As if my son didn’t have it hard enough these days. He now has a bully. Truth be told, the five year old bully has been present for the majority of Alejandro’s life but these days, since his brother’s passing, the bully has become a little more difficult to tolerate. And the same goes for me as well. Like everything in life, the story of the bully has its pros and cons. The pros? The bully lives six hours away. The cons? He’s Alejandro’s cousin, our nephew.
Alejandro and his cousin have always had (for lack of a better term) a like-hate relationship. The two boys couldn’t be more different. Alejandro has both his parents while my nephew is from a divorced family. Alejandro had a sibling while my nephew didn’t. Alejandro is passive while my nephew is aggressive. Alejandro loves learning, chess and golf while my nephew dislikes academics, loves the outdoors and loves football. Alejandro is a lover. My nephew is a fighter. Alejandro knows God. My nephew doesn’t.
Before this Thanksgiving and before Joaquin’s passing, family functions where my nephew was present were somewhat tolerable because, although the younger of the three, Joaquin always managed to a) play the middle man and b) defend his big brother his own way. And in the end, when Alejandro and Joaquin had had enough of the rough and tumble, loud aggressiveness of my nephew, my two boys managed to “get away” from him. With Joaquin around, Alejandro always had someone to say, “Come on, let’s leave him, he’s mean”. Joaquin always followed. Joaquin always had his back.
My nephew was with his mom the weekend that Joaquin died and when told what happened he responded with a “bummer”. What can you expect from a five year old, right? So, when Alejandro found out that his cousin would be spending Thanksgiving with us, he asked “Mommy, do you think he cares at all that Joaquin went to heaven.” I knew I didn’t have a good answer so I left it alone. The visit started off ok but soon enough the zingers started coming out of my nephew’s mouth. It started with my nephew telling Alejandro that God knows nothing which left Alejandro upset but I took it as the perfect opportunity to teach him that as someone that believes in God he would always run into naysayers and non-believers and all he had to do with stick with what he was taught or what he believed in. Another night, after a comment made by someone else in the household about seeing Joaquin again in heaven, my nephew proclaimed loudly, that “nuh uh! You’ll never see Joaquin again!” Alejandro shot me a look and I calmly told him that we believed we would see him again and that was all that mattered. A visit to the cemetery had my nephew proclaiming that we would squish Joaquin’s brains out if we stepped on his grave. At this point, my patience was running thin.
At lunch, prior to their departure, my nephew continued to pick on his cousin by taking his crayons and shooting him threatening looks. I separated the two and asked my nephew as calmly as I could if he acted this way in school. His answer was a proud yes and continued to explain that all his friends in school were mean. Intrigued, I asked him what they did to the nice kids and his response was again a proud “We beat ‘em up”. My sweet brother in law told him to hush and we continued to eat our lunch when all of a sudden my nephew told my son, “You’re dumb!”. My mother in law scolded him and asked, “What did you say?” and he responded with a resounding “I just called Alejandro dumb”. I glanced at Alejandro and his face showed that he had just about had it. His spirit was crushed and the tears flowed. I grabbed him by the hand and took him to the back of the restaurant and allowed him to cry with me. He told me he missed Joaquin and he just wanted his cousin to leave him alone. As my heart pounded, I wiped his tears and reminded him that bullies thrive on tears and that he was to march right up to his cousin and put him in his place. He shyly looked up at me and told me he was scared. I told him I would be right next to him when he did it. We walked back, hand in hand, and I proclaimed loudly in front of my husband’s family, “In his school, we stand up to bullies and we do not tolerate this behavior”. Alejandro gripped my hand and repeated, “You’re mean and I don’t like you”.
And that was it. A few minutes of “punishment” passed and Alejandro was given some money and my nephew was rewarded with the promise of a new toy helicopter. It was clear. My husband’s family feels for my nephew because he comes from a divorced family. They feel for my brother in law because “his hands are tied”.
Well, our hands surely are not. We will continue to teach my son about God, compassion and kindness to others. We will continue to teach him to feel. And we will continue to teach him to stand up for himself. It’s about conviction. Alejandro is sensitive. I don’t baby him but this is who my child is. I love on him. And I hug him. And I kiss him. And I make him eat his vegetables. And I make him say he’s sorry. And he goes to time out. And he’s had toys taken away from him when he misbehaves. And all of this even after his little six year old heart has experienced the biggest loss of his life. I still discipline him. Am I supposed to use our misfortune as an excuse to treat others poorly? But perhaps that’s what’s wrong with children today. They all have excuses. But there are no excuses. It’s called life and you have to learn to deal with it.
And yet, how do I deal with this? How do I deal with my in laws who, I love dearly, but won’t discipline enough, or haven’t taught this child about God or aren’t teaching this child how not to be a bully? To be quite honest, I feel bullied when I get told that they try all that they can. Are they really? Where does that leave me and my husband? Are we just supposed to shut up and take it? Paul’s family is important to us but as we grieve we just don’t know if we have it in us at this point to tolerate this anymore. We feel so defeated. And so, as we finished our lunch, said our goodbyes and got in the car, the tears rolled down my eyes this time. I was missing Joaquin once again. But this time I was missing Alejandro AND Joaquin. I miss the two brothers in my life that were my heart and soul and were each other’s best friends for life or longer. I was left aching for my boy in heaven and the one holding my hand here on earth that still needs me to protect him.