Julius lost his first tooth this week. It's been a long and grotesque week with him showing me the progress of the wiggling tooth each morning and night. "Look how loose it is, Mom!" He'd hop around me, then open his mouth and waggle the tooth around with his tongue until I felt a little queasy around the edges and beg him to please stop. He'd race away yelling, "Look at my tooth, Dad!"
He finally lost it on Tuesday after getting punched in the mouth on the bus by a scrappy little Kindergarten kid who is obviously well-versed on the story of David and Goliath, that inspiring tale of a small but lion-hearted man going against a foe umpteen times his size despite that being a really insane decision.
Unfortunately, my son's modern day version of that bible tale turned out pretty much like the traditional version only in our case, David got suspended from the bus for a few days and Goliath lost his first baby tooth and still sports a big bite mark on his thigh several days later.
I've been trying to focus on the really important things about this learning experience like how proud I am of my son for not just beating the little guy to a pulp when he could have, how he showed Gandhi-like tolerance, restraint and buoyant good-nature despite David's repeated attempts to pick a fight. All of these things are fabulous qualities I admire about my son and have complimented him on when I'm not being distracted by the unfortunate, nagging thought that my son got his ass kicked by a Kindergarten kid half his size.
Yeah, I'm shallow.
So, we've been struggling with these many issues -- how to handle someone trying to pick a fight, what are good and bad choices in those cases. We've talked about self-defense, self-esteem, consequences of action and non-action. This is something we've assumed was going to happen eventually because Julius is a little different. He is generally well-liked and charming, but he still talks different because of his respiratory condition. He's the big, quiet boy who whispers. In the world of rough and tumble boys, that's a defect, a weakness, a testing ground. No matter how much I don't like it, in the world we live in this is the reality of life.
The realization I'm coming to is that the proving ground for all of us is not how we handle ourselves in this fight. The real proving ground is how we handle ourselves outside the fight. How do we react during what comes after? Do we learn anything from it? Do we let it change us for the better or worse? Does it rule us? How is our self-esteem? How is our outlook on life? Are we afraid? Are we bitter?
I can tell you that Julius did well. His parents, however, could have done far better.
The day after the bus fight I walked to the stop to meet Julius so the driver could see he had an engaged and concerned mom. It turns out I know him and went to school with his son who was a popular basketball player. His wife is my mom's hairdresser. He waved to me as he pulled away. I phoned Mom that night to tell her Mr. Stemple is Julius's bus driver.
"He hates redheads," she said.
"Uh, okay. Why? How can you hate a redhead?"
"I don't know. He does though. Always has. For years Donelda has been wanting to put a red rinse on her hair and he absolutely forbids her to. She's the one who told me he hates redheads."
"Well, that's unfortunate since Julius and I both have red hair."
"Isn't it though." I could sense her working on her latest conspiracy that somehow it was all orchestrated by the bus driver -- a big plot to get the redheaded kids beat up at school.
Supposedly that day the kids were supposed to be separated to avoid further incident. Julius got off the bus, head hanging low. I put my arm around him and tried to bend down to see the expression on his face. To my surprise he had a funny smirk there like he was trying to keep from grinning or laughing.
"What?" I demanded.
From his pocket he whipped out a plastic baggie containing a tiny little tooth and showed me his big toothless grin.
"Wow! It's out already??"
He nodded, "It just fell out today!"
"Maybe getting punched in the mouth helped." (I'm shallow AND insensitive. I look at it like seeing the glass half full.)
"Maybe so." He gave me another gappy-toothed grin.
Later in the day there was some speculation on the true identity of the Tooth Fairy. After last year's long and agonizing debate about Santa Claus, I wasn't looking forward to the eventual murder of another fake cultural icon. Julius said he thought his dad was really the Tooth Fairy. I walked in about that time and said, "That's silly. Can you imagine how preposterous your dad would look in a tutu?"
I went on. "In fact, if anyone in this household would be wearing a tutu, it would be me." I did the spokesmodel motion down the sides of my body and executed a snappy turn so they could see all sides of me.
Julius laughed again and said, "You're too fat to wear a tutu."
I gasped in mock horror (while hiding that I was truly slightly horrified) and said, "Get out. I could totally wear a tutu."
He rolled his eyes and said, "Mom, seriously, where would you find a tutu that big?"
He's so grounded. I hope the Tooth Fairy brings him a big ole hunk of coal.