No such thing as low-cal bullying.
Mags and her BFFLD* were in the living room decked out in costume dancing to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. ("The singer is Cyndi something. She's really nice," Mags shared with her BFFLD.) I was in the kitchen finishing up the triple batch of vegan peanut butter banana cookies. Then Maggie came blasting into the kitchen and yelled "RIVER'S ON THE FRONT PORCH! RIVER'S ON THE FRONT PORCH!!!" She was flustered and aghast and her finger couldn't have been pointing any harder toward the front door. I said "It's okay. He's just back from his friend's house. No bigs. Chill mamacita. Now go dance." I left Mags to her 80's dance party and went to the front porch . Sure enough, there was The Riv, just sitting on the gray stoop, his back against the railing. When playdates wrap up they leave shoes and swords and lots of yelling in their wake, a tornado of 4 foot somethings whirling through the front door and out the back. But here he was looking solemn, no other kids around, no tornado in sight. He had been waiting to play with his friend (let's call him Sylvester) all weekend, and finally he got the chance. He'd been over at his house for almost 2 hours.
*best friend for life duh
I got down on the dirty porch with him and asked what was up. He said, "I didn't like the way Sylvester was treating Petunia, so I walked away." Petunia is a neighbor girl who's older than the boys by 3 years, but she plays with them often, not having any other kids her age nearby. Riv had shared with me before that he didn't like how the other boys treated her. That they would say "Let's go pick on Petunia!" and then they'd go to her house, ask her to play, and then when she accepted they would immediately try to ditch her. When he shared that with me the first time I suggested that if it happened again he speak up to Sylvester and the other boys and say "This isn't nice, guys. I'm not playing if this is how you treat people." And then to just walk away. So today that's what he did. He walked away. He said he didn't actually tell Sylvester why he was going, or even that he was going, but that he was pretty sure Sylvester would know why. But Riv was bummed. He liked Sylvester. But he wasn't sure he wanted to be Sylvester's friend anymore.
So I texted Sylvester's mom and told her what was up. I let her know that Riv came home and the reason was because River didn't like how Petunia was being treated. I didn't name names, but she was aware. She knew there was friction between Petunia and Sylvester, and that there had been a few tiffs. But she wasn't aware of the deliberate acts of calling Petunia out of her house to play just to then be mean to her. She and Sylvester's dad deliberated, and then she texted me back "Can Sylvester come over to talk to River?"
River was more than willing to have a chat with his friend. Sylvester and his dad came inside and the boys sat down on the couch and talked, man to man. 8 year old to 8 year old. Friend to friend. With complete honesty and kindness.
What Riv saw was what he called bullying. He didn't put it on a spectrum and say "Well, it's only teasing, really, so it's like bullying-light, the low-cal option, the nice kind of bullying." He saw it for what it was and walked away. And when offered the chance to speak directly to his friend whom he observed being the bully, he didn't shy away. He accepted the confrontation and worked through it matter-of-factly. "I don't like it when you're mean to Petunia," right in front of Sylvester's dad, in front of me, and with a soaking wet stuffed squirrel being shoved in his hands by Dexter who really doesn't have any need for honest conversation. Just throw the damn squirrel, please.
Sylvester apologized. And after he left our house he headed to Petunia's to speak to her as well. The boys will play again tomorrow. They'll tornado the crap out of the neighborhood at every opportunity. But the precedent has been set, and I hope like hell that it spreads like lice in a hat factory:
if you choose to be a bully, I will choose to walk away from you.