Our latest encounter with mean was one my kids didn't even hear. At least, they didn't hear it in the moment. But I chose to run a bit against the grain and told one of my kids about it anyway, because he is going to probably experience plenty of mean and he needs to know how to twist mean into a deflated pile of words. As the kids and I were getting into the van after school, there was another group of elementary kids walking on the sidewalk by our van. As they neared us, Zeke saw a snake in the grass so he ran away from the van, towards the snake. I redirected him back to the van and was starting to walk into the street to help him buckle when I heard one boy yell loudly to his friends, "Hey look at his hands!" Mean just showed up as a carnival barker, pointing out Zeke as some kind of freak side show. By that point, Zeke was already in the van. But the poor boy who said it was still close enough for the mama to give him a piece of her mind. My alter ego, which resembles as a first grade teacher, arrived just in time to tell him that it was not okay to say that, to ask him how he would like it if someone yelled such a thing about his hair or shirt or face. There's something about being redressed by a stranger which usually makes most kids get instantly quiet and this little guy was no exception.
The interaction then left me with a decision to make: ignore it and pretend like it hadn't happened or tell Zeke about it and use it to preteach what to do. Oh it would have made me feel a bit better to just have just let it go. I hate that people are mean and I'd rather not think on it or dwell on it. But the next day at lunch, when it was just Zeke and I, I started the conversation and told him what had happened. I asked him what he could say if that happened and I wasn't there. He matter of factly told me that he'd just tell the boy he had surgery. When I asked him what he would do if the boy kept talking about it, he told me that he would just ignore it. We then spent a bit of time talking about how people who use mean words will use mean words regardless of how many fingers you have. Someone who is mean will always manage to find something to critique. If it's not your fingers, it's your hair, or your glasses, or the way you run, or the way you read. Knowing ahead of time that people are mean, that you are not powerless to deal with it, and that it is not about you but always about the person who is choosing meanness are all ways to help our kids navigate life.
I hate that for one of my kids, his hands are such an easy target. But gosh I love that this same kid is so amazing that so many of his friends don't even see his hands; they just see him. It makes me think about a story my friend, Nicky, shared about her daughter, Saige. They had just finished watching an episode of Daniel Tiger which featured a character in a wheelchair and the theme of how to deal with differences. Saige was quick to point out that she had friends who were different. Nicky was so sure she was going to mention Zeke and his hands. But no, she just wanted Nicky to know that her friend, Emilie, had red hair. May all of my kids be blessed by friends who love them as they are, who will help them be confident and sure.