Yesterday afternoon was like any other day after school. Little kids came home, threw their stuff everywhere, ate snacks, talked about their day at school in increasingly loud volumes.
Then my middle schoolers walked in the front door.
Mom, you need to call the school. Like right now.
I caught two kids being mean to [12-year-old brother] in the hallway after school. It's just ... you need to call the school.
Anyone who has kids this age knows that they never want you to call the school unless it is something big. Something they feel is beyond their control ... and most of the time they feel they can control everything.
Then the story came out.
My 12-year-old is not one of the "cool" kids.
I don't say this disparagingly. I say it as a fact. He doesn't like sports. He prefers to wear clothing that is the equivalent of wearing a pocket protector and head-gear back in my day. The non-conformist in a sea of Underarmour, Aeropostale, Abercrombie.
He plays the trombone in the band. He is crazy smart. (Mom brag alert -- he has a 107 average in science) He prefers to talk to adults rather than kids his own age.
He reads things like the thesaurus for fun. And then feels compelled to use the words than no one knows in his every day conversations. Not the sort of thing that makes you wildly popular with your peers.
The thing is that he also is one of the most tender-hearted kids. He never even thinks that kids are being mean to him. He shrugs it off. He is the eternal happy optimist.
But I knew that this day would come.
I have watched him skip out the front door, swinging his instrument case in one hand, his lunch box in the other, and thought that he only lacks a Kick Me sign on his back.
And yet. And yet, my heart breaks.
I have tried to get him interested in other clothes. Maybe something that wouldn't make him stand out so much, make him blend in more. Perhaps he could not slick his hair down like a 50-year-old man with a greasy comb-over.
And I am ashamed to even admit that I often wish he wouldn't want to march to his own drummer so much.
To be so different.
To behave in a way that makes him a magnet for bullying.
It has always been more subtle before this. Things that have saddened me, but always been firmly on the non-parental intervention side of the line. A blurry, squiggly line whose edges become more difficult to navigate the older your children become.
My 13-year-old went to go find his younger brother. All the different grades have their lockers in separate hallways. He got up to the 7th grade hallway of lockers and saw two boys bullying his brother. Slamming the locker shut on him. Shoving him. Stabbing him with their pencils. Hitting him on the back of the head.
My 13-year-old called out down the empty hallway,
Hey, leave him alone.
Why? What's it to you?
He is my little brother and you had better get away from him.
Oh, I didn't know he was your brother.
Yeah, now you do. So get out of here.The bigger of the two kids walked away down the hallway. The other kid stood there.
If I were you, I would leave, too.
My son tells me later that his adrenaline was pumping so furiously he could hear nothing but his own heartbeat in his ears.
It was so cool, Mom, how he showed up out of nowhere. Like a superhero.
My 10-year-old and 13-year-old are in the kitchen alone together. They are the cool kids. The athletes. The ones who make friends easily. The parade of kids that come knocking on our door every afternoon after school come for them. They are the kids people gravitate toward, whatever elusive, undefinable quality it is that makes people like you, they have "it." Remember those kids from your own days in school? The ones who made everything seem so effortless?
They are joking around, wrestling, giving each other "dead arms." I am almost to the point where I am going to have to tell them to knock it off. It is inevitable that one of them will get hurt or they will break something.
You know, next year you will have to watch out for him. I'll be at the high school.
Yeah, I know.
Just for one year though, then he'll be at the high school with me and [15-year-old].
My heart shattered. I don't know if it is because of the fierce protection they have for their brother. Or the fact that they recognize he needs their protection. Or if it is because in spite of evidence to the contrary on an almost daily basis, they love each other deeply and without reservation.
I do know that I have never before felt as acutely what I missed out on growing up as I did in that moment.
The sound of the trombone wafts into the family room. Waft might be glossing over the reality a little. Okay, a lot.
My 13-year-old describes it as the sound of an elephant dying.
Do you have to play that stupid thing now? NOW?
When should I practice?
I don't know. Can't you practice outside? So I don't have to hear that noise?
It is like 30 degrees outside.
I'll freeze to death.
Most often this is what love looks like with siblings. They knock you down. Keep you humble. Laugh at you when you least want to be laughed at. But no one else had better do it or they will be the first at your side, the big "S" peeking out from underneath the Underarmour sweatshirt.
Chris Notes From the Trenches
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