The call from Verizon decided to assign us a new “temporary” home phone number. But that’s another story.came Monday, but I did not get the message until Tuesday, in part because
TJ’s wanted to talk about an “incident” he had been involved in. This is it, I . All that neglect and abandonment coming home to roost as one of those crises you read about in the parenting books. That night I asked TJ and his sisters whether anything had happened in school. But close yet careful questioning revealed nothing. TJ wasn’t telling, and either the girls had no idea (hard to believe) or their dedication to that sibling omerta that they have cultivated regarding events at school was stronger than I had dreamed. I really wanted to know. My imagination was an untamed beast.
Tonight, on my way home, the teacher and I finally connected. So had TJ. With another child’s nose. There was some blood, a visit to the nurse for the playmate, and a visit to the principal for everyone. It was all carried out with the utmost gentleness. And eventually, after some coaxing, TJ was persuaded to apologize.
At home, TJ does not play rough. He takes care when playing with his sisters. At school, however, the first grade boys are playing a game at recess that can go by many names but this month is called “Star Wars,” and it’s a contact sport. TJ is starting to feel comfortable and secure enough to stop hanging back and really throw himself into school’s social and academic challenges. “Don’t make it a big deal,” the teacher urged me as she related her own thoughts on all the issues at play, including cultural norms for play among boys in China and how much more dire a visit to the principal might feel to a child in an orphanage there. She had given the incident a great deal of thought and along with her constructive ideas for making it a learning experience had recounted a few more tales from the last week.
When I went into the house the kids were drawing. TJ was making a comic book. Jiejie had written a fictional essay in green marker on the history of the bra (the obsession continues. Fortunately she has not thought about looking up the inventor on the Internet). Meimei was making intricately colored shapes traced from gift tags.
“So, TJ, how is your friend’s nose?”
“You remember your friend? You went to the principal’s office with him on Monday with your teacher and talked about playing more carefully?”
“You should try to hear it before you read it,” I suggested. “Now, back to TJ.”
“I don’t remember, I don’t remember, I don’t remember!” TJ screamed, ratcheting up the volume and tension to hijack the conversation.
“I’m sure you do, honey,” I said. “You have to be very careful on the playground.”
“I know, I know, I know!” he screamed. I left the room to get something to drink, determined not to let him drive our chat into high decibel levels and raging emotions.
“TJ, everything is OK, but I would rather hear from you what happens in school than to get a call from the teacher.”
“I know, I know, I know!” The tears began to stream from the corners of his eyes. Was I badgering him?
“I know in China the boys might have played rough, and kids might have gotten into trouble, but remember, the teacher and principal will never hurt you here.”
“DON’T TALK ABOUT CHINA! YOU PROMISED!”
O.K. Obviously this was getting out of control. I stayed calm, told him he could scream if that’s what he felt like and just generally felt guilty and ineffectual. TJ’s cause-and-effect thinking is not strong, and he’s used to hiding infractions at any cost rather than owning up to them. Certainly he feels remorse, even when he’s blaming someone else for what he did. But I don’t want to exacerbate the burden of shame I know he carries around, I just want to help him develop some basic moral awareness like the occupational therapist helps create better body awareness. His aim is not great and he’s not the fastest kid in class, and for once I am grateful for that. Maybe the conscience will come first.
I walked around collecting a few things before taking Meimei to bed. Within a few minutes TJ had calmed down and the tears had stopped. When there was nothing to ratchet up, it was hard to keep up the screaming. Harder than it used to be, anyway. So I squeezed out one more admonition.
“Please don’t kiss that girl in circle time again.” Yes, he had planted a big smacker on the cheek of a little girl, in front of the whole class.
“Everybody tell on me!” he grumbled.
We’ll wait for another day to talk about not blaming the tattletales.