We are a family of pacifists by any stretch of definition; my husband, 6’4” and 300 pounds, has never hit anyone in his life. I got in a fight in fourth or fifth grade when another girl called me an egghead. Otherwise, nothing. Our laid back, quiet family is such that our first son, Cole, spent his early years confused by kids who were aggressive on the playground. It was so outside his experience that he’d come back, flabbergasted, asking why a person would push him.
Cole’s in third grade at a school focused on science and engineering. It’s a public school but a specialized one. He loves it and I love that they are all a bunch of nerds running around together, oblivious to the fact that not everyone talks about computer coding while playing soccer.
A few days ago I got an email from Cole’s teacher. There had been an incident. The kids were standing in line to go to lunch when Girl behind my son started punching him in the back. In his version, “I told on her,” he cried, life went on. At the end of the day, Girl came over to apologize; Cole was sitting down, she stood above him, said sorry, then gently slapped his face.
Immediate thoughts as I read this email with several hours left in the school day: should I go get him and rescue him? Can this Girl be disappeared? Then, almost as quickly, have I done something to make my son a target?
See, this isn’t the first time. There was an earlier incident this year. Similar in that it was not a ‘fight’ but rather a random attack. In both cases, these are kids who have caused many issues—not just for Cole. But still—why my boy? My sweet boy who doesn’t even hit his little brother? Cole puts his feet on his brother Owen to annoy him—not kicking, just touching.
When I was a teenager, a girl at church slapped my sister. I don’t remember the whole thing, just that we had a family night learning how to throw a punch soon after. My mother was not thrilled with this learning opportunity but my dad held strong; better to know and not use such a skill.
Is that where we’re at? Do we need to teach the kid to punch? Cole’s that mellow boy who’s friends with everyone so I’ve assumed that kindness and human decency would be his super power. In fact, I think that niceness is why Girl hit him: she knew he wouldn’t hit her back.
Cole was less traumatized than I expected, indignant more than sad. He’s moved on but I’m still churned up about this violent encounter. Girl is being dealt with by the school in some fashion—I don’t know and probably shouldn’t know the details, though I have to resist asking.
We all worry about bullies and violence, in media and playgrounds, and I know there’s no perfect childhood. That doesn’t make it hurt any less to see my son have to deal with hitting in a place he’s supposed to feel safe.
Eliana Osborn was raised on cold weather and wild animals in Anchorage, Alaska, setting the stage for her adult life in the Sunniest Place on Earth in Arizona. She grew up in the church and didn't know there were places where conformity was preached. She has degrees. She writes. She teaches. She has some kids. She even has a husband. She's trying to do her best. Twitter: Eliana0Eliana. Website: elianaosborn.com.
Image credit: Art Crimes (used with permission).