Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Unhappy campers

My kids are both at the same day camp for this last few weeks of summer, and each of them is having trouble with a particular peer. My daughter is complaining about a boy who keeps bugging her, sitting too close, hitting her, pulling her hair, and generally making her uncomfortable. My son came home all upset today because a girl called him stupid; it made him feel sad, and he had to go sit off by himself for a while to get over it. Normally, this sort of harrassment would send me running to the camp counselor and demanding some sort of consequences for the perpetrator. But maybe you can see my problem coming about a mile down the road here: The boy who is bugging my daughter is my son. And the girl who called my son stupid is my daughter.

And I'm playing Mom in the Middle.

On the one hand, I know that the reason my son is all over his sister is because he's excited she's there, and wants to be with her. So my normal advice that she should try to stay as far away as possible from somebody who's bugging her is a little painful, because I can only think about how her brother would feel to be so avoided by his own sis. On the other hand, for a teen who's trying to fit in and appear as normal as possible, having a brother who jumps and flaps and rocks and makes noises and doesn't behave like all the other kids is a heavy burden to bear. I can talk and talk and talk to her about compassion and selflessness and acceptance, but give me a break; this is a 14-year-old girl we're talking about, and one with some challenges of her own. Is it fair to ask her to openly embrace weirdness, even if it's weirdness that's related to her?

Not even fair, maybe, to expect any big sister to openly embrace any little brother, special needs or no. But fair to expect no name-calling, so that's where I've left it. And I've instructed my son to think about how Arthur would feel if D.W. was in the same camp, and maybe give his sibling a little space. How much he can understand that, and how much he can control himself even if he does understand it, is questionable. But the one good thing to come out of this is that he actually allowed himself to feel bad about something; handled the bad feeling in an appropriate way; and talked about it afterward. That's huge, huge stuff for him. I guess that's what family's for.

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