I never wanted to be that parent. I was determined to allow my children to fight their own battles. I promised myself that no matter how much I wanted to intervene I would keep to the sides because so much of growing up is about finding your voice and learning how to use it.
The day my youngest son came home from school in tears because a boy on the bus had been mean to him I explained (after a reassuring hug) that, well, people are mean and you can choose to either return that meanness or ignore it and move on. A few weeks later when my oldest son reported that a classmate had called his glasses ugly, I asked my ten year old if he actually cared what this boy thought of his glasses and when he admitted that he did not I said, “So what’s the problem?”
But then shortly after Christmas a classmate called my son gay and suddenly it became less about kids being mean and more about people being hateful and in that moment everything I thought I believed went out the window and my ice-cold-keep-to-the-sides resolve began to crumble and I became that parent.
I hated that I was being put in the position of being angry or offended because some little jerk had called my son gay as if being called gay or the act of being gay were something I (or my son) should be offended by…but then it was not the word itself that offended me, but the ugliness and the history of the ugliness behind the word that offended me.
My rage further increased after learning the teacher had dismissed the name calling incident with a shrug. Look, we all know what that kid meant when he called my son gay and I am confident that had he used a racial or ethnic slur or a term of misogynistic endearment or any other form of hate speech that his actions would not have been dismissed with a simple shrug.
Realizing that I had no choice but to intervene, I sat down at the computer (with a drink…to calm my nerves) and composed a thoughtful email to the school principal. I was calm and respectful and in no way was my tone accusatory, which is very unlike me by the way. I informed the principal about what had happened and closed with “I do not expect the boy or the teacher to be reprimanded nor do I expect that my son or our family should be treated any differently than a traditional family, but I do believe everyone from staff to students could use a lesson in tolerance and acceptance.”
The principal immediately apologized and assured me that the school took my concerns very seriously. In addition, she promised to “address the importance of tolerance with her staff.”
Okay then. I was satisfied.
A few weeks later the same boy made fun of my son for having two dads, bringing my son to tears. Again, I contacted the school to voice my concerns and again I was assured that the school took my concerns very seriously.
Okay then. I was skeptical, but satisfied…
…until the following week when the same boy pushed my son to the ground in gym class and my son – in the face of a school and administration who had done nothing up to this point to support him – stood up for himself (and his family) and pushed the boy back. When the principal called to tell me that my son had been suspended, for defending himself, I lost it.
There is movie from the early 90s called The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. It stars Rebecca De Mornay as a homicidal nanny. There’s a reason she’s homicidal but it’s rather convoluted so just watch it on Netflix because it’s a good movie and also because you can see a pre-A-list Julianne Moore get murdered by a greenhouse. Anyway, in the movie one of Rebecca’s young charges is bullied by a classmate and so, like the good homicidal nanny that she is, Rebecca walks up to the kid and does this: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
Now, when anyone is mean or unkind to one of my kids I immediately imagine that I am Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. I walk up to the pint-sized offender in my tight little pencil skit with my Banana Republic sweater slung over my shoulders and I grab the little shit by the wrist and I say “I’m gonna rip your fucking head off.” This momentary flight of fancy usually calms me and I’m able to move on with the rest of my day.
But not this time.
This time I threatened to (metaphorically) rip the fucking heads off everyone….the school, the administration, the kid who pushed my son, the parents of the kid who pushed my son.
I went DEFCON 1.
It was perhaps not my finest moment…except it was. My kid needed me and I was there for him. I had his back. The reality is someone has to stand up for kids until our kids learn to stand up for themselves.
So for now I am that parent and, as it turns out, I will rip your fucking head off.