We have been lucky with our kids in that neither has exhibited any major behavior problems at school. Each has received a single principal-visit-level writeup for making a boneheaded decision; Riley got in a bus line tussle with another kid in first grade, last year Dylan and a classmate absentmindedly strolled out of school together several minutes before the final bell rang.

This week, however, Dylan was involved in a pretty serious incident in his class. There is still a lot I don’t fully understand about what happened. I know Dylan says he said something in a joking way to a classmate, who later used it as an insult. When this classmate then got in trouble, he blamed Dylan, saying he learned it from him that morning. Dylan then claimed he’d heard it on a YouTube video.

I’m hugely unhappy that someone may have been saddened or upset as the result of something my child said, and I’m particularly frustrated that he tried to lay the blame elsewhere: while I have no doubt he’s been exposed to all kinds of stupidity via YouTube, that is no excuse.

There is no excuse, here. It was a bad choice, he knew better, full stop. No get out of jail free card for being ten or trying to be edgy or cool or simply parroting some despicable thing some shitlord gaming streamer said. He’s been disciplined, he’s been talked to both angrily and earnestly, he had a productive sit-down with our thoughtful and caring principal (albeit in a somewhat delayed fashion, because the scales of fifth grade justice are as overloaded and stretched thin as every other public school resource).

No one wants to be the parent of a kid who does a bad thing, but here is what is even worse: being the parent of a kid who is shaken to his core by the bad thing he did.

I had a long, weepy talk with him, lying in his bed surrounded by his stuffed animals, his Calvin & Hobbes books, his special blankets. In this little-kid place, talking about such big-kid things. His small freckled face, wet and shining. His regret and fear and shame.

I don’t want to be a bad kid
, he sobbed. I held him, so tightly.

Look at me, I said. Look at me. I have made bad choices. I have made so many bad choices in my life.

Do you think I am a bad person? He shook his head.

And I don’t think you’re a bad person. You made a bad choice. There’s a big difference between a bad choice and a bad person. When we made mistakes, we don’t let them define us. We learn from them.

You believe in me, okay? And I will believe in you.

Somewhere inside of me, I felt something shift. Like the tiniest crack in a heavy ice shelf. Bad choice, bad person. Not the same thing. Not the same. My little boy, not so little, still so little. My heart, filling up and breaking and repairing and beating on and on. My dreams for my children and my worries and my most secret fears and my surrenders.

The landmass of shame, the nearly unbearable lightness of grace.

This was a hard thing but he will be okay, he’ll have a deeper understanding of how words have power and how they can hurt and what it means to be a decent human navigating this tricky world with other humans. It was a fairly awful but maybe ultimately impactful learning experience. For both of us.


50 Responses to “Grace and learning”

  1. Marn on November 5th, 2018 2:07 pm

    What a wonderful way to handle this. I’m so impressed.

  2. ML on November 5th, 2018 2:08 pm

    No words. Just thank you. This means everything.

  3. Jaida on November 5th, 2018 2:13 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I respect every parent’s right to decide what to share about their older kids, but I’m so sad when bloggers quit blogging. There is so much to share and learn from the experience of parenting older kids and sometimes your real life peers don’t have the breadth of knowledge to draw from. You do a great job of writing with both honesty and discretion.

  4. Ter on November 5th, 2018 2:15 pm

    Dear gods, I so needed to read this today. Thank you!

  5. Jes on November 5th, 2018 2:18 pm

    My gosh how much I needed this today. Thank you for writing, you have no idea the impact you have.

    Your response to him was awesome, I took your words and told them to myself as it’s just the message I needed as I sit here bawling in the after school pick up line :)

  6. Lee Crowchild on November 5th, 2018 2:29 pm

    A very good story. I have followed you for a few years now. Always a good read but this one fits today.

  7. Donna on November 5th, 2018 3:06 pm

    We are never too old to learn something. Especially about ourselves. I love you so much.

  8. Mandy on November 5th, 2018 3:39 pm

    Sweet boy. I have one, too. I love the way you handled that.

  9. Sally on November 5th, 2018 4:19 pm

    Good for you – in all meanings of that sentence. Well done.

  10. Wendy on November 5th, 2018 4:22 pm

    You have a way of putting words to feelings I just don’t know how to express. Thank you for sharing your gift.

  11. Monique on November 5th, 2018 5:51 pm

    Thank you. Quiet crying here, what you’ve said was something I need to hear, straight to my core.

  12. sooboo on November 5th, 2018 7:33 pm

    Hats off to you and all the parents trying to create good people in this crazy world. It’s not for the faint of heart.

  13. Anonymous on November 5th, 2018 10:25 pm

    Thank you for this. You’re a good mom, Linda.

  14. Courtney on November 6th, 2018 3:38 am

    This brought me to tears so unexpectedly that I didn’t even realize I was crying until I finished the post. You are a hell of a writer and an even better mother. Saving this post (have a three kids only a little younger than yours, and I know one day at least one of them will make a bad choice).

  15. Sarah on November 6th, 2018 6:37 am

    I love your site and am so glad you are writing often again. I have daughters, and we went through something like this with my 8 year old last year. It broke my heart, but also may comfort you to know that she did seem to internalize the good person bad choice message and hasn’t done anything even remotely similar since. Hang in there!

  16. jennb on November 6th, 2018 8:18 am

    Always the best way to handle something. The truth. None of us are perfect. I remember saying to my kids when they were littler (they are the same age as yours but girl elder and then boy), hey, I don’t have a perfect day every day; it’s totally unfair for me to expect you to have a perfect day. But I do expect you to learn from your imperfections, because that’s how we grow.

    And lately, I’ve been learning a lot about being in a continual growing mindset. we never stop learning, or growing. we have to remind our kids that, when we hear “i hate school” – yes, but you love to learn.

    well done, mama. none of us are perfect. not one. love you.

  17. Jessie on November 6th, 2018 10:23 am

    Thank you, Linda. You are amazing.

  18. Mary Clare on November 6th, 2018 11:46 am

    Wiping away a tear here. Kids try out new bad words to see their effect, just ask my mom about a visit to the principal’s office in 7th grade. I keep telling my kids that swear words are not inherently bad. Figuring out when/where to use them takes some experience. Hats off to you for handling it well!

  19. Donna on November 6th, 2018 1:56 pm

    If he turns out like his mom, he will have become a decent human being!

  20. Kimberley on November 6th, 2018 6:41 pm

    You’re a great writer, a great mom and a great person. Thank you for being so real and for always saying the right thing so beautifully. Being a parent is no joke; we are just doing our best, and I believe so are our kids. All the best to you. (And thanks for continuing to post in this space! It always makes my day to see your name in my feed!)

  21. Robin on November 6th, 2018 7:46 pm

    Thank you so so much for sharing this. I have a son the same age, and I feel like I’m flailing in the deep end a lot of the time. This brought me to tears, so honest and beautiful.

  22. Courtney on November 6th, 2018 8:14 pm

    I loved this. I cried too. So hard to remember sometimes but so true. Thank you.

  23. Telegirl on November 6th, 2018 11:00 pm

    Last year, I got the awful call from the Principal because my son had been bothering a child and finally it culminated with him putting slime in the other child’s long hair. I was mortified. We have talked extensively about how you are never the bully, but rather the champion for other kids being emotionally or physically harmed by anyone. Ever. He apologized to the poor boy and we arranged for him to pay for whatever treatments were necessary to right the wrong (hair cut, whatever it took) from his own allowance. We had a similar talk with him on his bed surrounded by all his favorite things. Lots of tears, a heartfelt talk and most importanty, I hope, a realization that words and actions matter. They are on good terms now and I still have absolutely no idea what caused this to spiral out of control for our son’s behavior. He is usually quite kind.

    This year, a call from the guidance counselor, and I just couldn’t imagine what it might be. I tensed up. He was calling to tell us how happy they are to have him and how funny and generous he is. I am hopeful that our talks and the emotional circumstances prior have made a difference. I truly believe this is just a bump in the road for you as well. Keep up the good work. It does make a difference.

  24. Margot on November 7th, 2018 8:56 am

    Wow…. such a beautiful telling of a beautiful thing.

  25. Claudia on November 7th, 2018 11:23 am

    This moved me to comment – you are a force. Your words and sentences paint such vivid pictures and bring such emotion from the page. I have read your blog for what feels like forever, and you are such a favorite of mine. Truthful, so honest, vulnerable, yet so very strong.

    Over the years, I have printed parts of a couple of posts of yours and use them on days when I am lacking. Just yesterday,I shared one with my 17 year old daughter to inspire her when she thought she didn’t have anything left to give.

    I hope that you never stop sharing your words with us.

  26. bec on November 7th, 2018 12:06 pm

    These miraculous moments, when we can repair in our own kids the deepest hurts in ourselves. Right there is grace and the very, very purest drops of love. Thank you for letting us see live this with you. It was a reminder I needed today.

  27. Shes on November 7th, 2018 1:03 pm

    This hit home for me. When my daughter was in 4th grade,I got a call at work from the principal (with whom I’d never had to interact before)about my daughter being suspended! What?! The girl who has never even been written up by a teacher? Same thing- still not clear on exactly what happened, but it was one of those ‘zero tolerance’ types of situations. Seemed to be a bully situation that had spiraled out of control, and when she finally snapped, she got the blame. So, 3 day suspension with only 5 days of school left…makes no sense. At any rate, we made a plan to keep on top of it and prevent anything from getting that far again, but it was never needed. And she has kept on being the excellent grade, highly lauded, caring child she always was. Seems like a bad dream, but a wakeup call for us all. I think there is just something around that age….two years later, nothing remotely close has happened. I feel for you and your son. I hope it is just a bad memory for you two someday too.

  28. Sara on November 8th, 2018 2:39 pm

    The things I teach my kids teach ME. The things I want them to be MAKE ME BETTER. It sounds so selfish and narcissistic, but when I forgive them, I forgive myself. The true gift of being a parent is that the grace envelops you too.

  29. Erica on November 8th, 2018 6:33 pm

    Sitting here quietly crying after putting my three kids, 4 and under, to bed. Parenting surfaces so many fears, anxieties and emotions you didn’t even know you had. I’m so thankful for your willingness to share these moments, and in such a beautiful and touching way. You are a role model for me.

  30. Meredith on November 9th, 2018 9:30 am

    Thank you- I needed this today. And really 10 years ago too… it is hard, but important to forgive yourself for bad choices and understand they do not have to define you. Please keep writing, especially as the boys get older. So much love.

  31. Amanda Brown on November 12th, 2018 7:58 pm

    Goosebumps. You captured the human journey here. You gave him, and yourself, a gift.

    “The landmass of shame, the nearly unbearable lightness of grace.”

    That is gold, right there.

  32. k on November 13th, 2018 8:32 am

    I’ve come back and read this a few times since you posted it. Thank you for writing. This caused a shift in me, too.

  33. Misguidedmommy on November 16th, 2018 2:24 pm

    This week I got a call from the principals office. My oldest was texting a girl with his friends over, and she was being rude. My son replied, “don’t get your granny panties in a bunch.” This quickly goes downhill with her asking how he knows what kind of panties she wears. He replies that his friend next to him saw them and they are granny panties.

    The next thing that happened is this girls mom called my son and yelled at him. I’m livid because I wasn’t there when this happened, and she won’t take my calls now.

    Then!! Someone submitted it to the schools safe voice app and reported my son for harassment.

    What a fucking mess. He’s still not even super sure what grannie panties are, he was just saying what his friends told him to.

    This led to a huge talk about not doing things your friends tell you, but also a huge talk about being careful what you say in text, since anyone can screen shot it and send it to someone else. Also to never delete messages because if they are gone, I have no way of knowing what this girl said first.

    This digital age is really making it difficult to parent.

  34. Jamie on November 19th, 2018 9:10 pm

    I did something dumb the other day, and the realization was nauseating, suffocating panic. I’m a natural-wired rule follower, me and my love for boundaries…then I went and broke one and nearly collapsed emotionally. It took one phone call to my parents to help me remember this crucial difference – good people do bad, stupid shit but it doesn’t make me a bad person. I repeat: I needed to hear this from my parents at the age of 39. That’s how powerful a mom or dad’s words and support are. Good on you, Mama.

  35. Rebecca on November 20th, 2018 12:48 pm

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  36. Jessica Volchok on December 7th, 2018 11:46 pm

    Oof. This hit home for me. My own 10 year old made a dumb decision at school recently and was horrified by his choice (he absentmindedly damaged something in the classroom). His teacher saw the damage and was really upset. She had told the class that whomever did it needed to confess and would be given detention. That night, my son confessed what he had done, and was just devastated. He was scared, embarrassed and so mad at himself. We had a similar, weepy talk in his bed. He knew he needed to confess but was terrified of the consequences and also felt that he was a bad person.

    We determined that he could write his confession down but that he had to talk to her, even if he was scared. The next day, we walked in to the class and he fessed up. The teacher was so kind and proud of him for being honest. It was such a learning moment for him (and me).

    It’s weird – no one wants their kid to have these moments, but it certainly provided an important teaching moment and he learned an important lesson about honesty. Thank you for sharing your story. It helps to see other perspectives and your words really resonated.

  37. TheRachelSyn on January 8th, 2019 11:13 am

    I’m behind on reading blogs…just read this now. Weeping at my desk. You handled this well, Linda – and I hope to learn from you when I find myself in a situation like this as my kids grow older. Thank you for sharing.

  38. Jordanniz on January 14th, 2019 11:45 pm


  39. Rachiousx on December 15th, 2020 5:50 am

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    By the end of the 15th century, 35

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    From many manuscripts of Antiquity

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    Europe, and in Ancient Russia

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