Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Loss of Innocence

I cannot believe that it has been 10 months since I have posted. Life with 3 kids got in the way, and long story short, my faithful blogging sessions got crowded out. I have had various points along the way where I have said to myself, "I really should write about this" and then the moment passed and the inspiration fizzled. But not this time. So here I am nearly a year later ready to pour my heart out once again...

For the first 5 years of her life, Nicki was pretty much sheltered from any kind of emotional pain at the hand of other kids. Because I was (and am) a stay-at-home mom, she was never faced with the situation of being pushed around at daycare, never had to defend herself against a grabber, hitter, biter, teaser. I was always there to step in should any of those situations arise. Even though she is my oldest, I sometimes feel like she will always be the one that I consider to be my baby, possibly because for her first 2 years she had no siblings around and therefore had my undivided attention. She was my sole focus and with no other children to distract me from her, my opportunities to shield and protect her were limitless.

Fast forward to the present: Nicki is now in kindergarten. Initially my anxiety about this transition revolved more around turning her education over to someone other than myself. Having been her main teacher for the past 5 years, I struggled with sadness over the loss of that role. But, as the months rolled by and I saw her thriving, I began to accept and even embrace the change. I finally started to recognize that even though my role as an academic teacher may have changed, my position as a life teacher never would. Being there to guide my children as they grow up, show them right from wrong, instill moral values, teach them to live up to their potential, all the while being there to encourage, support, console, and help in any way, shape or form is what being a mother is all about.

That being said, this week I was faced with a new realization: that no matter how much I want to shelter and protect Nicki from harm, now that she is growing up and gaining more independence, there are some things that will forever be out of my control.

There is a special kind of innocence that young children have. It's what makes them run around naked without any shame, dance in the middle of a crowd of people without a moment's hesitation or break out into song without a single thought as to who might be listening. It's a belief that all people are good and a total incomprehension of why anyone would be cruel. That innocence is the epitome of childhood and is one of the most beautiful and moving things in the world to behold. Nicki is still brimming with that innocence and until now I had taken for granted that it would always be inside of her. Then yesterday part of it was stripped away and even though the logical and rational part of me knows that loss of innocence is an unfortunate consequence of growing up, my heart still ached for her.

Although she is still relatively sheltered from the older kids at school (the kindergartners have a separate entrance and separate yard to play in), the school bus is the one place where she is exposed to all of the different age groups and all of the bad behaviors that go along with them. I was relieved to find out that the kindergartners were required to sit at the front of the bus and that there would at least be some kind of physical distance between her and the 11 and 12 year olds. I got nervous however when as punishment for bad behavior on the back of the bus, they bus driver began having the 6th graders sit up front with the kindergartners on the way home.

Here was my precious little 5 year old bursting with happiness and telling me all about how she had a 6th grader named Dylan sitting with her on the bus. I smiled and said that was great, but inside I cringed at the thought of what he might be saying to her. In the end, I worried needlessly as it turned out that Dylan was actually quite friendly to her and even now that he has returned to his original seat in the back, he continues to say hello to her and compliment her on whatever art project she may be holding in her lap on a given day. She beams with pride whenever she recounts these interactions to me and I can't help but silently thank this boy in the back of my mind every time she does.

Having averted this potential crisis, I thought it would be smooth sailing from there, but a couple of months ago, the principal got on the bus and gave out assigned seating to everyone. She moved some of the more problematic kids to the front for good which of course meant that some of the well behaved kids like Nicki got pushed farther back. So now Nicki is sitting in the midst of what are, from what I can tell, 3rd and 4th graders. The girl she was seated with seemed to be nice enough and so I told myself to stop worrying and just let it be.

Then Nicki started coming home telling me all about the boy who sits across the aisle from her named Dennis. For whatever reason, she fell head over heels for him and talked about him non-stop, even going so far as walking around the house solemnly one day sighing, "I just wish Dennis was here." When I asked her about their interactions on the bus, she said that she talks to him all the time, but that he doesn't always answer her. She seemed just fine with that arrangement, but I could sense a broken heart coming on fast. Then she began to draw pictures for him on a daily basis and give them to him on the bus. His sister and other friends sitting nearby started teasing him about this and that's when he started being mean. He began calling her "the crazy kindergartner" and crumpling up the art she would give him. The sadness that she felt over this was like none I had ever seen in her eyes before. Then yesterday came the kicker. She was sitting in her seat, staring out the window and singing softly to herself as she does pretty much every day now that she has no one to talk to. He very cruelly told her to be quiet and that he hoped he never had to hear her sing another song for the rest of his life.

She was completely crushed. She came off the bus with tears streaming down her face and crumpled into my arms sobbing. She kept asking me over and over why someone would be so mean to her, why didn't he like her, when all she wanted was to be his friend. For a while all I could do was hold her and rock her and tell her it was going to be ok. Once she calmed down I tried to have her see his point of view and explain to her that oftentimes older kids prefer to only be friends with kids in their own grade and that when a kindergartner started paying so much attention to him it made him feel uncomfortable. I tried to get her to see that being teased by his friends made him lash out at her and to help her realize that even though he was entitled to having those feelings, the way he expressed them was completely uncalled for. I encouraged her to continue making art for those that truly appreciate it (there's a boy in her class named Zachary that worships the ground she walks on) and reminded her that real friends do not treat each other the way Dennis treated her.

It took every ounce of discipline I had to remain calm and rational when inside my emotions were screaming at me to march over to his house and wring his little neck. The mother lion in me was ready to roar: How dare he hurt my treasured little baby and who the hell did he think he was talking to her like that? I could tell that something was lost in her that day; a tiny piece of innocence was gone.

Deep down inside I knew that this type of encounter was unavoidable and that what had transpired would amount to merely a tiny scratch on her emotional skin, but the pain and disillusionment I saw on her face that day made me want to wrap her up and hide her away and keep her from experiencing another ounce of pain for the rest of her life.

How on earth am I going to deal with the almost inevitable sorrow over a first break up or the grief over not making the team? How am I going to keep myself from pouncing on every kid who teases her, every boy who rejects her and every clique that snubs her? I haven't got a clue...


Wacky said...

I feel for you Danielle. I worry about my two little ones as well. Childhood is such a precious time.

John said...

Wow, that's touching...I like your response and your thinking on it - but it's painful to read!
We have been wondering how those things might go when Leigh-Anne gets to Nicki's age...I guess the "tyranny of the group" is something that is completely unavoidable when you have the entire childhood population of a given area crammed into one place (Although it is unavoidable in a slightly different way as adults as well - hence the instructional value of getting through some of it now), with mostly other kids to compare themselves with and learn from...Kids are "brought up" more by the influences of their peers than by the influence of the adults that love them, it seems - I think it is a big reason why we have such a disinterested youth problem by the time they get to be tennagers...Anyway!

From what I remember of Nicki, she will, I think, end up being one of those completely succesful, happy, & victorious kids. But of course, as you were saying, there will be bumps along the road.

Cheers to you guys.

P.S. Sherlyn is going to continue staying at home as well - she loves it, and it just seems to add so much to our family experience.

Eileen said...

Please give Nicki the biggest hug for me. I totally understand how hard it hurts when your still too young to understand, other kids and behaviours no matter what thier age. Being able to relate to her tugs at my heart and memories of my younger days and i`m glad that mom was there too! so just keep being there for your kids :)
love you!!