There are moments in parenting when your children make you so proud that your heart seems to swell outside of your body, when you swear you are walking on air, when you truly could not be more pleased.
This is not about one of those times.
I have been known to say I can bear a skinned knee far easier than a bruised ego. I can’t recall who might have pushed my daughter down on the playground two months ago, but I can vividly recall who made her cry two years ago.
I believe that most physical wounds heal, but emotional scars are forever.
Moreover, I cannot abide excuses such as “boys will be boys” or “kids are cruel” and I have been heard time and again to rail against parents who don’t raise their children to have compassion and empathy for others.
This year I am responsible for getting no less than six children off to school in some semblance of timely fashion. Only two of them are mine.
My four “bonus children” come from varying sources. One is the much beloved neighbor boy who is in my son’s grade and goes to school from here from time to time.
We have also added no less than three new additions ranging from kindergarten through third grade. They will join us each morning for cereal and conversation before I drive them all to school with my daughter. In trade, our son will carpool to school with their older brother.
To keep all the children and their varying start times straight, I refer to them as “the littles” (as in the grade school age children) and “the middles” (as in the middle school boys).
It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. In this case our “village” is multi-aged and on the go!
By day three of this new system, I was skating along blissfully caffeinated and feeling on top of my game when it suddenly hit me! I had no way to get neighbor boy to school.
Due to a new state law that prohibits teen drivers from having too many passengers in their vehicles (and one which I heartily endorse) there was no room for the neighbor boy in the carpool.
Leave it to me to fail to realize this until the child is standing in my kitchen with his book bag in hand! Hello panic! What’s a mother to do?
Calming, I realized the neighbor boy could ride the bus. He rides it every other day.
Mulling this over, I realized that regardless of what happens “every other day” there was something undeniably sad about the idea of our son sailing off to school under the banner of cool that comes with riding with a high school student, while the neighbor boy trudged alone to the bus stop.
Seeking to appeal to our son’s better nature, I explained the problem to him.
“Are you really going to feel good about leaving your friend here to ride the bus alone?” I asked. My son, heart of my heart and a boy of such compassion that he has wept for friends who were embarrassed at school, stared at me wide-eyed.
“Wouldn’t that be sad?” (I added for emphasis).
Yes, he agreed, brown eyes shining, it would be. And so the matter was settled.
I relaxed knowing that our well-oiled machine was greased once more. I would accept the “littles” per usual, and the “middles” would catch the bus together in neighborly camaraderie.
Ten minutes later the carpool arrived and discharged the littles in a clamoring joyous roar. In the whirling chaos of book bags and jackets and tiny tennis shoes, I had little time to breathe.
Coming up for air as they streamed into the house, I looked up to see the neighbor boy standing on our porch — alone. Shoulders sagging, chin down, he shrugged and said quietly: “He left.”
Sure enough, I could see my son’s curly brown head just visible through the rear window as the car pool turned out of our driveway. He had left indeed.
I have never been so ashamed of my child in my life. I, the mother who has been heard to mutter “were they raised by WOLVES?” when other children behaved like savage beasts, was laid low by the realization that my own child could inflict hurt too.
As I accompanied the neighbor boy down to the bus stop, I pondered where I could have possibly gone wrong? Was my son raised by wolves? I didn’t think so.
We did — we do — our best. All I can say as I reflect on this moment is that I don’t know what other mother wolves eat, but this morning this mama wolf ate crow.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is trying to raise her children right. She welcomes comments c/o firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 38, Salem, Ohio 44460; or http://www.kymberly.typepad.com/life.)