Growing Up / by Susie Lubell

I had a conversation last night with my son and while I was having it I was very conscious of it being one of those big conversations that you have some times as a kid and you keep with you for a long time. He's ten now so things stick. Everything gets filed away as experience and later drawn upon or discarded.

I had put the other kids to bed and he was reading in his room. And then he came into my room and told me that at his scouts meeting, his counselor, who is a sixteen year old kid and the son of our old neighbors, told the boys, who apparently had been fighting, that getting a bump on the head or a bruise from a fight with a friend goes away after a few days. But words stay with us forever. If you say mean things to someone, my son told me, that person keeps those words inside them forever. He sat on my bed and we spoke about it for a good fifteen minutes. He was so earnest. He suddenly seemed like a rational human.

There are problems with the kids in his class, the boys and the girls, and those are the same kids in his scouts troop. I don't know why they did it that way but if I questioned every single thing here that made no sense to me I'd be in a constant state of inquiry and that gets exhausting. Someone must have had a reason. But his class in particular is known to be problematic. They've been together since first grade and it's gotten worse every year. And a lot of the kids now have smart phones now so there are chat groups and bullying goes on there. We have steered clear of that nonsense although my son has not been entirely unaffected.

I asked if anyone was making fun of him or calling him names and he said no. But that some of his friends had been made fun of and that hurt his feelings too. I told him that was called empathy. It's a concept I have been trying to convey to him for years with little success. He's a first born. The sun and the moon dance around him for his sole entertainment. In fact just a day before, literally a day before this conversation, he was fighting with his sister about something (ridiculous) and he huffed off to his room. A few minutes later I joined him and we talked about the pattern that he and his sister always fall into. She wants to play with him, he's not interested, she tries to get his attention any way she can and starts bothering him, he gets annoyed and they start yelling at each other, one of them spits, the other hits. Crying. Game over.

I asked him if he could imagine what it's like to be his sister, which I have asked a million times. Imagine that you have an older brother and you want to play with him but he mostly ignores you. And for the first time he told me directly, I can't imagine that because it's not real. I don't have an older brother so I don't know what that is like for her. He didn't know and he couldn't imagine. Problem. I was staring at a future narcissistic megalomaniac.

But then the very next day he understood. Well he understood in the context of his friends, but I saw a tiny pinhole in our conversation and wormed in the bit about his sister. And then he understood that also.

I am sure there are a zillion terra bytes of research on why kids are mean to each other. It must be something about our society; about the way we raise them to look out for number one. And I know it will only get worse. On the other hand, I marvel at my son'scounselor who is all of sixteen and a kid himself, who, despite having to deal with a toxic group of boys, managed to impart a positive message to my son that struck him so deeply that he needed to have a bedside sit down to process it. There is still hope.