I was a shy child. The girl who clung to her mother's leg and peeked from behind for a glance at the adults towering above. I had a big sister. And in the one instance when oranges were thrown at me by neighbor kids and stuck in my hair, I stood mute and walked away. I told my big sister and she was the one who defended me. She was the one who spoke up.
I was also very skinny and always had a runny nose, but that really isn't pertinent to this story.
As I got older, I learned two things. One, that I had to learn to speak up and two, that though being kind always seemed like the perfect solution to me, it wasn't something everyone embraced.
Over the years, my voice has gained power, though I try to raise it above the din only when needed. I am more confident about what I have to say and care less about what other people think. This primarily has to do with my role as MOTHER. And so I speak...
There is a boy in our community who has no mother to speak for him and his father is brash at times but can be civil and gentle. This is background.
This boy, we will call Phil, is hanging out at the sports field unsupervised. And he comes to me asking if one of my sons is okay. (The two have been in social situations before and I know Phil's reputation for causing trouble. He is unsupervised often and as you know, too much freedom for a child is disastrous.)
I look for my son and find him surrounded by a group of children, some I know and some I do not. He is holding back tears.
Come with me.
He follows and shares that this boy, Phil, hurt him with one swift hard kick.
Would you like me to talk to him?
A faint nod.
I walk with him back over to the others and they say- It's okay. We've got his back. Nobody is gonna mess with him. This group of children loving and defending my son. My heart swells.
He is me all over again. Be kind to him and he will do anything. Be cruel and he will hold it tight.
I approach Phil and wonder at the idea that he was the one to tell me something was wrong, but didn't share that he'd caused it. I make him look me in the eyes and ask for the truth. Tell him I am speaking to him just as I would my own boys, ask him to choose the good and right thing. Tell him that confessing the truth and apologizing is the only way to make things right. He says- I don't know what happened. Sobs erupt, tears stream down his face. He shoves his fists in his eyes, tries to control it.
I glance back and see the gaggle of children watching. A woman I've seen, but don't know approaches. Apparently she has some authority at this field. Her arms are crossed, her lips drawn tight, her voice harsh.
What is going on here? What did he do?
Phil and I are talking. It's okay.
NO, I want to know what happened. We can kick him out of these fields.
The incident involved my son. I'd really like the opportunity to help Phil make things right.
She stands there. Arms crossed, lips drawn tight, eyes narrowed. I try to continue, but with this audience, Phil is a clam shut tight.
Could you please give us a minute?
She looks uncertain. I can tell she is weighing her power against mine. Then she looks me up and down and says- Tell me what happens when you're done.
We talk, he confesses. He complains that another boy beat him up and the father would do nothing. I explain that he has a reputation and that people no longer believe him, tell him the only way he can change his reputation is to start making good choices. He nods.
I tell my son about the conversation I've had with Phil. My son knows already that he must forgive. I don't need to say it. Phil apologizes and my son forgives. They shake hands and both smile. Not nervous smiles as I would have predicted, but relief smiles.
I walk away and realize that I may or may not have made an impact on this boy, but I have helped my son move past an experience he could have held onto. Instead, he is smiling and his shoulders are loose.
I go to the woman with the tight lips and arms crossed tight. She stands among others, waiting. They nod, don't smile, look at me like a crazy do-gooder who doesn't get that this boy is bad. I tell them that I won't be having this child at my house and my child will not be going to his, but if we as a community can take a moment to teach, then that is a good thing. I walk away knowing these are not my people.
Then, something I don't expect happens. The boy Phil claims beat him up (and I'm sure this boy got in a few good licks because he is tough and good and temperamental all at once and a good friend of my sons) walks toward Phil. I stop him, explain what Phil and I talked about and ask him to leave it alone. He agrees. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see him head toward Phil and I watch as he smiles and holds out his hand. Phil looks at him and places his hand in this boys palm. They shake hands and there are the genuine smiles again.
A child shouts- Let's go to the park- and that whole gaggle of kids run together toward the park.