Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Doing The Hardest Thing In The World

Two-year-old Bennet has been sneaking peeks at a box of cars on the shelf since the first day of school. Because so much of our storage occurs on shelves in the classroom, "closed" by fabric covers that any child can open, it's often an act of deep self control for a child to know there is something desirable back there, yet to leave it alone. He's often seemed to forget for days at a time that those cars are in there, but then I'll spot him again, lifting the curtain to have a look. 

I say, "Those are closed," but last week when I said it, I realized that they'd not yet been "open" this year. There are, of course, wheeled vehicles in the classroom every day, what we call our  "every day cars". Then there are the cars that are part of our Fisher Price collection, my very special Matchbox cars, our Hot Wheels, and our trains. But these particular cars, the ones I think of as our "social cars," haven't made an appearance.

These are the cars I bring out when I don't want to deal with competition over them. They are sturdy, interchangeable, educational catalog, no-name cars. We have dozens of them. They're the cars we use for car painting. Perhaps Bennet's interest simply had to do with the fact that they were the "forbidden" cars, but whatever the case, I popped them on a couple table tops yesterday along with a little track and a couple parking garages.

When he arrived on the scene, there were already a few kids pushing cars around. He's more a man of action than words these days, but I could tell he knew exactly what he was looking at when he arrived: the cars were "open." He immediately set about collecting them, arranging them in the circle of the track. As more kids arrived, pressure began to mount on his stash and soon they were being grabbed by little hands.

"No, no, no!"

I said, "I can't let you have all the cars."

"No, no, no!"

"Wyatt wants one car. You have many cars."

"No, no, no!"

Given how upsetting this was for him, I was impressed that he was more or less sticking to his words. He did try to block the hands of others with his hands, but without hitting or snatching. Still, I took the role of "helping" him relinquish cars, deciding I'd rather him have issues with me than his classmates. Of course, his face really didn't look angry, but rather anxious; not crying, but on the verge. I kept repeating, "The cars are for everyone," "You have many cars," or suggesting ways for him to regain some control, "Which car can Leah have?"

"No, no, no!"

At one point he did, almost as an act of desperation, force one child to "trade" the car in his hand for a different one he was apparently more willing to give up. I wrote a couple days ago that misery is the natural emotional state of someone protecting a hoard: well, this was it. The assault on the cars was steady and came from every direction. And with Teacher Tom right there repeating his damn sentences over and over, it was hopeless. There was no way he could be quick enough, or vigilant enough to retain possession of them all. It was one against the world.

This is a boy who looooooves cars. And these were the cars he's been waiting 3 months to get his hands on. After about 20 minutes of what I can only describe as suffering, he turned his back on those cars and walked away, leaving them to their fate. When next I found him, he was deeply engaged in inserting screws into holes, his back pointedly turned to the car table.

Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to turn our backs on our own misery. It's an act of heroism to do so.

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Kerry said...

Ouch. I think a lot of us have been in exactly that place--I certainly have.

raphus said...

I want to give that boy a hug. As vociferous as my 3.5-year-old son can be, he bears a lot of intense emotion with surprising restraint. It can be hard to notice the whispers amid all the shouting, but that's what they really need, isn't it?