When my son was in elementary school, every day that I picked him up from the bus stop I'd ask him the same question: "How was school today?" Each day, he'd say the same thing: "Fine."
That word usually meant one of two things. Either nothing monumental happened, or something did happen, but he'd wait to share it with me until he was ready.
So, I accepted his "fine," grabbed his little hand and walked him home, hoping things were going more or less smoothly at school.
One night at the beginning of third grade, while I was putting him to bed, the moment I had anticipated came up. As I brushed the hair out of his face and leaned down to kiss him goodnight, he looked up at me with his big brown misty eyes and revealed a piece of himself.
"Mommy, is there something wrong with me?" he said, in a small shaky voice.
"Of course not, my love. Why would you ask that?" I said, my feathers up.
"Jack doesn't like me anymore," he said, turning away from me, his body curled in a fetal position and his face pressed into his pillow.
My heart thumped in my chest and heat rose to my face. Memories of my childhood rejections and the isolation and hurt of those friendship struggles flooded back as I felt a sharp ache for my son.
All I wanted to do was to take away his pain. I suppressed the instinct to pepper him with the hundred rapid-fire questions boiling up inside me. And instead of showing him my own insecurities and primal anger about someone hurting him, I took a deep breath and looked into his tear-filled eyes.
"Tell me what happened, my love," I said, trying to stay calm.
He told me that now that he and Jack were not in the same class, Jack — the same friend he'd loved since they were in kindergarten — didn't say hello to him in the lunch line.