Wednesday, May 23, 2012
in this moment ... (stories from the trenches of motherhood)
... I have been feeling pretty dammed edgy. Chewing tinfoil kind of edgy. Furtively looking over my shoulder and not sure whether I want to jump, or push someone off the bridge kind of edgy.
Part of my emotional exhaustion is due to the Husband being absent for the past two weeks. Well, not completely absent. I believe that lump that I kick in the bed ever night is him, but I could not swear before a jury that I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. He's working on a all-consuming project which has him body and soul. And that means the hyenas of life are circling around me, teeth barred in crazy, flesh hungry leers and they are moving in closer and closer.
There is this Far Side cartoon that very accurately captures my experience of life. In it a white bearded figure, God, is standing before a kitchen table and on the table is a globe of the earth. God is holding a salt shaker over the earth and the caption reads "And just to make it interesting ..." The salt shaker is labeled "jerks" and God is smiling that same hyena smile.
In this moment, that is how my world looks and feels.
With only one and a half days left of school, Cowgirl informs me a boy on the playground is telling her that he "hates China" and "hates Chinese people." Now, for the uninitiated, unraveling and decoding the tales of a first grader is pretty tricky stuff. What was said and what was heard occupy distant ends of a spectrum. Notions of "always" and "never" are murky and fluid concepts. What constitutes "telling an adult" is open for debate.
But in my emotionally depleted state, I'm just not capable of tolerating any kind of shit. Saying you hate an entire country or group of people is just trash talk and I want my girl to know that while we cannot stop it, we will not tolerate it.
It is the first time we've really had to deal with racism (and for the record, I do think the kid is just being a punk and doesn't understand the implications of what he is saying.) I say "we" but it isn't we. It is my girl. As hard as I try, I do not stand in her shoes,nor understand what it means to occupy her caramel-colored skin. I tell her kids made fun of me because of my red hair and because I was overweight. It's not the same, but I want to reinforce to her the notion that people go for the most obvious things like skin color, hair, eyes, teeth when it comes to being mean. I tell her people will always pick on other people. That when people feel bad about themselves, they want to push those bad feelings out and onto other people. I want to teach her compassion and forgiveness but in my irritation and exhaustion I feel only anger and frustration.
I say that to justify what came out of my mouth next. Casting about for words to give her, I told her to tell the kid he was being hateful. "If he says it again, tell him 'that is a lot of hate' and then walk away" I counseled. When she seemed unconvinced of that strategy, I added "Tell him what he said is hateful and Jesus heard him and is disappointed."
Okay, so I might have said "Tell him Jesus is pissed." I'm not sure. I was very tired.
This morning I had a little time before school to think while I walked the dog. (Have I mentioned I am the only one walking the dog these past few weeks - along with being the only one making dinner, doing bath and bedtime, school drop off and pick up, slaying the occasional orcs that pop up - which accounts for a large part of my exhaustion and diminished mental state?) When I got back I told Cowgirl I had been thinking about it and that there are people you just can't argue or reason with and it is best to not engage if at all possible. I told her there are people who try to steal your power and engaging with them is just one way that they try to gain power and take energy you from you. (Having played many Lego Star Wars, Batman and Harry Potter Wii games, she understands this notion of energy or life force and the need to guard and replenish.) I said the best thing is to tell him he is being hateful and hurtful and to leave you alone. And if he won't leave you alone, then to go tell an adult. And if that teacher doesn't do anything, tell another one. And if that teacher does nothing, tell me and I will go in and tell the principal.
I ended up email her teacher about the situation and copying the school counselor. The danger in contacting the school is similar to making one too many claims on your home owner's insurance: they'll honor the first claim, then drop your coverage when they believe you've become "a problem." The counselor responded immediately so I think we're in the credible camp, for now.
Cowgirl greeted me after school with an immediate update on the situation: the boy and his friend continued with the "I hate China" taunts (which are beginning to sound like "I hate the New York Yankees" kind of rants) but now the situation has taken on a kind of science experiment vibe. "I told him he was being ignorant mom." (oh yeah, I guess I did say that as well.) "What did he do then?" I asked. "He didn't know what it means" Cowgirl responded, with a hint of a smile. "Well," I said, " that proves he really IS ignorant."
It's like we are testing various hypotheses upon him, trying to figure out what is driving his behavior. "Maybe he does like me," Cowgirl suggested after I mentioned sometimes when boys like you they act all stupid; or maybe he is jealous of her mad monkey bar skills. (After the initial sturm und drang Cowgirl casually mentioned he is smaller than her and she is small compared to most of her classmates. Of course I've been envisioning a beefy midwest football player with a crew cut when in reality he may be more an Owen Meanie squeaky voice pasty faced squirt.) "He may be jealous of my lovely brown skin," she suggested. (I kid not - she did refer to her skin as "lovely" which proves she is listening even when she is rolling her eyes at my declarations of her talents, intelligence and beauty.)
Later that night Cowgirl had martial arts class. She is in the advanced class now which means she is sparring with much taller and somewhat older kids. When she suits up into her sparring gear, she looks very much like a Stormtrooper from Star Wars except she is the Lego version. This night the instructor had the kids sparring with the older boys who have their black belts. It was ludicrous at first; Cowgirl came up to the waist of one boy who could hold her off by placing his hand upon her helmet. Her usual tactic is to run circles around her opponent. It looks like a baby Stoogies routine.
So Cowgirl was using her usual tactic which is to run away when suddenly, above the blast of the music, there came a voice. "Go Cowgirl! You can get him! Kick Cowgirl, kick him!"
One of the students who has known Cowgirl for years is an autistic boy just a little bit older than her. His family is the sweetest family from Africa and the changes in this boy's behavior over the years is awe inspiring. He is one belt ahead of Cowgirl. He always greets her, his voice just a wee bit loud and insistent and she thinks nothing of his sometimes aggressive behavior. She will always high five him even when he doesn't raise his hand to meet hers. This night he was her cheerleader.
He really got into it. His voice louder, his commands more precise. "Roundhouse kick!" "Side punch!" And the beautiful thing was, she began to follow his instructions. She punched, she kicked, she added a couple of flying leap kicks which usually had her landing on her bum. But she got back up and his voice guided her. "You've got him!" he yelled triumphantly when the older boy was finally disarmed by the enthusiasm of his mini opponents.
I know the playground incident is the first of many such events. I tell myself I survived childhood and my teens and I was not nearly as strong-willed, determined and fearless as my girl is. I try to remember that it was through challenge that I discovered my strength and gifts. That being an underdog taught me compassion and adaptability. And the most important lessons are ones we are both learning: that not everyone will like us and that's okay because we don't need to like everyone either. But we do need to like and believe in ourselves enough to stand up and give voice to what we need, what we believe is right and say how it is we want to be treated.
More importantly, we are both learning to ask for help. We are discovering support is all around us and that we can never predict who will come to our aid, but if we ask and if we trust, someone will always be there to cheer us on. This is the gift bullies unknowingly give to us: knowledge of our real friends. Our friends may be a raggle taggle group, but they are loyal and true and they are there, by our sides in support. Ultimately, it is the bullies who hurt themselves, hurt their hearts and spirit with every mean word they utter. We talk about this and I truly believe it. My girl's heart is strong and brave and true. And this mama and her friends will be there to remind her of this truth.