Thursday, September 1, 2011

Safety Seat

Katie had to sit in the "safety seat" yesterday in kindergarten. The safety seat is a designated seat at the front of the room where a child who is misbehaving according to the school's rules is forced to sit. Basically a "time out" but you get to sit there and watch your classmates behave while you feel like a jerk. That's my interpretation. That was not what the teacher wrote on her Back to School Night handout. The child is supposed to think about what he or she did that got him or herself into the seat.

When I was five, if I were put in a chair in front of the whole class and told to think of what I did, I can't imagine I'd actually think of what I did. I would have just cried and thought, "Why is my mean teacher making me look like a bad girl in front of the whole class?" But, I know, I'm a weanie. My first grade teacher wrote on my report card that I cry too easily and if everyone would just quit giving in to my every outburst I would learn how to tell my problems instead of crying.

So we have her to blame for my tendency to ramble. But rambling on my blog is better than me posting a video of myself sobbing, right? I'd take a ramble over a sob any day.

Have I told you guys this before? I'm obviously bitter about it because although I vividly remember my mom's face when she read the comment on my report card, (the same face as when Dad would yell at one of her kids) I can't ever remember who already knows this story because I tell basically everyone I encounter. "My first grade teacher was so mean. Why would you want to teach children if you obviously don't like them?..."

The lesson you'd think I'd learn after being Katie's mama for five years is that she really is not me. Sure I see certain aspects of myself in her looks, her inquisitiveness, her moodiness, her sense of humor. But she is far more resilient than I ever was. Or still am.

Today Will and I were standing outside the front door of Katie's school, waiting for her to come out with the other kindergartners. We were chatting with one of Katie's classmate's dads, standing in the shade, enjoying the breeze. By the time Katie made her way to us, most of the other parents and grandparents and caregivers were buckling their kids into their booster seats. Since we walk (and talk) we often leave her school last. Except for this one boy whose mother is always about five minutes late to pick him up. I imagine if I hadn't decided to cut back to part time at work I would be her.

So it was just us and the teacher and Boy-Whose-Mom-Is-Always-Late. We started to walk toward home when the math/art teacher stopped me and said, "Oh, you're Katie's mom? Hey, if she brings it up, it's no big deal, but if she brings it up, you might want to talk to her about it. Because today she had to sit in the safety seat, but it was no big deal, and I swear, I honestly think she had no idea that sticking your tongue out at someone is inappropriate behavior."

Math/Art Teacher had a giant smile on her face as she was telling me this information. She looked like a teeth bleaching commercial actress. When she said she didn't think Katie knew you're not supposed to stick your tongue out at people she seemed clearly amazed.

"Yeah, I guess we forgot to teach her that one." I said with a smile as I looked up toward Will standing next to me. Katie and Boy-Whose-Mom-Is-Always-Late were taking turns jumping over a leaf.

Will was pretty adamant when Katie was first born. No preschool. He wanted to teach her how to behave. I wanted to teach her how to read. So I agreed. Neither of us had preschool so she could do the autodidact Pre-K thing too.

We caved finally eight months ago when we decided to enroll Katie in a one hour a week skill schools class. She was getting bored at home, asking why her friends got to go to preschool but she didn't. We could only take her to the local playgrounds and indoor play areas to "socialize" her for so long. She's not a dog. She's a human being. A human being who likes to be around kids her own age on a regular basis, just like most people I know.

I always told myself I would never have an only child. I also told myself I'd never give her formula or let her wear disposable diapers or avert my eyes when her grandpa gives her cans of orange pop.

I guess I need to quit telling myself things.

Katie didn't mention the "safety seat" incident until we got home and had lunch. We were clearing the table when seemingly out of nowhere Katie turned into something entirely not herself. She started babbling incoherently in a combination of a whine/baby talk/speaking in tongues type of language. I was unaware of anyone around performing a religious ceremony, so my second thought was, "Oh, she's having a fit."

I grabbed her in my arms, her arms flailing, and carried her into my bedroom. I plopped the both of us onto our bed, turned her face toward mine and said, "You wanna talk about how you feel?"

She immediately came back to herself and said, in her own voice, "I got put in the safety seat today and it was the first time ever in my whole life I got a time out and I feel bad about that."

"I would feel bad about that too. I used to make mistakes and be corrected by my teacher when I was in kindergarten." I rubbed her back and she used my waist as an armrest.

"You did?" She smiles. She loves hearing stories about the grownups in her life when they were her age. "So you're not gonna stop loving me?"

That one bout stopped my heart. "What?!" I almost yelled it but at the last second pulled back a bit so Katie wouldn't misinterpret my noise level for anger. I wasn't angry. I was shocked. How could she think I would ever stop loving her? I've read Alfie Kohn's book, goddammit! I've read Dr. Sears' website. I'm the parent who tells her child, "You can tell me anything." I'm the parent who picks up my five year old when she's throwing a temper tantrum and holds her in my arms and talks to her until she calms down. "I will NEVER stop loving you, Katie. Mommy and Daddy both. We will ALWAYS love you no matter what you do. You could sit in the safety seat every day for the rest of your life and we'll still love you. Ok?"

I must have raised my eyebrows because she raised hers and had a stern look on her face which I suspected was a reflection of my own expression. "Ok," she said softly. Then she grabbed the back of my neck and squeezed me and kissed me on my jawbone so hard it almost hurt.

After our squeezefest, I said, "Now Daddy and I don't want you to sit in the safety seat. We don't want you to, like, TRY to get yourself into the safety seat. The point of the safety seat is for you to learn not to make the mistake that got you into the seat. You might have to sit in it a few times before you remember, "Oh, yeah, I'm not supposed to stick my tongue out at people."

"You know about that?" Katie interrupted me. She looked at me like she just discovered I had omniscient powers.

"Yes, your art teacher told me after school when we were standing there talking. And she's not mad at you. She just wants you to learn that sticking your tongue out at someone is not correct behavior. It's not nice. Why'd you stick your tongue out at the boy, anyway?"

"Because he had a sad face. He looked like this." Katie contorted her face so she looked a combination of scared, angry and like someone who misses his mommy or daddy.

"Oh. Well, if you had a face like that, if you felt the way he felt, would you want someone to stick out their tongue at you, or would you want them to say something like, "Are you ok?"

"Are you ok." Katie said, immediately as if she were telling me her favorite knock knock joke:

Knock knock
Who's there?
Interrupting Cow
Interrupting Co--

So here's the kicker. Later in the day we were talking about our favorites. I told her my favorite class when I was in grade school was gym.

She blurted out, "My favorite class is art class!"

"Oh yeah, why do you like art class?" I asked.

"Because we get to look at COLORS!" She raised her arms to the sky and twirled around.

"Isn't your art teacher the one who put in you in safety seat today?" I reminded her.

"Yes, but I still like her!" She said, arms still raised, still spinning.