I was talking to my oldest son, Noah, on the phone the other night when he changed the subject with, “Hey, Dad, guess you didn’t hear the news.” Indeed I had not, and knowing my son, whatever he was about to share could range from his completing a new level on a video game to a little-known fact concerning the history of Chechnya.
“A kid in my class brought a knife to school today,” he said with a surprising amount of nonchalance.
What? This was not what I was expecting to hear, and it only got worse.
“Yup, had it in the bathroom and was going to use it on another fifth grader in our class,” Noah continued. “He’s going to be suspended for life, and probably get arrested for attempted murder.”
“Did you know him?” I asked, the alarm in my voice evident.
“Yeah. Sits next to me in class. Not a nice guy.”
“Let me talk to your mom.”
To say that I was concerned would’ve been an understatement. But, as I said before, I also know my son. Where voids exist between the facts of a particular incident, Noah fills these gaps in using the full resources of his logic and imagination. If a boy brings a weapon to school, it only stands to reason that, as a known bully, his intent is to use it, the end result of which would mean suspension and hard time in the big house.
This is why I suppressed my initial reaction of freaking out until after hearing the adult version of the same incident, and like so many times before, this proved to be a sound course of action.
Turns out that the situation, although still serious, wasn’t quite as bad as Noah made it out to be. Yes, a boy in Noah’s class had been caught carrying a knife—a pocketknife, to be exact. The reason was unclear, but apparently he was showing it off to some other kids while in the restroom, and they smartly told a teacher. Once the details were sorted out, the principal notified parents. Hearing this calmed my immediate concerns, but it also raised new ones, specifically about my son’s future.
It didn’t bother me that Noah’s account contained a little more commentary. He’s on a major crime-solving kick at the moment, so playing detective and theorizing as to motive and intent would’ve been too hard to resist. No, what worries me is that my son has become a target for bullies like this kid.
Noah is special. I realize every parent feels that way about their children, but what I’m referring to here is my son’s issues with ADD. Along with all the lack of focus and the disorganization, Noah tends to daydream, which is further enhanced by his medication, sending him into periods of deep concentration on whatever topic interests him that moment. This can last all day, and rather than play with the other kids at recess, he will spend the time walking around the playground alone in his thoughts.
When he does interact with his classmates, Noah will ramble on, unaware of the social cues indicating a person has stopped listening. What’s more, the things he likes to talk about are usually outside the realm of what 11-year-olds are into these days. (I wasn’t kidding about the details of Chechnian history. One teacher relayed to me how Noah held up class because he wanted to know how the New York Stock Exchange worked.) This sort of behavior tends to make him stick out, and not in a good way as far as some kids see it. Already there have been problems.
One boy has been antagonizing Noah for most of the year, to the point that my son was seeing the school councilor about how to deal with things. I wasn’t even made aware of this until his mother mentioned it to me after Noah got into a fistfight with another bully during a school trip. Fed up with the constant harassment, Noah finally hauled off and let the punk have it.
To the teacher and principal, the circumstances were clear, and Noah didn’t get in trouble. His mother and I, although not proponents of fighting, also agreed that because he repeatedly had asked for help, Noah did the right thing in standing up for himself.
Bullies abound. The consequences of their cruelty now make national headlines. In extreme cases, victims who feel trapped commit suicide or shoot classmates. Tragic as this is, I never paid much attention to the issue beyond extending a brief moment of sympathy for those involved. Things are different now.
This fall, Noah will start middle school where the bullies are larger, meaner, and seemingly even more bereft of conscience. Picturing him pitted against such circumstances triggers an anger in me from knowing what little control I have over the situation.
No longer is my son the little boy who liked to wear my Army gear and sit in my lap while I read him stories. His innocence was still intact back then in a world that was safer, and one where I could protect him.
Yet, the reality of me protecting him was only a mirage, a brief few years lasting just long enough to convince my brain that it would always be that way—even though my heart was telling me otherwise. Now I have no choice but to listen to that voice.
Now I have to believe it when it says for me to put my faith in those lessons I’ve taught Noah about what’s good in this life, why some people are the way they are, how to avoid them if possible, and when’s the right time to throw a solid right hook. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to hear that voice over the taunts of a harsh world.