On Thursday last week, I had a phonecall around 2pm from Headmaster. During lunchtime Boy had thrown a stone at someone on the playground and it had 'left a mark'. God, the shame. My first phonecall from the head about bad behaviour, I wanted to shrivel up and die.
After assuring me that the child in question was alright, Headmaster then let me know that he was confident that there had been no malicious intent. In his opinion, after speaking with witnesses and with Boy himself, it had been a boisterous game and in the moment it appeared he had forgotten all those things I'd told him about stones hurting people and friends losing their eyesight and ambulances being called etc etc... and simply picked up whatever was to hand and hurled it at his friend as part of the game.
Headmaster was great. Really calm and measured, very matter of fact; he didn't think Boy is destined to be a sociopathic killer (I must have sounded freaked!) but had felt the need to call me and discuss the matter so that we could decide on appropriate 'next steps' as a team. I appreciated his candour, his level-headedness and his reassurance that, whilst serious, this act did not mean I needed to book Boy into intensive therapy. Knowing our son and his love of outdoor freedom, he felt that a short chat over playtime the next day would be sufficient discipline and he reiterated that Boy himself had been fully aware of what he'd done wrong and had offered an apology (and a hug) straight away.
The whole incident reminded me of two things. Two things I firmly believe in when parenting:
1. When your child does something wrong, it is vital you face it head on.
2. 'Boys will be boys' is a dumb and stupid phrase that makes my blood boil!
Firstly, I had to call the other child's mother. In any situation like this, I guess it's natural to feel protective about your own child. Maybe he was provoked? Maybe he was overtired and frustrated? Maybe someone else has been throwing stones at school and therefore he genuinely thought it was acceptable behaviour?
Then, maybe you start getting cross at others. Why wasn't an adult there to break this up BEFORE my children got to the point where he needed to throw a stone? What on earth HAPPENS at lunchtime at our school? If they keep shouting at him in the lunch hall then NO WONDER he's feeling frustrated... And on and on...
Problem is, sometimes your kid has just done something wrong. No reason, no excuse, no get out of jail free card. Sometimes, your little angel has just been a little shit. And you either excuse it every which way you can or you have to hunker down and own it.
The thing is, Boy himself had owned it. He had immediately apologised to his friend, agreed to see Headmaster, given hugs and promised to try hard never to make the same mistake again. If a 5 year old can be so adult about such things, surely as a mother the least you can do is follow their lead.
Recently, a child at school bit Goddaughter and the oddest thing about the entire situation was that her mother completely blanked BFF for weeks afterwards. No apology, no excuses, no hint of even acknowledging that this horrid thing had occurred. Some mornings she walked straight past us on the school run and didn't even make eye contact.
What kind of message is that sending to our children? If you fuck up, just refuse to say sorry and then ignore the problem until it goes away, basically.
So, feeling nervous, I rang the child's mother. I said how sorry I was, how Boy did know better but that he had clearly forgotten and I would chat to him after school that evening. I didn't offer any excuses or reasons for why my child had acted in such a crappy way. I just said sorry and that I hoped her poor child was not too worse for wear after the event.
And then the second thing happened. She was perfectly friendly and understanding, not phased at all and, to be honest, a lot more understanding that I would have been had someone wanged a stone at Boy's head! But then she uttered the dreaded words... 'boys will be boys'.
I am intrinsically opposed to this phrase. It sets my teeth on edge and I find it hard to explain why. 'Boys will be boys' just seems to mean that their actions are excused, justified, validated, don't really need punishing? Husband thinks I'm ridiculous and that, as a mama of boys, I should relish the phrase, enjoy its endless free pass, use it at every chance I get. But to me, it's just another way of teaching my children that should they fuck up, pfft it doesn't matter, you don't need to apologise, it will go away. And even worse, it is your ANATOMY that grants you this privilege. So it's wrong for TWO reasons!!
As a Mama of Boys, I feel it is even more important that I do not let them hear this phrase, do not let them think this phrase is acceptable thinking. It is my duty to them and it is my duty to the girls that my tribe is raising. Because, not only will they wind up being the ones dealing with a peer group of boys who think their penis grants them carte blanche to behave however the hell they like, but what kind of impact will it have on their own self image? You, my delicate little flower, are held to higher standards because you are female. You, my precious little sunbeam, must conform and 'behave'. You, my sweet little cupcake, should forgive the creep who sexually assaulted you at university because, hey, he's a boy...it's not his fault.
No, no, no! It's a dangerous and stupid phrase.
I should have called her on it. But I was too relieved she wasn't mad at me or cross with Boy for hurting her child. I did make sure that Boy knew what he had done was dangerous, and that there would be consequences the next day when he returned to school. I held his hand, assured him that those consequences would be fair, promised to go in with him and encouraged him to find his friend first thing and double check that he was OK.
A much wiser phrase from his Godfather that I love is 'It doesn't matter what you did wrong, what matters is how you try to fix it'.
Isn't that a nicer phrase for all of our children to hear?