My heart hurts today.
As parents, all we want is for our children to be safe and happy. When they are not, their pain cuts to core of our being.
I learned last night that my son has been having a rough time at school. He is the new kid, having started at a new school last September. We knew it would take a little time for him to settle in and make new friends, especially when most of the other kids already knew each other and had established friendships. Now he is back to school from winter break and struggling.
It all came pouring out of him last night. I was drawing myself a bath, but I could hear him in the next room, spilling his little guts out to my husband.
“When we play basketball or soccer, no one ever passes the ball to me. It makes me feel like the other kids don’t care about me.”
My heart sank.
And I was a bit surprised. Sure, I knew he was the newbie in his third grade class, but I also know what a sweet, energetic and outgoing little boy he is. Why the hell don’t these kids want to play with him or pass him the ball?
“Do the kids pick on you?” I heard my husband ask.
“Not exactly,” my son said, “I think they think I’m weird.”
I stood holding my breath, and straining to listen over the sound of running water, picking up only bits and pieces.
“They think it’s weird I bring my lunch every day, instead of buying lunch like they do.”
“I told them, it’s just cause my parents are vegetarian!”
My husband and I are actually not vegetarian, though we do strive to eat a mostly vegetarian style diet. We’ve pretty much cut meat out of our diet, but we both still eat fish, and my husband still indulges in a burger or carne asada burrito from time to time. However, we do strive to eat a healthy, organic diet as much as possible, and of course we feed our son in the same manner, as much as possible. We hope to instill healthy eating habits in him, and he eats his fruits and veggies like a champ.
Here’s the deal with the school lunches though—they don’t have a cafeteria, so different “vendors’ are called in each day to provide lunches. As an alternative, parents can pack lunches for their kids. The main vendors include: Pizza, McDonald’s, El Pollo Loco, and Chick-Filet.
It’s fast food. Every day.
Hells no! is what I said to that. There’s no way I’m letting my son eat garbage for lunch every day. So we pack his lunch. Lots of delicious organic fruits and veggies (stuff he likes), hummus with pita or sandwiches, etc.
Now, it’s not like I never let my son have pizza or chips or whatever, but I’m not gonna sign him up for McDonald’s every Tuesday either. No, no, no!
The mama bear rage set in. “But eating that crap is so bad for the kids,” I grumbled to my husband later. “That’s why we send him to school with good food to eat.”
“I know that,” he told me. “But you’re thinking like an adult. These kids just see that he’s different. So he gets singled out.”
“That’s the scary thing though,” he continued. “This is the kind of thing that makes him stand out to the real predators. I’m worried he may be on the cusp of getting seriously bullied.”
My stomach was in knots.
“He also mentioned the snack sale,” my husband told me. “After school, when the kids all go to buy snacks, he doesn’t go with them.”
There’s a snack sale once a week after school. Every week a different grade provides the snacks. We received an email at the start of the year from the head of the PTA asking parents not to send healthy snacks. No joke. Because they don’t sell! Appalling, right?
So we don’t give money every week to buy junk food snacks, but apparently this further isolates him.
There were a few other things that got discussed between my son and my husband during their impromptu heart-to-heart. But the painstaking reality is that my kid is being viewed as the ‘nerd” or the “weirdo” right now, largely due to the fact that he doesn’t conform to the Standard American Diet.
It sucks. I know that as his mom I’m biased by default, but I speak the truth when I say—I have a good kid. He has a very loving heart. He’s funny, gregarious, compassionate and respectful. I know this is true beyond my rose-colored-mama glasses, because of the compliments I’ve received from other people about his personality and behavior.
He was very well-liked at his previous school, so the fact that he is struggling with these issues now comes as a bit of a shock. But this is the reality. Despite his good heart and good qualities, he is having trouble making friends. He feels ostracized and lonely at school.
It makes my heart hurt.
All day today, I keep trying to shake off the grays, stay positive and not dwell in the sadness. But I’m struggling.
Every moment I’m feverishly hoping that he’s having a good day today. Every minute I’m saying another prayer—Please let him know how awesome and special he is. Please keep him strong during the hard moments. Please, please, please just let him be ok.
We all have our hard times and our down-in-the-dumps moments. When I do, I try to not dwell, but look for the positive. I try to keep my spirit lifted.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about him. His pain.
I wish I could take all his pain away from him and just endure it. But I can’t. And so, my heart is heavy today. It aches and it cries and bears a searing pain that cuts so deeply, it brings me to my knees.
This too shall pass.
This is what I will cling to until I see his little face again tonight. Until I can squeeze him and see him smile.
Please let him be ok.
He is such an awesome little human being. Please let him be ok.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: author’s own