Finally, though, he'd had enough. The kids and I were at Panera eating. Gabe opened the conversation.
"Mommy...it's happening again."
I could tell by the tone of his voice exactly what and whom he was talking about.
"Have you asked your teacher for help?" I asked him.
"No, and I don't want to," he said. "Johnny only does it when we're all hanging out. He doesn't like it when I get attention. If I tell, my friends will know I'm a tattle-tail. I really want to handle it myself, but I don't know how."
"Have you tried to talk to him when you're getting along instead of when you're mad at him?" I asked.
"No," Gabe admitted. "I could try that I guess."
"I have an idea!" Taylor interjected.
"What?" Gabe asked, willing to consider all possibilities.
"Say something mean to me," Taylor instructed Gabe to role-play.
"Taylor, you smell! I wish you would brush your teeth!" Gabe dramatized.
Taylor smiled with content, as though what Gabe had just said delighted her. Then she breathed a deep sigh of relief and fondly declared, "Ahhhh...I like melons!"
The table fell quiet. Taylor continued to smile. My mind raced to catch up with hers. I shot Gabe a raised-eyebrow look of confusion. He reciprocated the lack of understanding. Taylor started to giggle. That's when we got it: Taylor diverted our mean focus by thinking happy thoughts.
The whole dynamic of our conversation changed. Heavy became light-hearted, and we all laughed until our bellies hurt. Her tactic was genius, and we all knew it.
Gabe looked forward to the next run-in with Johnny. He couldn't wait to use his little sister's off-the-wall strategy to see if it worked. But something unexpected happened: Johnny didn't do it again. Maybe it was coincidental. Or maybe Gabe returned to school that day with a renewed sense of confidence. Maybe he appeared stronger to Johnny, and Johnny chose not to mess with him.
If it does happen again, Gabriel is armed with a tactic that will make him smile instead of frown. Even if the diversion doesn't work, we'll have something relatable to talk about over dinner. A dinner in which we will welcome the advice of his little sisters. Because they see the world differently through their innocent little eyes. And when I listen close enough, even I am able shed my jaded lens.