Billie walks home from school everyday with a little boy named *Gabe. Gabe is one grade above Billie and lives with his grandparents in the house down the street.
Now, Gabe is not perfect- no 3rd grader is- and he has had his run ins with our family for saying inappropriate things or not following directions (you know, kid stuff). But I have a soft spot for Gabe. He’s mischievous and weird. He has trouble listening to authority much the same way I did and has been known to get himself into some trouble with our crotchety old neighbor across the street as a result.
But Gabe is kind. And loyal. One day Billie was on a field trip and her bus was late getting back. I told Gabe I would just walk him home to his Grandparents’ and then go back to the school and wait for Billie but Gabe said no.
“Billie is my friend. I’m not going home without her. That’s not what friends do.”
So Gabe stayed with me (a boring adult) for 40 minutes after school and waited until Billie’s bus arrived to walk home with his friend.
Today, Billie and Gabe walked home as per usual. But at the time they usually arrive home I heard loud screaming. I ran out to my lawn to investigate and heard them before I saw them.
Gabe was screaming, “Leave us alone! Don’t you talk to us! We are DONE WITH YOU!!”
When they came into view I saw what Gabe was screaming at. Another boy from Gabe’s class, *Max, was on his bike keeping pace with Billie and Gabe. He was doing that shithead little kid thing where he was acting like he was doing nothing despite being fully aware his presence was vexing and sticking around regardless. Billie had her focus straight ahead, a blank look on her face. Gabe was standing in between Billie and Max, as if sheilding her.
“I SAID WE’RE DONE,” Gabe bellowed.
–“Whaaaat?!” Max taunted, “I’m not doing anything!”
*Bullshit you little shitbird,* I think, *you absolutely are doing something.*
I have never seen Gabe so angry. His little body is shaking and it’s all he can do to stay next to Billie and not shove Max off his bike.
“MAX,” I growl in my angry mom voice, “Your house is two blocks that way. Why don’t you go home? Now.”
Max didn’t know a parent was watching. He flushes, mutters something about how he “did nothing,” then bikes away as fast as his legs will take him.
At this point Billie has reached my side and Gabe is walking toward his house. I call out to Gabe and ask him if he’s OK. I get a, “NO. I’M MAD,” before he books it down the street for his house without another word.
I look at Billie.
“Are you OK, love?”
–“Yeah. Max was just asking innappropriate questions. It made Gabe mad.”
“What questions was Max asking?”
–“You know, not appropriate things??”
“I’m still not sure. Can you give me an example of what Max asked?”
Billie sighs heavily. Then the story pours out of her.
“He was asking Gabe why Gabe would walk home with a weirdo like me. He told Gabe that I’m a gross girl and Gabe should know better than to be seen with me. Then he asked Gabe where Gabe’s mom went. He started talking about trailer parks and stuff. He told Gabe that Gabe’s mom was weird and maybe that’s why he hung out with me. Because Gabe was used to loser weirdos.”
What. The. Fuck.
Little kids, man. I swear. They can vacillate between being the most fun, enigmatic characters in the world to being the shit stains in Satan’s diaper. There rarely seems to be an in between.
So I work with Billie. We talk about the confrontation and work through her feelings. In the end, she decides that Gabe has been through a lot and that maybe we should check on him. I heartily agree.
Now, for some backstory, the last time I visited Gabe’s house it was to report some bad behavior (on his part) to his Grandmother. His grandmother, for reference, is a cross between Madam Trunchbull and Professor Snape. She’s harsh and straight forward with nary a bone of compassion in her body. The last time I appeared at her door to report on Gabe’s behavior I discovered two things: 1) he rarely tells his grandparents anything about what he’s going through and 2) he’d prefer they never know anything as it usually results in some severe punishment for him. After I had heard about his punishment after my last visit, I promised myself to never report on Gabe again.
Yet there I was, knocking on Gabe’s granparents’ door.
Predictably, his stern faced Grandmother answered the door.
“Yes?” She breathes impatiently.
–“Hey there,” I say, all smiles, “Has Gabe talked to you about what happened on his walk home from school today?”
“No. He hasn’t,” Her tone is menacing and she is angrily eyeing the corner where I’m assuming Gabe was standing.
–“Oh, no trouble.” I say, “I was wondering if I could talk to Gabe.”
She squints at me suspiciously. “Fine,” she says finally, “Mind if I listen in?”
–“Not at all,” I’m intentionally making eye contact with her. She sees it as a power move so I need to establish that I am a worthy comrade in this moment.
Gabe comes reluctantly to the door. His faces blanches. Last time I showed up at his doorstep it was to report him for bad behavior. He does not want a repeat of last time.
When he finally comes out to the front steps, his grandmother shuts the screen door for an appearance of privacy (despite standing directly behind said screen door so that she can hear everything). Gabe looks at me full of worry. He knows he lost his temper. He knows he was screaming on the sidewalk. He steadies himself and prepares for the worst.
Instead, I said (something along the lines of), “Listen, Gabe, I wanted to thank you. I saw today how that kid was bullying you. I saw him attacking you and Billie. And you were the best friend she could have ever asked for in that moment. You had her back and you let that boy know he was not welcome in your world. He did everything in his power to make you mad and you kept letting him know that his words were not welcome. I could tell he was happy at how upset he made you so, if that ever happens again, I want you to know that I am here. If he starts trying to push your buttons again you can always say, “we’ll see what Miss Heather has to say about that,” and I will be there in a flash. But you did the right thing, Gabe. You were a good friend. You were honorable. And, despite how mad you got, you found a way to distance yourself from the mean person and protect your friend. I am very thankful for you. I think you did great, and I need you to know that.”
Then I nodded at his grandmother and left. Billie, who was by my side and heard the whole thing added, “Yea, Gabe. You rock,” before running to catch up with me.
Two hours later Gabe was at my door, asking to play with Billie, as he often does after his homework is completed. I asked him if his grandmother had anything to say about my visit and he nodded.
“I got a milkshake!” He says excitedly. “I don’t usually get milkshakes because I get yelled at a lot.”
“Yeah!” Billie adds, “The last time he got a milkshake is when his mom left!”
Gabe flinches at the memory but recovers quickly, “– but that’s it. This time, though, I got a milkshake because I was good!”
“Did you and your Grandma talk about what Max said to you?” I ask.
“Yea,” Gabe shifts uncomfortably, “I don’t like talking about that stuff. But I told her everything for once. Gamma says I was a good person. So I got a milkshake!”
“You are a good person, Gabe. You deserve all the milkshakes.”
*Mother’s note: names and identifying characteristics have been changed because holy shit these are kids we are talking about and they are allowed their anonymity.
**I absolutely will be speaking to *Max and his *guardians soon. I hadn’t really experienced him before this incident so this might take some sluething.