Friday, November 02, 2007

Singled Out

Gillen has never had trouble making friends. He attracts kids to him like bees to honey, is fair and kind (most of the time) and a natural leader. So being singled out at soccer practice, as the one that the other boys tease (a group of them, not all of them) has been a new experience for him. He told me about it last night, while we were driving home from practice. It was dark and he was behind me - perfect conditions for this boy to open up.

"They don't like me and it isn't about anything I did. I allowed the kids who asked to go in front of me [in the line-up to do soccer drills] to go ahead and then they called me a scaredy cat." There was also one more small incident.

My skin bristling, forgotten talons trying to push their way out of my fingers onto the steering wheel, I just said, "So what did you do?"

"I felt like that meant they didn't like me. But I didn't do anything."

I told him how wise I thought he was to realize that this was his feeling but that this might not really be what was happening. I tried to explain school yard politics - the need of a group to feel safe by being sheep and following their leader. I tried to convince him that the person they choose to tease is often just in the wrong place, that it is totally random. We talked about what it would be like for Gillen if he were in the school yard so often, how he might respond. And I brought up the one example that I have seen of Gillen singling out a kid in a hurtful way. It was just last night while trick or treating. A kid we didn't know who was dressed as a bull said to our group, "Don't call me a cow, I'm a bull." Kind of asking for it, but still.

Gillen waited for a few minutes and then said - quietly and with a tentative smile - "Cow."

Every time we saw this kid on our route, he amiably but loudly called him "cow", and soon others in out group were joining him.

I believe that he didn't get that he could be hurting the kid's feelings. But I told him that it was a possibility and that he needed to stop. And then, the next day, he got to see how it feels. Instant karma. ; )

We can't experience the sweetness of life without the dark side.

He may have learned something.

But I'm still going to have trouble cheering on those soccer boys (golden-haired, baby-faced facades hiding lots of need) with as much enthusiasm. Small talk with their parents will be even more challenging than it already was. And skipping two games next weekend so that we can have a whole weekend with visiting unschooling friends will be even easier.

I wish that I could protect my kids from the inevitable meanness in the world. But all I can do is hopefully not mess up their creation of enough self-worth that they can rise above the black rain when it falls.


Alecto said...

Thank you for the music. I have to confess that I plug you in and listen to your play list while I write.

Also, I understand the secret talons digging into the steering wheel.

Kaat said...

"that they can rise above the black rain when it falls"... That is so poetic. Really (not teasing).

A gripping evocation of what happens when your child gets teased. I went through hell for 4 years since I was 10 (in an all-girls' school). Hearing about teasing / bullying (where's the line?) sends me right back to the schoolyard. Thinking it might happen to my girl, well...

Gillen seems like a robust personality, though. Still, best to keep an eye on it...

Katrien at Mamastories (

mindy said...

Oh Madeline...we've just been through this same thing with Max's soccer team. Total pecking order/alpha male thing happening. Max was ready to quit playing. We came up with several scenarios, all of which we supported: Quitting this team and playing in the Spring with John coaching, continue playing with this team and not say anything, talk to the coach, etc. Max did not want to just go back without saying anything. He said he'd rather just quit. He finally came to the conclusion that he wanted us to talk to the coach. So I did. Things have been better, and he is glad he continued playing. I don't know where it will go from here, but I am trying to just keep meeting his needs...whether they include playing soccer on a team or not. Give Gillen some great big bear hugs for us. My kids can't wait to see him!!!

Madeline said...

Gillen wanted to keep playing, wasn't as upset about it as I am (inwardly) but isn't sure that he wants to keep playing next season. It is not just the teasing incident; it is sooo much traveling. We are in between two Sat. games right now. I hate it for Max too. Maybe, not being used to the school pecking order thing they are prime targets. My sister thinks it's the confidence that Gillen puts out there that has some kids testing him. I really don't know.