This is my third child going through preschool. I am an old pro at this now. I no longer cry like I did with my first child when the teacher pulls me aside and tells me that he is having difficulty cutting with scissors. In that case, I headed home and had him practice diligently with those scissors until it had knocked any more negative scissor commentary out of the teacher’s mouth. Though I thought I was beyond crying when someone criticizes my child, I did it again today. This I could chalk up to week thirty-three of pregnancy hormones, but I suspect that it is more due to the fact that I fiercely love my children.
So, here are the goods. Ty, my four-year old is boisterous, funny, very big for his age, never mean spirited, but can knock things over at times. He loves his friends. The problem is that they are not showing him the love. He complained to me last week from his car seat as we drove home from school …
Ty: “Mommy, why did you send me to school today? I was so sick.”
Me: “You were sick, honey? What’s the matter?”
Ty: “My feelings were hurting so bad.”
Me: “Why baby?”
Ty: “The girls yell ‘Ty is coming’ and run away from me.”
At this point I try to explain to him that they are just playing and they like him. But then he comes home next time and says, “Nobody wants to play with me.” This becomes his mantra. Can you just hear my heart breaking for him? He also tells me that his friends become invisible or turn into giant ice cream cones and don’t taste very good so it is hard to know what is true. I ask the teacher what’s up. This woman has been the preschool teacher for all of my children and I love her. She tells me he is doing fine and the dynamics of the little group of four boys change daily. They are working out their issues. I don’t bring up the girls issue because I’m not sure if it actually is an issue.
Then, after school today, Ms. Teacher pulls me aside and tells me that Ty threw a dinosaur at little girl. It was a soft dinosaur. I first ask if the little girl is okay. She is. As I said, this is not a mean boy. So I say, “What happened?” She said she didn’t know what led up to it, but she could tell he was hurting and frustrated. She had a big talk with him about it. And there start the stupid tears! She said he was hurting and that was enough to throw me over the edge. I try to put on my sunglasses, but they start fogging up because my pregnant body is over-heating. I want to get my boy and leave, but she starts telling me how he doesn’t know how to join in a group. He comes in and knocks things over to get attention and the kids don’t like it. This does not help the crying situation. I walk away hand in hand with my socially inept child.
Now, this is my third child. So, I talk myself down and realize that my eight-year-old, who also had his own preschool issues, is functioning exceptionally now that he is in second grade. Ty will be fine. But he is hurting now. Lord, I need wisdom here.
Fortunately, we have a play date with another preschool child who is not in the little group with issues. The mom is kind and has four children. I tell her the story. There is good news. This woman has info. She tells me she was there when it happened and saw a group boys and girls who were talking and yelling at Ty and he walked away sad, with his head down, picked up the dinosaur and threw it. She said it hit the little girl, but this angel of a mama said she thinks it was just bad aim. Oh, clarity. My little guy had been trying to tell me this was happening to him amidst the crazy giant ice cream cone stories. A little truth.
I’m a problem solver so here’s the plan! I’m going to talk to the teacher again and try not to cry or demand that she make all children speak nicely to Ty, but instead suggest kindly she watches to make sure he is not being ganged up on. In the meantime, I do some role playing with Ty. I play his friends and he practices coming up to play with me by just sitting down quietly next to me, not knocking anything over and not speaking loudly. He does this over and over fabulously. We next try me being a friend who doesn’t want to play with him. I say, “Ty, I don’t want to play with you.” He says, “That’s okay. I have other friends.” and skips away. The skipping is my idea—it says “I don’t need you, you big meanie.” We practice this one over and over again. He likes the skipping; it is a newly acquired skill.
This weekend I went to a birthday party for one of Ty’s friends so I got to witness the preschool social dynamics in person. Without provocation, the girls yelled, “run, it’s Ty” and ran away from him. He looked at me and said, “See mommy, they don’t like me.” I think it is just a game these little girls are playing, but it is hurting my little guys feelings.
So I went with my angel mama’s witness account of the dinosaur throwing and my new info from the party to talk to the teacher. Hooray—thank you Lord—it was a relatively cry free conversation. She said she would look out for the kids running from him and singling him out. That’s all I wanted. This woman knows me and knows I’m the first one to admit my flaws and those of my kids. I don’t see them through rose-colored glasses. But, I still hung out and observed for a little bit. After all, this child is my job right now. I had things I needed to get done, but he’s mine and nobody else is going to look out for him like I will.
He goes up to one of his good friends and the kid (we’ll call him Timmy) yells to me, “Ty says you said I have to play with him.” Obviously, my fabulously orchestrated and well-practiced role-playing exercise has not worked. Ty has gotten something total different out of our talks. So, I call Ty over to me. Then, Timmy says, “Ty, you’re a liar.” I give the kid a dirty look. I can’t help it. I review with Ty that he should just quietly join in, he doesn’t need to say anything. He runs back over to Timmy and another boy and they dig a hole. After watching a bit longer, I walk over, kiss Ty goodbye and say bye to the other boys. Timmy says, “I’m sick of playing with Ty.” Okay, so now I have the deep desire to turn into Rebecca DeMornay from The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and tell this kid off. But, I have self-control and instead tell him, “That’s a mean thing to say and if you don’t want to play anymore, you can just walk away.” His reply, “I don’t want to leave my hole.” I walk away, tattle on him to the teacher just so she is even more aware of the situation, and breath deeply all the way to my car.
After talking to my husband, we decide to pull him out of preschool for a week to give him a break and see if it breaks the cycle of abuse. He is back in school now and things seem to be better, but the teacher and I are both keeping a close watch. One of my dear friends once said that whoever made up the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is an idiot. I agree with her that I would rather be hit with a stick than have mean words spoken to me. Mean words stick with you. I am sure Ty will be fine. He is resilient like most kids are and preschool is meant for these kinds of lessons. But, still, a little like middle school, sometimes I think it would be nice to skip it all together.