Today Happy got off the school bus and buried his face in my hip, wrapped his arms around me, and crumpled into tears. I shuffled us quickly back to the car, worried the other kids would see him and tease him, where Happy told me that he wanted to tear his shirt off and rip it into pieces:
"Because So-and-so was teasing me! He called me a retard...and said purple is a girl color! And the other kids were laughing! And he said I'm gay!!! And I don't even know what that meeeeans!"
Instantly my heart broke for my sobbing baby. But I seethed! The blood rushed to my face. I heard whoosh-whoosh in my ears. My hands clutched the steering wheel so hard I thought I'd bend it. I clenched my jaw. Horrible violent thoughts of this bullying little jerk flew through my brain. For a moment I could feel myself turning green and muscly, my clothing ripping off my body, my rage fueling a Hulk-Mom transformation.
Instead, calmly....coolly...compassionately I told my boy that I was sorry his feelings got hurt; that purple is a very handsome color; that all the coolest men in the world (including his father) are wearing purple these days; and that the best way to deal with a mean kid is to say "Whatever," roll your eyes, and act like it doesn't bother you. I also told him that I feel sorry for people who are mean to others because I know that someone else is mean to them; I told him bullies often feel bad about themselves, and they learn meanness from others.
Then we went inside the house and ate pretzels and drank apple juice, and Happy found great delight in my cutting a pair of his ripped-knee pants into shorts. Our evening moved along as most evenings do (though I did notice he was a bit more sensitive and whiny than usual), and at bedtime we role-played the "whatever" moment. (We had to role-play a few times, of course, because the first time he "whatever'd" then kissed me...which probably wouldn't really improve the whole gay-calling thing.)
So Happy seems to have moved on from his sadness. Kids bounce. But here it is, six hours later, and I am still all riled up. My stomach is in knots. I am angry. I am hurt. There is still tension in my jaw. I am reliving all those times when I was a child (teenager, adult) and other kids mocked me. It hurts a thousand times more now because I can't shield him from these wounds. And even though I said all those kind, cool, compassionate things to my son earlier today -- and even though I meant them -- right now, this is what I really want to say to the little bag of snot who hurt my baby's feelings:
You, little boy, are a bratty little turd who is not worthy of even one of the tears my son shed today. You are nasty to other kids because you feel bad about yourself; maybe if you shut your mouth and spent some time being kind, you would notice that most of the children around you are amazing -- full of joy and wonder and creativity and heart.
Your parents probably have no idea that you behave this way, but I bet they wouldn't really find it troubling. In fact, they might even shrug their shoulders and tell me this is normal, that my kid has to learn how to fend for himself because life is cruel sometimes, or that it's my fault for letting you wear a purple shirt. It's possible your parents are the kind of people who laugh at me now when I pass by because I am super tall or my hair is too frizzy or my car is too old.
You will spend most of your life feeling bitter and angry because people like my son are smarter and have more friends and more imagination and do interesting things in their spare time. There will come a day, maybe 10 years from now, when my son is 6-foot-6 and weighs 250 pounds and looks right over your head like you're not even there as he walks by you with his friends; you will wish you had been nicer to him so that he'd come to your aid when some teenage thug is picking on you in the high school parking lot.
I do feel a tiny bit sorry for you, little boy, because you are probably picked on too. Any first-grade child who throws around words like gay and girl and retard as insults has heard those words from someone else. I feel sorry that you don't have the guidance and nurture that you deserve, that you don't have someone who will sit you down and explain to you that some words are double-edged daggers. But mostly I feel sorry that you haven't allowed yourself the opportunity to get to know my son, to play Star Wars or Batman with him on the playground, or to sing silly songs and dance with him in the yard, to go on adventure hikes in the woods looking for leprechauns. You are missing out on so much fun.
Next time you want to call him gay or girl or retard, know this: My son will be comfortable in his own skin, unlike you, because his parents are raising him to show love and kindness to everyone he meets -- especially gays and girls and kids with special needs -- and even you. My son wears purple because it's a royal color and he is a prince among his peers. You, little toad nugget, will never wear purple, unless it's around your eye because someone finally gets sick of your bullying and knocks you the frig out.
Oh, and by the way, WHATEVER.