Bunny has had a rough transition to second grade. The first month of school was brutal in the worst ways that transitions can be, but now that we're two months in, things are finally starting to settle.
It started with Bunny being upset that I picked up Wallie from kindergarten at noon, right when Bunny's class gets out for lunch recess. She'd see me walking away with her sister and felt like she was being left behind. I had to reassure her that we weren't partying it up without her while she was at school. I explained over and over again that we went home for lunch, maybe ran some errands, then came right back to school to pick her up.
She'd cry and cling to me and I kept trying to make the transition as quick as possible so that she could get back to the play ground and her friends, but it was a mess. Parents would stop me and say, "Bunny is over at the playground fence. I think she wants to say 'hi'." And I'd grit my teeth and sigh, "I know. I see her." We'd walk over and Bunny would melt and whine that she wanted to go home. I would give her a kiss and hug and tell her that I'd see her soon and walk away trying not to look behind me.
Then, the crying stopped, but when I'd pick Wallie up she'd run up to me to tell me that she hurt her arm or her foot or her knee. Or that she had a headache or a stomachache or weird bump on her hand--anything to keep me there.
Finally I sat her down for a talk to try and get to the bottom of what was wrong. What it all boiled down to was that she wasn't a little kid anymore but she was also not quite a big kid like the fourth and fifth graders. She's also always been one to play with everyone--boys and girls--and now, in second grade, tighter friendships were being formed. The boys she loved to play with last year didn't want to play with her anymore. She felt left out of the loop there, too.
Knowing that your child feels sad and friendless and feeling pushed and pulled in so many different directions is enough to make any mother sob hysterically, and I'm not going to lie--there were tears. I think several of J.'s shirts have permanent tear stains and mascara smudges on the shoulder.
But then I did was any protective mama lion would do and tackled the situation head on.
Feeling trapped in the 7-year-old version of "I'm not a girl not yet a woman"-hood, well, there wasn't much I could do there. I simply reassured her that her feelings were normal and that I understood. I shared stories of my very sheltered Hawaii upbringing where I felt like square peg in a round hole a lot of the time. I hated elementary school because I felt so different from everyone else. I remember half-heartedly chasing boys in second grade because everyone else was doing it and hating my name and not having one really close friend. (Same as Bunny.) I remember being really bad at those goddamn timed math quizzes and spending a lot of my free choice time sitting on bean bags listening to Carole King's Tapestry album on the record player and reading Bible stories. I'm telling you: nerd. From day one.
I told this to Bunny and that seemed to make her feel visibly better. I think one of the best moments of parenthood is when your kid is telling you a problem that they are sure you won't understand and has that furrowed brow and quick, anxious breath. But then you share some things about your own experience that helps release their tension, and they relax and let go of their worries right before your eyes. That's pure magic right there.
I also vowed to be more proactive about arranging playdates, something I did a lot of in kindergarten and then tapered off doing last year because I was so busy. I have even less time for them now, but I am making an effort to arrange playdates at least once a week so that Bunny can start to make some tighter connections with old and new friends. She still is kind of all or nothing--content to swing on the monkey bars alone or run silly with a larger group--but she seems happier now. When she runs up to me and Wallie at noon these days she usually has a couple of cute friends in tow, and if not, she's content to give us a quick hug and then scamper back to to the playground.
Things are getting better and she is slowing finding her place.
Last night at dinner she told me that she was frustrated by all the boy-crazy talk that she hears around her at snack time and at recess. Specifically, she said hello to a boy and some girls she was sitting with teased her about liking him and that made her angry.
"Do you like him," I asked?
"As a friend," she explained. "Not like a crush or anything, but I told (the girls) I didn't like him so they'd stop teasing me."
I could tell this didn't sit right with her so I prodded, "But you said you do like him. As a friend."
"I know but the point is (one of her favorite expressions these days), if I say that I like him, they'll tease me and say that I like him over and over again. And it makes me MAD." She was getting upset so I tried to offer up a solution.
"I think you should just tell them you don't want to talk that boy talk and change the conversation to something else. Can you do that?"
She huffed and puffed. I think we both knew that that never works. She was quiet for a moment then spoke again.
"Mamma," she started, "Is it okay to tell a lie sometimes if it means you won't be teased?"
"Hmmmm," I replied. "You mean like telling the girls you don't like that boy even though you do?"
She slowly nodded and I could see now that she was less angry with the girls and more angry with herself.
"Well...what does your heart tell you?" I asked.
Her eyes filled with tears, "That if (the girls) told him I didn't like him he would feel really bad. His feelings would be hurt. But it's not the truth." She looked down into her lap.
What to say at that point? We were having this conversation in the middle of a restaurant, over dinner, as these conversations usually happen. I wanted to stand up, grab her, pull her to me, and shout to the whole restaurant, "See this girl? This one here? She's the very best one, you know that? And she's my beautiful daughter."
Instead I said, "So you feel bad because you told a lie that might have hurt a friend's feelings."
I offered up suggestions like she needs to proudly declare that she likes this boy as a friend and tell her girlfriends to stop being so silly and that it's more important to be true to her heart and that if friends teased then they weren't true friends, but she's only seven and I'm not sure how much of that she understands.
No parent wants their kids to have to go through the same terrible rites of passage that we all had to go through. Hearing about these experiences makes me want to shadow her at school and lay the smack down on anyone who messes with her.
And yet, it's second grade. She's only seven, and she's learning lessons that test the limits of everything we are instilling in her. All the values we are teaching her—compassion, justice, love, dignity, friendship, fairness, honesty—being stretched and kneaded inside of her.
She may have a hard time in school sometimes.
She may not have any answers yet.
But what I do know is that her little heart is boundless.