So, Ryley came home from school yesterday crying. Granted, that’s not really anything new. He crashes off his ADHD medication between 3 and 4:30 every day, and tears are just part of the process. But he was upset, and it wasn’t just about having to come home and do homework. He’s 9 1/2, and in third grade. It seems we are coming to the age of divisiveness, when the kids start separating into groups…those “cool” and those “not cool”. It is a painful process. I’m forty, and I completely remember that first taste of “in” and “not in”. Watching your child go through it is honestly way more tortuous than going through it yourself.
In this day and age of bully sensitivity and positive action activities at school, the kids are taught pretty early on that words hurt. But they’re still kids. And big kids are mean, especially when the groups start forming. Ryley has always been well-liked by his classmates. He’s athletic, he’s smart, he’s a good kid, he reaches out when other kids need it. But even he has had hurtful words tossed his way. At the beginning of the school year last year, some kid told him he had skinny legs. That’s the reason Ryley will NOT wear shorts to school unless we absolutely insist upon it (ie when it’s 90+ degrees outside). Words stick with you. I still remember being called an awful name in fifth grade. It haunted me for years, and while I laugh about it now, it can still be painful when I think of the effect it had on my young self. I would save my children that heartbreak if I could, but I know that it probably isn’t possible.
So yesterday the word “nerd” was used to describe Ryley, simply because he was talking about a positive action thing they’d had at school the other day. Now, I was a nerd in school. I’m very aware what a nerd is. While Ry does very well in school, and is a rule-follower, I would not expect anyone to call him a nerd. But I guess that’s the mother lion coming out in me. I hurt for him yesterday. Even though he’s getting to the age of not really wanting hugs and kisses from his parents, he sat on my lap, my arms wrapped around him, as we talked about what happened. I told him about all the wonderful qualities I see and admire in him. We talked about not being able to control what other people would say or do to us, but how we can control how we react to them. I also told him that sometimes the people we’re closest to are going to disappoint us, and that they have the capability to hurt us more than anyone else because they know us the best. In the end, words are words, but they can cause significant pain, especially in a sensitive nine-year old.
I want my kids to be confident of their abilities, confident of my love for and pride in them. More than that, I want them to be secure and confident in themselves. I guess I can’t control that though. And I certainly cannot control what other kids will say to them. Gone are the days of me being there 24/7 to watch over them and protect them. With age comes independence. With independence comes the chance of bad things happening. The words used against my children hurt more than the words used against me when I was a child. I guess I just wasn’t expecting how much that would hurt. In the end, I have to remind myself of the same lesson…..I can’t control what other kids are going to say and do to my children. I can control how I react, and how I build my children back up when they come home crying.