Step Up

The last two afternoons, HD and I have ventured out on Mama & Harrison dates after lunch while the Littles (and quite possibly Ben) napped. Yesterday we left for our date hand-in-hand with HD saying, “Mama, I love being your date.” I know in ten years I’m not likely to get anything close like that from him, so I was totally head-over-heels in love with the whole thing. Apparently he was, too, because he told Ben before bed last night that he wanted to get rest so he could go on another date with Mama the next day. Seriously?! How freaking sweet is that? Of course I was totally on board.

For today’s date, we ended up at a McDonald’s with a play structure in it so I could get an iced coffee and he could play. He saw the play set when we drove by yesterday and I promised we could stop today since we couldn’t then. He was so jazzed to go check it out and because he is who is he, he instantly started playing with the other kids who happened to be there. That’s just Harrison. For as long as I can remember, he’s been willing to go up to anybody anywhere and make friends. He just wants to play and that’s it. Doesn’t really matter how old the kid is or what they look like. He’s got a big heart and a lot of energy and he just wants to play.

Today’s new playmate happened to be a little girl the same size as Harrison but who was clearly older (tall kid problems….not even five yet and people are always shocked to hear he’s not six) and her sister, also about HD’s size but also older. They were there with their grandma and mom who was sitting right next to the play set, feeding their little brother who looked to be somewhere between RL and LT’s ages. I mention all of these details because they eventually mattered quite a bit to our experience this afternoon.

Everything went fine at first, and the kids were playing and running because that is the point of the play area at McDonald’s. At one point the other mom scolded her daughter for shrieking, but I thought, whatever; as long as people were following the kind/fair rules, I was good with it. Eventually, though, I could hear Harrison saying something like, “I don’t like that” or “That’s not kind” and something about “break in the action” because the one girl was teasing him. Mad props to my kid. He didn’t hit. He didn’t yell. He took it in stride and stood up for himself using his words calmly and controlled.

Because Harrison was still smiling and playing, I let the situation run its course for a bit. Eventually the kids ended up right in front of where I was sitting and at this point the girl’s sister joined them and she asked how old Harrison was. “I’m seven” she said with the most superiority a seven y/o can muster, and Girl No.1, who had already had this conversation with HD said, “I am older than you, too.” And sweet Harrison? He responded by saying, “Yeah, but there are other people like me. Other people are four, too.” Which, translated, was him saying, “Yes, I’m different but I’m not alone and it doesn’t make you better than me.” Again, mad props to my kid. No anger. Just being himself.

Without skipping a beat, Girl No.1 says, “Well, I hate you and nobody likes you.”

I’m sorry. WHAT?! I about fell off my chair when I heard her say that. And her mother, who was still sitting right there feeding the little brother, in plain range to hear all of this, did nothing. I stood up to make sure Harrison was OK, and as the other sister ran away, Girl No.1 stopped right in front of Harrison, telling him again that no one liked him, and bumped her belly out to bump HD. That’s when my Mama Bear side took over.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Please stop touching and talking to him like that.” As she scampered off (and her mother still said NOTHING), I put my hand on Harrison’s shoulder and asked if he was OK. He made a comment about not liking what they had said and I answered with a (loud enough for everyone to hear), “I know, Buddy. That wasn’t nice and it wasn’t kind. You don’t have to be around that.” And I said it loudly on purpose because clearly their mom, who was so concerned about the shrieking, did not care at all that her daughters were teasing and tormenting and physically acting out toward a younger kid (not that it would be OK against an older kid, either). I wanted them to hear, to know, that going around spreading hate – literally – is unacceptable.

Fortunately they packed up within five minutes and left which allowed HD to play on his own a bit before another little girl and her brother showed up who turned out to be much better playmates. We hung around for another ten minutes or so and then continued on to the next part of our date, but man, the whole thing sent me on a weird vibe for a greater part of the afternoon.

In the immediate after, right when they left, I called Harrison over to sit next to me so we could talk about it and I told him I was sorry that the girls said those things and that I loved him. Later, a good hour after we had left, I brought it up again just to make sure he was OK. When I told him that it wasn’t true what they said, my heart broke a little when he looked up at me with his beautiful hazel eyes and asked, “It’s not?” Oh. Em. Gee. My sweet, sweet boy. Of course not! I told him that no way was what they said true. That he’s awesome and that so many people love him. That I love him forever and always. And he smiled and said, “Oh, good. That makes me glad. I love you, too, Mama.” And while that final part of the exchange healed my heart a bit, the whole experience made me want to stick him in a bubble and preserve his heart and keep him shielded from all the people out there who don’t know how to treat others. But since that’s not an option, we have to find a way to teach our kids what we believe: that there is good in the world, that you get what you give, that being kind to others always matters. Of course we are going to encounter evil and hate and negativity in this world and in this life. That is life. But how we respond and how we move forward speaks volumes about our own hearts and character and can hopefully have positive impacts on others.

Do I think today’s exchange at McDonald’s changed those girls or their mom for the better? Sadly, probably not. But the whole thing gave me an opportunity to remind my son of how special and how loved he is today and every day, and it gave me a fire in my belly to remind other people and parents that our presence is crucial. Is my kid perfect? Far from it, but you can bet if I see him speaking or acting unkindly to another person, I am going to interfere. I am going to call him out on it and if he doesn’t change the behavior, he’ll be removed from the situation. I’m all for kids working out stuff on their own as much as they can, but you’ve got to be kidding me. We have to BE the parents here, people. We have to teach them that words are not just words and that it doesn’t mean nothing when a six or seven year-old says, “I hate you. Nobody likes you.” Words are our best tools and our worst weapons. They matter. And it matters that we teach our babies how to use them properly. I don’t care if you are a helicopter, tiger, attachment, or Ferber parent. But by God, I do care if you can’t or won’t step up to correct your kid when they do something wrong. When kids test these limits, we must teach them the boundaries. We belong to each other. It is our responsibility to give as much love to each other as possible. Love does not mean being a push over. Love does not mean being weak. Love means respect. Our children must learn this from us.

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