Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Leaving Me In The Dust



This is balloon cage week at the preschool, a tradition that goes back some 18 years when I figured that my four-year-old self would have loved to play in a room full of balloons. It turned out that young children tend to like the idea so we always turn a corner of the classroom over to balloons in February, usually during a week adjacent to my birthday.

It's can get a bit wild, especially with the floor padded with gym mats and it's not unusual for older kids to spontaneously start wrestling. And sure enough, as if on cue, a pair of guys got into it yesterday afternoon. We aren't opposed to wrestling at Woodland Park, but this sort of rough and tumble play does have a tendency to sometimes impact the non-wrestling majority in the room so I like to keep an eye on the play in case they need me to help negotiate with one another or with classmates.

The wrestling appeared fairly intense with two evenly matched friends taking things right to the edge. At one point their faces wore expressions of such ferocity that I interrupted to make sure they were both having fun, but I was otherwise staying out of it because the other kids were ignoring them, having their own fun with the balloons. That is, all the children were ignoring their play with the exception of one boy who seemed to be experiencing conflicting emotions about it all. Sometimes he appeared to be joining in, laying is hands on the wrestling boys with apparent intent, while alternatively shouting out, "Stop!" or "Time out!" His expression matched those of the wrestlers.


This boy has been working on the balance between real and pretend violence all year, exploring the boundary through his imaginary play, often finding himself overwhelmed when things got too real. It was fascinating watching him swing back and forth in the balloon cage. He seemed to be right on the line, balancing almost, doing a kind of high wire act. I felt that his shouts were directed more at himself than the other boys, as if his internal debate was being aired in public. Indeed, of the three boys, he appeared to be the one experiencing the strongest emotions.

I was outside the cage looking in while one of our parent-teachers was engaged inside, which was her classroom job for the day. I had other responsibilities, but I kept checking in, expecting that she might need my support if things went too far. At some point she removed herself from the midst of things to get a drink of water. I spoke with her about the wrestling, complimenting her for her restraint in allowing things to proceed as long as no one was complaining. Then I mentioned the boy and his balancing act, wondering if she, being closer to the action had any insights into what I saw as a fascinating insight into the inner workers of a child in the throes of learning something big and, for him at least, complicated. I shared a little of my thinking with her.

She replied, "Oh, maybe . . . He told us that he was the referee. That's why he keeps shouting, 'Time out!'" I felt like a dunce. Of course, that's what he was doing. I saw it clearly now: he wasn't at all confused about the lines, he wasn't balancing. To the contrary, he was assuming of role of mastery and authority, there not to explore the blurry lines, but to make them crystal clear. He had moved beyond his confusion into a state of understanding. He had learned it and now was taking it upon himself to teach it. And it had happened so quickly that he had left me, his dithering teacher, in his dust.

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