he hasn’t heard the last of this, that bullying isn’t ever going to be tolerated in our house, and then calls to tell me what’s happened.
This is when it hits me. This teacher was so happy to see us doing something, taking the time out of our day to do what???? Parent. How many people just expect the teachers to do the parenting when this stuff happens? For a school punishment to be as far as something goes? The point here wasn’t to scare The Hulk, or even to embarrass him, really, though I’m glad it did. It was to make it clear and apparent that we are his parents, and that we aren’t going to sit idly by and wait for his watered-down version of the story. That when he does bad things, we know immediately, and the consequences come down swiftly. Yes, his teacher spends more awake hours with him than I do during the week, but you know what? We’re his parents, and we’re responsible for molding him into a man, not the teacher. It’s OUR job to show up and be the parents when we need to be, because they’re doing THEIR job – teaching!
Okay, gimme a second to get off this horse. Man, it’s high.
So The Hulk walks in from school, snags a kiss, and hangs his gear up in his cubby. Then he walks back into the kitchen and reaches for the snack bin, just to see me still standing there.
I wait for him to tell me what happened to him today, so I gently prod, and get a giant swallow from him, and he quickly stuffs a chocolate chip granola bar into his mouth like we’re living in a Twix commercial, but I mean, come on… I’m not fooled…. I’m a mother.
So I wait until he swallows and say, “Dude, I already know.”
And I get this kind of reaction:
And then he’s like, “Wait, you know?”
Well, except the F-bomb, because it seems the Dirty P Word is his curse of choice, right?
And I say, “Yeah, come on. Who do you think SENT your dad?”
He pales, and says, “You? You send dad… from work? To my school?”
“Were you bullying a kid?”
He drops his eyes, because he knows, to which I slowly raise up my eyebrows and nod, like, YUP, and say, “Buddy, there isn’t anywhere that we won’t go if we think we need to talk to you.”
And he gives me the deer-in-the-headlights look, and I make him explain his story. Which of course includes the words, “But I didn’t start it!”
To which I respond, “You shouldn’t have been in it, and that’s not even the tip of the iceberg when we start talking about the language you chose. I’m so embarrassed for you. That’s a word I’m embarrassed to use, and I’m an ADULT. (Of course I left the explanation up to Jason, because we’ve already covered the fact that I can’t even say that flippin’ word.) Were you embarrassed when Dad pulled you out of class?”
“Good, because I’m sure that little boy you ganged up on sure felt embarrassed when his friends turned on him.”
Oh, and of course Thor has to sneak in to watch this all go down, and I turn to see him thoroughly enjoying The Hulk’s dress-down (because they’re kind of like each other’s arch nemeses) like:
I say to Thor, “You’re not in trouble, are you?”
And he says, “Nope!” All happy-like.
So I turn and say, “Do you WANT to be?”
And he says, “nope!”
and I say, “Then you’d better go play, because eavesdropping will get you there, buddy.” His gaze darts behind him, where YUP, Captain America is slowly backing away and Iron Man is just wide-eyed. And I say, “that goes for ALL of you.” And they know that when one brother is in trouble, if you stay too long to watch the public flogging? Well….
So they run. Smart boys.
Once The Hulk is appropriately contrite and realizes he wasn’t getting “good cop / bad cop,” oh no, he’s getting, “Angry dad and angry mom,” I let up…. on that incident.
Then I inform him that he’ll be writing an apology for both his language and ganging up on the other boy, as well as losing his X-box and Television privileges for the next two weeks, oh and that Kindle? Yeah, only books are accessible right now, so enjoy.
And I’m not sorry. Because this is about nipping it in the bud, stopping this monster from overtaking our awesome little boy with swift action and perhaps “overly” harsh punishment. Because if there’s one thing he’s not growing up to be, it’s a freaking bully. Ugh.
I want him to remember exactly how miserable this choice made him, and I want that feeling to be imprinted on him for the rest of his life.
And he starts to sputter, to which I give him THE LOOK. Oh, you moms know the one where you basically say:
Without even having to raise your voice.
And he quiets.
Then I ask him about telling the other little girl that her sister is prettier, and I’m pretty sure he’s ready to seriously run away and hide. Yup, Mama’s on the war path. But instead of yelling, when his little shoulders slump, I soften the clipped tone of my voice and tell him why I’m so sensitive to it…
“You know Aunt Katie?”
“Yeah,” he tells the floor.
“Growing up with her was really tough, because she is so pretty, and I was always her little sister. We don’t look anything alike, and I heard that a lot. A bunch of people, especially boys, would get surprised because she’s a lot prettier. So when you go to say something like that to a girl, remember that hearing that just about broke your mama a lot of times.”
“You’re prettier than Aunt Katie.”
“Thank you buddy, but that’s because you’re my baby, and you know what? I’ll always think you’re more handsome than any other little boys.”
“You’re all equal, and you know it.”
“But the other girl was prettier.”
I keep a straight face, and take that deep breath that keeps me from doing the above. And maybe, a little deep-down, I applaud his honesty. But I also don’t want him running around scarring little girls’ self esteems, mmmkay?
So I say, “that might be true, but what do I tell you is the most important quality in a girl? Is it looks?”
He shakes his head and mumbles, “that she’s kind.”
And I hug him, because even if he’s bullied some kid today and broken some girl’s heart, well, he’s still my baby, and there comes a time during punishment that he needs to know that this is all stemming from love and not because I want to see how he handles the loss of the Xbox. So I say, “right. Kind, then smart. That’s what matters, because what?”
“Pretty girls don’t always stay pretty, and mean hearts make pretty girls ugly.”
And I have this… moment of sheer pride in this little man who’s struggling, but maybe something I’ve said has seeped through.
So I snuggle him tighter and say, “then let’s compliment girls on their hearts and their minds, instead of how they happen to look, and don’t compare them to anyone else but who they are. Girls can be sensitive, just like you, so be careful.”
“Okay, Mama, I’ll be nicer.”
And he smiles up at me, and I smile down at him, and kiss his flawless forehead, and we have this phenomenal moment.
But then I say the last thing he’s expecting…
“I’m so glad we had this talk… but you’re still grounded.”
And so The Hulk’s bad day ended… well, until the next week when he got into a marker fight with kid A… but that’s another blog for another night…
I guess this parenting gig isn’t for the faint of heart…. or the Dirty P Words….