I was tracing my son's nose with my finger as he slept last night - Oh, come on parents, you know you do that. And you stiff their heads, even if the newborn smell is long gone - and I had a memory flash.
For months, my younger son has had a problem with a specific bully. Most kids do at one time or another, and most of the time the kids who pick on my son end up showing remorse when an adult notices, or they are simply fickle, so any perceived slight one day is forgotten when the kids are best friends the next. These types of problems need not over-reaction, for "boys will be boys." But one kid has been a persistent problem.
I've made excuses for him. He's smaller than his age. His parents have recently gotten divorced. He is less accomplished in some areas than my son and his friends. And yet he is very clever. He is clever enough to allude some adults' notice of his misbehavior.
I love to give people second (and third, and fourth) chances. I pity them because to bully is to publicly admit defeat. To be revengeful shows that other person has power over you. Ergo, you are weaker. To compensate for the weakness, you feign power. And so, this little kid claims to be in third grade one month, and fourth grade the next, just to show up my son who is in second, even though his age means he is probably in the same grade as my son. He blows in my son's ear, and moves away so it looks like my son is the one over-reacting.
Initially, I told my son to show this young boy kindness. Surely his behavior stemmed from fear? I thought if my son made an effort to be nice, this little gnat would warm up and feel accepted, thereby ceasing the inappropriate jabs.
But... no dice.
Last week, he and his cousin put on quite a public show away from his father's eyes. (His mother wasn't there because, well, last month she wasn't there because she was on her period, and since it has been roughly a month...) They were hitting each other in play-fighting, seemingly unaware of the others around them. They nearly knocked over a display and they stepped on my toes. They bashed into my son, trying to get him to participate in the banter. We were all part of the same group, so his misbehavior reflected negatively upon us, especially as I instructed him and his cousin to "Stop that right now!" - in an uncharacteristically loud voice for me - but to no avail. There were other parents from our group present. But their looks of horror and attempted polite "redirects" of the two unsupervised children failed. If three sets of parents were unable to control the pair, then could anyone?
Of course the father showed up as soon as his son and cousin were standing (relatively) quietly. He hadn't witnessed a thing. Of course these kids are angels to him, right?
But something I forgot until last night, was that in the midst of the disruptive behavior, the bully's cousin looked at me, smiled sweetly, and said, "They look alike!" referring to both my sons. When I am with either of my sons individually, people comment on the aspects in which they look like me. My older son looks like my brother, and has some of the features that my brother and I share. My younger son has different aspects of me, plus looks a great deal like his paternal grandfather (while my oldest looks like his maternal grandfather.) My sons don't look alike to me, but separately they resemble me in their own ways.
The bully's cousin continued, "They have the same nose."
Surprised, I told the bully's cousin, "Well, they are brothers." He looked genuinely stunned, and pleased with himself, "They are? Cool!" He then went back to pommeling his cousin. Shortly thereafter, I reprimanded them for their behavior, and the cousin's earlier comment was forgotten...
... until tonight.
As I traced my son's nose, I thought about that young man's observation. Perceptive, just as his cousin has shown to be shrewd and clever. If only these powers could be used for good.
There is so much hidden wisdom, and yet poor behavior can overshadow it all. It is something I've though a lot about in the past, and clearly I'll be reminded of it in the present and future as well.