It was hot yesterday–serious, in-the-upper-80’s hot. Not normal for suburban New Jersey in mid-April. I haven’t put the winter coats away that we were wearing last week. I can’t keep up with the weather, and can’t sort my kids’ drawers and closets: after all, tomorrow may bring either a blizzard or a typhoon. So clothing for every temperature is easily within reach of each of my kids’ grasps. (Fine, not the baby’s.)
My younger son, R, came dancing downstairs to breakfast in shorts and a t-shirt. My older one, Z, came down more slowly in a t-shirt and jeans.
“Hey, you might want to change into shorts,” I said over my shoulder as I made coffee. “It’s going to be really hot today.”
“Nah,” Z said. “I like jeans.”
“I like them too, but today’s going to be almost 90 degrees,” I said. “I think school’s going to be pretty warm and you might be uncomfortable.”
“I’ll be okay,” he said. Taking a sip of milk, he put down his glass. “Besides, there’s another reason I don’t want to wear shorts.”
My mom radar perked up. “Why, what’s up?”
“There’s this kid in my class,” Z said, naming names, which I am too good a person to do here. “And he always compares my legs to his legs. And he says that his legs are much skinnier than my legs.”
This kid has made cracks about Z’s physical appearance before. And you know that moment when a teakettle is full of boiling water and the lid rattles as the steam shakes it? That is sort of what is happening to my eyelids right now as I take a deep sip of coffee. I swallow, breathe in, and will myself not to get into my car, drive over to that other kid’s house, drive right into his kitchen, grab him by the back of his neck, march him over to the toilet, pick up the lid and…
Okay. Enough about my fantasy life.
I pull out the chair across from Z and sit down. “Well, we’ve already established that [that kid] is kind of a jerk, right?”
“Right,” Z says matter-of-factly.
“Doesn’t he get sent to the principal’s office practically every day?” I ask. Z nods.
“And it’s not because the principal likes him and wants to hang out with him,” I add. Z laughs.
I take another deep breath subtly. “Okay,” I tell him. “Your body is fine. [That jackass] is a skinnier kid than you, fine–but that’s just how his body is built. His mom is probably skinnier than I am, too.”
“Yeah, she is,” he agrees, a little too quickly for my taste, but whatever.
“But it’s not a big deal,” I say. “It’s basically only a big deal if you LET him make it into a big deal and let him make you feel bad.
“Anyone who compares himself to you is doing that because he doesn’t feel confident enough in himself. “ Blank look from Z. “In other words, if you feel good about yourself, you don’t ever HAVE to feel like you want to see how you look compared to someone else. Because when you feel good about who you are, you know that comparing yourself to someone else is a waste of time and energy.”
“You know you’re great in art,” I continue. Z nods. “So do you ever compare your art to other people?” I ask.
“No,” he says, after thinking. “I just do my best so I can be happy with what I do.”
“Exactly–because you are confident in yourself, so you don’t try to judge yourself compared to other people,” I say. “How he looks has nothing to do with how you look. And who he is has nothing to do with who you are.”
Z nods, smiles, and goes back to breakfast.
But that last part, I know, isn’t really true. After all, no matter how good my kid is, I will never be able to shield him from jerks like you-know-who. Jerks exist all through life, at every age, and they say crap to make you feel bad. That’s basically the jerk job description. Hell, I know plenty of people as an adult who view jerkhood as their personal career.
They’re at the gym, looking my body up and down and internally comparing it with theirs. They’re on Facebook, responding to posts with an undue amount of acrimony or snideness. And when you’re a mom, they’re in the judging eyes and mouths of other moms, who watch what you do and look you up and down and pass judgment on you as a parent and a person.
But the moral is still the same for us adults as it is for kids, and it’s just important for us to remember it. If those jerky people were really happy with themselves, they wouldn’t be so busy comparing themselves to you.