Last night, I went to pick up my sons at a birthday party. Their friend from across our street was at this party, too. He was crying and mumbling to his father and his father's girlfriend; he was pointing out to the yard where my sons and some other kids were playing "freeze-tag." They left. But, as they left, the father's girlfriend mumbled something to me -- I think it was about my sons, but I didn't quite hear it and she walked away.
We parents have to guard against being either too hard or too biased when it comes to our kids.
When my dad was a boy of 11 or twelve, he was collecting "half-balls" on the neighborhood roofs and a woman called the police, claiming my dad was "peeping" at her through the window while she took a shower. My grandparents, when the Philadelphia police showed up at the door, never considered listening to my dad when he swore he was only collecting half balls. They let the police drag my dad to the lady's door where they made him apologize for something he never did. (Years later, when I joked with my dad that he might have actually been peeping, he looked me in the eye and said: "Chris, I swear to you -- why would I lie now? -- that I was only collecting half balls. And, besides, if you had seen this woman, you would know there was no earthly reason why I would have wanted to have seen her naked.")
Anyway, my dad's parents never considered that he was telling the truth. The polar opposite happens these days; I see it with school parents: their kid can do no wrong. An "F" is always the teacher's fault; a threatening Tweet from their kid's account must be a setup; the coach took him out not because he was throwing a losing game, but because he just plain hates the kid...
I don't want to be either type of parent. But, I do know my kids.
So, what if this woman was talking about my sons? I have my view of my own lads; she has her view of the young man in her charge.
I asked my sons what happened...did they say something to the other boy? "Yeah," my younger son answered. "We told him he is a sore loser when he lost a race because he was acting like a jerk."
Not exactly bullying. Still, I'm sure the message was not delivered with tenderness and concern.
In my experience, my boys are actually absurdly honest. A few weeks ago, the other boy came to our door and said my sons threatened him. I asked them if this was so. They said yes -- they told him they were going to beat him up if he didn't stop blah, blah, blah... This, of course, was not cool at all. I told them so. I gave them the appropriate speech/punishment.
The other kid? He's always crying -- too much for a kid who is 10. He's often sees himself as a victim for one reason or another. I hear exchanges when they are in the house. He seems unreasonably ruffled all of the time. He also has exposed my sons to things they should not yet have been exposed to via the Internet and under other circumstances. In short, I have my own perceptions of the kid and of the dynamics between the three. His complaints often seem like fabrications or the results of hyper-sensitivity.
Of course, there was the one incident that was, to me, a black-and-white case of intimidation, with my own kids at fault. So, now, my kids, in the eyes of the other boy's guardians, are probably bullies who torment their precious one. Will anything change this? Probably not.
Perception is reality, eh? Love can blur perception. But parenthood can't be a hands-off endeavor because when other people screw up their kids, your kids' life and your job as a parent becomes that much harder. Sadly, to "other people," I am "other people."