My son is 7, he's a bright, empathetic, creative, rambunctious boy. He doesn't have a mean bone in his body. He's very big for his age and I worried when I saw how fast he was growing and how much bigger he was than all his classmates. I worried that he might struggle to fit in, that he might inadvertently injure a child through the rough play that is so typical of children. I worried about a lot of things, but I never really worried that he would be a bully because I know his heart and his heart is pure love. I also never really worried that he'd be the victim of a bully, yet, he has been. Bullying can happen to any child, I've learned that lesson the hard way.
Paulo's first experience was in Kindergarten, he was verbally taunted by an angry little guy, it escalated to the point where my bright boy didn't want to go to school any more and I had to speak to his teacher and make sure she knew what was happening and that she was going to get a handle on it. Fortunately the hate language seemed to have stayed in Kindergarten and he's even friends now with one boy that was part of the problem-the ring leader transferred to a different school. It was so hard to watch him go through that experience, he was filled with self doubt, he believed the boys when they told him he was stupid-even though he could read and they could not-he believed them when they told him that everyone hated him-even though we could name and count all the kids that considered him a friend-logic means nothing when confronted by rejection. It broke my heart.
This month though he was the victim of physical bullying and that really stunned me. My son is not aggressive, he can get pretty rowdy-particularly when playing with his big brother but frankly I consider that to be normal-but he's not aggressive with other children and after last week I'm even more grateful for that sweet character and forgiving nature. My son was punched in the mouth last week. He was in a camp that used school buses to transport children around the city for outdoor adventures. It was a great camp, he loved it, he got to run around in the woods and cover himself with mud as camouflage, it was a boys' paradise. There was a boy that he met on the first day that he really bonded with, W. Paulo said that W was really smart and could tell him all about large birds of prey and that they could talk, in depth, about Pokemon. They spent much of the week together. On Thursday I picked up my son at his Grandma's and he instantly tipped his face up so I could see his lip. His lip that was cut. When I asked him what happened he told me that W asked him on the bus if he wanted a "test". Paulo assumed math test and said sure-he loves math-but then this boy punched my son in the stomach. Paulo passed the test by the way, he shed no tears. In typical boy bravado fashion Paulo asks him "you call that a test?". W responds by upping the ante and landing the next punch on my child's mouth. Again though, to Paulo's pride he passed the test and did not cry. Now as he is telling me this story he shows no fear of this boy, he's not even upset. He told W it was ok, he was ok, just "give me a minute" as he bled on the bus. I will admit that there was a part of me that was proud of him for a couple of different reasons, first he didn't retaliate and hit the boy back, second he brushed it off, he's not dwelling on it, upset by it, being dramatic about it, none of that he's just stating the facts to me like it's totally normal. Now, that's where we differ, I don't think that's normal behavior. But wait...it gets even better.... I asked Paulo what his teacher said and he told me that the teacher didn't know, he was behind them on the bus and hadn't seen it and Paulo didn't tell him. I asked him why and he said he didn't want to get W in trouble and the boy had told him that if he told on him he wouldn't give him the Pokemon card he promised. Uh huh....nice... I tried to explain to my 7 year old that this boy was not being a good friend to him, friends don't punch each other in the face. I had to tell him that I would be discussing this with his teacher the next day because it's the camps job to keep all the campers safe and that sort of behavior should not happen on the bus and that while he wasn't badly injured or scared another child could have been. He sort of understood.
The next morning I talked to his teacher, who did not know what had happened, but shared with me that this was the 2nd time W had been involved in an incident like this that week, which just reinforced what I felt, this was not normal. Paulo had told me that he was the first kid that didn't cry which to me meant W had done this before. Again, not typical boy roughhousing. There's a part of me that feels bad for the kid, I wonder what it is he's seen and experienced that makes him think this is ok. But the biggest part of me will always be focused on protecting my son.
These incidents stay with me, I wish I could wrap my boy in bubble wrap and keep him safe forever, shelter him from kids that say mean and do mean things, but I can't. He's growing up in our world which, sadly, seems so focused on cruelty. It's everywhere, in the papers, magazine, music, movies and TV. We love to be mean. Turn on almost any reality TV program and you will see it, walk down any school hallway and you will see it there too. I consider myself lucky that my son will tell me when someone's been mean to him, I know that's often not the case. These incidents may seem minor compared to what some children suffer through but they're real, they're Paulo's experiences, and if it can happen to him it really can happen to anyone.