Always Real, School

Why There Are No 1st Graders In The Secret Service

As he walked towards me, I could see that something wasn’t right.

That is not to say that I saw anything unusual, but my momtennae went up. There was something about his posture and his expression, something that telegraphed that all was not well.

His hair was a crazy mess.  Nothing unusual about that.

He had a red popsicle ring around his mouth which matched the red splotches on the front of his t-shirt, also not so very unusual.

I took his backpack from him and slung it over my shoulder.

“Hi dude! How was your day?” I asked as we turned and walked towards the car.

“Okay,” he said unconvincingly.  I noticed the spring in his step was missing.  He did not run off and play tag with the other kids as he usually does.

Instead, he heaved a heavy sigh and watched the ground pass under his feet as he walked.

I decided not to push it and instead wait to see what he would offer.

He reached up and grabbed my hand as we walked along.

I looked at his fingers interlacing mine – dirty jagged nails, scraped knuckles, long slender fingers, red and sticky with popsicle and marker and who knows what all else.

I reflected back to the days when those same hands would reach up for my face as I cradled him and gave him his bottle.  He would gaze into my eyes as though he were trying to figure me out and play with my chin as he slurped and gnawed on the bottle.

When we got to the car, he confessed.

“Actually Mom,” he said, “I had a bad day.  A reeeeeallly bad day.”

“Oh no,” I consoled, “Tell me about it.”

And he did.

He told a friend at school a secret, that he liked a certain girl in another class. The so-called friend didn’t keep the secret, but blurted it to everyone instead.

The bandwagon was a 1956 Chrysler, big and wide, with room for everyone in the 1st grade class, save one little boy named Conor.  There was chanting and teasing.  He said he started crying, so he pulled his sweatshirt up over his face.  He said he cried because he was embarrassed.  I don’t know exactly how it all played out but the teacher sent Sean and Conor for a slow walk around the school while she chatted with the class.

We sat in the car and talked about what happened for a long time.  As painful as it was for Sean, for me it was a gift – a golden opportunity to talk about trust and compassion and other important things, all wrapped up in a real life experience.

We talked about the importance of trust, of figuring out who you can trust and the importance of being someone who can be trusted. I told him that at school, at least, if you don’t want everybody to know everything, don’t tell anybody anything.  I told him that first graders are notorious blabbers and that’s why there are no 1st graders in the Secret Service.

We talked about compassion, about how it felt to be teased and what a good and noble thing it was for Conor to choose not join in the teasing.  I told him Conor’s mom and dad could be very proud of him and that is exactly how I would want him to respond if someone else was being teased or picked on.

We talked about how sometimes you have to just not care what other people think, that there will always be people who don’t like you or what you are doing and want to make you feel badly about it.  We talked about how you can’t control what others think, you can only control your own response. Although I was quick to admit that that was a hard one, one he might have to work on his whole life if he is anything like his mother.

Then I told him the true story of how one time when I was in 1st grade, I had to go pee, but I was afraid of the nun and too scared to ask to go to the bathroom, so I just pee’d right there in my seat and it puddled on the floor by my desk and ran clear down the row to the back of the room. When the other kids saw it, there was a mighty uproar as they all laughed and made fun of me.

“What did you do?” he asked aghast.

“I cried,” I said as a matter of fact.  “I pulled my shirt up over my head and cried.”

We both laughed about that just a little, because after 45 years, the humiliation has worn off a little bit and it’s kind of funny.

He looked me in the eye and squeezed my hand.  His eyes shone softly with compassion.

“Mom,” he said, “I’m sorry that you pee’d, I mean, you know, that that happened to you.”

“Yeah, thanks buddy,” I said.  And I squeezed his hand back.

And I tried not to cry.

30 thoughts on “Why There Are No 1st Graders In The Secret Service

  1. What a sweet boy. It’s so hard to have to learn lessons like that – that our “friends” can be mean and untrustworthy. When the revelation comes with humiliation, it’s even more painful. The tricky part is to learn how to deal with it without letting yourself get too hard or closed-off. He’s resilient and strong, and I bet he keeps that tenderness, too.

  2. What a sweet boy, and an amazing opportunity you had to talk to him about all things important 🙂

    It is so wonderful how these little “teaching moments” come up now and then, and when we catch them, what can happen.

    Somehow, the phrase “in 20 years, we will just laugh about this” seems to come true. And we have the chance to use our humiliations and broken heart moments to try and help our little ones get through life a bit less scarred.

    And how wonderful is it when we can still have these moments when they are 17 or 18, and still learning about how cruel the world can be. But that we love them, and they, too, will “laugh about these things” in 20 years or so.

  3. Hard to learn that there are people you can’t trust. 🙁 But that Conor sounds like a gem and maybe his parents might like to know how he stood up for his friend. 🙂

    * * *
    AD and I were up at school shortly after “the event” and we bumped into her and had some time to chat and we talked about it. She has a wonderful parenting philosophy that is reflected in her children.

  4. Aaaaaaw! I love your writing style and your parenting stories. I hope that you never totally give up blogging. It is so tough to see your children go through experiences that you remember facing at that age.

  5. Many memorable talks have occurred in our car. That is why I cherished the before – and after-school drives with our children.

    Sometimes I think it would have just been easier if another child would punch my son or daughter in the face. Words can hurt so badly; bruises sometimes heal more quickly than our feelings.

    I’ll say it again; you have a precious boy and a precious relationship with him. Your posts make me long for a first grader in our house again.

    * * *
    I think I prefer the bruised feelings. Pity the poor soul who lays a hand on my child.

  6. I just love how you handled that: you let him come to you instead of prying. I hope to react in the same way with my little one someday. I think that will be so valuable when he gets older (teen years). He is learning that you are his rock, that you are trustworthy. So touching.


  7. You are truely blessed with that boy of yours. You and AD have done an increadable job rasing him.

    Keep up the great job. 🙂

  8. Awwwwwww, that is so bittersweet. I want to hug you both! And chew out that nun for being so intimidating to a little child.

    On the other hand, I subbed in 6th grade the other day and one of the kids asked me if I used to be in the military. So I guess I wasn’t too scary to ask. 🙂 Made me smile. I’m gonna take it as a compliment.

  9. i loved your story. it reminded me of the days when i was picking up my daughters and learning about their days at school.

    i didn’t enjoy all the driving, but it seemed that there was a vulnerability when picking them up that when tapped, opened many teaching moments/opportunities to encourage.

    yes, there were advantages to their driving in high school, but the disadvantages were that i didn’t always have those golden moments.

    i’m glad he also got to see someone stand up for him so he saw what that felt like in a group of children making fun of him. not everyone gets that opportunity, sadly.

  10. I love Conor and I love that you shared your own horror story with Sean, I really think it helped him a lot to know these things happen to other people, even those who are now grownup. Or maybe he’s thinking his secret wasn’t as bad as your incident! 😉

    You reminded me of a 2nd grade friend who WAS brave enough to ask our evil teacher from hell if she could go to the bathroom. The teacher kept refusing to let my friend until she too, wet her seat right there in front of the class. I still think about how that horrid woman scarred my friend (and other kids she tormented through the years). >:-(

  11. As you know, Sean will never forget this.

    I also peed in my chair in kindergarten because the teacher said no one else could go to the bathroom that day. I also remember her saying I should have asked and not reminding her what she’d said to the class.

    Yep, you never forget.

    You are an awesome, mama, my friend!

  12. Always love your blogs. We miss you all. I read them all, but don’t always comment. Thinking of you often. How is the book coming?

  13. Oh gosh, this is the beginning of such a long journey, isn’t it? I remember, at the age of 19, telling my mom how I’d been teased about liking a particular boy, by a group of friends, and how upset I was. I don’t remember all of what she replied, but I do remember her using the phrase “my poor lambkin”.

    I guess it took me a long time beyond first grade before I learnt how to deal with teasing. I hope Sean learns a little quicker than I did.

  14. I love these life lesson moments…even when they hurt! Your post reminded me that I did the very same thing in 1st grade…I didn’t have a fear of a nun, just afraid to ask to go to the bathroom. I need to share that story with my girls. I think God gives us these stories to share, don’t you?

  15. This is where I go crawl in a hole and hope like mad to avoid all manner of anything and everything that might ever hurt my Little Man’s feelings.

    It’s a beautiful lesson and so poignant. My head knows that our children learn important lessons throughout all these hardships, but my heart breaks for their pain.

  16. As a child if I complained that a friend had upset me, I was often told “sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you” but there is a verse written by Steve Turner who writes children’s verses, where he changes the saying to “but words may tear my heart out” — which is much nearer the truth.

    * * *
    That “sticks and stones” saying is the stupidest saying ever. Of course words can hurt. And they can heal. Words have power.

  17. There is no fun way to develop empathy. . .and this is the least fun way of all. So glad that Sean has a Mommy like you to share your own experiences and guide him through his. You are growing a man there, Tina.

  18. You have wonderful insights to share with your readers. I always enjoy the great mother-child teaching moments you have. This one particularly reminded me of a girl, named Beverly, who many years ago in my fourth-grade class had that same “accident”. Everyone laughed; I cried, feeling so sorry for her. Life can be cruel but you are a great mommy to help heal the wounds. Always keep the lines of communication open with him.

    A Grandmommy—Becky

  19. What a wonderful mother you are. You saw an opportunity and took it. What a great lesson in this story. I hate that kids can be so mean in school. If only they knew…

  20. I tried not to cry, too…it didn’t work. I love hearing about the beautiful relationship between you and your dear little, sweet little, wonderful little boy. And what wonderful lessons you taught him!

  21. Reading about you and your son sitting in the car at school transported me back some years since my youngest is about to “promote” from 8th grade. I loved those times in the car — even if we were talking about something that went wrong that day — and want to keep them in my challenged memory forever. Thanks for the reminder of those days!

  22. I love your Sean stories…so much that I am passing on an honor someone bestowed on me recently.

    Congratulations! You have been awarded the “Versatile Blogger” Award. Visit and see my “I Love a Good Surprise” post for details. Your blog deserves this and far more. When I need some warm fuzzies or a tug on the old heart strings, I come here. Thank you for making my day whenever I stop by. And please give Sean a hug for me. He’s too adorable for words!

  23. I totally peed my pants in second grade, sitting in my chair during class. Ai yi yi, the humiliation. I was always too embarrassed to ask to go potty, and back then, you pretty much were never allowed to leave the classroom anyway. Memories! 🙂

  24. Awwww. My little one is still at the touching my face while chewing on her bottle stage and I’m glad of it because I haven’t learned to be as wise as you yet. In fact, I think my reaction would have been to go beat up that little blabbermouth that hurt my baby, and then she’s have to deal with the added humiliation of having a mom who was arrested for ambushing first graders in the parking lot.

    Parenting is hard work when you do it right.

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