Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Universal Truths

I was just standing back, watching the kids in our 4-5's class on the playground when she approached me, "Pretend I'm a baby."

I said, "Okay. Hi baby."

"No, pretend I'm baby me." Then she said her name, "L-."

"Hi baby L."

She snuggled up against my legs, sucking her thumb. "And pretend you're my mommy."

"I'll try," I said, "but your actual mommy is right over there." As a cooperative school, the kids' parents are often at school with them. I pointed to where her mom was working with other kids at the work bench. "I mean, I don't really look or sound like your mom at all."

She found the idea funny. "Yes you do. You look just like my mommy."

"Okay, but don't tell her you said that."

"Why not?"

I'd been joking, but her question was genuine. I tried to explain, "I just think that she might not want to be told she looks like me. I'm an old man and she's a young woman. I mean, I have a beard and I doubt she would want to have a beard. I guess I'm worried it would hurt her feelings if you told her she looked like me."

L thought about it for a moment, looking down the hill at her mother. "I won't tell her she looks like you. I'll tell her she looks pretty."

"That would probably make her feel good."

I try to avoid direct instruction, but there are some universal social and cultural truths that I want the kids to know, and when the opportunity presents itself, I take advantage. One of those truths is to not tell your mother that she looks like a bearded man who is twenty years her senior. If a kid snatches my hat, pulls on my hair, or messes with my glasses, I tell them that "no one" likes people to mess with their hats, hair or glasses, a universal truth if there ever was one. If someone shouts in my ear I tell them that "no one" likes that either. These are the social and cultural things that we usually only learn from experience, but for which I sometimes resort to a kind of direct instruction/persuasion.

The other day, a boy's mother arrived at school with a dramatic new haircut. Later, as I chatted with him, he let me know that he "hated" it.

"Really? I like it."

"I do not like it. It's too short. I told her to grow it back."

We spent some time talking about change, how maybe he will grow to like it, about how she is still the same person, even with different hair. He was thoughtful, not exactly agreeing, but also not disagreeing. I thought maybe I'd helped him turn the corner, but then he said, "When I see her I'm going to tell her I hate her hair."

I replied, "Oh, I don't think you should do that."

"Why not?"

"Because it might hurt her feelings. When someone gets a new haircut, I always tell them it looks good because I want them to feel good not bad. I think you should tell her you like it."

"I will not tell her that."

"Really? But then she might feel bad."

He thought about that for a moment, then said, "I hate her hair."

"I know, but you don't have to tell her that. Maybe just don't say anything at all. I told her I liked it and I could tell it made her happy because she smiled."

He answered thoughtfully, "I hate her hair, but I won't tell her."

The following day, we returned to the subject of his mother's hair. "I told my mom that I hated her hair."

"I'll bet that made her feel bad."

"It did. Today I'm going to tell her that I like her hair!"

"I think that's a good idea. Everybody with a new haircut likes to hear that."

Later when his mother arrived to pick him up, I whispered to him in passing, "Don't forget you were going to say something to you mom to make her feel good." As I walked away, I heard him say, "I do like your hair!" I saw her smile as she said, "Thank you!"

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