I see him look over at me, hang his head, and begin the long, slow, bridesmaid descent down the stairs.
Oh, great, I immediately think. What's he done now?
Maybe he just had a few too many blurt outs in Science again.
Maybe he just didn't eat his lunch again.
Maybe he just got busted saying a bad word and sent to the office where they held him until DCFS came because what kind of parent would let their child speak that way and they're just waiting for me in the parking lot...
And then...he started crying. Sobbing. Right there into my chest. Not picking up his arms to hug me, though, because, don'tcha know, that's the universal crybaby/mama's boy sign (apparently), and he, of course, is neither. So he just stands there. Like a wilted Qtip. Sob, sob, sob.
"Baby...what's wrong?" I implore him, desperately restraining my initial instinct to swoop him up into my arms, rock him back and forth, and smother him with kisses.
Heave, sob, gasp, gasp, gasp.
"Bubba, are you okay?" I take his cheeks into my hands. "Are you hurt?"
He shakes his head slowly. I kneel down in front of him, resisting the urge to envelope him like a giant mama bear. And I wait, anxiously, til his eyes finally meet mine.
Then the story spilled out -- in long run-on sentences -- with no punctuation -- and no apparent ending, but it slowly became painfully clear what had happened to my darling 7 lb 10 oz baby jesus.
As the story unfolded, however, the middle of which contained a sidebar about his walking up to the 3 of them and asking to join their reindeer game; they, of course, all promptly refused; he walked away dejected and confused; and mama began to suspect that maybe, just maybe, they might be related.
But the fact was he was crushed. Truly crushed. And there's nothing, really nothing worse than seeing your child heartbroken. And for Santiago to be so affected by something...Chago...the king of oblivious...the roll-with-it kid...the whatever-is-my-middle-name boy...I mean, this had to be really significant. And meaningful. And, therefore, important to me. So he sulked about it all weekend. And he pouted. And he moped. And we put together a plan to address both issues separately in the hopes that doing so would resolve the central issue entirely.
As I talked through it with him, I gently led him here and there, but really tried to let him figure out on his own how he wanted to handle this. My job was to mediate, I kept reminding myself...no...even less...it was to project manage this. To break it down into pieces. Help him prioritize. Offer him alternatives. And then ultimately support his decision for resolution.
Oh, my Lord, that's a lot of butting out that was required of me.
What he decided to do then was just so text-book there was no way it would or could work. But both his Mommy and I agreed that he was doing not only the right thing, but a really brave thing. That it demonstrated how important his friendships were to him that he was willing to take this bull by the horns. That we were proud of him for his decision and were behind him 100%.
Secretly, I chewed off all my nails and pulled out a few clumps of hair.
The next day back from school, we anxiously asked him how things turned out, both of us at the edge of our seats. In his usual Chago-ese way, he nonchalantly said everything was fine.
"Fine?!?!" we said.
But as it turns out, it totally was. He spoke to his buddies first, explained that he didn't like kid #3 because he'd been (apparently!!) punching on Chago in a I'm-short-for-my-age-and-am-overcompensating-by-being-a-jerk sorta way. Chago hadn't told anyone previously. When he voluntarily stopped playing with Punchy Monkey, kid #3 told Chago's best buddies that it was Chago who was being mean to him. Because he's smaller and seemingly weaker, the boys sided with him and ousted Chago. Once Chago explained it all, they were the three muskateers again.
Part 1, complete.
The very next day, he approached Punchy Puncherson and told him to stop hitting him or he'd have to either rat on him and get him sent to the principal, or hit him back and they'd both be in trouble, but either way he wasn't gonna take it anymore. He very cleverly left out the part where one or both of us might have offered to...er...intervene on his behalf.
And that was it. He took care of it all.
Part 2, complete.
A few days later, he said he was glad he'd handled it on his own, and that it made him feel better about his friends that they listened to his side of the story and understood.
And then...poof!! Absolutely NO residual effects. The whole thing was completely over in 48 hours. And it's as though nothing. ever. happened.
Man, what I would give to be a boy sometimes.