when your kid is excluded

Secondhand Heartbreak

I have to admit that this has been a hard year. I’ve had my own struggles with health and work. But it’s been a big year for me as a mom too. Nick is graduating in a few days and more than once I’ve watched him struggle.

Today was a joy and then a heartbreak and he’s not even in love yet.

I need to go back a bit in time.

Last fall, Nick’s buddies decided to go the the homecoming dance together as a group. They’d always done that in middle school, showed up for the dance after having a pizza party. Then, when they walked in, they did it with confidence, with their crew. It was awesome.

But Nick spent a lot of his high school years being less social, less willing to go to movies he didn’t want to see or to go to activities he didn’t want to do. He was much less willing to communicate too. I don’t know why. I don’t know if something happened that I’ll never know about at school or if it was just something he just needed to go through. Sometimes, I think a change happened after he had his concussion at football practice. But I will never know.

So last fall, I was excited about him going with his friends to the homecoming dance, but I was too sick then to help him shop for clothes. I had a kidney stone and can’t even remember if I had already had surgery by then or not. It was all a blur. If he went, he would have to shop with Mike.

And at the last minute, Nick decided not to go. His friends went anyway. They had a good time, but I think it drove a wedge into their friendships. I don’t quite know, but I do know they were disappointed.

So, yesterday, I sat on the couch for two hours and edited one of these guys’ final paper for Language Arts. Somehow, a couple of them caught on that this was my expertise and I said yes. I worked hard at it. These were Nick’s best friends, after all.

Then, during the texting back and forth, this kid asks me to see if Nick wanted to join his group to go to the prom. So, I did. And he texted Nick too. And Nick said he wanted to go.

Man, I know this isn’t my story to tell, but how do you deal when you’re so much a part of it?

See, Nick got excited about going. I probably did that by asking him if he was going to ask anyone. Prom meant something to me. Until I spoke up, it didn’t mean anything to Nick, especially since he hasn’t dated yet.

So, in a way, this was my fault.

But Nick agreed to join with his friend’s group and actually wanted to go.

As soon as I got home from church today, Nick was ready to go shopping. We were going to get him a jacket and tie.

I have to tell you that I love being in the car with Nick these days. He was quiet, but we talked on the way. He’d been more talkative lately and, frankly, it was a relief. He told me about some funny thing he saw on Reddit but couldn’t show me because I was driving. I loved that. I didn’t even remember what else we said. It was casual and slightly happy chatter.

When we arrived at the store, the manager made a big deal of him. It was awesome. In no time, Nick stood in front of a three-way mirror in a dark gray jacket, a light gray button-down shirt, and a striped teal tie that he loved. He asked me to take a picture of him.

He never asks me to take pictures.

The grin on his face was priceless.

So, we came home with all of it, including a pair of aviators that topped it off in style.

And then, I got a text from this kid’s mom. It was vague, waffly, apologetic.

For what?

It turned out that Nick’s friend said that the group decided they didn’t have room for him to join them. When Nick went into his room and closed the door, I could feel all the air suck out of me. He needed to be alone. I needed… I needed something.

I needed to do a load of dishes and cry. I needed to try not to get mad at this kid (or his mom) because Nick had bailed on him enough times, and for homecoming even. I needed to be sad for Nick, but there was nothing I could do except encourage him to ask if he could hang out with any of his other friends. I told Nick to see what he could do. Then, I told him that if he wanted, he could screw up his courage and walk into that celebration by himself. He could, I said it, but in my heart I knew even I’d never be able to do that, not for prom. And I was the one who showed up and spoke at open mic events, the one who could go almost anywhere and make it my own party.

But not alone for prom.

I tried to sound encouraging, but I was so sad, not just for him, but for me too.

This is where it’s hard to be a mom. By the time your kid is eight, you can no longer manage their school experience. But Nick did okay at school. You can no longer choose their friends. But Nick had some great friends. You can no longer keep their hearts from breaking when they were excluded from things. But Nick had been included for so long, even when he didn’t go along just to hang out.

And you have to stand there and watch when things hurt them. It hurts to watch them get hurt.

And Nick hasn’t even fallen in love yet.

Not that I know of.

Thank you for listening, jules