Social Reckoning

Alex was being an a-hole. And he’s usually my easy kid. But he was relentlessly antagonizing Jack, he was shrieking at me when I told him it was time to brush his teeth, and he was crying about nothing.

Generally, when your kid is freaking out for no apparent reason and acting like a complete nightmare, it’s time to stop and ask…

“Alex, is something bothering you? Did something happen today at school?”

His answer was NO! and he went on acting insane. But half an hour after I got him to bed he called me:

“Dad!”

It was one of those times you can hear it in their voice. I had two friends over, but they’re dads too and they recognized the tone.

“What’s up, Alex?” I asked as I went into his room.

“Remember when you asked me if something happened today? Well…something did happen.”

“What happened?”

“At recess, Rachel won’t play with me. She only wants to play with Lisa and other girls and not me.” [I’m changing the names here]

“So you get left out?”

“I have to play by myself.”

“What about boys?” I asked. But I knew the answer already. See, nearly all of Alex’s friends are girls. I chalk it up to maturity on his part. Plus he doesn’t much like team sports – which makes the boys’ kickball-pit-of 3rd-grade-horrendous-sportsmanship the last place he wants to be. So what’s happening to poor Alex is that they boys and the girls are splitting up. They’re at the age where they’re becoming two hostile nations – which leaves my sweet Alex cast out and alone on the monkey bars for 25 minutes a day. And he doesn’t get it.

“Why?” he asked. “Why can’t boys and girls play together?”

And here I had a moment of true parent brilliance. I had no idea – but I knew someone who might be able to help.

“Jack!” I called. “Can you come into Alex’s?”

Jack walked into the dark bedroom. As I explained the situation to Jack, he climbed up onto the foot of Alex’s bed. All three of us on there.

“I don’t really know why,” Jack said. “But I can say that the popular boys are the ones who first start not liking girls – and then later they’re the first ones to start liking girls again.”

We spent a good 20 minutes in there talking, and I will tell you what: Jack was kind and thoughtful. He really helped. We talked about which boys Alex might try to be better friends with. And what I liked was that Jack didn’t ask which boys were popular and advise Alex to target them. Jack asked which boys were nice. Those were the boys Jack told Alex to make friends with.

Mostly, Alex just needed to talk it out. He needed some sympathy and some love. He wasn’t looking for us to solve it, I don’t think.

Your kids are going to go out and take their lumps socially. They’ll be picked on and made fun of, I suspect. And I don’t think it’s something you can prevent. Kids are going to be mean to Alex and hurt his feelings – and I’m not that sure how to help him through that.

I got this one right. But still I picture my little guy out there alone at the monkey bars during recess. I picture him standing and watching the girls run and laugh. I picture him wandering over to the boys’ kickball game and standing off to the side. I think of his neon yellow sneakers and his painted fingernails. I picture his face with his brown eyes. A little pit opens up in my stomach.

It’s hard to watch him go through this. Hmm…maybe Jack can give me some advice.

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