A couple of times a week, we have a teenaged babysitter pick up Sam from afternoon kindergarten and play with the kids until I come home from work. Two days ago, she was asked to convey a message from Sam’s kindergarten teacher: Sam had been hitting in class. We are scheduled for our first ever (10 minute) parent-teacher interview, and Sam’s teacher wants to discuss this issue at the meeting.
I had no inkling Sam was being rough at school, and this information bothered me. I was very tired that night anyway, and it didn’t help that my youngest threw water at an oily pan while I was preparing dinner and that I burned my hand on a tray of kale chips taking them out of the oven and dropped them on the floor. But I was also plain off-kilter at the news from school. My son? A hitter? Advance notice of this agenda item for the parent-teacher meeting?
It’s always strange when you love someone intimately but then learn something about them you don’t know. While Sam has some (fun and not-so-fun) agressive moments with his younger brother, I would easily characterize him as gentle. In fact, with one of his rowdier playmates, he was allowing himself to be such a punching bag that my husband and I were coaching him on how to ask for help and to protect himself from being hit himself.
I’ve also been consciously revelling in what seems like a pretty idyllic time with Sam at home. He loves being around me, is cooperative, enthusiastic and participates in most things we do, can be reasoned with, and is a very affectionate child.
And thus begins my initiation into the universal education of parents as we discover that our children aren’t perfect, not even in those special areas we hold dear. I don’t care about being the mother of the unkempt child or the dusty home. But I do not want to be the mother of the Hitter.
It helped to talk to a lovely new friend and more seasoned mother. She happened to have a son who was aggressive when he was five and six and who has since morphed into an engaging, easy-going nine year old. It also helped to watch my friend’s own kindergartner who, frustrated at having to share her toys, scream with such fury that she made the tantrums of my own boys look rather tame. My friend has enviable mothering abilities, and I’d love for our kids to be friends. I felt no judgment at all witnessing the meltdown, but actually appreciation. Appreciation that kids can get violently mad. Their emotional toolbox is still small. They aren’t perfect.
While it seemed strange to me at the time, now I think Sam’s kindergartner teacher knew precisely what she was doing when she gave me advanced warning that we needed to talk about Sam hitting in class. Maybe she was giving me a chance to acclimatize, so that the honest but unproductive sinking feeling I had in the kitchen upon first hearing the news that night could give way to a more useful impulse. I’ve had some time to talk to Sam, to observe him, and to know that regardless of whatever he’s experimenting with now, he’s not a latent thug.
The meeting’s today. Wish us luck.