A couple years ago, Mr. Ornery (now 12) was visiting a friend’s house when I received what I would describe as a panicked text from the father asking me to come pick up my son. Apparently, in the father’s brief absence (a different problem), the friend had decided to discharge the fire extinguisher all over the kitchen. The house was a mess. The boys were coughing and spluttering. Mr. Ornery had run outside with the dog for fresh air. After safely home, we discussed the dangerous situation, the sheer stupidity, the father’s anger, my disbelief and frustration, and the mandatory contribution of $50 toward cleaning the house along with an apology note. That seemed to me like the time to end this particular friendship.
But then comes along middle school and the boys are now in the same school and see each other again. It’s a Friday night and I get an unknown call on my phone. Usually one to ignore these, for some reason I answer. It’s silent as I say, “Hello, hello,” until a young voice asks, “Do you want to f*** in the backyard?” “Really?!?” I reply, heading to my laptop to try to look up the number when a text comes in from that number reading, “Sorry, my son just came inside and said his friend was making prank calls.” I called back multiple times and finally left a message asking this boy to have his father call me immediately. Eventually his mother called, was quite apologetic and upset and shared how much they’ve been trying to work with their son.
As I talk with the mother, I realized and explained to her that what was most upsetting to me is that in this action, the boys were practicing sexual harassment. They were making prank calls and when reaching a woman, they were verballing abusing the woman. I explained that I just wanted to be part of the solution with other parents in raising a new group of boys into men who will treat women with respect and dignity.
I told Mr. Ornery that he needed to steer clear of this friend. Then I put myself in the place of this mom, realizing that it’s so much easier for us to take one look at a kid in one point in time and make a quick decision. “Bad apple.” “Awful kid.” “I’ll never let him/her play with my child and be a bad influence.” It’s easy to judge without knowing the full story.
What would it be like to think about the kid in terms of his story? What are his struggles and challenges. Where is he in his life and growth curve?
My kids are not angels. They sometimes do really awful things. They can be destructive. They can be rude and obnoxious. They can swear worse than a sailor. And recently, they decided that while walking around the neighborhood at night with friends, they might try out some ding-dong-ditch excitement. (The fact that today’s doorbells and porches are now equipped with video cameras is something they were not bargaining for! You don’t have to worry about friends snitching on you – the video is there!)
But I hold their story. I know where they’ve been and how much progress they are making. I know that what might be judged as atrocious language is actually a huge accomplishment in now using words to express big emotions, instead of hands lashing out. I know that they are making rash decisions based on a lag in the development of executive function skills due to ADHD. I know that 99% of the time they are sweet and loving and cuddly. I know them and I hold their story.
As I hold their story, I try to remember that other mothers and fathers and caregivers are holding other stories. So I thank my neighbors and friends for joining with me in the life and growth curve of my boys. And I try to remind myself to extend grace to my boys and to the others who are still working on their story.