While waiting for a ballgame to start, eleven 14 year old boys gathered in a sweaty, odiferous group trading witticisms, barbs and fish stories. On the surface it seems innocuous enough, but if you watch closely, you'll discover that what's really taking place is the establishment of a rank system within a newly formed pack.
The problem with this pack is that they are all alpha males. They are the best of the best; chosen for their skill and experience. They know they are good and all of them are used to being superior among their peers. But in this group, the margin of superiority is smaller, the distinction from one to another is harder to recognize. Nobody is the "star" of this group because they are...Allstars.
I sat and watched and listened. Parents like to talk a lot, yannow? And I'm no exception. I'm often terribly guilty of that myself. But I've discovered that I learn the most when my mouth is firmly closed. If I'm really quiet, they sometimes forget I'm there. They are genuine and unguarded. It's a goldmine of insight for anyone who cares to avail themselves of it.
My son is the newcomer. So they quizzed him on all manner of things; where does he go to school, who are his friends, what girls has he dated, what other sports does he play, is he in honors classes, does he associate with so and so....
He answered good naturedly, not at all affronted by being given the third degree.
One kid, with whom my son formed a fast affinity, asked him..."So, dude, what bus do you ride then?"
And I, without thinking, quipped..."The short one."
They cracked up of course. It was a witty remark, but it was more the fact that Pubescent One got burned by his own Mom. He endured a lot of ribbing over that, again, good naturedly.
Shortly after that, they took the field and I was left alone with my thoughts.
That's when the shame came creeping in.
What a horrible thing to say. What a horrible example to set for these almost men. What a sorrowful thing for any Moms who might have been listening, whose children might ride short busses.
My own youngest son is "different". I know the heartaches that brings. I have friends whose children struggle with disabilities; children who are sweet and kind and full of joy.
I thought too of my talisman man.
I diminished all of them with that comment.
And I was ashamed. Deeply, grievously ashamed.
Later, I talked to my son about it. I told him I was ashamed of what I had said. I told him it was cruel and that it went against everything I feel about tolerance, embracing differences and loving all humanity in its perfect imperfection. I told him I wished I could take it back.
"I let myself get caught up in the moment and my judgement just went right out the window."
He looked at me solemnly, unsure, I think, about just what he should say, or if he should say anything.
"I still think you're a good person, Mom. You didn't mean it."
"It doesn't matter if I meant it or not, babe. The hurt is just as bad. I'm ashamed of myself. Truly."
He grinned then, which ignited a little spark of irritation.
"Why are you grinning like that?" I demanded.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I just like knowing you screw up sometimes too."
"Oh boy...you have no idea."
"I do now." he said, grinning even more widely.
He hugged me then, which is becoming more and more rare these days. Something clicked with him. He got it, I think. All of it.
I thought back to my own adolescence. My mother and I nearly killed each other, though today we are very close. My mother was an amazing and wonderful mother in many ways. I feel fortunate to have been raised by her.
But I don't think I ever saw her admit to weakness or wrongdoing. I don't think I ever knew my mother as a person; a fallible being. And I think that set the stage for some major conflict when my sense of self was emerging. I don't think that I ever felt as if I measured up to her standards.
So perhaps my shame has served a purpose in this instance. If it means my son can see me as a human being and take something from that..well...I'll suffer it gladly.
Is there ever a silver lining in the dark cloud of intolerance?
If so, let this be it.
Lesson learned, by both of us.