Nov 28, 2010

My Strong Boy

"Papa, you're being more strict these days," my 8-year-old moans from the back seat.

I laugh, but it's true. He's pushing a lot these days, needing strong loving boundaries to meet the growing power he's feeling. On bad days (my bad, that is) I worry he'll become a bully, an outcast, a juvenile delinquent. On good days, I celebrate his confidence and inner strength.

There's been incidents of hitting his brother (usually provoked and understandable), a classmate with a ball of wool (absent-minded teasing/flirting, not maliciously intended), pushing another classmate to the ground and breaking her wrist (over-excitement, not trying to hurt). All of these had to be dealt with, but I have to remember are not indicative of a bad nature, just bad judgment or body awareness.

For many of his almost 9 years, Galen has felt (internally, and to me) like a victim. Taking the brunt of some bullying, feeling on the outside, unsure. Sometimes told he's not allowed to play, more often not knowing how to jump in. Now suddenly he's realizing that he's bigger than the "bullies", that he's strong, that he's special and can assert himself. Two examples:

An after-school snowball fight pitted him against 3 of the more "in" kids. Galen's had problems with two of those kids over the past 2 years, and one of them was throwing snowballs hard and mercilessly. There was nothing different in that boy's "attack" from other times that Galen has ended up crying or feeling picked on, but this time Galen's response was to fight back, thankfully in a fun way. He was laughing and dodging and throwing snowballs back when he could. There was a bit of fear in his laughter, but triumphing that fear was his thrill in being strong enough to stay in the game, turn an aggressor into an opponent in an equal game.

The other morning his little brother warned him that "the kids will laugh at you" for wearing ski goggles to school. The Protective Papa in me wanted to agree, wanted to help him not have anything to make him stick out more and increase likelihood of being picked on. But he just shrugged and said he wanted to wear them, so I had to trust him. Sure enough, the minute he walked into the classroom he was met with three classmates sneering and challenging, "Why are you wearing those?!" Completely unfazed, he simply said, "I felt like it." And that was enough for the others - they could feel his confidence, and it became a non-issue. That afternoon, one of those boys asked to borrow the goggles.

We've been trying hard to have him well dressed, clean, polite, take away any obvious bloopers to make him more of a target. But it's not the goofy goggles or the bell-bottom floods that he belovedly calls his "knickers" that matter, it's how he wears them. And these days he's wearing them with pride. Rather than becoming bland and just hoping to survive by fitting in, he's embracing his unique nature, his goofy humour and his beautiful sensitivity, and he's shining.

So when he takes a classmate's sled and won't give it back all recess, there is a cause for celebration. No, the behavior isn't acceptable and we address that with him, but there's a brave new strength that lets him assert himself rather than complain that he was never given a turn. He's finding himself and the will to stay on his own special path; our task is to celebrate his uniqueness, supporting and drawing out that strength that lets him Gloriously be Galen, while helping to channel it in positive healthy ways.


  1. Such a beautiful post, Rick. When I met Galen, I felt a compassionate and beautiful heart and soul about him. So glad to hear this news.

  2. This is a very disturbing post.

    The types of behaviour you describe are extremely problematic. Your decision to insist on seeing your child as benign and well-meaning -- my children certainly do things at times because they want to hurt people; it's human nature -- is concerning.

    When other children do as Galen does, they are bullies. They "bully" or throw snowballs "mercilessly." But when your son does it, you have an entire laundry list of justifications. He didn't mean to hurt a girl when he _broke her wrist_. He is teasing. He was provoked.

    I wonder whether the other children would describe Galen as having a special strong spirit, or if they would say he is a bully.

  3. Thank you for this response - gave me lots to reflect on, and led to a full response today -