My little boy calls to me. "Mama," he says, "I need to talk to you."
I ask him to scoot over so I can fit on the edge of his bed. His eyes look weepy though the tears haven't yet begun. I brush his blond hair away from his eyes, off to the side of his forehead, following the direction in which his part has long taken it.
It's bedtime, half past seven, the time when sad thoughts and bad thoughts come out to play. The time when busyness is no longer a helpful distraction, the time when the mind starts to rest. Or does it?
"Third grade has been a hard year for me, Mom."
"Really my darling? You seem so much happier than last year. Tell me!"
"Oh yes, it's been a very good year, but sometimes, at recess, it's so hard."
My gut starts to clench for him, as I recall the way kids start to act when they're eight and nine and ten. When there are ins and outs and cools and not-cools. When playground cliques change daily but are painful each time around.
My boy is truly kind. He always has been. It doesn't occur to him to be mean to anyone. It's been hard to watch others be mean to him. There have been a few, as there always are, and even though my boy is hurt, he refuses to hurt back. "That's just not right, Mom." I want to punch those kids in their smug faces, but my boy is right. And so I help him figure out ways of standing up to them in a kind, logical way. A way that he can walk away from feeling good that he's stuck to his moral guns.
"Well, X started a club, you see. And he invited some others to join. I said I wanted to join and he said, 'Well you can't unless you pass a test perfectly, and then maybe I'll let you onto the low class side."
Come to find, my boy would be the only one on the low class side, if he passed this ridiculous test.
My boy and X are friends. My boy is stung by this betrayal. He doesn't understand.
"Mom, there's no way I'll get 100% on the test." my boy says, and he crumbles in slo-mo. His beautiful face pinches, as if trying to stop the inevitable deluge soon to wet the pillow on which his head rests. The tears come, and his thin shoulders seize, up and back, up and back.
My heart is aching as I kiss the tears away and try to think of something, anything I can say to ease his pain. I tell my boy that I'm so proud of his kind soul and that unfortunately, not everyone is so. I tell him that sometimes, life is mean and hard and confusing. I tell him that friends don't issue tests, don't put friends in low classes.
I hug him until I worry I'm upsetting him more and then I gather myself and tell him something funny to make him laugh. A momentary reprieve.
"I love you, Mom."
Oh my sweet boy, I love you too.