I received special permission to blog this story.
Last week my oldest son learned the hard lesson that where a group of 10-year-old boys is gathered, someone gets chosen as the odd man out. In this case, it was Adam.
He was at a summer day camp, his first year to go. A certain group of boys, led by a ringleader we’ll call Chuck, bullied him all week. It wasn’t serious physical bullying–it was the kind that arguably hurts even worse. Adam was taunted and teased and excluded in ways that cut deeply. The camp counselors tried to intervene, but they’re all a bunch of college kids not trained to deal with the dynamics of a bullying situation. They weren’t a lot of help.
After the first day, we sat down with Adam and went through the list of how to handle a bully: standing up for yourself, teaming up with a friend, talking with the adults. We offered to get involved; he was insistent that he wanted to handle this himself. Though the Momma Bear in me was ready to lash out, instinct told me I should trust him on this one.
He tried handling things on Tuesday and Wednesday, with little or no success. He did make a special friend (we’ll call him Dave), but this boy was equally targeted by Chuck and his gang. Wednesday night, Adam came home so discouraged that he just didn’t feel like he could go back.
We didn’t blame him. We told him we were proud of how he had stood up for himself, and that since he had done everything we asked, he didn’t have to go back. We would explain to the camp staff what had been going on.
But, Hubs reminded him, bullies do their thing as a means to gain power. If Adam didn’t continue to stand his ground, would the bullies, in fact, be winning?
And what about Dave? If Adam didn’t go back, Dave would be left to face the bullies’ wrath alone.
Adam mulled these things over, and Hubs left him with one more thought. He reminded Adam that life is a lot like a series of mountains. You face one struggle, you master it, and your "legs", figuratively speaking, are stronger for the next one. Maybe, Hubs explained, this was just one of Adam’s mountains. Maybe, in staying and standing firm, Adam could feel the victory that comes from a tough climb.
But, and we still made this clear, we wouldn’t be disappointed if Adam chose to leave camp. Adam looked at us with a seriousness that belied his ten years. "I need to think about this," he said.
He did. For hours he mulled this over. How I wanted to jump in and make the decision for him! How I wanted to box the ears of the boys who were unkind to my son! And yet, that little voice of instinct told me that this was the time for silence.
Adam told us he would be returning to camp for the last two days. His jaws were set. And his shoulders looked a little broader to me than they had the day before.
As it turned out, the last two days were markedly better. And on the last day of camp, they hosted a special time for the parents to come see what the kids had been doing all week. After the songs and the crafts and the announcements, Hubs leaned down and asked Adam to point out Chuck. With Adam watching, Hubs (who can be very intimidating when he so chooses, and at this moment, he indeed so chose) extended his hand to Chuck.
"I just wanted to meet you," Hubs said. "Adam has told me what a good friend you’ve been to him this week. I just wanted to thank you for being so kind."
Chuck’s eyes became huge and his face went white. Hubs continued to hold his gaze, and his handshake.
"Someday," Hubs continued, "I think you’ll look back on this week and be so proud of the way you acted."
Leaving a bewildered Chuck standing there, Hubs clapped a gleeful Adam on the back, and the two of them left.
A few days later, we were going over this story again, Adam beaming every time he retold it. I told him that if he felt comfortable with it, I’d like to share this story on my blog. He looked at me and grinned.
"Mom," he said, "I’d be disappointed if you didn’t."
And that is the response of a boy who has grown this summer. A boy who knows his daddy has his back.
A boy who just climbed a mountain.
This post was originally published on August 9, 2007.