“What makes you crabby?” I asked C in the car this morning as we drove to school?
She thought for a moment before answering.
Being hungry. Being tired. Being nervous or impatient about something. The answers came out slowly at first, then faster as she warmed up to the subject.
We were talking about a little boy she’s been having issues with at school. She thinks he’s mean to her, that he singles her out and says stuff to hurt her feelings on purpose.
I’m not saying she’s wrong, but the fact that the teacher has never noticed (in a classroom of 12 kids) makes me think that maybe, just maybe, she’s perceiving meanness where only grumpiness resides.
So, in the car, instead of telling her that I thought maybe this little boy got grumpy at times and lashed out at her, I tried to get her to come to that conclusion herself.
It didn’t take long for her to make the jump.
I don’t want her to spend her life making excuses for people when they’re mean to her, but I would love for her to learn early on that few people are really intentionally mean and that often they’re just caught up in their own issues. It’s unbelievably easier to forgive people and move on when you realize that.
“But what if he isn’t crabby, what if he’s just mean?” Her little voice reached me from the back seat. Timid, sad and a little subdued. Because if he’s just plain mean, then no amount of empathy will change anything.
“Well, then you remember how many people love you and think you’re awesome and you just walk away.” It’s only taken me some 30 years to learn this. I didn’t think she’d buy it in a five minute car chat. One glance back in the rear view mirror confirmed my fears. Mommy’s mumbo jumbo wasn’t being swallowed.
“Babe? Who loves you?” I asked. She shrugged and looked down. I prodded a bit, but got no further than a few shaking points in my direction and in the direction of the absentee passengers who usually ride with us – daddy and Little L. I was running out of time so I filled in the blanks for her.
As name after name rolled off my tongue I watched her in the mirror. First her head perked up, then her shoulders moved back, her chin lifted, her eyes started to shine. When her smile appeared I started to skip people in my list and she filled in the blanks in a voice that kept growing louder and louder.
I filled her with the names of all the people who loved her unconditionally and when she was full to the brim with all of their invisible support I reminded her that for every person who will ever be mean to her, there will always be tons more who can show her how that one person is not important.
When I dropped her off at school there was a bounce in her step that hadn’t been there when she’d walked to the car. And tonight… well, tonight she asked for that little boy to be added to her birthday party guest-list. Because apparently, when he’s happy and he laughs, he’s really very nice.