You've heard about Son #1's travails in my last post. This post is about Son #2. He's a fun, funny, very sociable guy. He needs constant company (in contrast to his older brother). Earlier this week, he was a little bummed that the kid on our street that he usually plays with after school (I'll call him "Will" - not his real name) decided to go to another kid's house in the neighborhood. Will invited Son #2 along, but he declined.
Son #2 was a little mopey and when I asked him why he didn't go with Will, he said that the kid Will was going to play with is "not a good role model" (Son #2's words). I asked him to elaborate and he explained that this other kid uses bad language a lot on the bus and threatens to beat up other people. Wow. Unfortunately, this isn't terribly unusual behavior for the age group (10-11 year old boys), but I was really impressed that Son #2 took a stand, especially since it meant he didn't have anyone else to hang with that afternoon. I was very proud of him.
Fast forward to yesterday. I receive a phone call from the mother of one of Son #2's former friends. I'll call him "Greg" (again, not his real name). They met at the beginning of the school year when Greg moved here from another state. Son #2 was invited to Greg's house once, they had a fine time, but some weeks later, Son #2 told me that he and Greg weren't friends anymore because Greg called Son #2 and his other friend, Jack (another alias) "a bad name." Son #2 didn't know what the name meant, but Jack said it wasn't good, and by the way, Mom, what's a pervert? Lovely discussion we had, that's a lot Greg (I'm being snarky). We discussed it and decided it might be best to steer clear of Greg until he apologizes or at the very least, stops the name calling.
Greg's mom calls to tell me that Greg was very upset when she picked him up after school. Apparently Greg's friends are starting to 'fall away,' he's being tripped at school, that Son #2 hit him with a ball earlier that day, etc. Needless to say, I'm appalled but I also know there are two sides to every story so I tell her I'll talk with Son #2 and call her back.
Son #2 is no angel, but he's not a bully. He has on occasion gotten frustrated at another kid and called them a name (usually something pretty tame, but still unacceptable and I make sure he's reminded of it). But never has he physically lashed out at anyone. He has a lot of friends, but he's not the type to use them against one another. In fact, he's generally the peacemaker and doesn't choose sides when his other friends have an argument. If someone behaves badly toward someone else, it's usually Son #1 who tells them they're acting uncool.
Still, I ask Son #2 about it. He insists he's been steering clear of Greg. He admits to calling Greg a couple of names about a month ago when Greg called him "gay." Son #2 fired back with "bully" and one other that he conveniently forgot (uh huh. sure.). We talk again how name-calling is unacceptable and to knock it off. He insists that's been his only involvement with Greg.
I continue my interrogation (unlike Son #1, who'll tattle on himself almost immediately, serious conversations with Son #2 are like fine wines - they must be allowed to age and ferment).
Me: Did you physically touch Greg with any part of your body or any object?
Him: No, ma'am.
Me: Did you ever turn any other kids away from Greg? Suggest they shouldn't hang out with him?
Him: No, a lot of people stopped hanging out with him because he calls them names too.
Me: You didn't suggest that?
Me: Have you ever seen anyone push or hit Greg?
Him: Yes, _____ knocked him down last week.
Me: Did you ever throw a ball at him or even to him, if he seemed like he was joining your game?
Him: No, he doesn't join our games. He hangs out with _____ & ______. Another kid, _____, threw a football at him today.
Me: How do you get along with Greg's friends?
Him: Fine. We don't hang out because I steer clear of Greg, but when he's not around, we say "hey."
And so it goes. He sits next to me as I call Greg's mom. I mentioned again why Son #2 no longer hangs out with Greg (which she conveniently doesn't address). I told her Son #2's version of events. She responds with, "So he's saying he did nothing today? That Greg is making all this up? It's clear that you're absolutely going to believe your son..." I cut her off with: "Excuse me, but isn't that exactly what you're doing?"
I reiterate that Son #2 said he did not trip or hit Greg with a ball. I acknowledge that Son #2 isn't an angel and that he admitted to calling Greg names when Greg called him names. I reminded her that Greg called Son #2 a pervert months ago. I also tell her that I do believe Greg is being bullied, based on what Son #2 told me. But he is not bullied by Son #2. I'd love to work with her to sort this out, but I want specifics. I asked her to please ask Greg which ball hit him and did he actually see Son #2 throw it. In other words, was it the green soccer ball Son #2 was playing with or was it the football that Son #2 saw another kid throw at Greg?
While I'm holding on, I can hear her asking him in the background. I can't hear all of Greg's response but I did hear him say the name of the kid who threw the football. His mom asks another question, and Greg replies, "that was (football thrower), too." She gets back on the phone with a much better demeanor: "I'm sorry. I apparently misunderstood." I resisted the temptation to say, You bet your ____ you did! We put both boys on the phone and they apologize.
Prior to my calling her back, I spoke with Son #2 about whether it might be possible to salvage the friendship. He didn't know. They didn't know each other long when it soured and there's been a lot of headaches since. Fair enough. However, he did agree that they could apologize, declare a truce and be cordial. Perhaps Son #2 could even say "hi" and mention to other friends that Greg apologized for the name-calling, that Son #2 thought that took guts and that everyone deserves a second chance. Whether that influences anyone else to follow suit, I don't know.
What I think happened is that Greg was upset. He was telling his mom about his day, how people knock him down, call him names (hello pot, meet kettle), how people (insert numerous names, including Son #2's) aren't hanging around him anymore. I think she may have glommed on to Son #2's name and projected the rest. Still it bugs me that she not once addressed the fact that her kid slings around some pretty nasty names. Until she acknowledges his role in all this, and addressed it, I can't see this kid's days getting much brighter.