I think what is hardest about true exclusion is that there is nothing or no one to blame but yourself. To be excluded in a non-objective way by a group that you adore is quite debilitating and no matter how you explain it away, the truth hurts. It’s one thing if it’s a specialized sports team or a gifted school program as those things have specific entry requirements

My son Russell, at nine years old, has experienced life’s little hurts. He has watched his friends vie for his older brother’s attention and he has felt the sting more than once of second place in his role as younger brother. Life is this way, isn’t it? I think it is and though it’s hard, we learn to roll with the punches. I remember the brother who turned down an invitation so as to save the other brother’s feelings. How else are we to learn empathy?

A recent exclusion has thrown us for a loop, particularly me and Russell. It’s been several weeks now and though I have alluded to my hurt feelings, I have remained largely silent as I tried to process the events and my own forgiveness. It wasn’t until yesterday evening that I was presented with quite a conundrum from the situation that we had cried over and that I had tried to swallow away. I should have known better.

The time change had meant an early dinner for us and so, our whole family spilled into the parking lot alongside our house and played. As Russell circled me on the scooter, he began to talk about Odyssey of the Mind (OM) and the team dynamics for this upcoming year. Russell had been on the same team for two years but was not included this year. We found out in rather an unfortunate way, though that aspect hurt me far more than him. He just wishes he were on the team and I have struggled in how to speak to my kind nine year old son.

I refuse to be entirely truthful in this instance, not because I want to shelter him from the world but I won’t share the hurtful words that fell upon my ears. I won’t tell him that he’s no good at it anyways and I won’t tell him that his teammates had to pick up the slack, those words offered to me so as to explain away his exclusion when we stumbled upon a team meeting that he had not been invited to attend. On the other hand, I can’t in good conscience listen to Russell explain away why he thinks he wasn’t included either. As he zoomed on the scooter, he shared that he was not on the team because I hadn’t signed him up in time. Yes, the other mothers were on the ball and my crazed self, who has been known to get things wrong, had screwed up. Only, I didn’t this time.

Russell adored OM. He loved the meetings, solving the problem and practicing with those team members the last two years. If anything, it was his thing and for a boy not particularly sporty in a small NC town, you need a thing. I didn’t know what to tell Russell. I wasn’t going to share the harsh words, but nor could I contribute to his thinking of laying blame either. As much as I longed to take the fall and protect his heart, I couldn’t let him believe an untruth. I simply told him that I hadn’t received a call to sign up and that we hadn’t been included. Sometimes we are just not included and for reasons we don’t understand.

That’s the best truth I could offer. Learning to navigate the rough waters of life is not always smooth sailing and sometimes, hopefully not too often, a rogue wave knocks you down, but you have to get up, brush off, and speak the words in your heart and be honest in a way that doesn’t offer protection. My beautiful son is more than enough and I will not tell him otherwise though nor will I tell him the world is kind and unkindness is accidental. To be intentional with kindness is to acknowledge the scary intentional unkindness and how to handle that properly is a skill that builds a lovely soul. My Russell is a lovely soul.

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