My 4-year-old can be a lot of things. He can be stubborn. He can be impatient. He can be manipulative. But up until now, he had never been mean.
Another new experience in the World of Parenting: when your kid does something that is really not nice, it breaks your heart. And makes you question everything you've done so far as a parent.
I picked Ben up from school yesterday and made sure to check in with his teacher on my way out. As per Hubby's and my suggestion, she put him on a progress report. He'd been having some trouble following directions (he has a habit of suggesting alternate plans instead of doing what he is told...example: "Stop playing tackle football, Ben." "I'll do it more slowly/carefully/quietly instead."). Turns out Ben's first bad progress report day wasn't because he was negotiating his options.
"During playground time, Ben and another boy were punching a third boy. The third boy was crying his eyes out."
Long story short? My extremely verbal child explained that his buddy suggested the two of them punch this third little boy. And my kid, who is known for never falling to peer pressure (or adult pressure, for that matter) decided THIS was the area in which he would allow himself to be led. This is a time when I'd love to say that my kid didn't know better. That he wasn't sure what the right thing to do would have been. But when prompted, Ben did know all the right answers:
"What would have been a good choice instead?"
"I should've said NO. I should've said I wasn't going to punch him. I should've helped him. I should've told the teacher."
This is what kills me. He knew better. He just truly chose not to do the right thing.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking: he is four.
I know what some others might still be thinking: he is a boy.
And I know what yet some others might be thinking: he must've learned this somewhere.
Yes, I know he's four. I don't care. He knew better. This is when it starts.
Yes, I know he's a boy. I care even less here. "Boys will be boys" is probably the most disgusting excuse for bowing out of parenting when it gets tough. Yes, boys are different than girls. Believe me, I figured that one out quick. Yes, boys are often louder and more active and rougher. But to excuse mean behavior because there's a penis involved? It's part of the reason little girls grow up to be women who sit around complaining about their husbands' inabilities to be sensitive and caring.
And finally, no, he didn't learn this from us. Or anyone around us, for that matter. And this is where the horrifying realization kicks in: As a parent, you really have to teach, teach, and teach. And then pray. Pray that the lessons stick. Pray that what they see at home is translated into their own behaviors. Pray that they make the right choices.
All I can think is: My little boy did a mean thing. Is my little boy mean?
And then all I can think is: I'm so sad.
Yes, sad. I mean, I'm angry too. I'm pissed off as hell and frustrated and disappointed. But mostly, I am sad.
When I had to sit there and tell him that we weren't doing his classmates' Valentine's cards together because he did a mean thing and Mommy and Daddy didn't want to be around someone who did mean things...that made me, I am sure, sadder than it made him.
"A defining moment."
This is what my most brilliant and wise friend (who once cancelled her now-grown daughter's trip to Disney when she was seven because she stole 35 cents from her father's drawer) called it: A defining moment. "Kids test," she said. "He made the wrong choice. Now it's up to you guys to decide what's going to happen with this. He needs to learn this lesson. He needs to learn that even more important than how cute he is or how many soccer goals he scored on Saturday or whether he can count to 100 is whether or not he is kind."
I have always said that there are two things I absolutely can not tolerate from my children: disrespect and meanness.
So here I am, a teacher for 13 years and a bit of a know-it-all... I thought the kids always behaved a certain way because of the parents. I thought if you put in all you had, if the father and the mother worked together, if you really did the "right thing" as a parent, then your child would, at the very least, turn out to be a well-behaved kid. I thought even the ones who were tougher to discipline could be controlled as long as the parents were consistent and firm and loving. Apparently, there are no guarantees. Apparently, you really do just have to give it your best and then pray.
Tomorrow my four-year-old will go find the boy he punched, look him in the face, and apologize to him. He will promise never to do that again, and he will ask that little boy to be his friend again. We have made sure this will happen because the teacher will follow up on it. Hubby and I have teamed up on the entire situation. We have come up with the consequences which we felt would make the most impact. We have sat him down and spoken with him, honestly, firmly, gently, and made sure he understands why this is important, why this will not be tolerated. But throughout it all, Ben hasn't exactly seemed incredibly remorseful.
And I worry that this is just a sign of what's to come. I worry that I will not be proud of this little boy as he grows up. I worry that no matter how good our parenting is, it will not matter.
And yes, I know...he's four. I know I may be getting ahead of myself. I know I may be making this bigger than it is. I hope so, actually. But to hear that my little boy was mean...well, this is probably my saddest moment as a mom so far.