"Which way do I go?" I asked him, seriously.
"I don't know," he replied.
"Look," I said, "We can stop at every house in this neighborhood if we need to, but we are going to find that kid, and you are going to apologize."
He didn't mean any harm, of that, I am certain.
My 11-year-old son is one of the kindest, gentlest souls that I have met, much less nurtured as my own child.
Today, was the first day of school.
And the first day of middle school at that.
New school all the way across town.
New kids from the new neighborhood all riding together on the broiling yellow metal bus.
The bus was delayed by nearly two hours getting home.
When we asked how his first day was, he said it was fine, but that a punk had sat next to him on the bus, instead of his friend.
The "punk" had apparently gotten on the bus first.
I asked my son what happened.
Quietly, but firmly, my son declared that when the kid stood up, my son told him not to ever sit next to him again.
I stared at my child, trying to ingest the words he was saying.
"Did this kid say something mean to you?" I asked.
"No." was the reply, "but he's a punk, and I'm supposed to stay away from bad kids."
"What made this kid a punk?" was my next question.
"He was riding around listening to bad music on his phone." my son solemnly answered.
"Do you know his name?" (no)
This conversation took less than three minutes.
I had a phone call and excused myself, but could not shake what I had just heard.
Once my call was done, I went over to my son, who was playing contentedly on his video game in his room alone. We went over the earlier conversation again.
I wanted to make certain that I was hearing everything important from him.
He wanted to make good choices.
He didn't want to have friends who were bad influences on him.
He didn't want to be a part of a group of kids who used bad language and were rude and going to get into trouble. He thought that was what he was supposed to do.
That he was doing the right thing.
How to balance trusting your intuition and good sense with giving people a chance to prove their worth on their own merit? I gently mentioned, that, though he may not have intended it, but by telling the boy that he was not to sit with him anymore, my son had probably come across as a rude snob. Afterall, the kid had simply sat next to him. Had not said or been mean to him in any way. And here, this kid gets up to leave and is told, "Don't sit by me again."
What if it was you? How would you feel your first day of school to have some kid tell you that?
Who's being the punk in this situation?
You, Child, are going to make this right.
To the best of your ability.
I know you didn't mean it that way, but you are not letting that kid go to sleep tonight thinking he's a piece of dirt.
By this time, my son's eyes are bright with tears.
It can't be helped.
I am the dual-mother now, both of this unknown child and of my own.
I've walked through the hell of middle school. Had my older two children walk through that hell.
Had stupid words blister my soul and seared others souls as well in my naivete.
I called a neighbor-friend, "Does your kid know the kid who was sitting next to my child today?"
They don't, and she says softly, "This is a good lesson for him to learn now."
We slowly start to drive. My son knows I will literally stop at all 561 houses if that is what it takes. That we will if at all possible, make this right. He is quiet, thinking. He knows a boy who is a friend of the kid, and we stop at that house first.
Within a few minutes, my son is on the phone talking to the kid and apologizing for his bad manners and asking his forgiveness and also asking if they can start over and be friends. The kid apparently agrees.
We stay and visit with this neighbor mom and dad, whom we've suddenly descended upon. Apparently, my son has been to their home before and swam in their pool. They are laid back and hospitable and reassure my son that the other boy, whom they know, is a good kid.
They invite my son to come back and play with their boy and the neighbor boys. We thank them and go back home. Words are hard for me to articulate right with my child. I remind him that I am not mad at him. Tried to gently explain, that in life, there will be times when all of us are wrongly or unfairly judged by others. That there will be those who will say things or act in negative ways towards us, based on whatever reasons they may have. That we can't control those people or their actions. We can only be ourselves: good, honest, kind folk. That we also must always bear in mind that we should give people the benefit of the doubt. That we should let our peers character prove themselves and allow them room to grow.
We'll see how it goes tomorrow.
Hopefully, the day will include new friends in the making.
Perhaps, that young boy will turn out to be good natured and resilient and can give my child a chance to show his better side as well.