Since I wrote about the boy back in June, I’ve found myself silently observing him more, taking time to measure up his words and look for undercurrents. And I don’t know if it’s just because I am more aware of his similarities to me, or if he is changing, but he seems to have grown a skin too few.
I said before that we have the same routine each morning when I drop him off at school, the hug, the kiss, the ‘Love you’ , another hug, the turning round to make the heart gesture at me. But last week, the final hug was lasting for longer and longer. I was having to prompt him to let go with ‘Come on, you’ll be late, there’s the bell, have a great day, love you.’ And I could see from his reluctance to say goodbye that something was wrong, although when he spoke to me about his day at school there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. But it was taking longer and longer to get him to go inside.
On Tuesday, I had to take him into the cloakroom before he would release me.
On Wednesday, I had to walk him to the classroom door.
On Thursday, he still clung to me at the classroom door, and I ended up ripping a page out of my diary, writing him a little note to take in with him, telling him how much I loved him and all the good qualities he has, so if he felt sad during the day he could read it and feel better.
All he would say about it was that he was missing me when he was at school, and he didn’t like saying goodbye. Yeah, nice try, I think it’s more than that. So after school on Thursday I sat down with him, and managed to coax the truth out of him. The New Girl.
She’s been mentioned a few times, usually when The Boy is recounting something that’s annoyed him, and from what he’s said, it sounds as though being new has made her feel vulnerable, so she’s trying to establish a reputation for being a bit tough. Usually by causing problems for other children – kicking them, nicking their stuff, lying to the teachers about them, that sort of thing. The Boy’s been on the receiving end of it a few times, and my advice has been to ignore it, don’t respond, don’t give her the attention she wants when she’s being ‘bad’, but say nice things when she’s behaving better. Classic parenting advice from the school of pop psychology, along with, ‘Really, we should feel sorry for The New Girl, because she must be really unhappy with herself. You’re happy with who you are, so you don’t need to be nasty to other people.’ Yes, I actually said that. If I’d said ‘I think she’s jealous’ I would have won Middle Class Parental Advice Bingo.
I very gently asked him if he was upset because she’d done something to him. And yes, she had, but it was also his friends. His friends were being hurt. And with tears in his eyes, The Boy burst out ‘It’s not fair! She made Other Children cry yesterday! I don’t care what she does to me, but she’s upsetting everyone in my class!’. I gulped back a few tears myself at that, and we agreed that I would speak to his teacher on Friday.
So, feeling stupidly nervous, I went to see Mr G for the first time on Friday afternoon, reminding myself not to bark ‘Michael Gove’s Cumface!’ as a greeting. I needn’t have worried. The Boy’s teacher only qualified a year ago, and he’s ten years younger than me, but looks about twelve. I had to resist the urge to tell him to stand up straight and look grown ups in the eye. We had a quick chat, and without being unprofessional, he discreetly hinted that The New Girl had reasons for being The New Girl and that there were some ‘challenges’ to be dealt with. And then the killer blow ‘I know The Boy is a very sensitive little chap, his teacher from last year made specially sure to let me know that he takes things very much to heart. I’ll be keeping an eye on him.’
So it’s not just my imagination. Other people see it too. And I’m worried. Because being the type of person who takes things too much to heart myself, I know how a simple throwaway comment that would barely register with most people stays with me. The one thing I’ve always tried to instil in my children is confidence, having been crippled by a lack of it myself. And it seems that whilst The Boy has the confidence to stand up to people, he has developed a tendency to take the weight of the world on his shoulders and let other peoples problems become his.
I know that being a sympathetic person isn’t a bad thing, I should be proud of The Boy for caring about other people. But my concern is that by focussing too much on how other people feel and react, he’s going to always put himself last, just as he used to when he lived in his cousin’s pocket. And I want him to know that he is the most important person in his life, that it is ok to be selfish, up to a point, and he doesn’t have to fight on other people’s behalves.
Take The Girl for example. One morning I was taking The Blondies and a classmate of The Girl to school (favour for a friend). The Girl was making up stupid jokes (‘What did the tree say to the cat? Aflimflam! AHAHAHA!’) and her classmate piped up ‘The Girl, your jokes are stupid and you’re not funny. If you don’t stop it, I won’t invite you to my party!’ The Girl just shrugged and carried on making up jokes. The Boy looked at me, aghast, his mouth a perfect O. Then: ‘Classmate, that’s a really horrible thing to say. The Girl would never say something like that to you! You should say sorry for hurting her feelings.’ (The Girl was at this point minutely inspecting a bogey she’d harvested, sublimely oblivious). I distracted them all by pointing at something, and considered it forgotten. Until…
The following morning. ‘Mum? Are we taking Classmate to school today?’ ‘No, why?’ ‘Because she was so horrible to The Girl yesterday! What she said was really nasty, and she said it just to be mean!’ And every time we took Classmate to school after that, I could see The Boy watching her balefully, clearly on guard in case she said anything he could construe as ‘being mean’. Yes, I was proud of him for defending his sister, but at what cost to his ? Especially when the intended recipient of the remarks was wholly unbothered by them.
And this wasn’t an isolated incident. It happens most days, from what I can see. And I don’t want him to necessarily toughen up, or change who he is, I just want for him not to feel things so intensely. I don’t want him to have a skin too few.
(I've been blogging more than normal lately. It's because of this post. It's taken me over a week to write it, and I'm not sure why I've struggled so much with it, but in an effort to distract myself from it, I was happy to seize upon anything else to write about).