Last week, I was sitting on the sidelines during one of Bean’s soccer practices. He was playing goalie with some friends on his team while we waited for practice to start. After about five minutes, this other kid from his team comes up and stands right in front of Bean and yells, “I’m the goalie now!”
Eh, big deal. In my mom mind, that doesn’t really hit to Richter scale for being mean. Kids will be kids, after all.
But Bean had an issue with this.
“Hey!” he yelled. “I’m the goalie!”
Then the kid turned around and put his face right up in Bean’s face (which meant he had to bend down a little because this guy is couple years older than Bean and significantly bigger).
“No, Michael,” he said with his teeth clenched. “I’m said I’m the goalie.” And then he turned around and continued to block Bean.
As this is happening, the rest of the kids are continuing to play and I’m still debating about whether this has crossed over into Mom Territory. A big seven year old face shoved into Bean’s five year old face starts to wake the Momma Bear in me. But I didn’t even have time to respond before Bean, without missing a beat and very uncharacteristically, steps around the kid and says loudly, “NO, I’M THE GOALIE.”
I was a little shocked at first. Bean is a small dude and is pretty laid back about this kind of thing (which, let’s be honest, happens all the time on playgrounds and soccer fields).
Then the kid puts his face right back in Bean and he said, “Michael, I’m bigger than you, and I want to be the goalie.”
It was like a line straight out of “Saved By the Bell.”
But then, he pushed Bean. And THEN! THEN!
Bean pushed him back.
Now, you probably have to know Bean to know that this behavior is EXTREMELY uncommon for him. Speaking up for himself is a stretch, but pushing back or becoming physical at all is sort of like the Dalai Lama punching someone.
Before I could get over there and break it up, another parent who was standing nearby called out, “Joey, Michael is our goalie. Go on, now.” And Joey did go on and that was the end of the story. In real life, it took about 4.6 seconds for this episode to happen and it was completely insignificant. Kids play like this all the time, and I don’t think the episode said as much about Joey as it did about Bean.
It WAS significant for Bean, although, I knew he didn’t even recognize it. It was the first time I have seen him stand up for himself. Bean is a well-liked, happy kid, but he’s smaller than most boys his age and I think he subconsciously backs down from things every now and then because of it. Someone takes his toy, he goes to get another one. Someone cuts in front of him in line, he steps back and makes room. He isn’t one to make a stink, and that makes Chris and I both proud and a little nervous.
To see him stand up for himself – even the shoving, to a certain extent – was almost a relief for me.
That night as I tucked him into bed, I sat down next to him and said, “Hey, dude. I saw what Joey said to you at the soccer goal today.”
“Oh,” he said, searching my face to see if he was in trouble.
“And I saw him push you a little bit.”
“Oh,” he said, still not sure if he was in trouble.
“And I saw you push him back.”
“OH…” he said, lowering his eyes. He knew he was about to get it.
“I’m really proud of you,” I said.
“You ARE?” he said in this super high pitched, surprised voice.
“Yes, I am. I was proud of you for standing up for yourself, buddy. Don’t let people push you around, Bean.”
“So, if someone pushes me, I can push them back?” he asked.
Immediately, every parenting article or piece of advice I’ve ever been given ran screaming through my brain. I knew this was a critical question. One of those parenting questions that actually MATTERS. And I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to say.
Actually, that’s a lie. I knew I was supposed to say, “No, we never push. You should go find an adult.”
But the truth is that sometimes there aren’t adults. Sometimes, kids can’t stop and go tell someone. Sometimes, kids get pushed around MORE when they stop to tell someone. So, instead, I said, “Yes. If someone is being mean and they push you, you can push them back. But only once, and then you need to go find an adult.”
In my teacher mind, I said to myself, “Well, what happens if EVERYONE pushed back? Look at the precedent you are setting.”
In my spiritual mind, I said to myself, “Way to teach him to turn the other cheek. Look at the values you are giving him.”
Maybe later I’ll realize that I gave the wrong advice. But I’ve been thinking about it for over a week now, and I still think I would say the same thing again. Why is it fair for some other kid to get to push and for mine to have to stand there and take it?
So, yes. I told my kid it was okay to push back.
And I think I’m okay with that.