I grew up on a cattle ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After spending nearly 20 years working as a copywriter in advertising, my first book, Confessions of a Slacker Mom, came out in spring of 2004 and made the San Francisco Chronicle's best-seller list. My second book, Confessions of a Slacker Wife, was released in spring of 2005.

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Stop Me Before I Hurt a Second-Grader

Is there some kind of an Irate-Mom Hotline I can call? I need help; someone needs to intervene before I do something I’ll sorely regret. I’m so incensed with one of my little boy’s classmates I’ve had to ask myself what I might be capable of.

This classmate, let’s not use his real name, let’s call him Satan’s Little Helper. No, no, that’s too long. Let’s call him Pill. That’s easier to say, and it fits him. Okay, so a few days ago my little boy Joe came home crying from school to report that Pill, whom he’s known and been “friends” with since he was a baby, said in front of a group of other kids, “Stop looking at me with your stupid sideways look, Joe.”

Now if you read my columns you might know that my little boy, Joe, who just turned eight, has a physical disability called nystagmus, which means he can’t control the muscles of his eyes, and in order to hold them still enough to see well has to turn his head until they’re way over in the right-hand corner. Joe looks a bit odd to other people, because either his eyes are constantly batting back-and-forth, or he’s looking at you sideways. He can’t help it.

But Pill knows that; he’s known that all his life. Joe’s endured teasing and pushing around from other kids before now, believe me, but the betrayal after all these years of his “friend” Pill is especially bitter.

I know, if you’re a mom, that you get it. You’ve been through this unfun kind of ordeal with your children. At some point someone has done or said something that cut your kid to the bone, in a way they didn’t deserve and couldn’t defend themselves against. Were you taken aback, as I am, at the primal ferocity of your reaction? Of course, the first thing I did was to give Joe my sympathy, support, and love as I tried to help him understand why people sometimes behave so badly. But in addition to that I feel like taking this kid and slamming him back against the lockers while I explain to him at very close range what is wrong with publicly disparaging someone for a disability they were born with.

But I should not do that, should I? So let me talk myself down.

I know that, first of all, since Joe must go through life with a noticeable disability he will have to grow a thick skin, and he might as well start right now. I also know it’s simply the nature of eight-year olds to be cruel, and not just to Joe. And I believe that Joe is smart enough and strong enough to eventually get past this and maybe even learn from it. I hope the pain he feels now will be a lifelong reminder to him of why it’s important to be compassionate with other people, especially to the many who are worse off than he is. I also hope these experiences will teach him that you can’t let other people dictate how you feel about yourself; you have to make up your own mind about who you want to be and how you’re going to get there, and not let other people’s opinions derail you.

Besides, I know little Pill’s family very well, and they’re lovely people. I know he’s not an evil little kid. I know Pill’s motivations had more to do with showing off than with hurting Joe.

Nonetheless he hurt Joe deeply. So although I’m capable on an intellectual level of putting it in perspective, on an emotional level it’s still churning my guts. And I can’t help hoping that next time this happens, Joe won’t just stand there and swallow it like he did the other day. No, my fond hope is that he’ll slam that kid back against the lockers and explain to him at very close range what is wrong with publicly disparaging someone for a disability they were born with.

I say this without actually knowing if it would make Joe feel better. All I know is it would certainly work for me.