Core

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“Mommy, that boy called me stupid.”

I shaded my eyes against the yellow heat of the sinking sun and saw Alex, his big brown eyes simultaneously wide and droopy, pressed against chain link as if trying to squeeze through the backstop and draw comfort from me. I hitched Michael up onto my hip and got up from the bleachers, thinking fast. A first grader’s perception doesn’t necessarily equal reality, but neither can I discount the look on his face.

“Did you say something to him about it?”

He shook his head, looked down at his baseball glove. “He told me I was stupid,” he said again.

“I know it’s hard, but when somebody says something mean, you have to tell him ‘please don’t say that.'”

Coach called the boys then, and Alex returned to practice. But the name calling had sucked all the energy out of him. He didn’t catch one ball all night, and instead of scampering around the field after the missed throws, he trudged, as if the core of his being, that beautiful heart, had turned from brilliant radiance to cold lead.

When practice was over, he returned to me. I hesitated to bring it up again–mountain out of molehill, you know–but he saved me the trouble. “Another boy said ‘I hate being your partner.'”

I sighed and hugged him as we walked toward the car. Cleats and Keds tapped softly against asphalt, our twin cores hurting in unison. Although mine goes deeper, through thirty-seven years’ layers of slights both real and perceived. You think you develop a thick skin, but you don’t. You just hide the pain better. Pain is necessary, I reminded myself, and whispered a prayer for inSpiration.

“You know,” I said, “when people say mean things to others, a lot of times it means they don’t like themselves very much. If you say, ‘Please stop saying mean things,’ they’re going to realize you’re stronger than they are.”

He didn’t answer, but I’ve learned that lack of response from Alex doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t get it. I wanted to tell him it doesn’t matter if he’s not as good at baseball as the other boys, because his heart loves and his ears hear music and his fingers obey, and he’s intensely, beautifully creative and reads at nearly a third grade level. But dumping ointment upon salve until the wound on his soul is a gloppy mess doesn’t help. Kids can tell when affirmation is really just meant to distract them from their own weaknesses.

So we walked the rest of the way in silence, and I put my faith in the future. And I prayed I can shepherd him safely there.

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Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

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23 thoughts on “Core

  1. Lance

    When my teenager daughter first went into high school, two neyars ago, she suffered some bullying/mean girl crap. She decided to not go out for cheerleading. I thought she was just being lazy or irresponsible. This piece reminded of how I screwed up as a parent and almost lost her trust forever.

    Thank you for this.

  2. As I have hurt through my daughters’ similar experiences (only girls say things like, “You have fat thighs” or “Your hair looks ugly”) I always thought it would be easier with boys. Thanks for showing me that it’s not and it’s just a different kind of mean-ness. I connect with you on that level of holding MY 38-years-worth of not fitting in…and I agree I often thought I would have a thicker skin. But when it comes to my kids, it’s like a fresh wound to see them hurt. And I am able to stay strong in front of them, but about a year ago, something was happening in the lunch room to Sarah and when she finally told me what was going on…I was able to save face in front of her and help her deal with it, but I had a good long cry in my room.

  3. itsmebrandi

    Just this week, my stepson was hit at daycare with a toy repeatedly. Because my stepson has a little brother, we’ve talked about being careful and not hurting anyone smaller than you and that you have to take special care as the “bigger” person to not do that. I was in anguish hearing that not only did my stepson not hit the other boy, he also just stood there and took it to the point where he had a bruise on his back! Oh my gosh! Proud of him for not hitting back, but I think we need to teach him about self defense. :/

      • itsmebrandi

        We’ve had lots of discussions (and told the daycare person what to say as well) about removing yourself from the situation and telling a grownup. I don’t want to create a tattletale, but given that his daycare provider had to work it out of him to find out which boy had hit him, I don’t think we have to worry about that too much!

  4. I love this observation:
    Kids can tell when affirmation is really just meant to distract them from their own weaknesses.
    So very true, and how wise of you to realize it. Blessings!

  5. This is such a beautiful, heartfelt post Kathleen. I understand how hard it is for children to grow up… and how much they have to face even before they actually understand the meaning of the things they are called. Really brought out the emotions that surround such an incident. Your writing conveyed the sadness, the clinging to hope… and it transfers us, your readers to that moment. Beautifully written.

    🙂

  6. This is such a poignant story and really does speak to the core of motherhood–how to prepare them for hurtful experiences and how to deal with them in a way that both makes sense and minimizes the hurt without minimizing the experience. Thank you for sharing this with us; I am going to have a hard time with these parts of mothering.

  7. This was a touching story! You described the ability of kids to be so much more perceptive than we tend to give them credit for well. I also like how you tied it in with the way we as adults handle the same hurts. Well handled!

  8. “But dumping ointment upon salve until the wound on his soul is a gloppy mess doesn’t help.” Oh, how I am guilty of that mess. And should know better, as I have spent a significant amount of time scraping goop from my own soul.
    So beautifully articulated. The part of parenting that leaves us needing to be OK with the unknown, having faith.
    I hope your son continues to grow to love himself as much as you obviously do…despite the meanies on his team 😉

  9. I love this approach to the “Core” prompt. Your use of language is lovely. I particularly liked “big brown eyes simultaneously wide and droopy, pressed against chain link as if trying to squeeze through the backstop and draw comfort from me.” You beautifully captured one of the major challenges of parenting. Excellent.

  10. StateofJoy

    A lot of the parts that spoke to me have already been mentioned but this one also stuck out: “… mine goes deeper, through thirty-seven years’ layers of slights both real and perceived.” It is so true that instead of dusting away pain, we let it build. Wonderful imagery there. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I think you handled that exquisitely, showing him where the high road was. I’ve been in his shoes for over half my life. I have a giant soft spot for kids who get picked on, and the mothers who have the amazing restraint not to kill the miserable little monsters that are nothing but just plain mean. You get extra bonus points for that!

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