We live on the side of a (small) mountain with plenty of forest so we see our share of bears. Or at least evidence of them: BBQs are tipped, gates are broken down and garbage cans are upset (which people continue to leave out days before garbage day despite repeated warnings to the contrary).
This is not to say we live in a wild nature reserve, it's just we coexist with the bears. The prevailing wisdom is eliminate the attractions (accessible garbage, stocked bird feeders, laden fruit trees, dirty BBQs) and give the bears space when you see one and they won't bother you.
Unless it's a mother bear protecting her cub. Then, the mere presence of a dog or human near a cub, may raise the ire of the mama bear and the docile BBQ licker will turn ferocious.
Turns out, I'm a Mama bear as well.
Last week, the kids were playing in the playground after school, as were many others enjoying the mild spring weather.
As we drove off, J says to S, rather matter-of-factly, "why were those boys making fun of you?"
S responded equally matter-of-factly "I don't know. They called me a plum."
Alarm bells go off in the Mommy brain.
I know the boys they are talking about even before they describe them. I had seen them interacting with some girls in J's grade and I was not impressed. they were talking in a disrepsectful tone. I didn't really pay attention to what they were saying, but I noted they were probably in grade 5, and wondered why they would be at the playground when all the other kids were pretty much kindergarten to grade 2.
A few probing questions, doing my best to keep the conversation matter-of-factly, and S did not understand what the boys were saying. So I asked the obvious "if you didn't understand, then how did you know they were making fun of you?"
J Boy added "Mommy, it's true. I didn't hear what they said but I did hear them laugh, and it's that laugh people do when they are making fun of someone".
"Yeah, like this Mommy." S did a perfect imitation of the mocking laugh that most of us know all too well.
I seethed as we drove home and felt the urge to hunt down the reprobates and belittle them. I started to think of the most cutting things to say with the sharpest tone. Show them what it feels like to be made fun of.
I composed emails in my head to be sent to the principal and parent advisory council demanding action, sanction and apologies.
S is FIVE years old. Those boys were DOUBLE her age. Did 'pick on someone your own size' not mean anything anymore?
And then I caught my breath.
This would not be the last time someone said something mean to one of my kids (and no doubt, this was not the first). I would not be able to write letters or seek out the perpetrators each time, even if that would do any good. And my retaliating with an acid tongue, would make me no better, and probably worse.
They needed to be equipped.
"I feel sorry for them". I said to the kids.
"Because they were making fun of a kid way younger than them. I don't think they'll get along at school and at work when they grow up if they make fun of people."
"Yeah, they're bad", one of the kids added.
"Well, I don't think they're bad, but they didn't show very good character."
We were home now. I turned toward them and looked them both in the eye and said with great emphasis:
"It does not matter what they say. It does not matter when other people say mean things. We are family that loves each other. We have friends. Mean words can hurt our feelings. But it does not matter."
I think if I say that a few more times, maybe they will really get it. And a few hundred more after that for me to get it.