Ever since she was a baby, my Addie has always been wary of large groups. She hated being part of classes at The Little Gym (but I kept at it, hoping she would learn to adjust and learn to enjoy it) and she hated it whenever she was surrounded by lots of screaming kids. Birthday parties were a chore because Marc and I took turns taking her outside while the other stayed with our friends and all the other babies who were happy playing with each other. Even Sunday lunch and dinner were difficult at first because I have a large family and she did not appreciate having to be around two sets of them in one day!
The Little Gym became a happier experience. She enjoyed the activities a lot and eventually warmed up to some of the kids. It helped that I was always inside with her. And parties were tolerated especially when her friends were around. But what was incredibly difficult was the first day of preschool. Tears, clinging, desperation, negotiation, feelings of being a bad mother, stares (from other people and from me at those who just came and went—envious and yearning for the day I too could just drop my child off and leave), and the fear of judgment. You take a guess whose emotions were whose. But the bottom line is, I had to stay in the classroom with her for months, in the school by the door for weeks, and inside the school sitting on the sofa outside her classroom for much longer.
Eventually, I was able to leave her in school. But even if she loved being with her friends, she is not a jump-in-right-away kind of girl—even if it’s to play with these friends. I don’t think she ever will be. So I knew transitioning to big school was going to be very difficult. I made sure we enrolled her in a progressive school with a small class size and teachers who knew how to handle personalities like my Addie’s. I also made sure that they placed her in the same class as her good friend, Tiago.
The first three days of school were pretty good. In fact, the teachers were wondering why I was so adamant about making sure she was in the same class as Tiago. Then Thursday came. And all the kids in school were made to play together during lunchtime.
The teacher told me she almost cried, saying she didn’t want to join. So she ate lunch ahead while the others played and she continued to eat when they returned to join her. But that night, the tears finally fell and wouldn’t stop coming till she cried herself to sleep. They continued when she woke up again the next day. It’s the same thing she has never liked to deal with—being with several children all in one space. Children she doesn’t know. Children who are playing games, in other words, children who are noisy and rowdy despite teacher supervision. This is not my daughter’s idea of fun. It is her idea of chaos, something to be feared.
Of course her teacher allows her to sit it out and eat ahead. The good thing is she finishes her food because she eats so slowly—now she has more time. But what worries me is I know she doesn’t enjoy it. She wants to be part of the games, she wants to have fun like the other kids. But she doesn’t have fun this way.
So now she tells me over and over that she doesn’t like school. I listen yet point out that it is one thing she doesn’t like, but she likes being in the classroom with her classmates and teacher. She likes the activities, she likes the lessons. But of course, when you’re a child, one thing is enough to ruin everything.
Although she doesn’t beg me to stay in school (because parents can’t and she knows that), I feel as if we’re back to that very first year of preschool all over again. I keep telling her (and myself) that it will get better. She learned to love her preschool and she will learn to like (can’t say love — it’s too soon and I don’t want to jinx anything!) big school soon enough.
But she’s impatient and so am I. Maybe because we just came from so much fun and so much happiness. I have to keep reminding myself that it HAS to get better. It did in the past. So this is just another level, albeit a much harder one. And when I look back, we have both grown so much since then. But in the meantime, I will need all the patience I can get as I listen to whining and sniffles and sighs and of course the favorite battle cry, “I don’t like school!” We will get through this. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.