Discovering They’re Hurting

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In the two months between the decision to move and the actual act of moving, I carefully watched both of our children. I watched our son’s behavior take a nosedive as his world appeared to be spiraling out of his four-year-old control. I watched as our six-year-old daughter interacted with and said goodbye to her closest friends. I watched as they tried to comprehend the huge change headed their way.

When the call papers arrived and we had to make a decision, we came to the conclusion that it was “now or never.” If we were going to make a big change and completely uproot our entire family, we had to do it before we would do any lasting damage. I had been through two difficult moves during my childhood and I refused to do that to my own children. We figured that at four and six, our kids would be able to adjust quickly. After all, they are at that age when kids make friends in a matter of minutes. All they need is one thing in common and they are best friends for life.

Nothing prepared me for how difficult it would be. Our son, at four, was devastated in the final weeks leading up to the move. His toys were packed, he had to say goodbye to his friends, and he had to leave behind the only home that he has ever known. Since arriving it hasn’t gotten much easier. We are still living in our camper while we wait for our home loan to be finalized, and he misses his space and some of his favorite toys. He repeatedly tells us that he wants to be in a house, that he wants a home, and that his guys (his Imaginext figures) need their own house. He has recently taken to asking us why the bank is so mean. (We’re currently considering having HIM call them to ask when this is going to be over). When we were getting ready to meet his preschool teacher he adamantly announced that he didn’t want to go to school and that he didn’t need new friends. He just wanted to go back to “Indianana.” While the visit in his classroom went well and it appears that he is warming up to the idea, he still talks about wanting to go back to the only state that has ever been home.

On the other hand, our daughter has been surprisingly upbeat. She has been asking about the start of school, eager for a routine and kids her own age. She loves to learn, and I am sure that she misses being in a classroom that isn’t mine. But her upbeat facade crumbled tonight as she walked into her classroom and met her teacher. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, she closed in on herself, and then she got insistent on having something to draw on and something to draw with. While it hasn’t gotten less frustrating, we have recently become accustomed to our children acting sulky and defiant. We know that it mostly results from our current situation and that the stability of school and a house will help to improve that, but when the sulky and defiant behavior happens in public, it is both frustrating and embarrassing. So as my little girl sat on the floor in her first grade classroom with a pout because she wasn’t getting the art supplies she had asked for, I told her that if she didn’t stop acting that way we weren’t going to go to the ice cream social being held for the new families. Then the floodgates opened. I was shocked to suddenly have my little girl sobbing in my arms. Her first grade teacher graciously gave her the desired art supplies and our little girl sat down at her desk and drew the above picture with the accompanying note for her best friend from Kindergarten. Suddenly it all made sense. Our little art and composition loving introvert needed to get her feelings out the only way that she knew how, on paper (I wonder where she gets that from). Instead of being angry I was almost crying and had to pull myself together to thank her teacher for giving her the necessary supplies.

The last couple weeks have been a challenge for our whole family, and in the midst of my own preparations for a new school year at a new school I have been constantly reminded that the stress, worry, and anticipation I am feeling is only amplified for my little ones. While I may be frustrated at the lack of space in our camper and the lack of places to get my own work done, they are frustrated because they have no where to spread out their limited toys and games. While I am nervous about meeting new colleagues and making new relationships, they are scared that they won’t be accepted by a new set of peers. While I am keenly aware that I am meeting a new set of students who have no idea who I am and who have their own set of expectations, many of which I have yet to discover, our kids are uncertain about the new rules and expectations that will be placed on them by new teachers in a new building.

As an educator, this parenting experience has emphasized to me one of the many things that non-educators get wrong about children in our education system today. For my kids, the instability will go away. We will have a home with a yard and their own bedrooms, both parents will have local jobs, they will make friends, and hopefully, Texas will one day feel just as much like home as Indiana did. But that isn’t the case for a lot of students. That isn’t the case for many of the students that I have taught in the last 13 years. Some are being shuffled around so much that “home” is a figment of their imagination. Some are dealing with unemployment of one or both parents. Some are being shuffled between so many family members that there is no single place that they go to for refuge. Some have lost their friends because of some stupid dispute and they have no idea how to set it all right again. And yet we expect them to come into our classrooms ready to be their best, ready to learn at their best. Some can, but not all are able to snap right back into learning mode the moment they enter through the school doors. While these are all things I’ve known during my years teaching, the last month has taught me more about the reality of it than 13 years in education ever did. I’ve seen some of the looks we have gotten as we go out in public and our kids are cranky, demanding, and running around, like last Sunday when we were in Sam’s and our son was screaming about his Captain America shield (one of his favorite toys) that accidentally got packed and is currently in the middle of a storage unit. He wasn’t being a spoiled brat asking for a new toy. He was a sad little boy who missed something important to him. I’ve wanted to explain that my kids spend most of their time in a cramped space with no alone time. I’ve wanted to explain that we’re making our temporary situation work because, in reality, it is still the best solution for us. And I’ve thought about all those kids heading back to school whose situations are not temporary and for whom instability is a reality.

And then there was tonight. Tonight I was just a mom. A mom with tears in her eyes because there was nothing I could do to take my sobbing daughter’s pain away. A mom who gave in to her daughter’s request for Golden Corral for dinner because I hoped the mounds of fruits and vegetables would help her forget her pain for just a little while. A mom who nearly tracked down a stray kitten in the parking lot because I couldn’t stand to see another creature suffering and I knew it would make my daughter downright gleeful (thankfully for our whole family, that kitten ignored me and my husband, too frighted to be rescued by our family). A mom who is always learning and hoping that maybe, just maybe, that is enough.

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