My son came home from preschool one day and said a boy was mean to him. I tried to get some specifics — what did he do? Did he say something? Take away a toy? My son didn't explain much. I tried not to worry.
He came home another day and another and said the same thing. Then, the following school day, he didn't want to go to school. “Because of the mean boy.”
He always wanted to go to preschool. Now this. Does it really start this early? Before Kindergarten? My chest hurt. It didn't sound like the boy was doing anything beyond excluding my son or teasing him — distressing in a mother's eyes, but stuff that, unfortunately, happens to everyone.
Still, his unhappiness was my fault. I didn't know how to raise a boy.
Kindness is my tenet. More than success. More than intelligence. Definitely more than competitiveness. We've all heard that “nice guys finish last.” It's true. Nice guys often do. They can face themselves in the mirror in the morning, though. They can cast forward to being eighty and know that none of their regrets will have to be people. This is what I tell myself.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou said this; I believe her. Why are we here, if not to create a collective of good lives lived? Except now, my son, at just five, is on the receiving end of feeling bad. What will happen at six? At ten? At fourteen? I doubt myself. Boys are supposed to be tough. I am making him too softhearted. I am doing him harm, teaching him to be kind when that is not a rule that everyone follows. What falls am I setting him up for? I am supposed to protect him.
Thank goodness for my husband. He has already pedaled his bike around the bends of boyhood. He can tell our son about “Richard,” the boy who used to pick on him in school. He can reassure me that this stuff happens and that our boy will get through it, that he'll learn to manage life's bullies. We've been reading the children's book One by Kathryn Otoshi, about standing up to meanies and making everyone count. My father, who was also once a boy, tells me his grandson is smart. “He'll figure this stuff out fast,” he says.
On Monday morning, my son runs out to our car, getting ready to ride to school. “Mommy!” he yells. “Come look.” Behind our car is a slug, about an inch-and-a-half long, working its way across the driveway.
“It's a slug,” I say. I point out its little tentacles and how slowly it moves.
“We have to save it. You'll back over it.”
He's right. It is lined up with my wheels. “Let's get a leaf and move it.”
For the moment, he has forgotten the mean boy. He finds a large, fuzzy leaf and we get the slug onto it. “Put it way in the grass,” he says, his eyes assessing the distance between the car and safety. I do. Once he's buckled into his booster seat, he checks one more time. “You're not going to back up in the grass, right Mommy?”
“No,” I say. “The slug is safe.”
On the way to school, I realize: There will be bullies and heartache, whether he's kind or not. So I want this son. The one who saved a slug before school. He already has things figured out. And I do know something about raising a boy.