TH went to the pool yesterday with his cousins, and as we arrived, we saw two of his "friends" from school. They're children who've come to TH's birthday parties, with whom he has had playdates, whom we have talked about as though they are his friends. One of the children immediately began taunting TH, saying within seconds of our arrival that TH is "all talk and no brains."
For unclear reasons, some children feel perfectly comfortable, perfectly OK, saying things like this in front of me, the parent. I'm sick of it, and I'm tired of pretending like it's all right, oh, they're just boys, oh, it's OK, oh, kids just say stuff sometimes,...oh, no, see how easygoing I am and not protective or uptight on behalf of my son whom your son just called a brainless idiot or stupid or moron or whatever the latest epithet is? See how we just roll with these punches on our son's behalf so that we don't close down potential social interactions for him? See how we don't act like "ourselves" for his sake? See how we don't pick your child up by the back of his swimsuit and throw him into the swimming pool when he calls our son an idiot? I said to the child in the calmest tone I could muster, "I do not like it when you say things like that about my son." He seemed unmoved.
Later, in the pool, TH was puttering around among his cousins with his goggles and surfaced to breathe. At just that moment, these two boys shot him in the face with a pair of enormous waterguns they'd brought with them to the pool. TH said, "Hey! Don't shoot me in the face!" and the boy with the low opinion of TH's brains responded, "We'll stop doing that when you stop bullying us."
TH wasn't even interacting with them--I'd been watching the entire time. I know exactly why this child said this. He's learned it from other quarters as part of an identity for TH. He's been told that my son is a "bully," which would be laughable were it not so...ironic...so painfully the opposite of true. So based in ignorance about this deeply sweet, deeply good-natured child, this giant of a boy who never gets angry or even upset, not when his baby brother bites him (hard) or even when he (finally) figures out that people are teasing him. Maybe I'm blind to his real faults? No. I know what they are, and sadism is not among them.
I was furious at the implications I could see so clearly and helplessly angered that my son couldn't even understand what was going on right in front of his face. Any bullying situation involves the bullying triad: the bully, the bullied, and the bystander. What makes the difference in outcome is the bystander. As both bystander and parent-who-had-had-enough, I quickly moved between the boys and told TH to swim near me for the remainder of our time in the pool. This child tried a couple of more times to lure TH into some game designed to dupe my son into thinking they were "friends," and each time, I stepped in and interfered. It's painful to see their intent so clearly while also seeing that TH just does not get it, might never really get it, even as the teasing and mockery escalate. Owie.
I hate this. I hate watching smartass little kids mock and tease and dupe my son, and it's something that happens a lot. We haven't interfered that much in the past because...hey, this is all about learning social skills, right? Gotta learn the good from the bad, know the bad to understand what's good, right? But I'm not going to pretend that it's OK or "just kids," and I'm not going to be all sweet and nice about it just because we're at our neighborhood pool and I don't want to make waves in an adult world while my son is flooded with mockery in his.
What I do know is that I've got no plans to leave TH floundering in these situations, unable to navigate his way out of them. I'm not going to pretend any more that I'm easygoing about it all and that he needs to "learn" how to deal with crap like this. I. Am. Not. Easygoing. About. It. This probably does not surprise anyone who actually knows me.
My son is supposed to be the one with "social skills" issues, the one who doesn't know how to behave "normally" around his peer group, the one who doesn't "get it." If that means that he doesn't act like these boys, that is just fine with me. But let's not pretend that there's something "normal" and "OK" about their behavior, either. In fact, let's not pretend about it at all.