I tossed out a casual, "So Matthew, how was your day?"
Mid-crunch, my boy stopped and then looked away.
"I was the only one who used my accent," he offered, a little flush of pride lighting his face before his gaze dropped back down.
"Awesome! Do you mean your accent when you're speaking French?"
"Umm...you don't seem happy about that, Bug. It's a good thing, right?"
"Well, yeah. I was the only one who was listening but Madame M. didn't give me a jelly bean."
"Do you get a jelly bean for using your accent, then?" I watched as his expression soured further, all thought of grape-crunching forgotten. In a low voice, he answered:
"No, we get jelly beans for listening, but Madame M. didn't give me one."
"Ah. I see. Do you think maybe she just forgot?"
A vehement head shake, tears glistening. "No. She never forgets. She just didn't want to give me one."
Mama Bear rose up inside me, roaring even as I struggled to tamp her down. Calm down, Mama.
I took a deep breath, reached out to take his hand. "That must have hurt your feelings, eh?"
"Maybe she doesn't like me." Though he offered it as an observation, I could hear the question in his voice, wrapped as it was in resignation and defeat.
It broke my heart.
"I'm sure you're wrong, sweetheart. I can't imagine that she doesn't like you. I'm sure she just forgot."
Shrugs from Matthew. Helpless gazing from me.
And then...a memory.
"Let me tell you a story, Matthew. When I was in Kindergarten, I had a teacher called Mrs. Major. Every morning, she filled a plastic egg with jelly bean treats and hid it somewhere in the classroom. Each student was given a chance to search for the egg and eat those jelly bean treats throughout the day."
"It was. But I never got chosen. One day, I asked Mrs. Major when it would be my turn. But she thought I'd had a turn and put me in time-out for telling a fib."
"Really?!?" Matthew's eyes were wide with surprise and indignation. This sort of thing sets his Libra heart aflame. Thirty-five years later, seeing indignation flare in my son's eyes soothed the ache of that memory, long-buried but clearly, not forgotten.
"Really. I was very sad. I wasn't fibbing, she'd just forgotten. But it hurt my feelings."
We sat quietly, letting those hurt feelings - his and mine - settle around us. And then Matthew brightened.
"Mummy! I have an idea! We can get a plastic egg and fill it with jelly beans. Luke and I can take turns hiding it and then you can have your turn finding it! Would that be OK?"
Oh, my son. My sensitive, tender-hearted son. What did I ever do to deserve you?
Out loud I said, " What a wonderful idea, Matthew! Thank you. We'll get some jelly beans at the weekend and whenever you use your accent with me, you'll get a jelly bean, too, OK?"
"Sounds like a plan, Mummy." His own hurt feelings forgotten, Matthew leaped from the couch and began scouting for good hiding spots. I stayed seated a minute longer, trying to compose myself.
For want of a jelly bean, grace was found.
*And you? Who was your Mrs. M? Where have you found grace?*