Saturday, April 17, 2010

Do as I say, not as I do.

There is a strange new phase of parenthood that I am beginning to enter into: The School Years. This first year of preschool for Ella has been wonderful, and as it comes to a close, so does her "preschoolerhood". She is no longer a tentative girl peeking into her classroom on the first day of school, she is a kid who barely stops to give me a quick hug before she races into her classroom and starts her day with friends. After four and a half years of having a baby, then a toddler, then a preschooler, this, whatever this phase is called, is kind of shocking. Because with my girl's new found independence comes the need for me to take a step back and let childhood run its course, for better or worse. There are times that I see her in a difficult situation and I know that I need to let her figure it out on her own, even if that is the more difficult choice for me to make. Case in point: Mean Kids. Oh, they're everywhere, and I am sure that Ella has taken her turn as the Mean One in a group now and then. But I have watched her play with others, and as a rule she gets along very well with her peers. As a mom I silently pray "Please do not let my kid be the Mean Kid in the bunch", because sometimes despite fantastic parenting, a child says mean or hurtful things to another, and there's just not much you can do about it besides correct them, make them apologize, move on, and hope they won't repeat the offense. But when your child is on the receiving end of the mean-spirited comments, oooooohhh boy, you want to kill someone. This has been happening with a particular kid that we come in contact with on a daily basis. For the sake of anonymity, we'll call him Dr. Evil. Dr. Evil is older than Ella by about two years, yet they have played well together up until this point. Things changed about a week ago, when the mean kid-ness started. During a game of tag, Dr. Evil suddenly hopped on his bike and started riding away. Ella ran after him, thinking this was part of the game. "NO, Ella. I'm going to my OTHER friend's house, and you can't come. I don't want to play with you any more." Ella let his words sink in, really thought about what he was saying to her, and then she cried. As I would, probably. Because it is no fun to hear "I don't choose you first anymore, and I don't like you as much as I like this other kid." I took a deep breath, gave her a hug, and then tried to calm her down as best I could. I told her that it was okay, that I still wanted to play with her, and we didn't need to play with Dr. Evil to have a good time. She calmed down a bit, but the level of fun dropped considerably...I guess having the wind knocked out of you with an outright mean comments will do that. I tried to explain to her that even when people are unkind to us, it is ALWAYS the right thing to do to try to be kind back to that person. You don't have to like that person, and you don't have to play with them anymore, but you do not get to say mean things back, even when you may want to. Which, speaking of saying mean things back, my inner mama lioness was a-roaring. I wanted to rip this kid a new one, call him every name in the book, and then kick him in the shin and run away. Motherhood: Making women regress back to first graders since the beginning of time. Just when we had started to have fun again, drawing with sidewalk chalk and riding bikes, guess who should saunter back over to our house with his tail between his legs? Yep, little Hitler himself. "Can I play?", he asked sheepishly. Ella looked at me with wide eyes, then looked at Dr. Evil, then looked at the ground and said, "I don't want to play anymore" in a soft, hushed tone of voice. While I was proud of my girl for not resorting to name-calling and yelling insults, I was indeed not rising above the situation very gracefully. "Asshole! Jerk-face! Stupid, stupid kid who is wearing a stupid, stupid...shirt! Yeah, your SHIRT is STUPID, butthead!" is what my inner voice was yelling. Loudly. I just looked at him to gauge his reaction, which was to try to stick up for himself. "Look, I just wanted to see if my other friends were home, but they weren't so I came back. I want to play now." I could tell he was growing irritated by her refusal to let him back in so easily. Ella just glanced at him and said not one word, continuing to circle the driveway on her bike. "That wasn't very nice what you said earlier, Dr. Evil. Ella may not feel like playing any more today," was what I said out loud, my repressed elementary school self still inwardly hurling childish insults his way. "Well, FINE! Then I don't want to play with her anymore EITHER! BYE!!!" was his last response. He hopped on his bike and headed home. As a last ditch effort (at what I don't know, because calling names is a surprisingly ineffective way to get others to want your company. Go figure.) he turned around and yelled over his should, "I don't want to play anyway because Ella is weird!". And with that, he rode off into the gates of hell from whence he came. "I'm proud of you for not yelling at him or being mean, Ella" I told her after he was gone. She smiled a big smile and asked if we could write our names with chalk on the driveway. And in that moment, I realized that she was listening when I tried to teach an important life lesson, she had gotten it and had actually followed through, not stooping to the level of the little menace. In all honesty, it would seem it was me who had just a little growing up to do.

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