Declan is fighting me. I’m supposed to be the bad guy from a show he loves. He has it choreographed to the last detail.
“Side kick me, Mommy.” That’s something you don’t hear a six-year old say often. I aim for the stomach.
“Woosh,” he says. He angles. Pretty impressive.
“Kick me again.” I try. He angles. I’m getting real-person impressed, having flashbacks to learning to angle and evade in my martial arts studies, back when I discovered martial arts wasn’t really about kicking and breaking stuff, it was about avoiding the fight completely. And doing peaceful things, like meditating and arranging flowers.
Eventually, he breaks through, and starts punching me for real, because that’s what good guys do. I throw a knee. He punches it. He punches my arm. That little kid hurts. I explain, “We’re playing. Mommy doesn’t want to hurt you. We’re not really punching.”
“Throw me across the room, Mommy.” I pick him up a little and put him straight down. He throws himself ten feet–a Hollywood stunt man.
He gets up, “You can’t defeat me that easy!” Who’s trying to defeat anyone? I’m just trying to drink my tea. In a superhero flurry, he races over and punches me again.
“Punch me, Mommy! In the stomach. Like this!” It’s a good punch. I lose a little bit of breath.
“You don’t have to show me. I told you, we’re not really punching people.”
“It’s what the bad guy does!” I can take no more.
He laughs. Then he stops.
He looks at me. Deeply. Like I’ve made a mama joke or insulted his dog.
“Mommy. You can’t do that. You can’t give wedgies. That…is bullying.”
I kneel down. “What do you mean?”
“Bullies give wedgies. You can’t do that. Bullying is mean. You shouldn’t be a bully.”
“Where did you learn that?” I ask.
“School. Bullies are bad.” He holds my gaze. He is teaching me.
I want to explain bullies don’t usually give wedgies. To tell him bullies sometimes punch and hit, but more often they’re subtle, insidious, hard to recognize until they’ve already infiltrated the soul, done their psychological damage. Made us feel we have little value. And because of that, we need to be strong. To know our own self-worth, and to refuse to let the outside world hit us with the resistance that makes us believe what they say–makes us stop short of being great.
I want to teach him that bullies can be people we don’t know on the schoolyard, but more often they’re people in our inner circles. People we thought were on our side. And most of all, they can be ourselves. We hit ourselves the hardest. That’s the truth.
But I don’t teach that lesson, because he breaks the gaze. With a flurry of activity, he’s a superhero again. I don’t give any more wedgies. I throw him across the room, as he requests, and to drink my tea. That’s what bad guys do when they lose.