Posts tagged ‘mean kids’

What’s it going to take?

     I was hit with a ton of bricks today, and it didn’t feel good. All the time spent making sure C was in the “right” school, all the effort spent researching to find the best, safest place; it was all for naught. Each place turns out basically the same, and I finally realized today that the common denominator is C. We can search for a nice school with nice kids. We can pay a zillion dollars in private school tuition to make sure he is taken care of and well-supervised. We can even find a Christian school where you expect everyone to be kind.

     Check, check, and check.

     Still, the result is the same, and ouch, does it hurt. It doesn’t matter how nice the kids are, how much money we pay, or how Christian the school is. C likes the kids – every single one of them. He considers them all friends, even ones who aren’t outwardly very nice to him. Yet it all comes down to one simple fact:  The kids just don’t like C. 

     This became painfully obvious today – I’m still crying, hours later – when I went in for lunch. I’ve been avoiding hanging out at school, and now I realize I just didn’t want to admit to myself that all of our effort meant nothing in the reality of the problem. C and I sat at the “special” table reserved for kids who have visitors. Last time I went in, C asked each and every boy in his class if they wanted to sit with him at the special table. I listened as each and every boy said no. This is a privilege, mind you, and every other time I see a parent in there, there are several other kids at the special table with the special kid and his or her parent. Yet they all said no. Today C didn’t even bother asking.

     While we sat there, C dropped something and asked a boy at the class table to pick it up since it was near him. The boy kicked it as far under the table as he could and C had to get down on the floor and under the table to get it. The boy laughed and pointed at him, and then the other boys joined in. It wasn’t overt and obvious or even particularly loud, and thankfully C didn’t even notice. Then C walked over to the class table to ask another boy a question. This was a boy whose house C went to this weekend – Mom arranged, of course. Clearly the boy was uncomfortable talking to C, and when C came back, he mentioned that as he left the boy’s house on Sunday, he whispered in C’s ear, “Don’t tell anyone at school that you came over this weekend.” C only mentioned this because he had just been talking to him. He often drops bomshells like this days later, not realizing they are bombshells at all. C clearly did not connect the comment to anything having to do with himself. “Maybe the other kids think his house isn’t nice? But that’s not true, because it is,” he said, clearly perplexed. When he told me, I fought back tears. Just get through lunch, I told myself, you can cry in the car.

     It was all summed up for me. How much longer can parents arrange playdates? When is C going to really figure out that these boys don’t like him? And given he probably has figured it out on some level, how must it feel to go to school five days a week with a bunch of kids who don’t want to be around you? While I sat and watched every boy in C’s class (except his one real friend, who was not there today) snicker and giggle and whisper about him after both of these minor incidents, I realized I’d been hiding from the truth.    

     I’d like to go to school and talk to these boys, because of all the schools C has been in, this is the one where I thought he stood the best chance of finding his place – these are good kids in a good school. I’m not sure what I’d say to them, really, because I wouldn’t want to make it worse. I can’t make them like him. But one thing I’d like to tell them is that while they may not like him, C sure likes each and every one of them. A whole lot.    

     This is when I remember what the developmental pediatrician who diagnosed C told us: “If you can get him emotionally intact through middle school,” she said, “he’ll find his niche and he’ll be fine.” And I wonder to myself, just how can we do that? Where is the place that will have kids who will both protect and nurture him? Where, where will he fit in? What to do with a child who is so social, so desirous of being around other kids, but who is clearly not liked by those same kids? Public school, charter school, private school, Christian school – it’s all the same, and none of it is right. 

      I don’t know what the answer is, and that is why I’m really crying this afternoon. I don’t really understand exactly why the kids don’t like C. I don’t really know where the place is that would be safe and good for him, or if it even exists. All I know is that I fear C’s wonderful little world will come crashing down someday when he puts all of the painful pieces of this puzzle together. And then it will be more than he can possibly bear.

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March 1, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I am from Mars, but I’m moving to Venus

     C was sitting on a bar stool at the kitchen island the other night as I chopped vegetables for a recipe. We were talking about our upcoming move to North Carolina, and he once again expressed excitement about being somewhere new. Then he dropped this bombshell:

     “I’ll bet everyone will miss me. Everyone except S. He hates me.”

     C said this without affect or inflection in his voice. No clues to the emotions behind the words except the content of the words themselves.

     I stood there for a moment, waiting to see if he’d add anything else before I resorted to my usual “fixit” mode of being. You see, a long time ago I actually read the book Men are From Mars; Women are From Venus. Honestly? It perplexed me. Far more a “fixer” (Mars) than a “sympathizer” (Venus), I don’t really know how to do the sit and listen to a friend in need thing; I want to help her. I’m more about solutions and finding a way to make things work.

     Carefully, I spoke. “You know, C, a lot of times when people say they hate someone else, the person they really hate is themselves. S is probably very unhappy with who he is, and he’s taking that out on you. He probably doesn’t really hate you,” I said, matching C’s flat tone so as to calm any emotions that might be hiding beneath his words.

     Before I finished my thought, I saw the glazed look in his eye C gets when he’s done with a conversation. I vaguely knew, in that moment, that I had failed him with my response. Instead of just listening and asking C how he felt about S’s words, I tried to explain the situation to him. I tried to fix it; not S’s words, but C’s reaction to them.

      And that’s what I missed: C’s reaction. I blew it and missed my chance to have a real conversation about what it’s like to spend the day with someone who hates you, what it’s like to feel someone’s contempt simply because you have the nerve to exist, and what it’s actually like to be C. I won’t make that mistake again.

     The moment is over – it’s too late to go back and fix it now (yes, I get the irony here). But next time it comes up – and it will, I’m sure – I’m prepared to be all kinds of Venus.

November 9, 2010 at 6:38 am 10 comments

Predator and prey

     I watch the playground, wondering if it was so fraught with landmines when I was a kid, wondering when it became, in my mind, a war zone. It looks completely innocent with brightly colored plastic play equipment and smiling children running around. Everything seems fine on the surface.

     I watch deeper. For those of us that always look deeper, that have to look deeper, that are forced to look deeper, it is a far more sinister place. It is perhaps the most dangerous place at school except possibly the bathroom. It is the place where our kids, our very vulnerable kids, take the most abuse at the hand of the other kids.

     I watch C try to initiate play with a group of four kids who were particularly mean to him last year. I watch, as though from underwater for as long as it takes me to make myself believe their mean-spirited play is what I think it is. Not mean enough so that C will know, but mean enough that he doesn’t even realize – which is somehow even worse. The level of sophistication of their teasing and their awareness of C’s own obliviousness is incredible to me.

     I watch these children and marvel at their cleverness on one hand, while silently urging C to move on to someone else on the other. When I realize he’s playing along with them, I sit back to see what he will do. After all, I can’t be there every day, and I hope he’s learned from last year that these kids just aren’t nice. But when I see the one girl in the group start kicking sand at C’s face, I head on over to them.

     I watch the little girl walk away as I remind her she shouldn’t be kicking sand at someone. After she throws a remark to me over her shoulder in a sassy tone of voice (one I wouldn’t have dared use with my own mother as a child, much less someone else’s mother), I fight the urge to give her The. Look. Reminding me of what we called “crusties” in high school, The. Look. is a penetrating stare that conveys all the wicked thoughts in one’s head to the person on the receiving end. I resist. She is 8. They are all 8, I remind myself.

     I watch these children, and I’m not sure what disturbs me more: that they remind me of a pack of hyenas, so conniving and ferociously social, or that C didn’t even realize he was their prey.

September 1, 2009 at 7:58 pm 6 comments

No middle ground

     In C’s black and white world, there’s not much wiggle room; things either are or they aren’t, they will or they won’t, they do or they don’t. What I’ve realized is that for C, they mostly are, will, or do. He’s incredibly kind hearted and seems to forgive even the worst transgressions.

     This year especially, I’ve tried to explain to him how a child who is mean to him might have had a rough day, or maybe all they know is how to pick on someone else. Ever the bleeding heart, I am reluctant to attribute the word “bad” to a child, any child, even the one being unkind to my own.

     But in the last few days of school, I was pushed over the edge. Between one child calling C a “d&*k,” another shoving him repeatedly at morning line-up despite C’s sobs, and yet another birthday party to which C was not invited, I gave up. I figured it was time to explain to C the facts of life. Some people (and therefore some kids, I suppose) are just mean. I told him there would always be people that were unfriendly to him, and the trick was to get as far away from them as possible. 

     Finally ready to give in to C’s black and white world was I. It’s okay, I told him, to not like people. We don’t have to try and explain away their behavior and give them the benefit of the doubt. Yet C, in his effervescent generosity, reminded me he just is who he is by saying, “But Mom, I like everybody.”

June 1, 2009 at 4:49 am 12 comments

World View

     I don’t think of C as having any “deficits,” for lack of a better word. Like any kid, he has areas of great strength and areas of challenge. There is absolutely nothing wrong with him; it’s the rest of the world that has a problem. I consider myself blessed and lucky to have such a wonderful kid, and sometimes catch myself thinking how boring typical kids must be.

     Yet my view on C has hit a wall. There is a skill that is completely and utterly absent in him, and it’s definitely a problematic deficit. He struggles, like many kids like him, to interpret and understand his own feelings. “Sad” and “worried” are used interchangeably in his vocabulary. I try very hard not to tell him how he should feel about things, and most of the time it doesn’t present that much of a problem. Most of the time, anyway.     

     Yesterday when C told me a boy in his class told C he would stop being mean to him only if C gave him one of his erasers (they’re all the rage at the moment), I couldn’t help myself, and my own anger flared. C thought it was a great deal and quickly complied. “C,” I said incredulously, “do you understand that what that boy said was mean?”

     His reply, heartbreaking in both its simplicity and its future implications, was “But Mommy, it didn’t feel mean to me.”

January 29, 2009 at 9:23 pm 7 comments

But once a year

     I hate birthday parties. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, I’m sure. I hate them when C doesn’t get invited, and I hate them when he does (a rarity; today was the first this school year). I dread them, know they are going to be terrible, and know that I’ll come home feeling sad, frustrated and angry. The birthday party has, for me, replaced the park in terms of my least favorite thing to do with C. It represents all his challenges rolled into one – large groups of boys running around mostly unfacilitated, unsupervised as long as they aren’t killing each other, and doing unstructured activities. You know, everyday life with a typical boy.

     When C was about a year and a half old, and not walking yet, the differences in him were so apparent at the park, each time I took him the pain threatened to burst through. I’d often stand at the playground, tears leaking out, being thankful for sunglasses and that I didn’t know anyone there. Now birthday parties have taken over the bad spot, only it’s a bit worse because I actually do know people there. I expected the worst today, so I was moderately prepared, but it still feels like a ton of bricks crashing down. At least now I’m starting to grow a helmet and don’t expect much.

     Yet I always come away with the same frustration. What is it about kids being mean? Why do we accept that being mean and hurtful is just part of growing up? Is it really a necessary developmental stage? I even think it myself, and find myself explaining away a kid’s bad behavior. “Kids are kids,” I hear myself saying, and I try to remember that most of them are good kids. I know even my kid has done things that seem unkind, but when I watch a child consistently exclude C throughout the party, taunting him and teasing him, and calling him “stupid,” I can’t forgive it or get past it. I just don’t get it.

     While other kids have an ability to slough things off, I’m not sure C does. He’s not wandering around tonight, crying that someone said he was stupid. Yet I suspect that there’s a chink in his armor, even if he doesn’t recognize it for what it is, and how many of those can he take? How long before all the good things the people who love him say to him are broken down by the bad things he hears elsewhere? And what happens then?

January 19, 2009 at 10:10 pm 9 comments


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