Last Tuesday, the second-to-last day at Jesse’s elementary school, I spent three and a half hours chaperoning 10 second-graders (including my Jesse) through field day events. I participated in almost all activities, because that was more fun and because I wouldn’t have time later to get my own exercise in. It was physical and non-stop, 10 to 15 minutes at each of dozens of stations: a variety of running relays, sack racing, move-water-from-here-to-there sponge and bucket relays, hula hopping (not a typo), jump rope, various throwing events (softballs, beanbags, wet rubber chickens), tug-of-war, tire-rolling, and so on. My favorite (which we made up at a water station) was shag infinite nerf footballs for Carla and then try to tackle Carla.
Being chased by 10 second-graders was an interesting experience. Frankly, it felt a little ominous as I started off. A couple of them are almost as tall as me, and mostly they look so lithe and healthy, whereas I’m a frumpy 47-year-old mom. Granted, under the blub I’m chiseled, but still I expected them to be faster and more coordinated than me after the first 15 seconds. They weren’t. Also they moved in a pack instead of dividing and fanning out, so I felt like a comet with 10 trailers. I evaded them for long enough that I finally slowed down so they could catch me and pile on.
Jesse really struggled emotionally throughout the afternoon. When we first headed out, the kids were stoked and insane. Jesse immediately turned to me and snapped, almost desperate, “You know I can’t handle this, mom! It’s too crazy for me! It makes me feel crazy!” But she wanted to hang in there, so I did too. I spent the rest of the event observing her intermittent melt-downs (5 or 6 in all) and pondering how she’ll ever make it in this life without breaking completely, but I also saw hints of why she will make it. Her screaming was always about herself, not others, so she didn’t alienate anyone who mattered. The head she beat with fists was her own. She’s not mean to anyone, really, except herself. Her classmates patiently kept coming to her aid, emotionally and physically. They’ve seen her pull this shit all school year, and still they didn’t judge her for her crazies or give up on her. They circled the wagons on her when I sent her away to take breaks and calm down – indeed, they got pissed off at me. One peaceful little girl took on the mantle of calming and soothing Jesse, filling her hurting soul with hugs, hand-holds, and quiet chatter whenever Jesse allowed it. It was amazing and sweet to see. I felt like I was given a significant object lesson in how to improve my behavior towards Jesse when she’s falling apart.
The other lesson I learned is that second-graders are generally still really temperamental and, well, sociopathic. Jesse’s pretty normal among this crew.
By the end of the day, half my peeps had shed tears. There were tears because I lost, I fell, I was awful, someone made fun of me, I got a scrape, she was mean to me, I’m too wet, I’m cold, this is too hard, my popsicle is the wrong color, I have to pee so bad. I gave out as many hugs and ministrations as I could, and I gave my sweater away.
Girl A was cliquey. She always wanted the same person on her team and she’d make a “we’re so cool we’re together!” exclusive mini-scene about it. Yeesh. I can’t stand that. I started splitting them up at stations requiring teams.
Most of the kids tried to get away with cheating at one point or another — not my Jesse, of course, who’s extremely rigid about that stuff. Boy B — a drama queen who cried a lot, despite classmates’ exhortations not to do it — kept complaining to me about the teams not being fair, not having a chance to go first, other classmates not letting him be on their teams, and so on. Whatever he could think of. He’d walk away from my indifference and comment dramatically over his shoulder, “I just want things to be fair. That’s all. I’m just really wanting it to be FAIR.” He was the biggest cheater of all. I started outing him whenever I saw him cheating (i.e., at every station) and making him go back for not-cheating do-overs. Jerk.
Girl C was being given the silent treatment by a couple girls from the class following ours as we moved through stations. She got quiet and sad for about half an hour, held my hand and stuck close, and then felt better and moved on. Stupid mean girls.
Boys D and E displayed significant attentional issues and were really, really hyperactive. Managing them was like chasing small unleashed dogs around. It was exhausting. They kept bumping into and tackling each other on purpose, they couldn’t keep their hands off anything, they couldn’t stay still to hear instructions, they seemed unaware of their surroundings. But they also seemed a little traumatized by nine months of behavior modification charts, and I didn’t have the heart to come down too hard on them. It would have taken away a lot of the fun. Also they were really good-natured and I enjoyed my time with them. They had so much fun energy, and I didn’t mind that they acted like hooligans. This was an eye-opener.
Girl F got so worn out she was in tears over each new station. I made her do the activities anyway, but I went with her. I ran (shuffled, really) next to her for the 50 yard dashes and tried to buoy her flagging spirits with pep talks, but she really had trouble bucking up. She didn’t scream and rant like Jesse, but she was feeling just as down about herself.
Boy G had so much extra energy that every time we finished an activity I had him run circles around our group for about 20 seconds (I’d yell, “G, run your laps!”). He’d run and run with a crazy look in his eyes and then catch his breath, ready to fall into step again.
And then there was Girl H, who always puzzles me. She took my mind in an unexpected direction. She’s always cheerful and articulate, with a ready smile; well-mannered, confident, strong, and apparently very bright. She seems like such a great kid who should have a lot of friends. But it was clear she hadn’t really connected with anyone in our crew. She went about her business from station to station, a smile planted on her face, the most athletic kid of the lot — but she never interacted informally with her classmates, and never let loose. I know from the volunteer admin work I do for second grade that she’s struggling academically, well behind in both math and reading test results. I know from my Jesse that she frequently cried at school about her academic difficulties.
H caused no trouble at all to me as the chaperone, but by the end of the day she was the one I walked away worrying about. I hope all the masks don’t stop that sweet little girl from succeeding, hiding her woes until it’s too late to address them. I hope she makes friends next year.
Despite the struggles of parenting Jesse, I’m thankful that she’s raw and naked, showing me everything that hurts so that we can work through it together. Otherwise, who knows?