So, fix it

Last weekend was pretty a continuation of the week that had preceded it.  Whining children, flying laptops, angry kindergartener.  By the end of the weekend, I was spent and J was looking forward to getting back to work, where no one snaps his teeth at him and people rarely threaten to poop on the floor.

J was upstairs, bathing the younger two.  Zachary was on the kitchen floor, doing something completely unlovable, I am sure.  If we had a cat, I suspect he would have been pulling out its hair or setting its tail on fire.  As it was, he was probably whining and throwing things.

I sat down and pulled him into my lap.  “Are you angry at us for moving here?” I asked him.  Usually, I don’t like to put words into his mouth, but every now and then I think kids have a hard time figuring out why they are feeling the way that they are.

“Yes.  I don’t like it here.  No one pays any attention to me.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.  “It seems like the other children are always talking to you.”

“No.  They never pay any attention to me.”  Now, I know Zachary well enough to know there is a grain of truth in everything he says.  Usually, he completely misinterprets a situation to make himself into the hero in some sort of a three-act tragedy, but there is always an actual event that prompts his misery and despair.  I needed to dig further.

When exactly don’t they pay attention to you?”

“After snack.  During the free time.”

Fuck.  The damned free time.  While parents the nation over bemoan the loss of free time for their children, I think there is still entirely too much of it.  Recess is getting shorter?  Fantastic.  Free play in the classroom is being replaced by worksheets?  Excellent.  I won’t feel this way when Benjamin gets to kindergarten, but free time is the fucking viper that bites Zach in the ass.  It is so nebulous, so unrestricted, so… free.  He spends the whole time anxiously watching the other kids for cues on what he’s supposed to be doing, then kicking himself for doing it all wrong.  Damned free time.  It’s been screwing with my kid’s head since he was two.  All the poor child wants is a row of desks and a clear-cut assignment.

“I thought you were joining the other boys in the marble play during free time.”

“They don’t do that anymore,” he replied miserably.  “Now they play cards.”  He emphasized the last word, as though it clarified everything.  Cards.  Cards…  I wracked my brain, trying to come up with all the ways card-playing could be interpreted as complete and utter social ruin.  “They play cards and I just watch.”

“Do you want to play?”

“Yes.  But I don’t know the rules.”  Well, that sure explains it.  Nothing wraps this kid up in knots more than knowing there are rules and he doesn’t know them.

“What game are they playing?  Is it Go Fish?”

“No, it’s grown-up cards.  Like with a Queen and a Joker.  Like in Alice and Wonderland.”  Great.  That clears it right up.

“Well, maybe you could ask someone the rules.”

Now his despair was deepening, because not only were the kids playing a card game that made no sense to him, but his mother was clearly a complete and utter moron.  “No, because no one pays attention to me.”

And there’s a hole in the bucket.

“OK, kiddo.  I’ll tell you what I am going to do.  I am going to send an email to Mrs. T.  I am going to ask her to help you learn the rules of the game so that you can join into the card game.  Does that make sense?”

He smiled.  “Yes.”

“Maybe next time you could tell me sooner when you are having a problem like this, OK?  That way, we can find a solution a little faster.”

Once the kids were in bed, I was as good as my word.  I emailed his teacher, explaining The Great Card Crisis.

Monday, Zach came home, all smiles.  One of the boys had shown him the game.  He had been included; he was part of the pack.  After a week of acting out his abject misery, all it took was a little email to fix the problem.  But, I worry, because he is getting older.  Miniscule though he is, he simply is not a baby anymore.  We have one, maybe two years – tops – left during which I can still email his teacher about this kind of thing.  And, yes, he is slowly learning to handle things himself, but tiny social slights feel like colossal failures to him.   Sooner or later, he’s going to feel like the pariah in the classroom because the kids are not including him exactly as he would like to be included, and there will be little I can do to fix it.

By Tuesday, he was miserable again.  “All the best friends are tooken up,” he told me.  “I don’t have a best friend.”

“You have to give it some time, sweetheart.  Just play with lots of kids and see who you like.”

“I can’t,” he replied.  “No one pays any attention to me.”

9 responses to “So, fix it

  1. Poor love. And poor Mama who has all the fun of maternal protectiveness AND personal childhood memories to tie it all up with a big red bow of miserable empathy. It isn’t that we want our children to be the start of the classroom and everyone’s Most Popular Kid – just to have one or two real friends, special friends – friends that, against all the known physics of grade school – last for more than two weeks.

    But he’s talking, and you’re listening and, at least once, you were able to save the day!

  2. Seeing you communicate- whether it’s with a teacher or a parent- is important for him. I had a situation with my ten-year-old and someone who I thought was her BFF this month and the month before that had her in tears. Most of my family was ready to strangle the other child, but I had a feeling- as you did here- that there was more going on than I was getting. I spoke to the other child’s mother and got more information. Someone felt like they were being ignored, then started lashing out with hurtful comments. We had a similar situation last year with someone else. Talking is hard- and harder still for some children- but it’s also hugely helpful.

  3. vigorousanonymity

    Ugh, it’s heartbreaking, that. It reminds me of my own daughter (now 19 and impossibly popular at college). I was forever getting myself in the middle of her friend problems, in an effort to help her overcome them. I have no idea if what I did was helpful or simply meddlesome, but I’m really glad those days are over and she can stand on her own now.

    Wish I could be of more help on this one. Maybe he would consider a few playdates at home where it’s just one on one with another kid?

  4. “Zachary was on the kitchen floor, doing something completely unlovable, I am sure. ” just made me laugh out loud.

    If it makes you feel better, I remember being similarly confused by “free time” until I was around 10 or so, and then somehow I became just fine at joining in other kids’ games. No idea what changed … but apparently it did. He’s not going to magically become un-sensitive, but he will probably get a lot better at learning the “unspoken rules of play” over the next few years.

  5. The “no friends” tears are some of the hardest around. Ugh. It’s heartbreaking.

  6. Poor Zachary, and poor you. It can’t be fun to watch and worry. It’s such a powerless feeling, I think. 😦

  7. Oh man, I’m sorry for both of you. If I had assvice, I would give it to you (so it’s probably a good thing I don’t have any!), but in absence of any constructive help, I am sending you all long-distance emotional support.

    Just make sure you’re home to sign for the package when it arrives. I hear the UPS person can be kind of a pain about that.

    *hugs* if you want them, all the way around.

  8. Oy, free time. I hear ya. Most of my kids trouble come at lunch – bored kids not eating their food & stirring up the pot.
    One note, perhaps, is that in a few years, he might be better at taking your suggestions & asking himself for help. I transitioned Isaac from my note to the teacher, to his arriving 5 minutes early to talk to the teacher, to making a strong effort to handle on his own & some how that seems to work for all but the messiest of dust-ups, which do land him back in my lap, but we have no regular lunch time/bus time drama anymore.
    But I agree, the lack of structure serves some kids better than others.

  9. That sucks for Zachary! Is the teacher willing to do anything else to help him? COuld she find him a buddy somehow! I’ve even heard of some kids who had an older kid from another class come spend time with them once a week and be a buddy.