Clay picked the boys up at Monday school today, so I didn't get the story until I got home later. Raphael approached me, with hands that were just a little too busy and eyes that wouldn't quite meet mine.
"Something happened today, and I have to tell you about it." I looked at him and knew this would require sitting and listening with feigned calm. So we adjourned to the kitchen and sat around the table, Raphael between Clay and me, fidgeting like mad.
Apparently he'd gotten in trouble, not two minutes after I hugged him goodbye. He'd been PLAYING, he said, and he didn't ever hear the other boy tell him to stop, and anyhow, he'd sort of...slapped this other boy - "LIGHTLY slapped him!" - and the slapped kid got mad and told on Raphi. And since it was at the end of assembly, before the kids went to class, the director of the program was there to talk to him. So was her boss, the regional director of these programs in the state. The big guy.
"Oooooo," Tre commented helpfully from the other room. And he was shushed but yeah. Ooooooo.
Anyhow, what they had to say to him was that what he'd done was bullying behavior, and wouldn't be tolerated at school. That if he did anything like that again, he'd be sent home, and if it happened again after that, he wouldn't be allowed back. Expelled.
I listened, thinking things very loudly in my head - bullying? Isn't that a bit of an overreaction? And yet, on the other hand, what the hell? Since when is slapping someone play? Why does he always have to be so over the top? But he isn't a BULLY, for heaven's sake. Is he? Holy cow, if he gets expelled, I will lose my mind.
I kept the voices on the inside of my head and merely said that I hoped he heard what he'd been told today and would take it to heart. Here's the part I really really don't want to tell you. He got in trouble for the very same thing just a month or so ago. I really thought he'd understood at the time. He was so sorry...
All evening I've been combing through my thoughts about Raphael and his situation. I know I have a tendency to...overlook Raphael's worst moments. He is my baby, and I can tell you a million reasons why his behavior isn't that bad and he's always deserving of another chance. I see his heart, and I know it's good.
You understand, don't you, that all the previous paragraph says to me is "Nice job, Kira. He's a monster and it's all your fault."
If there's one thing the voices in my head can agree on, it's that it's all my fault.
As I lay next to Raphi in his bed tonight, bestowing the nightly cuddle, I thought about him and his good heart and my endless desire to excuse him. Having goodness isn't any use if it's not what he shows the rest of the world. Just as much as he needs to try harder to show other people respect by keeping his dang hands off them, I need to try harder to require him to toe the line.
This is a lesson I keep learning, and keep having to learn. Things swing so very quickly from lighten up, already, Kira right around to HEY, who is in charge around here?
I don't want Raphael to look like he did today, a mixture of scared and embarrassed and misunderstood. I don't want him to find himself on the wrong side of the line, to look up and discover that he's screwed up again. The truth is (the problem is) that I really don't want him to hurt or struggle.
But he will, and he must.
And although he can't really understand this, I will be trying harder right alongside him.