This weekend youngest son was belittled. Not just in a hormone-driven-middle-school-hallway-lashing-out-because-you’re-there kind of way. By adults. Purposefully.
I did not hop right up and go out there and dress them down. I didn’t knock on their door and demand reparations. Later, I thought of writing one of those open letters. The kind addressed to a certain category of person that the writer expects people to read and identify with, but that category of person never reads nor identifies. But, that’s not where I ended up. And, as a result, I have ended up here: I failed.
This is what happened: Sunday afternoon youngest son took the dog out. When he did so, evidently one of our neighbors (we have lots – we live in a condo) thought that the way that son was preventing dog from eating everything on the ground was too rough. (It may have been; I wasn’t there. Dalmatians will eat everything they sniff if we aren’t careful, and then they poop it out in unexpected ways and places – in short, it’s not pretty, and as they say: an ounce of prevention.)
Well, these adult neighbors yelled at youngest son, called him “princess,” and “little shit” threatened to “take your dog away.” Not teenagers. Adults.
Son came inside. Reported this to me and my response was, “What did you do?” I do try to get as many sides to the story as possible. He told me he had forcefully pushed the dog away from eating dirt and pulled him into the house. I had him demonstrate. Okay. “What did you say back to them?” I asked.
At this point he broke down in tears. “Mom, you don’t get it. They were grown-ups. They were mean to me.” He wanted me to hurl invectives and threaten bodily harm should their eyes ever glance our direction again. He didn’t realize that adults can be real bastards even (sometimes especially) to kids. He needed me to don my boxing gloves and knock some heads. Kick some ass. “Mom, what’re you gonna do?” was his plaintive sob.
Indeed, what was I going to do? What was I going to do? I talked through the situation with him; I coached him on alternative responses he might use for future reference; I hugged him; I scolded the dog for being a bottom-dwelling scum sucker.
What I didn’t do was go seek an altercation with these neighbors. That’s what son wanted me to do. And, on one hand, I feel like maybe I should have. On the other hand, I feel like people spoiling for a fight don’t deserve to get what they want.
You see the world seems extra full of people who are looking for something to complain about – something to fight about – something to litigate about – something to bitch about. I don’t want to be one of those people; I don’t want my sons to be those kinds of people. Furthermore, I don’t want to encourage or indulge those people. I want them to be shut down because the world refuses to interact with them on that low level at which they operate.
That’s all well and good. As I re-read and revise this, I realize that I am right. I also realize that – by son’s standards – I failed him. He wanted me to stand up for him that afternoon by going toe-to-toe with these adult bullies.
The thing is, though, that in doing that, I would have modeled behavior I don’t believe in; and, sinking to the lowest common denominator cannot be the answer (despite how certain political candidates act). So, I forced him to look for lessons he could learn from this situation. I encouraged him to consider his actions and reactions. We even talked about what he might have said to someone if he were the adult.
I can stand up to bullies. I will stand up to bullies, but I sincerely hope the people across the street were just having a bad day. I’m trying to cultivate daisies instead of thistles.