Monday, July 22, 2013

Ugliness, Cruelty and Chaos

     My kids start back to school this week and, like many parents, I'm worried about how they're going to get along with their classmates. What's going to happen when they inevitably have to face the same challenges that their dad faced as he went through school?  Those times on the playground when you're the last one to get picked for a game. Or when you find out that someone you thought was your friend is making fun of you behind your back. Or when a school bully decides it's your day to get picked on.
     I know many of us have gone through these supposed rites of passage, but that doesn't mean I want my children to experience the ugliness, cruelty and chaos that can be a part of childhood.  I've always been amazed by my kids, as I suppose most parents are. They seem to be much smarter than I remember being at the same age. But I'm getting old, so maybe I'm forgetting just how smart I was.
     My kids are often mistaken as twins although there's about a year's difference between them. They come from essentially the same genetic material, so you'd think they would have similar personality traits. You'd be wrong.
     In fact, I believe they began developing their unique, individual personalities in utero. One was constantly kicking; the other wasn't. Once they were born, one could be calmed down with a pacifier; the other spit out pacifiers and sucked her thumb.  One was prone to public tantrums as a toddler; the other, not so much.  One is more inclined to try dangerous things; the other is more cautious. One is a negotiator when it comes to chores; the other is a pouter.
     Each responds to situations in her own way, so I worry about how they are responding to difficult situations at school. Ideally, I'd watch them all day, every day, intervening whenever there was a slight chance that they might be upset by some jerk of a classmate. But I can't do that.
     For a couple of years now, they have been navigating on their own through the jungle of grade school, and it's only occasionally that I get a hint from them that things might not be all peachy. If I ask them directly how their school day went, they'll say something profound like, "OK." 
     So I try again. I say, "What did you do in school today?" 
     I get a shoulder shrug and a grunt that sounds something like "Ah-unh-oh," which, translated, means "I don't know." 
     It's only in the unguarded moments when I get a sense that things may not always be going their way. Even then, getting details from them is difficult, so I have begun trying to interpret the non-verbal signs. For example, both of my girls have read and enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of books. I take that as a sign that they recognize something of their own school experience in the experience of Greg Heffley.
    Are they wimpy kids? Probably not. And, truthfully, I don't think they're going to be forever scarred by the usual shenanigans of kids in a school yard. But, from my experience, what happens in school does affect the person you grow up to be. 
     And, like all parents, my hope is that my kids grow up to be, above all else, to be happy. And perhaps they can't get to that point without some adversity. I just don't want some little punky jerk (or jerky punk) providing that adversity.