As long as he’s outside, my son is a pretty easy kid to entertain. It’s amazing to me how long he can stay occupied just digging in the dirt, throwing rocks in a stream, or simply walking around wielding a stick. So if the weather’s decent, you’ll probably find us wandering around the neighborhood. On one such day I was trailing after my son while he tromped, stick in hand, down the sidewalk. We walked by a neighbor’s house, where visiting relatives’ young children were playing in the front yard. We paused so my son could “say hello” (or his version of it) to the kids, and as we walked away an isolated phrase floated to my ears: “Stick Boy.” I didn’t catch the context, but the little boy’s tone was unmistakable. He was making fun of my son.
The words were like a punch to the gut. I will readily admit that the extent to which this incident upset me was a little ridiculous. But let me explain. My son is not quite two, and pretty darn cute (if I do say so myself). Aside from the occasional piece of unsolicited advice, the attention we get from strangers when we’re out with our son is pretty universally positive. We hear about his pinch-able cheeks, his striking blue eyes, and just his general adorableness (as I’m sure many parents of babies and toddlers can relate to). So I was utterly unprepared for an insult, however mild, to be hurled at my precious little boy. I was upset for the rest of the day, and actually teared up when recounting the tale to my husband.
This was obviously about more than the actual incident. I mean technically my son was a boy holding a stick, so I couldn’t be too upset as far as insults go. But the episode opened the floodgates to a fear that I just wasn’t ready to deal with yet. Eventually, my son will have to leave my protective arms and go out into the world. He won’t be universally embraced. Somebody’s going to be mean to him (and it will be socially and ethically unacceptable for me to punch the person who does, since they’ll probably be like seven years old). Someone’s words will cause a sting that my kisses will not be able to erase. I struggled with bullying and “mean girls” when I was younger, and the thought of my son being picked on like that is just too much for me to take. My husband and I used to joke about wanting to put our son in a bubble as he got more mobile and was a perpetual danger to himself, constantly banging his head into something or other. I suddenly wanted to put him into some type of social bubble to protect him from everyone in the world who could ever potentially be cruel to him. I realize, of course, that this would be neither feasible nor wise.
And who knows, my fears could be largely unfounded. Maybe those baby blues will make all the little kindergarten girls swoon, and he’ll be the class heartthrob. Maybe he’ll become the star player on the school baseball team. Or maybe he’ll be like his mama and be a little bit of a nerd (okay more than a little), go through the struggles that most kids face at some point, and come out stronger on the other side. In the meantime, I’ll be thankful that we have a few more years before we have to cross that bridge. For now I’ll squeeze him a little tighter, give him a few extra kisses, and make sure he knows just how loved he is.