Friday, January 26, 2007


I had a glass of wine with dinner last night, passed out, and then after Stella's ritual four A.M. coughing fit I couldn’t fall back asleep. So I thought about happy things like what a horrible mother I am, because yesterday when I picked Hamish up one of his daycare teachers had this to say, in an impromptu doorway conference:

“Does Hamish, like, play with toys at home?”
“Huh?” I thought, is this a trick question? “How do you mean?”

“Like does he play?”
“He does,” I answered. “I mean, he gets distracted sometimes, but that’s typical, right? I mean, he’s imaginative. He likes to make up games. But yeah. He definitely uses toys.”
“Oh. Okay, because he hasn’t been participating here. When we tell him it’s his turn to, like, do art, he just stands there and says he doesn’t want to.”
“Is he in the middle of something when you ask him?”
“No, he’s just standing there.”
“What about music?”
“He’ll do the shaker for a couple minutes and then just sit there staring into space.”
“And all the other kids are participating?”
“Oh yeah. They love it.”
“And he’s still the only one who won’t touch the animals on nature day?”
“So, you think this something I should be concerned about? Like you think it’s a real issue? And not just him, I don’t know, being introverted or something? Like a personality trait?”
“I don’t know. I just thought you should know, because it’s been going on for a while now.”
“No, yeah. Thanks. Because I want to know. I mean, is there anything I can do at home, to you know, get him to…”
“I don’t know, I don’t think so.”
“I mean, he plays independently at home. But he has play dates. You know, now that I think of it, he does take a while to warm up, like he and his playdate person will parallel play and then in the last hour they’ll discover each other and have a ball. Do you think I should maybe have him there longer hours, less days?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I just wanted to let you know, because like, we all noticed it.”
“Because maybe then he’d loosen up. Maybe he’s not getting enough time to warm up?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Does he seem miserable?”
“Not really. He’s not like crying or anything like he used to.”
“Oh. Well, does he have kids he plays with, I mean, besides Arianna?”
“He plays with Arianna but sometimes he doesn’t even want to play with her.”

And so on.

And I’m shattered by this on one hand and on the other, I think, well, my kid happens to be the shy one. In another group, there might be more like him. Or maybe he’s just cautious. Or maybe he’s an untapped genius, and they’re underestimating his powers. I remember a kid I taught in one of my art education classes. Did I mention I got certified to be an art teacher during one of my identity crises? Well I did, and for one of our classes, we taught these kids at a homeless shelter near Port Authority in Manhattan. And one day, the student teacher’s lesson plan was still life drawing, and she brought in a couple dozen roses. After we divided them among the tables, we went around and helped the kids. There was this one boy who hadn’t drawn a thing, so I went over and tried to help him.

“See the stem? It’s like a line,” I said. I thought he just didn’t know how to draw. I wanted to make his task less daunting. This kid was about five. I can’t remember how I tried to help him with the flower, maybe I simplified it into a blob shape. I don’t know. But I walked away for a few minutes and when I returned, he’d drawn the rose. It had thorns in all the right places, he’d used perspective, shading and volume, and I felt like an asshole. I’d completely condescended to him, underestimated him, and here he was, a far better artist than I was, and he was five, and living in a homeless shelter. Talk about untapped genius.

But Hamish doesn’t even like to draw. In fact, upon investigating his non-participatory ways on our ride home yesterday, he said, “I don’t like crayons. I want to throw crayons in the garbage.”

And so at four A.M., far more in tune with my self-loathing ways than my delusions of grandeur, I’d decided that I’d simply broken his spirit. I’d replaced him with his baby sister and sent him to daycare so I could stay in touch with my creativity (how selfish!), and he felt fobbed off and forgotten, robbed at two of his childhood, and so he displayed his misery by alienating himself from the fun his classmates were obviously having, because their mothers were parenting phenoms, not a fuck-up like me.

So this morning when he was having a tantrum about there not being enough sugar in his oatmeal (oh there was plenty), I scooped him into my arms and cried along with him. He thought I was mocking him of course, but I just felt his pain. How oh Lord, did I veer so far from the highway of sound parenting? I moaned to myself, checking my reflection in the mirror above the table to make sure I didn’t look like I was faking. And I resolved to change his schedule so he’ll be certain of my love, but when I shared my plan with another of his teachers this morning, my favorite of his teachers, she said, like an angel of wisdom, “Oh, don’t worry for a minute about it. He’s two.”

And so it goes.


Auntie Amanda said...

"He's two" really does sum it up...don't worry too much about Ry- being "different" isn't necessarily a bad thing. I once read "raising kids is like being pecked to death by chickens." Some days more so than others, so don't beat yourself up.

Amelia Plum said...

Talk about an uninspired 'impromptu' conference. What did this teacher hope to gain in saying this stuff to you and how was she in any way helpful or constructive in what she said?! It's been going on for awhile and I don't think there's anything you can do but I thought I should mention it to you? What the f*ck? And then to say that we all have noticed it? I would talk to the supervisor of that daycare (or if you're uncomfortable witht hat maybe a teacher you feel more connected to) because that teacher needs to get a clue about how to talk to parents. I honestly don't think there's anything wrong with Ry and agree with Auntie Amanda that's it's part and parcel of being a toddler but, big but, that is completely out of line to make you feel bad about Ry's behavior and offer no solutions or suggestions about what to do. Maybe he would benefit from longer days but for christsake you're the one offering solutions while it sounds like the teacher is just standing there saying passive agressive crap.

Anonymous said...

A very touching entry.
But I think Ry is doing fine. His imagination is great! And he can certainly play with toys when he wants to.
So says Pop.

elise said...

Thank you all for your kind comments--it really does help to have support! It didn't even occur to me until I started transcribing, and admittedly paraphrasing the conversation, that I was being undermined in the least, but once I started writing, there it was. I do think the teacher was mostly acting her age, twenty or so, and being a drama queen about it, and our drama fed off each other. She's more or less a giggly girl who likes to joke that Ry won't be his girlfriend, but it's true she didn't offer suggestions for improvement, and left the conversation frustratingly open-ended. To make matters more bizarre, when he started there last year, the owner saw him on a few scattered occasions and called me to suggest I have him evaluated for autism because she observed him stuffing his face at lunch time. And this was truly the best place I could find for my kid. I guess I wish these gals would preface their observations with exactly how concerning these matters are. It might save me from my night terrors. Of course I also know I go off the deep end in blaming myself, but know deep down that I'm pretty good at this mom gig. The good news is that today I learned that he was totally engaged, that he participated at art time, and greeted me at the door with a finished painting. When all is said and done, I can't help but believe that so much of his and maybe all of our behavior depends on simple things like getting a good night's sleep. I guess that means I'm laying off the vino tonight! hugs, e

M.K.B. said...

It is possible to fret a lot about your child's development, especially with one's first child, and especially when that child is in a situation to be compared to other kids the same age, e.g., pre-school, or even a play group. There is SO much normal variability in the rate of development in very young children, and I would not consider that first teacher's remarks to be useful at all. Relax! And also
don't beat yourself up about not relaxing! I'm wondering if a good book about developmental milestones would be reassuring to you? Maybe one by Berry Brazelton, or even Dr. Spock? Then you could
check out the various parameters (like gross and fine motor development, receptive and expressive language, social skills, etc.) and say to yourself, well, my child is advanced in this area, and maybe a little slower in this one area so, in balance, everything is fine. Then, if there is an area that seems WAY out of
line, you could bring the issue to your pediatrician and do what she/he suggests. Cuz your pediatrician was helpful with the not pooping thing, right? (By the
way, did you ever hear the theories that sometimes a child will withhold poop because they think they have a baby inside like their mother did? Or because they
think they are giving up something important that is inside them? Just to throw it away? (Interesting.)
Lastly, your intuitions as a mother are very important. Don't let the semi-professionals out there, of whom this pre-school teacher is just the first of many, scare you. You know your own child better than anyone else. Here's who can be trusted: most pediatricians, some grandparents, many kindergarten teachers, some grade school teachers, the occasional children's librarian. These are the people with a
long-range view and tons of experience with kids.

amy archambault said...

I have three boys, 3,5,and 11..all different. The middle is like Ry, let him be, he is cautious, needs to feel safe and have trust. Nothing wrong with that. An observer, a thinker. We should question people who just jump and don't listen to their intuitive side, right...that's what I tell myself. My son is great and so is yours, you know where you stand with someone who takes their time to acclimate, at least you know if they really like you b/c if they don't they'll let you know. Great blog, first time reader and loving it. Hate those, parenting is so easy crap, home-journal, essays from mothers on vicadin!