At dinner, we sat around about to begin our soup, about to each talk about our days. One boy grabs his behavior chart, eager to show–or he thought.
Andrew opens it and reads the pencil scrawling, “He was taking food from another student, and the principal had to talk to him.”
Andrew and my mouth hung open. We were shocked. Shocked. We didn’t even know what to say. I slowly started to feel my own parental pride creep in, a dangerous thing when dealing with childhood missteps, but remained calmed on the outside, while my own feelings subside.
The little boy stands next to his seated father, two hands resting together on the edge of the table, his eyes alarmed, not saying anything.
“The principal talked to you?” I asked slowly, masking the response that could have been more reactive.
He can’t respond, he nods his head with lips barely touching each other. His eyes are wide, not knowing what to expect in this new situation.
“Are you mad at me?” he asks quickly, as if he had to know immediately; How do my parents now relate to me. How does this effect my standing with them? How does this effect how I see myself? My own self worth?
“I’m not mad at you…I’m just so surprised, and I am disappointed,” his father says to him quietly.
He open his mouth as his eyes gaze down, his movements are minuscule, tiny, like he wants to fade away.
“But no…I am not mad at you.”
“We don’t take from other people. What did you take?”
“It was a yogurt cup thing, with a monkey on it…”
“Oh wow, ok.”
“Yeah, and you know what? Her family bought it for her. They went to the store, and used their money and bought that so she could have food for her lunch. What if they don’t have a lot of money and that’s all they could buy. And then you take it?”
“Yeah…” just a whisper, leaning more on quiet tension that compassion from him.
“Taking is like a trick your mind plays on you…it’s seems like such a good idea, but then, how do you feel right now?”
“And how does she feel?”
“And who else might be having sad feelings?”
“I don’t know.”
“What about your teachers?”
“Yeah…and the principal…”
“And her family.”
The sadness hangs on his face, the fear, and although standing with his glassy, round eyes, looking so small as the whole family silent watching him spill out all the people who got hurt today. My heart softened. Anything I had felt at first, was gone.
“Oh buddy, that’s so hard. But you know what? I know that’s not the real you. I know the real you is such a kind, giving boy. I bet that was scary to talk to the principal…”
And he couldn’t cover his face in time, his eye scrunched closed, letting out a quiet sob, his hands in loose balls reaching his eyes. Tears flowed down his face that he could no longer keep together. All the feelings he had shut inside, the guilt and isolation and fear slumped with his shoulders as he crumpled onto his father who opened his arms around him.
He cried and he cried.
“You know what buddy? I make mistakes all the time, too. Everyday. It’s just part of being a human. But we’re in this together. You are our kind, good hearted boy.”
He starts crying harder. That even though he made those choices, we’d still see him.
“Do you remember when we were serving the homeless on the streets? Which little boy walked up to that tiny old woman and handed her a water bottle when others were scared?”
“Me…” he says sniffling, seeing a different view of himself than he had been carrying all day.
“How did you feel when you gave?”
“And how did that woman feel?”
“And everyone around you?”
“I think good?”
“You are our good, strong boy who cares about people. Who is strong enough to look outside of himself and help others. You have that strength.”
He looks at me with big round eyes framed in tears that had stopped flowing but clung to his lashes and the rivers on his cheeks. He listened to my words as they shaped who he was soaking into his heart, absorbed by his silent eyes as we spoke. Would this moment define him? Would his actions towards a yogurt cup make him unlovable? Would his parents be so concerned with their own self imagine portrayed by their child that he would be the casualty of their own shame and pride? Am I hittable, disgusting and bad?
“So– what are you going to do?”
“I can tell her sorry. I can tell my teachers sorry. And I can never take again. Never ever.”
“Come her buddy.”
He runs to me and curls his whole body onto my lap, tucking his face into my arm.
“Oh man, how’d you feel when you talked to the principal.”
“I was nervous.”
“Oh I bet. I would be too. But she’s just trying to help you, to keep you from doing that again, so no one has to have these feelings again.”
“I wish you would have told me right away, you had to feel all this alone all afternoon.”
“I will next time,” as he wipes the tears off his round cheeks.
“Good, buddy. And please just know, everyone makes mistakes, it’s how we learn. It’s how we grow. I’ve taken before too. I wish I hadn’t, but it’s how I learned. It’s all part of the process. We know you can do better, because we know you. The real you.
Today when I picked him up, he bounded into the car.
“Mama! I took no food! And I said sorry, and I gave my friend a pokemon card!”
“No way! Good work buddy, I am proud of you. That’s the real you shining out.”
“Yeah! Can I have a snack when I get home.”
“Yes, will you help me make it?”