This mother's heart is breaking today.
I left home at 5.45am this morning with one very excited son. We had to get him to school to catch the bus in time for his grade 6 Canberra camp. During the half hour drive to school, he talked excitedly to me about the upcoming events he was looking forward to. Never mind the education at Parliament House, he couldn't wait to go on the vertical slide at Questacon!
My heart was quietly pleased, because this is my youngest boy Riley, my slightly anxious child, who is constantly analysing where he fits within the social interactions around him (I wonder where he gets that from?!), sensitive to all that's said and done, and desperately wanting to belong. Don't get me wrong, Riley can be confident given the right circumstances, and his need to belong can lead him astray at times - showing off for peer approval at school, only to get a detention from his teacher! But as a mother, I know his heart, and Riley's heart is soft, gentle and painfully generous. To see him excited, confident and full of positive expectation about camp, my own heart shared his joy.
We pulled up at school and joined the growing throng of excited children, their parents and some siblings in attendance still wearing their pyjamas. While Riley was busy looking to find and connect with his mates, a lot of the kids were on and off the bus saving seats with their bags and jackets, reserving their spot in the social pecking order - the most favoured at the back of the bus, along the continuum to the least favoured at the front. Riley found his friends, who proceeded to tell him that they had already saved their seats together, and that Riley would be "sitting with a total stranger - ha ha", followed by their laughter as though this was innocent fun.
Between this revelation and Riley boarding the bus, I had approximately 15 seconds. He hugged me, and I encouraged him not to worry about the seats, that once they were on the road, everyone would relax and the talking and laughter would be bouncing from one end of the bus to the other. But as he pulled away, and then hugged me again I could see the welts of tears in his eyes. I could do no more for him, and didn't want to make a scene or embarrass him further. He got on, sat up the front of the bus - with another lovely boy I'm sure - but the truth was his mates had left him out cold, and he knew it. He quietly looked out the window and waved gently as the bus departed.
I kept my composure and got to my car before crying a gushing river of a mum's protective tears. No mother wants their child to hurt. Why did mine have to be hurting when he was leaving me for days on end and I could do nothing to reassure or comfort him? Why, why, why, did mates have to treat him like that? The bitterness of the situation struck me because it contrasted so strongly with the sweet relief I had felt only minutes before, when he had been so excited and relaxed to leave.
I could reflect on many things in this post. Building resilience in children. The responsibility we each have of teaching those around us how to treat us, and teaching our children to understand that concept. The value and importance - as hard as it is - of parents stepping back and allowing their children to learn life lessons, without constant parental intervention. The wealth of insight to be gained from a tour of parliament house! Or the depths of appreciation that should come from soberly taking in our national war memorial. But what I will quickly reflect upon is the human capacity to "feather one's own nest", even when it comes at the expense of others.
I don't hate those boys for what they did to Riley. As much as I wish they hadn't done it, I understand them. They too, want to belong, and in their quest to feel the most closely connected, they have enjoyed the extra intimacy and security needed to determine one's position of dominance at the beginning of camp, by leaving someone out. I'm quite sure as even this day wears on, having vied for the top spots and being secure in them, they will have the security to invite Riley in on their terms. Isn't that what we all do? I see this pattern in adults ALL the time. Adults are better and more emotionally equipped at masking their behaviour, but we still vie for positions of dominance, or those positions that will ensure our needs are met first are foremost. And more often than not this comes at the expense of those whom we will ultimately dominate, whether it's by sheer will or simply by default. No, I'm not saying the entire adult world is cruel, but I know that given the right culmination of circumstances, most people - including myself - are capable, and not only capable, but desiring, to secure the next best position. Some are capable of callously capturing it, while others are masters at manipulation and wriggling in there while looking innocent.
Sometimes I choose to be last. I choose to think less of the fight for dominance and more of my character development - going without something or having to wait longer for it won't usually hurt me. I know that I'm more than capable, and certainly have done in the past, of vying for top dog, but in deliberately giving it up, I feel a quiet sense of satisfaction and control - I have other priorities. Having the most power, the most material possessions, the most anything, is an unquenchable quest. If you remember to treat others as you would like to be treated, you open up the way for genuine and trusting relationships to form. I have found those type of connections in my life, to be far more sustaining and satisfying than holding any position of influence or title.
I will finish by saying with all my heart that I love you Riley. I know you will have a great time on camp despite the hiccough at the start, and you will grow into a strong yet gentle man one day. Enjoy the vertical slide buddy!