The other day we were playing at the park with friends. I had walked away from the playground with the baby for a few minutes, when Hailey came running to find me. She was feeling sad and wanted to tell me what had happened. I was expecting something along the lines of a disagreement with her brother, or a skinned knee. Instead, it ended up being a hurt that included a life lesson.
Before I walked to the other side of the lot with the baby, I had been watching Hailey go down a piece of playground equipment that worked like an elevator. Kids stepped on the platform and held onto the handles and it went down. It went up, only when they stepped off. Another girl and her Mother were watching. The girl expressed her desire to go down it, but stated that she was scared. Her mother tried it to show her how it worked. She was still afraid. Hailey started talking with the girl and found out that she was 9 years old. Hailey showed her how she could go down on it and explained how it worked and how it wasn’t so scary after all. When I walked away, the girl was still very interested, but adamant that this was too frightening to try.
Hailey explained to me “I said something trying to help that girl not feel scared so she could try it. She really wanted to try and was afraid. I was just trying to help but then her Mom told me I was being mean. I wasn’t. I just wanted to help.”
“You look sad. It seems like it really upset you when the Mom said you were mean. Do you want to tell me what you said to her to help her not feel so scared?” At first she didn’t want to tell me. I could tell that she was feeling quite anxious. I bent down and looked her in the eyes, “Hailey, you do not have to tell me what happened if you are not ready. But, I am not mad at you. I hear you say you were trying to do a nice thing and I believe you. I know you were not being mean and I am here to listen if you want to talk about it.”
After a few moments and a big sigh, “Okay, I went down the elevator thing, and then I said I did it and so can you. I am 6 and you are 9, so I know you can do it because you are bigger than me. It can be less scary for you because you are older. Then the Mom said that I was being mean.”
We talked all about it. We talked about how she was trying to encourage another kid and why it might be that what she said was taken the wrong way. We talked about how it feels to have someone misinterpret your words, we talked about good intentions. We talked about fears and how they do not necessarily change with age. She seemed to feel noticeably better after working through it all with me. She happily ran off to play some more.
I felt good about the exchange, but I kept mulling it over. After a few days, I was left with thoughts about how different that could have gone. What if she had been away at school when something similar could have happened? Who would she have talked to? How would she have handled the rest of the day with that weighing on her? Would she have remembered it well enough to bring it up with me when I picked her up? When would be the next opportunity to help her through that life lesson if we had missed that chance?
If she was at school she would not be able to come to me with these grievances throughout the day. They would build up, add up one on top of the other, until she exploded, likely seemingly out of nowhere about nothing in particular, and I would have no idea why. Teachers do not have the time or resources to listen to these issues for each student each time they come up. That is just not possible, even if it were in their job description.
I wouldn’t be able to walk her through life’s little teachable moments while she was at school. I wouldn’t be able to offer empathy or comfort, validate her, or share my personal experiences. I wouldn’t be able to talk her through seeing other people’s perspectives or plan for what to do next time. I wouldn’t know that she had worked through it enough or watch her apply what she learned the next time.
I would miss very real opportunities to navigate through actual life problems. For what purpose? So, she can be in a classroom supposedly preparing for life? Real life is here, right now. We live in it every day, not some artificial version of it. Real life is not in a classroom, it is in our homes, the park, the store, the library, while visiting friends and relatives.
I don’t need to send her away for hours every day and cross my fingers that somehow we will have enough time after school, in between homework and structed activities, to practice life skills and talk through her emotions. Instead we are with each other all day, trying new experiences, living life, modeling communication skills, listening to frustrations as they come, and practicing problem solving. Life is our school, and she doesn’t have to do it without me.