Thank you very much for your thoughts on
I called it unkindness. It might be teasing. Picking is an option as is needling or maybe taunting. Bullying is also a possibility. It's a loaded word, that one. Like, say, "terrorist" the word bully gets a visceral response and tends to make people think in terms of absolutes. It reminds me of that famous quote about pornography, reversed: I can tell you what bullying is but I might not know it when I see it.
I thought about this the other week when that poor girl was so traumatized by her treatment on the school bus she was scared to get on it and her father, in his protective rage, stormed the bus and screamed at all the children. He later admitted he regretted his actions but around the country he was applauded: get the bullies; stop the bullies. The idea that these bullies were children mixed up with a lot of other children who all looked the same because they ARE all the same and they were all probably quite terrified seemed to escape a lot of people.
There was a kid in Patrick's preschool that took such pleasure in physically hurting other children - not to mention emotionally terrorizing them - that I am convinced to this day that he is budding sociopath. I got to know Patrick's current classmates pretty well last year so when he brings home stories of... I'm sticking with unkindness... I know the players involved and I know they run the gamut of social sophistication. None of them are nearly as scary as the preschool kid but there are one or two who tend toward the edgier side, one or two who toady, a handful of spirits who will follow whichever way the winds of popularity blow and a few whose gentleness or desire to be liked or both make them fairly ready targets for any spite in search of a recipient.
My point is that - within reason - most of these kids on any given day or with any permutation of personalities might morph into bullies or bullies' henchmen or victims. The cognitive dissonance (hi Sarah! forgive me! I can evolve!) of having someone be both a dick and a friend on Tuesday seems to bother me (us, to judge by your comments) a lot more than it bothers Patrick and as I struggle to figure out how to help him I also struggle to keep his interests (and his impressions of intention which are always much more generous than mine) at the forefront. He justs wants to play and interact and be friends - minus the sly maliciousness of being called... whatever. This one kid called Patrick "Steven" at first and when that failed to garner any reaction at all he switched to Pat, which also made Patrick shrug. Only with Patricia (and I think those of you who thought that the heavy boy = bad/girl = good differentiation going on in the classroom is largely at fault) did he manage to get a rise out of him but it could be Four-Eyes or CrazySocks or Namby Pamby.
We went for conferences last week and it was the polar opposite of last year's Worst Conference Ever
(oh you remember - last year the teacher hinted that Patrick has ADHD and Patrick yelled at her about not teaching cursive writing and they fought about reading levels until Patrick, his voice dripping with venom and sarcasm, said, "Wow three weeks ago you said I was reading at an O level and now you say I'm at a T... you must be a really great teacher." And I died.)
I was not sure what to expect with this new woman and Patrick was so nervous that I worried the half had not been told unto me about what he had been doing in class. Setting fires? But it was great. Patrick is doing very well in everything, the end. He reads well. He writes well. He spells well. He maths well. She seemed oblivious to little workmanship details like the fact that he seems unable to prevent himself from suddenly breaking out into small sketches on the page (for example if he is writing about a mountain he will sometimes... draw a mountain. with a tiny climber. and maybe a miniature chalet. and then he goes back to writing.) As she talked about how pleased she was with his work Patrick visibly relaxed and he chatted about stuff he had done. I asked if he wanted to talk about the Patricia thing and he said yes and explained some of the problems he had been having. She said she had no idea and it was right of him to tell her and she wanted to hear about these things in the future and that there have been other similar problems with another boy in the class that she had dealt with when she heard of it and she was absolutely not going to have this sort of thing going on in her classroom and if they are doing this in third grade what on earth will it turn into a few years from now? Patrick, never one to avoid the hypothetical question, said that he feared that they might turn into... whisper... bullies by high school and after that most likely criminals in jail, very sad.
She said that the conference was the most she had ever heard him talk (I thought, are you KIDDING? he's QUIET at school?) and she told me the only thing about Patrick that we might want to know is that when he is reading or drawing or working on class stuff he has a tendency to become so focussed that he is almost impossible to distract and transition to the next thing. I said, oh well, eight year olds... and she said no, Patrick's intense concentration was something else altogether (in an amusing unwitting salute to last year she said, "No one could ever think he's ADHD... could be something in the ADD line") I asked if it was a problem and she said no, since she manages it in the classroom and she wasn't even sure it would ever be a problem but she thought she should say something.
These two things - the fact that he doesn't talk much in class and he falls into hyperfocussed work trances - startled me since neither of them show up at home at all. It reminded me of all of the teachers here who have ever counseled me on the vast oceans of difference between home and school and what we see and what they see and what we hear and what the reality is and I vowed for the millionth time to stop leaping to conclusions about classroom politics.
In person Patrick's teacher seemed to really know and care about him and I felt guilty for all of my dire assumptions about her gender biases. Then I thought that maybe it's just that she happens to like my muffin of maleness (possibly because he said stuff at the conference like "I want to be friends with everybody but especially those kids that maybe the other kids tend not to notice, like the new boys" at which point the judges gave him top marks and he moved onto the evening wear competition) and then I felt guilty all over again. Are boys who bounce less worthy of teacherly approbation than ones who need to be checked with mirrors to make sure they are still breathing?
All of which is to say that I am still pondering the situation and I really appreciated your thoughts and in the meantime Patrick has offered a playdate at our house to anyone who stops calling him Patricia. He has a different way of handling things than I do.
We had a weekend guest who informed us that Edward's ability to successfully dribble a ball up and down the length of the driveway is nothing short of astonishing. Steve and I looked blankly at each other and I realized the baby of the family always has their talents neglected. Can I play the cello? No. And why? Because I was the youngest, that's why.
Caroline and Edward are looking like twins I think. And of a size, too. He is only four pounds heavier than she is although it feels like forty when you pick them up. He is so solid with a massive chest and she is mostly bones and hair but technically he's not that much bigger than she is anymore and she continues to have larger feet, which I find funny.
Patrick drew faces for cutting the jack o' laterns. Then he drew on Edward.
Yesterday was Edward's last day at speech. I hope, if nothing else, the change in routine will stop Caroline from saying, coldly, "Oh... just go to therapy!" every time Edward annoys her or she decides she feels like being an only child for a while. It's an awful thing to say, isn't it? Imagine having a dispute with a coworker over using other people's coffee mugs or excess personal days or who gets the copy of Goodnight Moon and just as you are warming to your theme and contemplating the jesuitical advantage of hitting them over the head with a Duplo they look at you with weary condescension and tell you to just go get some therapy.
When Edward is trying to convey that he is serious - seriously annoyed - he lifts one eyebrow, scowls with the rest of his face and uses a growly voice that I guess is a pretty good interpretation of what I sound like when I. have. had. it. plus helium.
Yesterday morning Edward said, "But I'm not very hungry, Mommy" and I interpreted, "Are you very hungry, Edward?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, no problem, Daddy is making oat cakes (oatmeal pancakes) right now.
Edward said, "How 'bout oatmeal?"
I said, "Better! Oatmeal pancakes!"
Edward twisted his face. His eyebrow shot up. His voice dropped an octave and he growled, "NO! No pancakes. OATMEAL!"
I said, "Edward we're having oat cakes and..."
Edward barked, "UN'CCEPTABLE."
Steve, from the stove, asked, "Did he just say 'unacceptable'?"
I said, yeah, he did.
And we beamed at him and told him how clever he is because, really, his ability to express himself has gotten so much better. Edward glared at us.
"Oat cakes un'cceptable," he repeated and I said oh listen to you, you sweet little lump of sugarbutter, using those great big words... and I gave him the oatmeal.
This morning we ran into Patrick's preschool teacher at the fabric store while we were buying buttons (for Steve's suspenders - don't ask) and face paint (for cheetah whiskers) and looking for textiles that can convey "I am an Event Horizon" in the time it takes to open a front door. Patrick has narrowed down his Halloween costume ideas and they all subscribe to the theory that time and space can be visualized like a foldable plane - speaking of still more things about which I am skeptical.
Steve, by the way, was appalled that I have shamed the family by publicly admitting in that last post just how many things fall under the generous umbrella of my dubiety: magic, what F1 radio communications really mean during a Grand Prix, whether onions can actually be caramelized by a home cook, democracy, every single idea ever presented about the origins of life, et cetera.
So anyway at Joann we ran into Patrick's preschool teacher for the first time in years
(Steve: "Mrs M------! We've been looking everywhere for you!"
I think he's hilarious; I really do.)
in front of remnants and she told Caroline and Edward they'd be coming to her preschool when they were bigger. Edward instantly said "That's un'cceptable."
Then he looked at me like, hey, did you hear that? Aren't I cute? Where's my oatmeal?
We seem to have created a monster. Two monsters, actually, because Caroline leaned over from her shopping cart and told the preschool teacher, "Edward goes to therapy."
But he doesn't. Not anymore. He had his last session and duly received his certificate of participation in the field of excellence.
I was going to ask during our last debrief about the fact that he still sounds garbled to me but she forestalled the question by saying that he often becomes incomprehensible because he attempts to form complicated adult sentences and he talks very very fast (Patrick and I are also speedy communicators; Caroline and Steve prefer to be understood.) She says that when she loses what he is saying she restructures his sentence into a three to four word phrase that is more age-appropriate and slowly models it for him.
I said, "Simple. Slow. Got it."
Then I said, "OK, Edward, shall we say thank you and goodbye and then attempt to find the car and go home for some lunch?"
Our therapist looked at me like, good LORD lady, and said, very brightly, "Let's go!"
This is why I did not receive a certificate in the field of excellence. It is also why my helpful talk with Patrick this morning about the (grrr) ongoing Patricia thing (Patrick called it the "Patrissue" and said if the playdates don't work he wants me to email the teacher; she did give a talk about bullying and name calling on Monday) started with the Romans, moved onto Ireland and the absence of snakes, touched on how much Steve and I had wanted to have children, introduced the miscarriages, breezed hastily over the raised question of how humans are conceived with the solemn promise to get back to it some time when I was not driving, talked about how excited I was to finally have a baby boy and why the name Patrick was important to me, discussed root words and the fact that Patricia and Patrick/Padraig and Patricus and patrician and patrimony borrow nuance from each other and ultimately finished with both of us laughing over the idea that perhaps the best way to handle these friends is with gentle amusement, as if their inability to stick the hard K and their subsequent resort to a shushing sound is more to be pitied than censured.
I got to the end of my speech and smiled at Patrick, thinking I really was doing a bang-up job with this whole parenting thing.
Patrick said, "That was the longest conversation I have ever been sucked into in my life. There were Romans! There were Irish! There were those babies dropping dead all over the place! And just when I thought you would keep talking forever... here we are again back at Patricia."
"You know, Mommy," Patrick said, seriously, "You really need to work on wrapping it up."
PS Patrick and I listened to The Graveyard Book (it was so so so good) and just started Artemis Fowl on CD. I just finished To Say Nothing of the Dog (I read it while on bedrest and loved it and loved it all over again recorded) and I desperately need a new book on tape suggestion. Listening to a book makes all the boring stuff (laundry, dishes, moving piles of clutter) so much more bearable I think. Any suggestion for good recordings? Something light'ish that will not suddenly break into raunch while I am cleaning the kitchen?