The other day Luca and I got to his class in the morning and saw one of his classmates on the floor by his mom’s feet, face down and crying. A very common scene really, but it never ceases to break your heart, because on some days it’s your child at your feet begging you not to leave. As we sat on the bench outside the class to take our shoes off, and in hopes of avoiding contagion, I talked about the situation with Luca. I told him it looked like his friend was upset today, and that maybe it would cheer him up if Luca showed him the airplane he had brought along for show-and-tell that day.
Luca typically fails to show any sign that he’s heard what I said or that he’s interested, but most of the time, he later shows me that not only was he listening, but that he’s also memorized what I told him word for word. Amazing really. So we walk into class, and before even saying hello to his teacher and classmates, Luca goes straight to the corner where this child, we’ll call him John, was sitting in a chair by himself, looking very glum. “What’s wrong John?” Luca asked him. John didn’t look up, so Luca repeated: “What’s the matter John? Are you okay?”
And that’s when it happened. John got up angrily, gave Luca a violent shove almost knocking him down, and screamed something very angry at him as he ran to get a hug from the teacher, who missed the action in the corner of the class. Luca paused and then started yelling in frustration, and that was what caught everyone’s attention. He didn’t cry though, and he didn’t seem too upset about the situation, which surprised me a little. I on the other hand, was furious! I was hurt and disappointed! I wanted to smack that child for hurting my little boy, and for being so unfair when Luca was just showing him empathy! Of course, I didn’t smack the child. But I did grab Luca, brought him closer to John and the teacher, and told him not to let John or anyone shove him again, and to tell John that he didn’t like what happened and that he shouldn’t do it again (that’s a technique the teacher uses with the kids to resolve matters such as these and keep clashes under control). I was loud when I told Luca all of these things because I wanted John to hear what I had to say. I wanted the teacher to know what had happened and whose fault it was. I wanted the whole world to know that my wonderful child had been unfairly treated!
When I went to pick up Luca later that day, he ran to me in excitement telling me about his day. To my surprise, John ran out with him to tell me about his day as well. It looked like they had been playing together as if nothing had happened, while I, the 33-year-old, still held a little grudge. Now I know most people would say that kids find ways to resolve their differences and quickly forget. That’s probably true for most kids, but not my kid. My kid gets deeply hurt, and unfortunately he doesn’t forget quickly. He will tell and re-tell a story of something someone said or did to hurt him. But this time, he just got over it, and that’s a good thing of course! I’m still not sure why though. It might be that he expected this kind of reaction from John who frequently cries and shoves others in class. It might be that he was well rested and in a good enough mood to take on a dispute with a classmate. It might also be that his understanding of the world and the people in it is growing, making him more resistant to the hurt these may cause. I am secretly hoping it was that last one.
When you have kids, your number one desire is to protect them from everything! And by everything I mean anything that might either pose a real danger, or anything that might hurt them even just a little bit. Things like weather, sickness, malnutrition, falls, pesticides, potential war, cars, violence, choking, dehydration, zombie apocalypse or apocalypse of any sort really (you heard me), smoke and smog, lightening, drowning, broken glass on floors, falling nuts from trees… You want to protect them from other kids, from other people, from getting their feelings hurt, from low self esteem, from poor self image, from failure, from the world. Your desire to protect will turn you into a crazy person you never thought you’d be. On top of taking the necessary and rational precautions to avoid most potential accidents, you start doing things that you think just might help like knocking on wood, putting up one of those blue evil eyes, building a holy shrine in their room, chanting, starting to pray if you didn’t before and praying more if you prayed before.
When he was younger, Luca never really liked it when other kids were around. It wasn’t until very recently that he started playing with kids his age. It started at the compound we moved into five months ago and continued at school. He started approaching kids at the playground, on the bus, in the mall, sometimes just to say hello, sometimes to show them the toy he’s got, and sometimes trying to spontaneously initiate a game of tag. And being emotional, highly aware and pretty mature for his age, Luca’s approach is similar to that of an 8-year-old. He typically approaches others with a “Hello! How are you? My name is Luca, what’s your name?”, which may seem much too forward for kids his age, leaving them either dumbfounded, or worse, giving them way to be mean. I sit there and watch sometimes, and my heart breaks because I know I can’t protect him from this, and because he’s trying so damn hard.
I myself being a sensitive person, I sometimes see myself in my son. And sometimes I catch myself getting angry with him for being a certain way because, indirectly, I am angry with myself for having been that way. I had it rough growing up, not being able to make friends easily, avoiding school outings and parties, sometimes being subject to bullying, mockery or rejection by the stronger more confident kids. And I cannot tolerate the thought of having my son go through that too. But this is how the world works, you’ve got your good and you’ve got your bad, and I can’t protect him from the world. But I can prepare him for it. I was a highly sensitive child and I’m pretty happy with the way I turned out. I am strong, confident and in control, most of the time anyway. I am the way am because of the things I went through, and because of my own mom and dad… Thanks Mom and Dad! And I have to say that I see an incredible strength in Luca that I wish I had growing up. At our first parent teacher meeting, after the teacher had told us about all the progress Luca had made since he started, I had to ask the question. I had to know if he was being bullied by other kids in his class. And what she told me gave me goose bumps all over: “Luca doesn’t allow himself to be bullied.” At the age of almost four, he puts out his arm and tells a bully to just stop! She left me speechless and with a big stupid smile on my face.
I have watched my little boy go from completely hating crowds to trying to make friends with random kids. I have watched him get rejected by kids who didn’t want to play with a stranger, I have seen older kids chase him and yell out mean things, and I have seen others ignore him or just walk away. And I have watched my little boy get back up every single time and try again, and again, and again. One cannot but admire such perseverance, such strength, such courage. I feel a little more reassured that despite being highly sensitive, he does have the right tools to make the most of this wild world of ours that I can’t protect him from. And having made the journey myself as a sensitive person, maybe without even knowing it, I have already protected him a little.
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