Today a boy at school called you some very mean names. You answered right back with names just as mean. I saw them on your lips right before you turned to come to the car. I saw your hurt in the way you walked and the quiver of the lips which you pressed so tightly together. I had less than a minute to decide what words I would first speak to you so that I could learn what happened. I wondered if I would have to coax and pry in order to convince you to let me help you with the drama you had experienced. I also felt the weight of my responsibility to teach you how to handle the cruelty of others without being vicious yourself. It is such a hard thing to do. I know.
Your story spilled forth and it was clear that while you were not completely at fault, neither were you totally innocent in the confrontation. I admire the way that you stand up for yourself, completely unafraid of these boys that are older than you. You and I both know you could beat them in a physical altercation despite the fact that they are larger, but you did not hit or kick. You held back. You matched words with words only. This represents a level of restraint in you that I my heart applauds even while seeking the right words to suggest that perhaps the higher course is to answer hard words with softer ones.
It became clear as we talked that your biggest fear was other children would believe the words this boy said to you. You want to have others think well of you. I wish for your sake that reputation was entirely in your control, but it is not. However it is possible to watch others and learn how to shift so that they do not have power over you any more. You are strong enough and smart enough to make his words irrelevant. This is not the same as pretending to ignore them, though the actions look the same. We talked about this for quite a long time, but I know you don’t quite get it yet.
My heart hurts for you. I don’t want you to have to deal with hard words. Part of me wants to swoop into the school and demand that you be kept safe. If this proves to be a pattern instead of an incident, I will do that. I’ll do it half for his sake, because if you go to war against this poor kid, you’ll win. I don’t want you to experience such a bitter and angry victory. I would much rather you learned lessons of personal strength and inner peace. I wish I knew the exact words to teach them to you, but I suspect these things can only be grown, not taught.
Tomorrow will be another day and hopefully it will all have blown over as so many of these childhood altercations do. But if it hasn’t, know that I love you and I’ll be here, no matter what.