My husband dropped off a carload of boys. They appeared noisily in the backyard. I heard them before I saw them, as usual.

Then the phone rang. “Hey, I just dropped off the boys. You need to check on your boy. He wasn’t chosen for the talent show and he cried the whole way home.”

I peered out the kitchen window after I hung up the phone. Sure enough, my boy stood alone by the tire swing, clutching the chain with both hands, leaning his cheek on the metal links.

The other kids had all come bounding inside and were upstairs starting a video game. (“I call the green controller!”) I slid open the door and walked to my boy, this ten year old child with a broken heart.

“Hey, are you okay?”


“Is there anything I can do for you?” I rubbed his back.

He turned a tear-stained face to me and said, “It’s just that when something really disappointing happens and everyone keeps talking about it that makes it so much worse!” His friends had tried to console him on the ten minute ride home and their very acts of boyish kindness turned my son into a sobbing mess.

I hugged him, told him I was sorry and that lots of times I wasn’t chosen for things either and that I knew how upsetting it was. “Do you want to stay out here for awhile?” Yes, he did.

The next time I glanced out the window, he was lying on his stomach on the tire swing, swaying slightly, weeping.

When I looked again, he was prone under the tire swing, chin propped on his hands, still crying.

A bit later, he’d rotated onto his back in the sandy playground mulch, still under the tire swing. His fleece jackets picked up bits of woody mulch. Now he not only looked sad, he also looked like he lived in the wilderness with Survivorman.

I thought wallowing in his sorrow was understandable and I’m all for feeling one’s feelings. However, after an hour of snotty distress, I suggested a bath. What better place to finish crying, right? He agreed and stood to his feet, so I brushed off the mulch from his front and back. I pushed his sweaty hair back from his reddened face and noted the snotty dirt clinging to the tip of his nose.

And so, while bathing, he finished mourning his lost dream of making his whole school laugh. When he finally appeared again, clean and in his right mind, all the neighborhood kids were gone. My husband had taken our daughter to visit a friend. The teenagers had gone to a movie. So, my boy and I were alone.

I baked brownies and when I brought him one, I said, “Shall we never speak of it again?” and he said, “Never.”

The problem with being optimistic is that from time to time, your expectations are crushed. When all your friends watch, the humiliation is almost more than you can bear. I know this because back in the day (before the Internet, IMAGINE!), I auditioned for music groups in college and was rejected. To this day, my writing is sometimes rejected for publication (when I manage to send it out). I know what it’s like to not be chosen.

The difference between me and my son is that he is still an optimist. Also? I have never wept while rolling in the dirt under a tire swing.

I wish I could protect my kids from this sort of distress. In fact, while he composed his comedy routine last weekend, I wanted to stop him. I wanted to tell him not to do it, not to try out. I wanted to warn him that being hit by a banana and saying “fo-shizzle” is just not funny. But his friends thought he was hilarious and furthermore, he thought he was oh-so-funny. Who am I to dent his confidence?

So I watched him go out into the world, figuring he’d return to me roughed up a bit. I hate this part of being a parent. Wouldn’t it be better just to keep the kids inside, remote control clutched in one hand, protected from what might happen out there?

Of course, it’s better to let them go, to be a safe place for them to return, even if they choose to cry while rolling in the dirt. Disappointment is part of life. I have better perspective than he does: I know that this is a small thing in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps next time I am a weeping mess, I will remember that perspective changes everything.

(And I must confess that I am sort of grateful that he wasn’t chosen because how much more humiliating might it have been if he performed his comedy routine and NO ONE LAUGHED in the whole school.)

13 thoughts on “Rejection

  1. Wow, what a very moving post. I do relate to you. What a hard thing is is for parents to let go, to allow their children the freedom to make mistakes, and be rejected. But it’s so much better that he goes through it for the first time at ten, with a loving mom to cuddle him, and let him know he’s still just as valuable a person as he was before his rejection. So much better than protecting him, or (worse!) telling him that the judges were stupid and of course his routine was the best, as some parents might do.

    He’ll be all the stronger for it, in the long run… but another little piece of your heart is probably broken by his distress. This parenting thing isn’t easy.


  2. my heart breaks when I watch my socially challenged (with sensory integration disorder) 6 year old try to make friends. He so desperately wants to be friendly and people just don’t get him. He usually bounces back pretty quickly but it just kills me to watch it happen over and over and over again.


  3. My son also takes things very hard…but for opposite reasons. He’s a pessimist by nature. I was the same way growing up. It just kills me to see him expect the worst, especially when it happens. It’s so hard being a parent because we can’t protect them and often they don’t listen or follow our wisdom. They have to learn on their own time and in their own ways. I actually think it was really good that you went ahead and bit your tongue and let him try at least. I know that must have been hard though…


  4. Wow. What a great post. We have all been the person in the tire swing. It’s even harder to watch the people we love SUFFER on the tire swing! Very moving.

    You ought to submit this. Fo-shizzle. : )


  5. Urgh – the absolutely palpable grief he went through. I remember being there so many times as a kid, for one reason or another. The worst is when you’re so sure of your ability and so optimistic… and then you’re crushed, for what seems to be utterly nonsensical reasoning. Once I lost out on a part in a play to a guy who couldn’t speak above a mumble and could scarcely read, and I was devastated. I know it hurts like crazy to see that happen to your son… especially as a mom… but he’ll bounce back and try again. You handled it beautifully.


  6. You handled that so well. Letting him work through his feelings and then how you said you guys will never talk about it again but asking him, perfect. What a great mom you are. It’s SO sad to watch our kids broken like that


  7. It broke my heart to read this. Rejection hurts no matter the age and I think as Mothers it probably hurts us more when our child is not chosen. You did the right thing. I’m sure you knew that already. 🙂


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