The High Road is Lonely Sometimes


Thing 3 who’s all of 8 just came back from tennis lessons. He’s been taking them weekly since January and he’s doing well. He’s increased his contact with the ball and his stroke has a beautiful follow through.

He’s on a “troop” with seven or eight other kids, mostly boys like he is: all elbows, skinny legs, striped t-shirts and hair longer than their mothers would like.

Overall, he’s got a sweet disposition, but he can dish out the snark out too. His apple didn’t land far from my tree.

He was the last one out of the lesson. He likes to stick around and collect balls in the cage and talk to the pros. He likes kids OK, but prefers adults, he always has. Immediately upon exiting the courts, he told me, “I showed coach the kid who’s been mean to me and who’s gotten his friends to be mean to me too. He said he’ll talk to him next time and make a speech to all of us about being tennis pros not tennis foes. He said he’ll talk to all of us.”

“Good for you,” I told him, sighing that life is the way it is, that people pick on other people and that the saddest of all people who pick on people are those who enlist others on their hate parades. I could feel my own sadness well up and my heart beat a little surer because of my instinctive love for my children. He’s been dealing with this twerp for three months at least. The twerp is new and T3 has been in lessons for longer, so I guess he’s being a twerp because he feels like an outsider.

After I held the door open for T3, we continued walking to the war wagon (as my dad calls it) in the parking lot and he pointed out a kid, “See that kid in the green shirt? He calls me ‘annoying orange,'” he said.

I growl-spoke as I pursed my lips and felt my brow furrow,  “He’s annoying green. He’s just repeating what he hears people say to him at home. He can’t help it. He’s like a parrot.”

T3 laughed a little at my annoying green comment. I opened his car door and he jumped in. I felt a twinge at the irony of my saying ‘annoying green’ and corrected myself, “He’s not annoying green, bud. He’s just a little boy like you.”

We got in, buckled up and I started the engine, looking over my shoulders in the tiny parking lot.

“Why do people do that, mom?” he asked from his car seat immediately behind my driver’s seat, “Why do people be mean to other people? And why do they want other people to be mean to other people with them?”

I shifted into drive and was silent. Biting my lower lip, checking for other cars after a hidden stop sign, I squinted and looked into the rearview mirror at him, picking at his racquet’s grip. He’s so small, all of 48″ and 45lbs. His beautiful face mostly a freckled map of Ireland. I wanted to say something snarky, like “Misery loves company, hon, and some people just can’t help themselves…” but I didn’t.

“Mom?” he prompted me.

“Yeah bud?” I said.

“Why? Why do they do that?” he asked again. I wasn’t going to be able to navigate our way home without chatting with him about this.

“People do this honey because they’re small inside. They are afraid of you or something you represent. They are afraid that the people they want to not like you will like you and not them, so they tell them things to get them to not like you. They are sad inside. You are a threat, so they do what I call taking the ‘low road’: they gather their small-minded friends and do what they can to hurt you because they’re afraid you’ll be better than they are, which to me you already are because they let their fear lead them instead of their hearts. They have no guts, no character; they only get higher by putting others down,” I noticed my voice was getting elevated and forceful.

“Sooo, because they have no guts, they’re aliens and I should stay away from them because aliens have no stomachs. Are you mad at me mom?” he asked.

“At you? Me, mad? No. I’m mad at the people who act like that. And no, they’re not aliens. They’re frightened humans of all sizes. Look, this stuff  happens all the time all over the world, no matter how old you are. There will always be someone who’s afraid of someone else. Just being mature and not liking another person for one reason or another isn’t enough. They have to get other people to do it with them,” I said. But I added, “There are also people who do the right thing without taking sides: they just do their own thing and not really care about what the mean people say or the person who’s being picked on do. They’re smart.”

“I don’t like some people,” he said. “But I don’t ask my friends not to like them, that would be pathetic [yes, he knows that word, remember he has a writer for a mother and a 14-y.o. for a brother]. I don’t like them because they’re mean. Or because they put ketchup on their oranges and that’s disgusting. Is that smart? What’s the low road? Where does it go?”

I wanted to say, “Hell. It goes straight to hell and damnation,” but I didn’t because that’s the road that’s paved with good intentions. Plus, he’s only eight.

“The low road goes to where it’s not so sunny; there are lots of trees and it’s hard to get around through the low road because of all the shadows. The high road, the one that you take when you do your best to be honest and just be you and be good takes you to where it’s sunny and clear. Sometimes it’s hard to take the high road, y’know: to be good. And it’s easier to be bad and take the low road. And it’s only smart if you don’t tell your friends to not like the  someone who puts ketchup on his oranges because you think it’s disgusting, by the way. Let them be themselves, let them make up their own minds.”

“Oh, so the people who just be themselves, they take the high road. If it’s hard to take the high road, then it must not be crowded,” he said.

I thought about my own experiences of traversing both roads. I remembered my times when I was younger and experienced moments when I took both roads and the sick feelings in my own gut I would have when I would gang up on someone or when I was ganged up on. It’s never easy. And what blows my mind is that even in adulthood, this happens all the time. Even as married grown-ups, the cliques, the petty jealousies, the projected self-loathing. . . it  happens all the time. It’s so easy to be bad. It’s hard to be good; being good requires we think about others first.

I sighed again, knowing I hadn’t answered him.

“Yeah. It can be lonely sometimes on the high road. But it’s worth it,” I said.

Thank you.

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

7 responses »

    • thanks so much! i think you’re right, “annoying green” looks sad and his mom looks terse. a lot of those kids in the lessons have parents who drop them off and leave. i’m not judging, i get it: people are busy, but T3 looks for me to look for him. i can’t imagine not being there. what’s the point of it all if you can’t see their progress and how they interact?

  1. T3 hit the nail on the head with that one. The high road must not be very crowded. Ketchup on oranges??? ewwww.

    • yeah. ewww. the ketchup & orange kid is definitely hearing his own drummer. the things that T3 says blow my mind sometimes. last week when he was ushered to another room by an insensitive teacher he said to her, “you talk to *your* kids that way? ’cause i can tell you, it’s not very good.” cojones.

  2. it’s hard being a kid… I don’t recall it being “this” bad! I wonder if my parents said the same thing. Talking is good. Talking is really, really good,,, keep him talking! It is shame and secrets that harm, and sadly in some situations the innocent thinks that they’ve done something wrong. You did good, Mamma!.

    • thanks, Amy! i have memories of things being hard for me as a kid; i was freckly like he is and wiry too. but i didn’t take it. i was sorta mouthy. (shock, i know!) feel like i did good too. funny though, he’s working with his counselor at school on what feelings mean to him; he’s sort of more logical than emotional. he’ll probably be an engineer or mechanic or architect or doctor or something like that. so he’s learning what some of the bigger feelings feel like and gaining confidence in feeling safe to express them. he has been a big keeper in of shame and big feelings, so you are extremely attuned to this message and i’m truly grateful that you said what you did. i will squeeze him tomorrow and tell him again how proud i am of him for standing up for himself. thanks.

      • I spent most of my life keeping stuff locked up, (I guess my saving grace is that I am of the Alpha Female variety), thinking I did something wrong; I think it is so important to keep ’em talking… that way whatever needs to come out, gets out! I tell my oldest (7 1/2), she is very quiet, literal and kind spirited, that no matter what her thoughts are she can share them with me. We talk about the difference between thoughts and feelings versus action and how thoughts and feelings can change, but once it is done it’s done. I’m also showing her that some things are just unacceptable and certain behaviors are highly inappropriate… wrong is wrong.

        One day at one of those play places, my youngest daughter came out and told me that some kids were being mean to her older sister. When I asked the oldest, she confirmed that they were being mean and saying stuff to her. Well, my daughter is home-schooled and has zero contact with these kids outside of that one time, so I’m not sure if I would handle it differently if she was in regular contact, but I marched in that play room, with both of my kids standing next to me and asked, which one is being mean… they pointed, I said my daughter doesn’t like the way you are talking to her, which means I don’t like it, so I’m going to take it up with your Mother… please take me to her. His eyes got the size of oranges…the mother was awesome in the way that she handled it. That most certainly isn’t the case most of the time!

        I’ve had several encounters that left me shocked… like you were saying, it is so important to participate in our kids lives and they do love to look over and see us cheering them on. It is too bad that you can’t talk rationally to the other kids Mom. I am probably hypersensitive to bullying, and no expert on the subject, but if it got any worse, I’d probably get more aggressive with the school/sports association or something… a lot of good kids out there, but some…. ugh!

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