His little shoulders heaved as he gulped big breaths of air and tears streamed down his face. “Mom, it isn’t fair. Why was I the only one who didn’t get one?” My 7-year-old son was devastated, and I was pissed.
He had just jumped off the school bus and came running into to the house, dropping his backpack on the kitchen floor before he blurted out that he hates his best friend and never wants to talk to him again, and he is definitely not letting him play with his new remote control car. As it turns out, my son was the only child in his little tribe of close friends — all practically brothers like the Lost Boys — who was not invited to a highly anticipated, much-talked-about birthday party.
As a parent, there is nothing worse than watching helplessly as your child experiences their first pains of social disappointments and heartache. For my son, that meant knowing and feeling that he was being excluded — for reasons we did not understand at the time — and he knew that it really sucked.
As for me, I was angry on my son’s behalf. I wanted to pick up the phone, call the parent and say, “What the fuck, lady? We invite you and all your kids to everything, we make special time for your child and mine to hang out, why would you hurt my kid like this?” But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I cannot fix everything for my child, and honestly, I still wasn’t entirely sure that my kid’s invitation wasn’t simply lost in the mail.
But then I saw it, the Facebook posts flying back and forth about how excited the other kids were, and what would the birthday boy like for his special day?
I was seething pissed again.
Should I hit like on a status update to passive-aggressively let all those a-holes know that I know that they excluded my kid? No. That would make me a jackass.
So I did nothing. I ignored the cutesy Facebook posts and tucked away my inner mama bear and prepared some words of wisdom for my boy who was feeling about as low as I had ever seen him.
Being excluded hurts, but when you’re a little kid and you’re not equipped with years of life experience, the rawness of that first sucker punch is often enough to stick with you — maybe forever. I still remember being the only girl in my class not invited to a slumber party that included watching a coveted VHS tape of New Kids on the Block. To this day, I remember the bitter taste of feeling kind of humiliated and kind of sad and mostly confused and hurt as a kid. Sitting alone at home, knowing everyone else was having fun without me.
So I know that my child’s tears and heartache are real. And that this kind of thing matters.
I went up to my son’s bedroom where I found him tinkering with a science experiment at his desk. I put my hands on his shoulders and told him how much I love him, and then I sat down and explained a few things about how groups of friends work. Sometimes friends do boneheaded things. Sometimes friends make mistakes. And sometimes, they do hurtful things like leave you out. We talked about how important it is to not throw a friendship away over something like this, that a party is not what defines a person. We made a plan to set up a fun playdate and just keep moving forward with life and let this setback be just that — a setback and a learning experience.
I gave my kid the best pep talk that I could summon, and by the end, he agreed that a true friend would forgive. He could be the bigger person here, and we would have fun on our own that day.
Two days later, I got a Facebook message from my son’s BFF’s mom. “Hey, lady! I couldn’t figure out why you hadn’t RSVP’d yet and then I found the damn invitation stuck at the bottom of Carl’s backpack! I’m sorry. I really hope you guys can make it!”
And there it was. And damn, I was glad I didn’t call her up cursing or make a jackass of myself on social media.
My kid wasn’t excluded after all, but he got one helluva valuable lesson in the proper care and maintenance of first-grade friendships.