Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I haven't eaten cole slaw in 28 years

In 1981 I was a kindergartner and one day at lunch time I found myself without my lunch. Did I leave it at home? Did I leave it on the bus? I don’t remember. There are many details from this hazy memory that I don’t remember. I didn’t know what to do so I timidly approached Mrs. F, my morning teacher. She was a good teacher, by all accounts, a caring teacher. But I don’t remember this. I remember that she intimidated me. I didn’t love her as I did my afternoon teacher, Mrs. P, the same Mrs. P who still sees my mother occasionally and asks after me, still calling my by my four-year-old self’s nickname.

I think there was no reason to fear Mrs. F but I never entirely warmed to her. And on this day, I was afraid –of a problem I didn’t know how to fix, of having made a mistake and of needing to call attention to it, of thereby calling attention to me.

The class was lining up at the doorway to walk to the cafeteria for lunch. All morning I had known I had no lunch. The badness of that festered in me, all morning. I didn’t summon the courage to tell Mrs. F until that last minute and in doing so, executed another wrong.

“Oh, Robin, if you’re getting a hot lunch you need a lunch ticket. And I asked for a lunch ticket count two hours ago. You should have told me then.”

These are the things I thought all at once, in a flurry:
1) But I didn’t know! I never got hot lunch before! I didn’t know about the tickets!
2) Am I in trouble for forgetting my lunch? Where is it? Is it making the bus smell bad? Will I get made fun of for a bad smelling bus on the way home?
3) Why aren’t you seeing how upset I am over this? Why are you impatient when I need kindness?

This is what I mumbled:
“Oh. Sorry.”

The panic only intensified as I tried to figure out what to do next. How did hot lunch work? What steps did I do to get it? Would I do something wrong? Would I mess up again?

I don’t remember how I got food, nor the entire menu. I don’t remember eating. But I do know that I ate. Among, I assume, other items, I ate cole slaw, which I’m guessing I never had before. And sometime after quiet time on our nap rugs, I threw up.

I threw up cole slaw and whenever the smell of cole slaw comes into my nose now, by brain conjures afresh the regurgitated slaw scent memory.

Was I already getting sick that day? I don’t know. Did I throw up from the stress of messing up? I don’t know. I don’t remember throwing up, only the after-image of recognizable slivers of cabbage, and oh, the smell. I don’t remember throwing up, but I do remember the black knots in my stomach at telling Mrs. F my mistake, at absorbing the exasperation in her voice. And it smells, even until today, like bilious eau de You Screwed Up.

Which is all a way of saying: my kid is through-and-through so my kid.

The new director at the girls' daycare has been bringing in all these great supplemental activities that have most of the kids wild with excitement. L's class has been meeting weekly with a Gymboree Play and Music instructor, and I've watched that class. It's so much fun. The older classes were playing weekly on a Tumblebus, which is a hollowed-out former school bus filled with gymnastics equipment and lots of padding. Now they have weekly sessions with Mr. M, a music teacher, and also an introductory Spanish class.

For all that E inspired the appellation Not-Ever-Still, she was upset during one session on Tumblebus because in her excitement to start she went the wrong way over a one-way climbing wall and the Tumblebus woman called her name out: "E, don't go that way!" Her friends stopped to look at her midway up the wrong side and she was embarrassed by the attention and by the having made a mistake. She refused to get on the Tumblebus at all after that day.

Tumblebus ended and Mr. M and Spanish began. E cautiously enjoyed both at first but quickly was screaming that she didn't want to go to either class. We never know how far to push her and how much to give her space to deal with the world on her own terms. Never mind that we pay extra money for her enrollment in these classes, never mind that all her friends think they're the most wonderful thing ever, never mind that there was once a language-immersion preschool we always envisioned sending our kids to that has diluted its content due to costs and a crappy economy so we never sent E, and this is now the closest thing to language immersion she's going to receive. Is it worth it, if she's screaming not to have to go?

How absurd is this: I asked her regular teacher to ask the Spanish teacher not to call on E and not to speak with her directly, but just to let her be in the room and absorb the lesson without one-on-one contact. And now, E can count to ten in Spanish. She says hola and adios. She asks me to quiz her on the colors in Spanish and she's starting to be comfortable, finally, with the Spanish teacher. It just takes her, apparently, a gazbillion times longer than any other creature on the planet. Give or take a million.

Mr. M comes to the school on Wednesdays and E begins her weekly moaning about him on Sunday nights. When is Mr. M coming? and I don't want to go to Mr. M! and He's not coming tomorrow, is he? and Mama, this isn't Mr. M day, is it?

Is it worth all this? For her to worry days in advance; for her to cry when I drop her off; for her to face that which makes her so uncomfortable -- are we inoculating her? Or are we making her anxieties that much scarier and bigger and badder?

This week I finally got her to talk about why she doesn't like Mr. M. When he and the kids are all singing a song together he calls on the kids who aren't participating and invites or reminds them to join in. So once he said to her, "Come on, E, sing along!"

She didn't want to sing. She was just listening, she told me. She didn't want to sing until she knew all the words, because she didn't want to sing it wrong. But then he called her name out loud, and everyone looked at her, and so she didn't want to sing at all.

She is so my kid.

So what's an empathetic mommy to do? She's three and it's a singing class. It's not like she wants to drop out of the 10th grade.

This morning, amidst the wailing, we struck a deal: one last try. We spoke with her teacher and asked for the same intervention as with Spanish. Could she ask Mr. M not to talk to my girl? And under those terms, tentatively, she stopped crying. She said she'd go.

Guess what? She loved it.

Its a big, bad world of social expectations and social interactions. Baby steps, love. I was so proud of you today.


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1 comment:

Kelly (conversemomma) said...

Your blog is my roadmap. Jack starts pre-school in September. My children have never been away from me with anyone but my mom, who watches them while I work. I'm so terrified he'll struggle or be sad, or hate it. But, I'm excited too about his chances for happiness and success.

You are such a great mom for listening and seeing and knowing.