This Mama Bear is in a fighting mood.
It started during pick up time at my childrens’ Christian Mother’s Day Out program. Standing outside my almost two-year-old son’s classroom, I waited just a moment before getting his attention to watch him dance and play with his friends. Another mother standing next to me complimented me on his plaid deck shoes (which are super cute). I told her he had picked them out himself and that he loves shoes. Her response? She looked at his shoes, looked at him dancing, and then looked at me and said:
“Uh oh. Better be careful or he might end up . . .”
When she didn’t finish, I started to ask, “Might end up what? Working in a shoe store? Doing the Safety Dance? In the Navy?”
But I didn’t. Because I knew what she meant. However, something in me wanted to force her to say it out loud, to make her actually say that judgmental thing she was thinking about a toddler dancing in the bubbles. So I just raised my eyebrows and waited.
Instead of saying it, she went with something worse: she did a hand gesture. A stupid, early 80s making fun of Billy Crystal’s character on Soap hand gesture.
I actually felt the acid in the back of my throat to the extent that I truly believe I could have spit like that dinosaur in Jurassic Park. In some ways, I guess I did.
“He might end up denied basic civil rights and judged by small-minded hypocrites?” I asked her. Then I smiled. “I would hope that wouldn’t happen to anyone’s child, no matter who they are.”
She started to say something, but I got my kids and left.
On the drive home I heard my daughter unzip her lunch bag. Still angry about the encounter outside Alex’s classroom, I asked her why she didn’t eat her lunch again today. She gave me the same response she’s given me for the past two weeks: “I was full.”
Some back story–About three weeks ago Liliana asked me not to send her (vegan) meatballs in her lunch, even though they are her favorite. She said the boys in her class were making fun of her food by telling her it was gross and looked like poop. Her daddy and I talked to her about doing what she liked and ignoring people who make fun her. She and Daddy even practiced saying, “You don’t know, you’ve never tried it,” as a response to her lunchtime critics. She hadn’t mentioned it again, so we figured the situation had been resolved.
Sadly, it has not.
It turns out that Liliana has been telling me and her teacher that she is full each lunch hour and not even opening her lunch because she doesn’t want to listen to the boys tell her that her lunch is “gross’ and “looks like poop.” Now, I know that we have been a little hippie-dippy lately with our vegan ways, but it’s not like I’ve been sending her mung beans. Today, for example, she had a pretty normal looking sandwich: veggie turkey slices with rice cheese on wheat. If you aren’t familiar with vegan deli options, veggie turkey slices and rise cheese look like round lunch meat and Kraft cheese. There is no way these 5-year-old boys are the culinary experts to discern that her lunch is anything out of the ordinary. Other days I’ve sent her pasta, cream cheese pinwheels, and pita pockets. To go with it she usually has carrots, some sort of dried or fresh fruit, and, if we’ve been baking, a muffin or cookie. Yes, these things are vegan, but they look the same.
These boys are just being mean. Liliana, for those who don’t know her, isn’t a timid little girl. She stands up for herself and her friends. However, I think part of the issue is that the leader of the group is a little boy Liliana was best friends with from age two. They’ve played together, gone to each other’s birthday parties, and now, he has become her tormentor.
I’ve tried to explain that this sometimes happens with boys–they get silly and pretend they don’t like girls for a few years. She’s told them her taught line about not having tried it. She sits at a different table with little girls who are her friends. And yet, for two weeks she has been eating her lunch at 3:15 pm in the back of our car because she’s hungry and afraid to eat during lunch.
The compilation of these two events has spiraled me into a new realm of pissed off. In terms of Alex, what set me off about that mother is how easily she slipped into the role of judge. He’s a year old. He’s smart, funny, cute, and loving. He’s a great little guy. If my son is gay, my son is gay. If he’s not, he’s not. No lame stereotype she’s concocted is going to define him. The only reason I wouldn’t want him to be gay is because the world would be harder for him. We live in a country where normal is defined in a way that strips people of their rights and identities. As his mother, I want Alex to love who he wants to love and not be made to feel ashamed of it nor denied civil rights simply because he is being honest about who he is. Mothers like that judgmental mother will raise sons and daughters who think like they do. Which means one day another child–maybe my kid, maybe not–could be mocked and bullied for being different. That, to me, is not acceptable.
Liliana is another matter. It breaks my heart to watch her learn about cruelty. We want her to fight her own battles, to be strong and proud of who she is, but in this case that has been deflected. I’m going to talk to teachers and possibly the ringleader’s mother because a little girl should not be going through the day hungry due to mean children. It’s ridiculous.
I have had several conversations about motherhood over the years and have named several things that at one time or another seem like the hardest part: the isolation from other adults, the frustration of trying to teach them when you want to strangle them . . . the list goes on and on.
Right now, this feels like the hardest part. Watching the world work its meanness on my cubs is hard enough; knowing that I can’t act on my impulses to protect them in the way I want to tears at my heart. Instead of of one swiping blow that knocks out judgmental mothers and bratty little boys, I have to settle for warning growls and hard lessons for my cubs about standing up for yourself and not letting anyone make you feel bad about who you are.
That being said, if my warning growls get ignored again, this Mama Bear is going to draw blood.