Floaty pink dresses, spins, sparkles, high pitched voices, and a teacher addressing you as a ballerina. What could be better? (Hint: imagine you’re a four-year-old girl.)
Still, it’s interesting to watch. Miss Amelia, the teacher, pitches her voice a constant octave above normal, reminding one of a tinny barbie doll (in sound, if not in look), but she’s no pansy. There is a set of twins that don’t focus very well and are often off in left field, so-to-speak, yet she handles them with grace, charm, and command….and all in falsetto! The girls don’t even realize they are being managed. She’s brilliant.
The misty rain stopped and the sun peaked out. I had borrowed entertainment for Milo in the form of a play mate for the afternoon, so that hazard was sorted. On an errand to the garage I spied the tray of plants I brought home from work yesterday. THAT’s what I needed. Some peaceful weeding an an opportunity to mull over the last chapter of the book I was reading.
“Can I help you plant those flowers?” Naomi asked as she watched me collect my tray. I hesitated. I really just wanted an escape….but I OUGHT to enjoy her company. “Ok,” I consented, bowing my shoulders.
“I can put the plants in the holes,” she offered.
“I’ll pick up your jersey and hang it here on my scooter so it doesn’t get grassy,” she continued, thoughtfully.
“I’ll get the green bin for those weeds,” she enthused, as she trundled a wheely bin twice her size up the driveway.
In short, she was a joy to have around. I felt guilty for wanting solitude in the first place.
It’s amazing how the situation can feel the exact opposite that self same morning.
“Milo, stop! Don’t grab from Naomi!” He finishes the lego-recovery-mission he had embarked upon as if he was deaf. Naomi howls. Milo swats. Naomi kicks. “STOP!” I yell, grabbing his arm. “SIT BACK DOWN AND FINISH YOUR OATMEAL.” “YOU sit back down and finish your breakfast too,” I command Naomi. She sits next to Milo. Milo crawls over the table and sits at the other end. She moves again to sit next to him, dribbling milk along the way. He walks over the table top, grinning at me. Then he and his oatmeal get banished to the porch, where he sits and bangs on the window. Going to work is so much easier, I think, rubbing my eyes that feel tired and old. I take a sip of the cup of tea which I never manage to drink hot and wondering how to break this miserable cycle.
There are plenty of times–memorable times–when siblings go wrong (more about that below). But this is one lovely time when siblings went right. Naomi got stung by a bee while we were biking at the Halswell Quarry, and we had to turn around and come home. “You know,” I told Milo, as he complained about not getting to finish his ride, “your sister is TOUGH. There aren’t many four year olds who would bike home after getting stung by a bee.” He must have taken it in, because later I overheard him repeating this boast to Jeremiah. He also switched from “little sister got in the way of me doing what I wanted to do” mode to “caring big brother” mode, even reading his school book to her.
Other days, it can be more like this:
“It’s school crossing!” Naomi informed me.
I glanced out the window in time to see Milo run down the driveway with his friend Cameron on his heels. His mom and sister rounded the bend. This looked official. I opened the front door to field the inquiry.
Milo rushed at me: “Can Cameron come over this afternoon?” he demanded, before darting off on a circuit of the yard.
“The boys were hoping for a play date.” Clare stated the obvious. “Milo could come to our house.”
“We want to play in the tree fort,” Milo put in. Hum. There’s no tree fort on offer at Cameron’s house.
“Ah, yes….well, Cameron can stay here,” I offered.
A couple minutes later Milo came raring around the corner, brandishing Naomi’s new stickers in triumph above his head while she squealed in protest. “Milo! What are you doing? Give that back to Naomi! One…TWO…..! He threw the sticker sheet in her general direction, then stepped on her container of beads, spewing them down the hallway. “Milo! In your room!” I pointed menacingly and took a threatening step toward my son. He sprinted to his doorway and stood there, grinning. I gave him a few minutes, then went to talk things over.
“Milo, I won’t let you be a bully. In order to come out you have to say you’re sorry to Naomi for snatching her stickers, then you can pick up the beads and put them in this container.” I thrust a plastic jam jar into his hands. He tossed it on the floor. “Well, that’s what you have to do; say sorry to Naomi and pick up her beads.”
After several unsatisfactory attempts at a sorry I let a cursory attempt stand, reminded him about the beads, and retired to the living room.
“Naomi, I’m going to put your beads out the window,” I heard his gleeful voice taunt from the dining room. I ignored the threat. Often he’s just angling for attention. The noise crescendoed, and upon investigation I discovered beads in the weeds below the window. Incredible.
“Is he like this when he goes to your house?” I asked Cameron, shaking my head.
“No.” Cameron widened his eyes.
I thought of the studies of social structure with chimpanzees where dominant males tear around the group, chasing their comrades up trees, tossing sticks into the air, beating their chests and generally making a miserable racket.
That’s exactly what Milo has been doing this afternoon. Asserting his dominance on his home turf.
We’re no better than apes.
Milo’s not what you would call talkative about what goes on at school.
“Milo, what did you do at school today?” I prompt
“I played on the playground,” I might get. Or perhaps the classic: “Nothing.”
I can’t say that I was much different, in my memory. My own mother used to ask me how the day at school was, and I literally couldn’t remember. I couldn’t be bothered to cast my mind back to period 2 English or period 7 Math. It was in the past, a whole bus ride in the past, and I wasn’t interested in revisiting it.
So what happens in the classroom has been a big black box to me….until I got to peak in at a window of time this week.
The teachers always email that they love parent help–people to sharpen pencils or put workbooks in order or listen to kids read. I had assumed that since I had Naomi with me, I couldn’t stay, but I saw another mom staying with a kid in a pram just a couple weeks ago….so I resolved to stay and have a look-see one Thursday morning.
Milo’s regular teacher was away, but his beloved year one teacher, Mrs. Davies, was standing in instead. The class of 26 kids had an hour before they loaded onto the bus to go to their swimming lesson, and the teacher gathered them up to do an activity that involved making a fold-out fish that looks all nice and friendly until you pull out the crease and reveal the gaping mouth full of teeth. “Roar!” The kids were delighted. All except a couple boys at the back who were busy playing with a pirate ship and poking pins into the wall.
Even handing out paper to a group of fidgety six-year-olds is a logistical task. Then came the job of writing one’s name on the paper, putting the name side down on the ground, folding the paper in half (the fat way), adding an additional fold to make a hidden pocket…..dude, I take it for granted that Milo catches on quickly. You can’t imagine how many ways a kid can get stuck or distracted during that process, starting with not having a pencil. Fifteen minutes later the teacher was ready to show the kids how to draw the fish with the hidden teeth in the crease. The boy at the back adjusted the flag on the pirate ship, his paper forgotten at his side. The girl in the middle drew the fish lips both on top and couldn’t get the mouth to open. I tried to help another girl who appeared stuck, only to be baffled when she sunk her head onto her knees and tears began to appear. Ay caramba.
Let me declare, the teacher was masterful. She was clear, and patient, and cheerful. Chipper in the face of all that discombobulated hubbub. She remembered everyone’s name, and let me remind you–she was the substitute. There’s a reason I’m not a primary school teacher. But wow, I sure got a vision of how hard it would be to be a parent of an easily distracted kid. Or a timid kid. Or any kid who has a challenge with catching on to new stuff. Because with 25 other kids in the room, it’s not like the teacher can stop and give a lot of one-on-one time to any single child. A kid can float along, leaving the job of paying attention to other kids in the class, and where does that leave them?