Early in his grade school years, my son told me that his friends said a girl in the classroom next door had a crush on him.
“They keep saying that Melissa [named changed for privacy] has a crush on me. I don’t know who Melissa is!”
When I asked him how he felt about it, he said he was not sure if his friends were teasing him or not. As he put it “they might be punking me, Mom.”
At that time I volunteered a couple of hours a week at my son’s school. I worked in the library, enjoying the Type A-personality, mildly OCD satisfaction from re-shelving the books in the right order.
Sometimes the kids asked me for help. The first graders were so adorable as they went through the library looking for books, finding a spot on a comfy couch, starting reading, and then running over to me to show to me, the first adult in sight, what they found. “Look! The caterpillar turned into a butterfly!”
Once in a while, I would remind kids to lower their voices, to not throw things, etc. I tried not to be too intrusive since I was a volunteer and not a teacher or librarian.
One day there were two boys in the back of the library sitting on the floor near where I was re-shelving. A girl was sitting on the floor a few feet from them, talking to them. The boys said in unison, quite unkindly “No one wants to hear what you have to say.”
I walked over and said in a low voice “That was not very nice, was it?” One boy looked sullen and the other looked guilty.
Then I looked at the girl sitting alone. She did not seem surprised by their comment; she did not seem shocked or visibly hurt.
She was used to it and had internalized whatever hurt and embarrassment she had felt.
I realized, being the mom of a “quirky” child, that this girl may also have been a “quirky” child.
I also realized that this was not the first time these boys had been mean to her because their unkindness to her seemed well-rehearsed and familiar. They were not uncomfortable with what they said to her.
Then I learned that she was Melissa from the classroom next door and my heart sank because the odds of my son being right about being “punked” had increased significantly.
She may or may not have had a crush on him, and may instead have been the focus of a joke because she was a quirky girl that kids in her class had no problem being mean to.
Or my son might have been the focus of a joke as the quirky kid in his class.
Or she might really have had a crush on my son and there was no ill will involved at all.
The fact that my son was aware that he was potentially “being punked” might not have made him feel better if he got hurt or embarrassed. If the girl was also included in the “punking,” then two children might have gotten hurt.
I had to decide the best way to protect my son, and perhaps protect Melissa, without raising the social stakes for either of them with their peers.
I decided to report the library incident to the principal, but not the potential “punking.” It seemed the best way to deal with the incident without possibly making things worse for the Navigator and Melissa.
The school was very receptive of my report, and seemed that the instigator in the library meanness incident was well known, and a repeat offender.
Understandably, the school did not talk about what they were going to do to follow-up.
Most importantly, after that the Navigator said nothing more about the girl with the crush or his friends saying anything about it.
To my relief, the issue gently disappeared.
As a parent it is hard to know when to step in and help, and when to step back and let your kid handle and learn from complicated social issues.
I was glad this one seemed to work out ok.