My phone rang about 10 minutes before I was supposed to pick up my son from middle school. He was in seventh grade and had grown quiet the past few weeks. I tried to talk to him, but he was a vault and wouldn’t let me in. It seemed like this change happened overnight — one minute he wouldn’t stop talking, and the next he became alternatively stoic or moody. I chalked it up to puberty and kept checking in with him. Still nothing.
Even with this drastic change in behavior, when I saw it was the school calling, I figured it was something small. Maybe he forgot something and needed me to bring it to him? But he didn’t forget anything. It was the principal, and what she said to me on the other end of the phone left me in disbelief: “Your son said you would be here soon to pick him up, and I need you to come into my office, so we can have a meeting. He punched someone today and will be punished, but we need to have a discussion about it.”
“I think you might have the wrong number. My son doesn’t punch people.” I literally said that. I felt like this was surely a mistake. I had never even heard a peep about any bad behavior form his teachers in all of his eight years of school. Surely he would never haul off and punch someone. That is not something he would ever do.
“He is sitting right next to me. I can assure he did punch someone. I can’t tell you who. I can only tell you it was very provoked, and because of this, they will both serve an in-house suspension tomorrow.”
Driving to pick him up felt like an eternity. I was hysterical. Should I homeschool? Why would he punch someone? What is going to happen now? What am I doing wrong? I suck at parenting. I don’t know how to do this.
My grip on the steering wheel was so tight my hands hurt as I got out of the car and ran inside. As soon as I got to the office and saw my son’s face, it was all I could do not to grab him and hug him. He was fighting back tears — my son who looked more like a man than a 12-year-old boy. He stood taller than me and wore a size 10 shoe, but he was in fact still a boy.
I resisted the urge to side with him before I heard the whole story, but as soon as I sat down and asked him whom he had hit, he said the name and it all became crystal clear. This boy he decided to punch in the face had been bullying him and his friends since kindergarten. In second grade, I had seen him do it right in front of the entire soccer team, and I stood up for my son then. It embarrassed him deeply, but I didn’t care. Mama Bear has no shame.
The harassment didn’t stop. He would follow him on the playground, make fun of his shoes, tease anyone who became his friend. I would ask him about this at least once a week, and with confidence he would say, “It doesn’t bother me mom. He doesn’t have any friends. That is why he is mean.”
I spoke to teachers a few times, and they assured me that the conflict was being handled, and while I believe they were doing everything in their power, my son never spoke up and tattled on him. He just didn’t believe that was the right thing to do. Since it didn’t seem to affect his friendships, schoolwork, or self-esteem, I would check in occasionally and was very proud of the way he was handling the situation. I didn’t push his boundaries any further.
Fast-forward a few years, throw in some testosterone, and my son had just had enough, and on this day, it came to a head when his bully got in his face and said,” You would never hit me.” My son said he doesn’t even know what happened. He doesn’t remember actually hitting him. He just remembers hearing a cracking sound as his fist hit his bully’s face.
I am so thankful my son did not do any damage to this child and the teachers were right there to break it up and take both of them to the office. It did not get recorded with a smartphone. It did not escalate into a full-blown fight, but it was enough to scare the living shit out of me and make me question every parenting move I have ever made.
I cried that night, unable to sleep, so many thoughts rushing through my head: I want him to be a decent human being without being a doormat. I literally don’t know if what he did was right or wrong. I know how to change diapers and stay up all night with him if he has the stomach flu, but this, I have no idea how to do this.
And while I do not condone violence, I have also told my children they are not expected to take shit from anyone, and that day my son decided he needed to put an end to the shit in a way the teachers, staff, and his parents couldn’t.
There have been no fights with his bully since. In fact, they are friends now and have moved past the incident. Maybe my son’s fist in his face humbled him? I am not sure. I just know that he no longer bothers my son, or his friends, after nearly eight years of torment.
I preach to my kids about using their words, getting an adult, and asking for help. But clearly none of these things worked in this situation, except my son showing his bully that his behavior wasn’t welcome anymore. I find peace in knowing my child has his limits and will protect himself when he needs to. I no longer feel like a bad mom with a violent kid. I feel like a great mom with a great kid who isn’t perfect, but can navigate his way through the world just fine.