When I was pregnant with Ethan I often stressed about every aspect of what could possibly go wrong before delivery. At the time, I even remember cursing the person that wrote, “What To Expect When You are Expecting.” One day near the end of my pregnancy, my sister-in-law, Liz, (who already had two children) said to me, “Meg, you think this period is stressful? Just you wait! The real fun happens AFTER they are born and you have to parent them through all the ups and downs!”
September 11, 2008
“Let me leave! I want to play with my friends!” Ethan was in 1st grade and on the school playground after lunch. Three 4th graders had surrounded him. Earlier in the cafeteria, they had first noticed him and made loud remarks about his only having two fingers so that all could hear. Apparently, by the time Ethan was on the playground, the boys had their plan. As soon as he walked away from his own friends to get a drink from the fountain, they cornered him. Ethan was surprised and afraid. At that moment, however, his close friend Javier noticed the exchange and intervened, insisting that Ethan come with him. But before they left, ever the loyal friend, Javi turned to the 4th graders and threatened to tell the teacher’s aide. The group disbursed.
Fortunately for us, I can probably count on my own two fingers the number of times Ethan has actually been bullied due to his difference. The day of that event, however, I had been at work and John and I only heard about it after-the-fact from our nanny. I thought to myself silently, “What could I say to my beautiful six-year-old boy?” Although the news had left me deflated, I was thankful for the commute home that day; I needed the time to gather my thoughts. What in the world could I draw upon? I struggled to remember experiencing anything similar from my past. As I sat on the bus, I stared out my window and turned on my iPod. Michael Jackson’s, “Man in the Mirror” began to play. Listening to the chorus, I was charged with a new sense of energy.
Arriving home I entered the house and, as soon as Ethan saw me, the tears started streaming down his pale freckled cheeks like a broken faucet. I brought him into his room, and as we sat on his bed I quietly listened to his description of what happened on the playground. The more he spoke, the harder he cried. After he had taken a few deep breaths, I turned to him. “Ethan, I am so glad Javi helped you out. No one should ever put you in a position that you cannot walk away if you need to. If it happens again, of course you should immediately tell your teacher.”
But I knew I could not leave it simply like that. Here it was—a significant parenting moment. Not simply the daily, “brush your teeth,” or “eat your broccoli.” This felt real to the core. Although inside I still felt a bit queasy at the thought of the kids surrounding him, I gave him a firm smile. “Ethan, take a look in the mirror. What do you see?” Although the tears were still present, he turned to me, then to the mirror hanging on the inside of his closet door. “I see myself and you behind me.” “Do you know what I’m thinking ?” I asked. “No,” he answered. “Can you change what I’m thinking?” I persisted. “No.” He repeated.
“Right now I’m looking at myself and thinking about how proud I am of you and how good I look in this outfit! I know I’m right on both counts. And neither you nor anyone else can change my mind.” He gave me his impatient look that said he knew there was a lesson coming. “While some kids will be naturally curious, other kids may make fun of the fact that you look different than they do, and might even be mean about it like what happened today at school. Kids are going to think what they think and there is nothing you can do about it. Just like you cannot control me and stop me from what I do and think, you are the only person you can actually control. Here’s another fact. Kids that are happy with themselves never bother being mean to other kids. Your goal is to stop trying to make others accept you. I paused. “Ethan, you are the master of your mind and your thoughts—no one else is. Not even daddy or me. Now look in the mirror again and tell me what you see.” Our beautiful son smiled, and for that moment, that was enough for me.
This wouldn’t be our last conversation on the topic, but I knew we were off to a great start. We hugged for a long time at first, and then I turned on our stereo. After all, great music always lifts a mood.
Man in the Mirror
I’m starting with the
man in the mirror
I’m asking him to
change his ways
And no message could
have been any clearer
If you wanna make the
world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make that change