I’m not sure what to do about Mitchell. Ms. Barrowman called me at work again today to tell me that Mitchell had been bullying a new kid in kindergarten, a little Asian girl this time.
When I was pregnant, it never occurred to me that my kid might come out an asshole. I was shy in school, read above my grade level, got picked on a lot. I avoided kids like Mitchell like the plague. Brian, my husband, is as nerdy as I am. He’s a little Jewish guy, was picked last for every team in gym class, studied photography in college. He’s a gentle soul. And our kid, somehow the kid that we two nerds made together, is a loud, large, brash little devil who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to walk up to a girl on the playground and tell her she smells. Just my luck.
I’m not sure where he’s getting it from. He only watches age-appropriate tv shows; I’m very strict about media consumption. And Brian reads to him every night. We’ve read all the parenting books. And I mean all of the parenting books. Our Amazon account suggestions are only for books about raising children.
When I get to the school, Mitchell is sitting outside of the classroom. He insisted on dressing himself this morning, and is wearing a Star Wars t-shirt that is a little too small for him now, jeans, and the vest from his cowboy costume. If he had a mullet and a cigarette he would look just like the delinquents that I used to go to school with. He sees me in the hallway and has the decency to look ashamed.
“Hi Mitchell,” I say, squatting down next to him. Brian promised to meet me here, but he texted to say he is running late, he needs to finish editing some project. Mitchell crosses his arm and pouts at me. I can see myself in his face, especially around the nose. We both have ski jump noses, they turn up at the end.
“Ms. Barrowman doesn’t like me,” he says. I sigh.
“Why do you think that?”
“Because she thinks I pushed Sayoko.” He’s not meeting my eyes.
“Did you push Sayoko?” I don’t want to bargain with him, I just want to get him home and put him to bed, and have a glass of wine, maybe four.
He appears to think about that for awhile, then finally says, “Maybe.”
“So yes, you pushed Sayoko.” He shrugs and kicks at the floor.
“I’m going in to talk to Ms. Barrowman, and then we are going to go home, and you are going right to bed with no dinner. You need to think about what you’ve done.” He leans back in the chair and I leave him there, preparing to make my apologies yet again to the poor harried Ms. Barrowman.
Later that day, after Brian and I have finally wrestled Mitchell into bed despite his protests and tears, I decide to call my mother. It’s been hard for me to admit that we’ve had so much trouble with Mitchell. We had to fight so hard to have him that I feel like it’s disloyal of me to say anything bad about him.
My mother picks up on the first ring, and when she says hello, I almost dissolve into tears at the warmth in her voice.
“Oh Mum,” I sigh, when she asks how I am. “Mitchell is being difficult.” My mother is immediately on alert.
“Difficult like a normal five year old, or something else?” She asks carefully. She knows I have been fiercely defensive of everything we do with Mitchell. Everything I’ve been holding back for the past few months suddenly comes pouring out.
“He’s a jerk,” I sob, as my mother immediately begins to make soothing voices through the phone. “He’s a bully and the other kids hate him. He pushed a little girl on the playground so hard that she skinned her hands! And he stole another kid’s book. And I don’t know what we’re doing wrong because Brian and I were picked on and it feels really shitty not to like your own kid!” At this point my mother goes from soothing me to chuckling.
“Christine, you may have been picked on in high school, but you were a brat at five.”
“What?” I am honestly incredulous. I don’t remember anything about that.
“Oh lord, the trouble you put me through. You used to beat up the boys on the playground, and steal their legos. And the girls were all afraid of you, you were such a tomboy. But you grew out of it eventually.”
I am speechless.
“It’s going to be okay honey. You and Brian are good parents and Mitchell is going through a phase. A crappy, awful phase that you’re going to have to work like hell to get him out of, but you grew up to be a pretty amazing person despite the fact that I wanted to give you away when you were his age.”
We talk a little more and by the time we hang up, I am feeling a little better. Brian is sitting on the couch and has already poured me a glass of wine.
“It’s a little early,” I say tentatively, not meaning it. He laughs and I snuggle in next to him.
“So apparently I was a nasty kid,” I say, sipping my wine. It is a little vinegary, but not too bad. Brian strokes my hair.
“Yeah, I can see that,” he says, smiling down at me. I punch him lightly on the shoulder.
“Anyway,” Brian continues, “Mitchell came out and gave me this while you were on the phone with your Mom.” He hands me a folded piece of notebook paper with a stick figure of a man crying on the front. I open it and inside, in barely legible writing, Mitchell has written “SORYY.” And thinking about it, I actually believe that he means it.
“We’re keeping this one,” I say, propping it up on the coffee table in front of us. Brian laughs, and for now, things don’t seem so bad.