Earlier this year, when it was about time for school to get out, and for summer to begin, I was ready. I was ready to have no where to be and no schedule for a while, but most important – and this is, sadly, true – I was ready to take a giant break from Emerson’s classmates’ parents for the summer. It seemed that everything any kid brought home with them from school was looked at under a microscope, and then – if it was undesirable – blamed on another child in the class. It culminated at the end of the year by a group of parents ganging up on a five-year-old child (a fairly disruptive one, yes…) and using him as a scape goat for all of the problems – or perceived problems -they were going through with their children. Fortunately, Emerson was home sick from school during the height of mass hysteria (although some parents were kind enough to call me at home and fill me in). Sigh. Did I mention that these children ranged in ages from 3-5? They spent 3 1/2 hours together, three mornings a week. Hardly Lord of the Flies, but …
Emerson came home every day, seemingly oblivious that anything was dragging her out of her blissful childhood. She had a nice year in nursery, and had made a friends with another shy girl in her class – parents of other girls in the class accused the girls of being “exclusive” – and then later, as she felt more comfortable, with other children as well. In the last weeks of school, as the rioting parents demanded a solution to this “problem child,” the teacher sent home a note to each parent saying something to the effect of “we, as adults, need to create a positive outlook within ourselves, so that our children may emulate this, as they look to us as guides…” She worded it much better than I can remember, but you get the point.
The summer was wonderful. I didn’t sign Emerson up for anything “enriching”, and I didn’t join any organized playgroups in hopes of strengthening her relationships with other children in preparation for the next school year. I didn’t stress out about what class she would be in this fall, and I didn’t care which children would be in her class. I assumed – rightly, I think – that she would be fine either way.
A few weeks before school started, we got the class lists, and the deluge began once again. “I can’t believe my child is in this class”, and “I’m so sad my child isn’t in that class”, and “Can you believe this?” and on and on and on… “My child is too OLD for this class – the next oldest person is THREE MONTHS YOUNGER!” “I think I need to switch my child’s symbol, he will be very upset about being a raccoon…” (each child gets an animal or plant symbol on their cubby, chair, art folder, etc… )
I thought I could handle it, but it got to me. Even before school began!
So here we are again – in kindergarten this time – and the theme this year, from what I can see, is social dynamics.
During the first few weeks of school, Emerson wandered away from her best friend on the playground, and started playing with someone else. Emerson’s friend was devastated, and was in tears for days, saying things like “we got in a fight,” and “we’re not best friends anymore.” When I asked Emerson about it, she responded (verbatim) “Lila was just standing there… and Toler was doing more funner things… like talking about pee and poop.” Exactly.
Fortunately, the situation straightened itself out in a couple of days, without parental intervention.
A couple of weeks later, I kept Emerson out of school for a couple of days on either side of the weekend because she was a little run down and didn’t feel like going to school. When she went back, she started playing with a different little girl in her class (who is a year younger than her) every day, instead of the older girls she usually plays with. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but then -sad, but true – I was overcome with a bout of the parental affliction that had annoyed me the entire previous year. I started worrying that Emerson was playing with a girl so much younger than her, and wondering why she would chose that over the more organized games the older kids played. I wondered if she had felt left out of the older girls games because she had missed a few days of school, and was having trouble integrating again. What if this was going to be the pattern for the rest of the year? Would Emerson be left behind? Was she feeling sad and alienated and not able to tell me?
Fortunately, after four days, I came to my senses. The truth lies here:This is my daughter. She is five years old, and when she gets home from school she puts on her “bathing suit” (“this is the kind that has tops and bottoms, mommy”) and goes swimming in her “lake.” Fortunately, she is not too savvy on the social scene, and she – like most other children her age – doesn’t spend her days worrying where she fits in. She spends her days swimming in her lake, or preparing her underground burrow for the winter, or dancing, or trying to figure out the best method of picking up the cat.
I try not to ask Emerson a lot of questions about school – I like her to share with me what she wants – and fortunately, my craziness passed before she could detect it at all. The information she did share was a lot like this: “I didn’t like the game Lila and Lily were playing. It was too sandy, so I went and played with Rose.” Or another time, “I didn’t like the game Rose was playing, so I did something else.”
The most healthy reaction to a situation I have heard in a long time.
Why do we have to place these adult intentions, emotions, and responses into our children? Why do we feel the need to orchestrate their lives based on our fears, our lacks, our ambitions? The kids are fine. Emerson is great, in fact. She is having a wonderful time in kindergarten, exploring all sorts of new friendships, and feeling happy. She says things like this: “Rose is my best friend. And so is Lila. And Nola. And Ruby.” She likes to make surprises for her friends.
She can bring princesses made out of popsicle sticks to life.
She has fun playing with friends of all ages, and loves them all.
She is happy, and healthy, and (as her teacher said in our conference) “perfect.” We should take lessons from these amazing young souls, not the other way around.