I don’t even want to relate this story. I am not sure what higher power is pressing me to actually tell this recent story about my son. It makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong as a mother. It makes me wonder about the type of man my son is going to grow into. I feel shame and a strong vulnerability as these words are written on the page, but I want to share anyway.
The other afternoon while I was at work, I received a phone call from the principal at the elementary school which my son attends. My ten-year-old son has many friends and one of them is a little girl who lives in the cul-de-sac next to our house. They have been friends for about three years. Apparently, my son said to her the following: “John asked if I was going to have sex with you. He asked me if I was going to rape you.” Feeling scared, the little girl went to her parents. They called the principal. He brought in my son and the other little boy, John. John denied ever saying this. My son he admitted that he made it all up. He also said he had no idea what those words meant. He had heard them and knew they were adult words. He was trying to sound like he was big. He was trying to make an impression. He certainly did both of these things.
The school said that my son was clearly sorry. They said he apologized to everyone and was so sorry he had lied. He felt ashamed of what he had done. The principal said that if his son had been in trouble at school, he would hope that he acted as well as my son did. It was all of little comfort as my mind was clouded by the fears of the future and fear of what people might think. I was also wondering how my son could do this. Had I not taught him to behave and speak differently than this? Had I not instilled an idea that girls were not to be treated in this way? I searched my mind for all of the ways I must have screwed up. I eventually went back to my tired ticker tape of shame that was always there to remind me that I am a single mom. I, alone, am responsible.
Some of my good girlfriends tried to talk me off the ledge of sadness. They tried to assure me that I was a good mom and reiterated all of the things that I do for my son. My mediation teacher offered valuable words of wisdom and told me to go back and speak with my son about his feelings as opposed to asking him, “What were thinking?” to ask “What were you feeling?” I also started to feel better when my son came home from school and ran into my arms sobbing and apologizing over and over again. He tearfully told me that the thought of how disappointed I was going to be by his behavior was the worst part of the entire ordeal. I told him that it was his job as a man to help woman feel safe around him. I stressed the idea of how valuable his ability to be strong, good man was and saying words like that to his friends did not accomplish this. Eventually he stopped crying and I wrapped my arm around his shoulders.
“Cole,” I said after he had calmed down, “Do you even know what sex is?” He shook his head.
“My friends talk about it,” he said, “but we’re no really sure what it is.”
“It’s when a man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina.” His eyes got really big and he put his hands over his ears.
“Stop, Mom,” he said as he fell back on the bed. “That makes it so much worse.”
“I know, sweetheart,” I said, “but you need to know the gravity of the situation, and how important it is for you to not use words that you don’t know the meaning of.”
He was sitting up now and nodding his head. I felt very deeply that he understood what I meant. “It does get a bit worse, Cole,” I continued.
“Mom, please, I can’t hear anymore,” he pleaded.
“Well, you used the term ‘rape’. Do you know what ‘rape means?” He shook his head again. His eyes were so full of fear that I almost stopped. I really weighed in my mind if he needed to understand the extent of his mistake. “Rape means that a man forces a woman to do that.” He paused and his expression was completely quizzical.
“Wait, what you described about the other word…do you mean a girl wants a guy to do that?” At that moment I started to laugh, and the innocence of my little boy poured through me. I was again reassured that his morality and innocence were intact. He was just my little boy who had been so wrong to assume that words did not have grave consequences sometimes.
“Enough for now, we can talk more about this later,” I said as he pushed off the side of my bed and went downstairs to play.
I am not sure what the future holds for my little guy. I am not sure how much harder this gig is going to get. All I do know is that when I was a child, my father would have screamed at me. He would have chastised me and shamed me. He would have been so embarrassed to have been called by the principal because of something I had done wrong. I did not want to do any of that to my son. I wanted to find a way to make it into a valuable learning experience that would not haunt him for the rest of his life.
Only time will tell what impact this has had on him and on our little family of three. I am hoping that we are still headed in good direction.