Yesterday my son came back from the park, mortified. Something which he found really embarrassing happened to him (I won’t say what), and it was in front of the older kids, who all laughed at him.
He felt hurt and ashamed. It was the first time I had seen him like this. It was like he’d just crossed the line from the innocence of infancy into that darker sphere of childhood, where slipping up on social norms could whip you, leaving welts on your psyche, if you did not adhere to them exactly.
It cracked my heart a little. Could I go down to the park and talk to the older boys, make clear what had happened and how it could have happened to anyone of them? No way, he said, panicking, that will make it much worse, please don’t do that. I tried to make light of it then, saying – it’s no big deal, don’t even think about it anymore. It is a big deal to me! he said, his eyes widening. I was as hurt as he was, I think. I remember well that feeling of being laughed at by other children, when something out of the ordinary happened. Do you want to talk about it? I said. He shook his head. A tear rolled down his bronzed cheek. We were all quiet for a moment, then his little brother announced: They weren’t laughing at me.
I just wish it hadn’t happened Mama, whispered my eldest, graciously ignoring the younger’s unhelpful statement. He went off to flick through a book, even though he can’t read yet; it always makes him feel better.
I watched him as he mouthed out sibilant sounds to himself, making up stories he thought might match the pictures. I know, I know, my child, I thought. I wish it hadn’t happened to you either. I wish I could protect you from anything bad happening to you – hurtful things, sad things, embarrassing stuff, painful moments. Anything worse. Everything sharp and sore. I wish I could stand in front of you, your protector always, taking all your hits for you, so you wouldn’t have to feel any of the spikes you will inevitably feel when life hurls its taps and punches, tiny and enormous, toward you.
But I can’t. And I won’t. How else would you grow?