To the Nines

My oldest turned nine smackeroos on Sunday, and I felt it was time for some reflections on the latest trip around the sun. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed he was going on 23 based on his ambition to help keep our world going round this week. We’ve had quite a few late nights between a sewer backup, a hot and heavy start to planting season, and the everyday dynamics of our real estate office. I can always tell when this boy needs a rest because he morphs into a back talking, sarcastic, eye rolling, anxious little creature. Of course, he refuses to quit (except when he has 15 homework passes to use up in the next seven days), and insists on helping with every project from start to finish. He is our main mowing guy, errand runner, International C driver, and inventor of new mechanical equipment. When he commits to a project, he gets incredibly frustrated if he has to call on help from his elders. (Changing out smoke alarm batteries this weekend proved to be just that kind of job. He loved fitting new burner pans to the correct stove styles, though!) He is the perfect blend of serious sarcasm that brings me humor and joy, and he is learning how to use it without sounding offensive to others! Most importantly, though, he is truly concerned for the well-being of others and constantly does wellness checks on people who are important to him. His skills for calling on people and talking on the phone have improved considerably in recent months.

That being said, a incident occurred at school a couple of weeks ago that truly opened to my eyes to a new chapter that wasn’t written in the parenting handbook. (Oh wait, you didn’t get a copy either?) That particular chapter is all about the moment you realize you can’t protect your child from everything. Case in point, my son was in the restroom between classes at school when an older student came into the restroom, wadded a piece of chewed gum into his palm and smacked it into my son’s forehead as he exited the stall.  The gum got stuck in my son’s hair. Shocked and embarrassed, he was sent to the school office to get some assistance removing the gum where he was given the third degree about the incident. A couple hours later, I received a call from the principal explaining what had happened, but also noting that the older student could not be identified. The gamut of emotions I felt while hearing the call were comparable to the seven stages of grief. I was in disbelief followed by an intense feeling of sadness and anger leading into the feeling that I wasn’t there to comfort my son who was surely mortified. I stewed on the situation from noon until the time that school got out trying to determine how I would breach the subject with my son. I knew he wouldn’t want to talk about it. I kept thinking that I needed to help him, figure out who would do this to him, and approach the school and the older student’s parents about this.  Seriously, how can this happen? Then, I saw my son for the first time as he walked to the car that day with his head down. As he got in, he jokingly said, “does my hair look OK?” Because, like his goofy mother, we cope with bad situations by turning them into something humorous. He knew that I knew something had happened, and I wanted to ask him a thousand questions, but all I could muster was a long hug. He would talk when he was ready, but he was also going through his stages of coping and I had to give it time.

Now, I’m sure many of you are thinking, this really isn’t that bad. You are right. Things could be worse. Boys will be boys. However, for an almost nine-year-old, this was a life changing event. We are using it as a teaching tool—a way to prepare for something worse if, Heaven forbid, that time ever comes. We have discussed the importance of knowing your surroundings, looking people in the eye and studying their features, paying attention to a person’s clothing and build, and reading their approach so as to be able to recognize danger and get out of harm’s way. Not fun stuff to discuss with an almost nine-year-old, but definitely a lesson that he and I are both taking to heart. Although we did pin-point the identity of the older student through the power of social media, we agreed it fruitless to take the issue any further than our kitchen table. My son is very good about learning his lesson, side stepping the drama, and moving on. A powerful tool that even his own mother needs to be reminded of every once in a while.

Through all this, we added a chapter to the parent handbook that needed to be written in our own way and in our own time. I can’t always be there to protect my kids, but I can give them the tools to prepare themselves to do so in my absence. In the past year, we have likely added many similar pages to the book of life as we know it.  My primary hope is neither one of us has to go through those stages of coping anytime soon. Unless, of course, we cover it up with our sarcastic humor. Then, we will simply ask you if our hair looks OK and offer you another piece of gum to replace the one you misplaced on our face. Here’s to the Nines! Welcome Home.

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