I think many of my childless friends would look back fondly on pre-school as one of those on-the-whole really good times in life. I also think that before I put my own children in pre-school, I too assumed everything about it was as innocent and gleeful as play-doh and rice tables. And mostly, it is. In the last five months, I’ve been invited to relive pre-school through Eliott (and soon Carter, when she can string more than 3-word sentences together and talk about anything besides what she’s currently looking at). Thankfully, our brains have this fabulous filter which, barring any major childhood trauma, causes us to remember mostly good things. But in these past five months, I’ve not only been reacquainted with carpet squares and the coveted Line Leader title, I’ve been newly introduced to a little something my adult self is going to call Pre-School Politics. Deep sigh. If you thought junior high was hard, and then were disappointed to find out that the “real world” and junior high are surprisingly similar, then let me burst yet one more of your idealistic ‘when-I-grow-up’ bubbles: junior high :: high-school :: the work place :: pre-school. All of them. Socially synonymous. Biggest difference? Relative height.
Some of you may remember my St. Patrick’s Day story in which a girl I called so-and-so punched (pinched, whatever) Eliott. Today, let’s give so-and-so an easier name to type. To make things personal yet keep them anonymous, we’ll call her Kelsey. (I never knew a Kelsey I actually liked.) I usually talk to Eliott about school on the drive home and continue at lunch. For about the first four or five weeks, it was all I could do to keep up with the other ten names of the kids in her class. One name, however, came up with such regularity, that I knew relatively quickly I didn’t like the kid. Kelsey.
Kelsey was naughty today, Mommy. Ms. Tiffany had to put her in time-out…
Kelsey is not my friend. I do not like her.
Well, you should be nice to her, Eliott. You should be nice to everyone.
Kelsey is not nice, Mommy. She told me, “No Eliott. You can’t sit here. You are not my friend.”
Kelsey took the purple scooter from me today in the Life Center.
Well, Eliott, you -always- get the purple scooter. Sometimes, it is nice if you let someone else have the purple scooter. Just because purple is your favorite color doesn’t mean you are the only one allowed to have the purple scooter. You need to share and let others have a turn.
No, Mommy, there are lots of purple scooters. She didn’t want a turn. She took it away and brought it to Ms. Tiffany and said, “Here Ms. Tiffany. Put this away so that Eliott can’t have it.”
Oh no. Mommy does not like Kelsey. Imagine how difficult it is for me to filter my eyes of experience back down to a 4-year-old’s level. Of course I want to say, “Listen Eliott, bitches like Kelsey are going to pick on you for your entire life unless you do something about it. You have my permission to do and say whatever you want to make Kelsey leave you alone. And if you have to move your owl at the end of the day, keep this in mind: it was worth it.”
I actually don’t even know what I’m supposed to say. “All that matters is that Mommy and Daddy love you, and Jesus loves you.” (I was a kid once. I heard this. It didn’t make me feel any better, even when I knew it was true.) Or, “Kelsey is jealous of you and feels threatened by you. The best thing you can do is take her attitude and meanness as a compliment, and move on. Be nice to her. Even though you don’t know it, being nice to her is exactly what she needs.” (Right. I heard this one too. ALL THE TIME. Though I fully understand it now and believe it is also the root of Eliott’s problem, I also know that she doesn’t know the word “jealous” yet, and even when she knows what it means one day, she’ll still never fully understand this phenomenon of women.)
Fast forward to just after Spring Break. (Don’t even get me started on why pre-school needs Spring Break…) Eliott comes home that first Monday and says, “Hey Mommy, Kelsey’s coming over to my house next week.” This is news to me.
“Really?” I say, “Because you didn’t ask me if that was okay.”
“No. Her mommy says it’s okay. She’s coming over to my house.”
Initially, I just ignored this. First of all, “next week,” for Eliott’s grasp of time, currently translates to “anytime in the future.” Second, I was pretty sure Kelsey was just employing some sort of manipulation tactic that would die out as soon as her 4-year-old memory kicked in.
I was wrong.
I have to go inside to drop-off and pick the girls up every day, because Carter is too young for the car-line. Kelsey, on the other hand, is a car-line kid. And though I’ve -seen- I’ve never actually -met- her mother. For the next several days in a row, when I came in to pick up the girls, Kelsey also got off the bench and announced she was “coming over to Eliott’s house.” The first time I just kept walking down the hall and let the teachers chase Kelsey and get her back on the bench. But when this tactic ceased to work, I had to have a heart-to-heart with Eliott and an eye-to-eye with Kelsey. In the car I instructed Eliott as follows:
Listen to me Eliott. Are you listening? Kelsey is not coming over to our house to play. Not today. Not next week. Okay? Do you want to know why? It is because I do not know Kelsey’s mommy. You can play with Kelsey at school. But she can’t come to our house. So when she tells you she’s coming over, you need to say, “No, Kelsey, my mommy says you can’t come over.” Okay? Let’s practice. Pretend like I’m Kelsey. “Hey Eliott, I’m coming over to your house today.” What do you say, Eliott?
No, you can’t come over to my house.
Because your mommy is not friends with my mommy.
Perfect. As for the eye-to-eye, I squatted down one day (to a full head shorter than Eliott’s height, go figure) and looked Kelsey directly in the eyes. I put on a serious face, but added that nice mom-ish smile and said sweetly, “Kelsey. You are not coming over to Eliott’s house today. I’m sorry. If you want to come over, you tell your mommy to come ask ME if it is okay. Alright?”
So I thought the Kelsey thing was over. Little did I know just exactly how correct I was with my original assessment of jealousy and manipulation. It is very obvious that Eliott does not have to work very hard for kids to like her. In fact, it isn’t just the kids in her class. It is kids all over the tiny school. We walk into the building every morning and kids I do not recognize are beating on their windows and waving. We leave at noon and kids from other classes are waving and yelling, “Bye Eliott!” Once I even heard a little boy turn to his teacher as we passed and whisper excitedly, “Eliott waved at me!” I thought, WHAT? Who is this child, and where did she come from?
I asked her at lunch one day, “Hey Eliott, how do all the kids in other classes know you?”
“I don’t know, Mommy. Everybody likes me.” (No chance of teenage suicidal thoughts in our future.)
“Yes, but how do they know you? Do they say hi to all the kids in your class?”
“I don’t know.”
“How do they know your name?”
“Because, when I see other kids I just yell (demonstration with her hands cupped around her mouth), ‘Hey kids! Hey kids who are not in my class! My name is Eliott!’ And so they just know me.”
It (unfortunately) came as absolutely no surprise then, when Eliott crawled into my bed one morning and started crying. “Mommy. Kelsey doesn’t like me anymore. She said, ‘You are not my friend anymore, Eliott.'”
I hugged her to my chest and said, “It’s okay, Sweetie. The most important thing is that Mommy loves you, and Daddy loves you, and Jesus loves you. And don’t worry. You will always be taller than Kelsey.”