My daughter glumly pouts as I prod her to eat breakfast.
“I don’t wanna go to school today.”
The words fall like freshly collected eggs. No taking them back. No missing their meaning. And I can’t just leave them there like nothing happened.
“You don’t want to go to school?” I blandly reply, not really caring since she is going to school anyway. She is my third child and the only one with a waitlist for when she gets cloned. Every parent is amazing who has her in their quiver.
Her elbows now land on the counter in time to form a cradle for her stubborn chin.
“And you can’t make me, so I don’t have to eat breakfast.” Her emphatic nod says, “So there!”
“I thought you liked school,” I suggest, dangerously close to that vain pursuit of talking her out of her feelings.
“I still don’t wanna go!” Her eyes brim with fury. The bottomless wells glare at me, challenging me to argue further.
I relent. “What is bothering you about school?” I stop measuring out medications and supplements, a vital part of our balanced breakfast.
Her eyes now search the counter top for the right words. And since she can find math equations on a digital clock already at the age of 5, I glance at the predominantly blue-spattered 1990s laminate for some wisdom too.
When she says, “The bad kids in my class are making us miss out on fun time,” I don’t immediately retort, “You mean kids making poor decisions.” We’ve had that conversation before.
She corrects herself as she continues, “I mean, I know they’re not bad. I really like all of them [she prays for them at night]. They just do all the wrong things during learning time, so we use up all our time for the fun stuff too.”
These last words implore me with a whining tone to take her side in this certain injustice. She has pushed her chair away from the counter with the last of her anger. Now her shoulders slump as her bottom half slides forward in the chair. Her arms hang uselessly at her sides, her chin droops in dejection against her chest.
Since I help in her class for an hour each week, I know exactly what she’s talking about. And since her older brother was one of those kids three years ago, I now wonder how many kids went home and said these same things to their parents.
I acknowledge her frustration and circumstance without any blame. I don’t remember how I persuaded her to eat breakfast and get dressed and finish getting ready for school. Maybe her desire to see friends or learn a new song overcomes her fear of facing yet another disappointment at the hands of her unruly classmates.
My brain keeps working on the question, though. How would it feel to do everything you’re asked to do and still get punished, so to speak, because of someone else’s behavior?
As we approach her school drop-off lane an hour later, I pause our audio book to lay out my case. And since we’ve been listening to the unmistakable difference in teaching styles between Miss Honey and The Trunchbull in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, I appeal to her precocious side with a series of questions.
“I have a question for you. What is your teacher’s job?”
The answer is obvious.”To teach us.”
“That’s right.” The next question is also obvious. “And what is your job?”
She is used to knowing all the answers. So I go a little deeper.
“What kinds of things is she supposed to teach you?”
Since she has done her job in all of these things, she knows this answer: “Our letters and sounds and some reading and writing and how to count and add.” (Even though she asked me the other day if “character” was spelled like the word on her putty canister, “C-R-A-Z-Y” and I momentarily agreed because I’d like to think that’s what is showing in my quirkiness, she truly learns quickly and challenges herself to learn more.)
Again, I agree, but this time, I challenge the obvious. “What if your teacher is also helping kids learn how to work in a group and how to work out their feelings?” I let the silence from the back seat flash a “Proceed with Caution” sign. “You’ve already learned some of that with the preschool we did and from church and from having an older brother and sister and cousins at home, right?”
“Yeah.” The slowly inching line of cars has nearly reached the departure gate.
“Well, babe, what if you are getting a lesson now that they aren’t ready for yet?”
“Like what?” She perks up at the thought of getting an extra challenge, something befitting her responsible and capable nature.
“Well, like giving your classmates room to learn their lessons even if they aren’t the same as yours. Maybe you will need to keep loving them and praying for them even when you’re sad for the things that don’t work out. You can do that, right?”
I don’t know if she hears me. The greeting lady is assisting her from her seat, and I tack on my daily goodbye and I love you as my heaven-sent child briskly embraces her new school. The one where achievement and accolades matter less than the shaping of her character.
[I kept this post short and linkless. It has a companion post in the works, an irksome and unwieldy older sibling, who will share the side of the story my kindergartner’s classmates can’t tell yet, the one about the new “normal” in your average elementary classroom. I chose the song for this post’s title from Gary Jule’s cover of “Mad World.” Last decade I made a video for my nursing unit using this song to tell the story of chronically ill children in our care. It ran into copyright issues and never saw the light of day. Now if you can handle a depressing song at Christmas time, you can ask yourself what it has to do with elementary school and attention disorders.]