Thursday, December 3, 2009


For a child that doesn't want to leave preschool when I come to pick him up, Little Dog's morning drop offs have been pretty brutal lately. Most days involve some kind of early "I don't want to go to school" talk. The worst mornings involve him clinging to my leg as I calmly tell him I have to go and he's going to have a great day and try to leave the building. Luckily he has great teachers. I frequently get emails after the worst morning drop offs with a quick note telling me things like "Little Dog is now happy and watching teacher D install new batteries into the LiteBrite we just got!" or "Little Dog was off playing with friends within minutes of you leaving." And when I pick him up, more often than not, he wants to stay. Sometimes I carry him from the classroom in tears because he wants to stay and play longer. I think it is all part of his not so secret plot to undo me completely.
Unfortunately in recent weeks he has decided to focus the brunt of his school related resistance on one person. For the sake of this post let's call her Donna. A few weeks ago as I sat with him at bedtime he started tearfully telling me that he didn't want to go to school. He didn't want to see Donna. Since he had previously come home with tales of being called a "baby" by other kids in the next class, I assumed this might be a similar situation.
"Why don't you want to see Donna, Little Dog? Is she not nice to you?" I asked, hoping to get to the root of the issue.
"I don't like Donna," he replied. "I don't like her because she's so old!"
Huh? After a few more questions I found that Donna was a teacher. Despite my best efforts, I could not get any other answer about why being old was a problem or why he might not want to see her. I eventually gave up. I assumed she had scolded him at some point and that in a few days this would be forgotten. Boy was I wrong.
Every night for the next few nights I was told about Donna and reminded how old she is. I tried to find out if it was a general issue with older people. "Do you like grandma and grandpa? They're kind of old too."
"Yes. I love grandma and grandpa," he said emphatically, apparently not seeing their age as an issue. And after exploring this line of questioning for a while I was no closer to understanding his objection to Donna as I was in the beginning. So I let it drop.
A few nights later as I was sipping my wine, Mr. Dog asked me if I knew who Donna was. As he was putting Little Dog to bed, he had received a similar earful about how old she is and how much Little Dog disliked her. Then the next morning when it was time to go to school we were rewarded with the first full blown temper tantrum on this issue. Little Dog didn't want to go to school. He didn't want to see Donna. He didn't like her. She is so old. When asked what she did to him that made him dislike her so much, he told us that she looked at him. That's it. She doesn't talk to him, she doesn't scold him, she doesn't correct him. She looks at him. Well, part of her job is classroom and playground supervision. She really wouldn't be doing her job if she didn't look at him. Now in addition to her being old, Little Dog also wanted her to stop looking at him. When I tried to drop him off that morning it was a nightmare. He was screaming and crying and clinging to me like some kind of demented howler monkey. I finally talked to one of his teachers.
Turns out that Donna is only occasionally in his classroom. She is also not old. She is, in fact, younger than Little Dog's favorite teacher! It also turns out that Little Dog frequently sits at her table for snack and lunch. And they get to pick where they sit, so he is choosing to sit with Donna. This only puzzled me more. When I picked him up that evening, I spoke with his other teacher and we tried to come up with any reason he might have an issue with Donna. The only idea that had any real potential was that she is pretty strict about the children laying down on their mats during nap time. The other teachers let non-nappers sit up as long as they are quiet.
The next day, Little Dog expressed his dislike to his favorite teacher while on the playground. She tried to get to the root of the issue as well.
"Is it that Donna has darker skin and has an accent when she speaks?" she asked. Then went on to explain that she has immigrated from a foreign country and is bringing that experience with her to his school.
When she told me about this in the evening, she said that Little Dog had not mentioned Donna again all day. He had even sat with her at lunch again. And while I was not sure that skin color or an accent would be an issue for Little Dog because we have always lived in fairly diverse areas, I guessed that at three years old he might be working through and noticing some of these differences more now than in the past.
On the way home, Little Dog brought up the conversation. "Mama, Donna has darker skin."
"Yes," I said, "She does."
"But that's not why I don't like her," he added quickly, "I don't like her because she's so old."
And just like that, we are back at square one. Still no idea what the real issue is. Still no good solution to the problem. I'm just being consistent in reminding him that being old is not a reason to not like someone. I remind him that Donna is a nice person, and that saying things to her or about her, especially things that are beyond her control would hurt her feelings. I also remind him that being unkind to anyone, even if you don't like them, is never ok. And I'm still hoping that one day I'll be able to take him to school without hearing about how old Donna is. Sigh.
Want to make me feel better? Tell me some completely irrational thing your child has clung to. Have you ever had a "Donna" in your life? How did you fix it or did it just fade with time?


mamamilkers said...

That is so interesting! He likes her at school but doesn't at home? Hmmm. My kids go through weird phases. Like my older daughter liked going to the retirement home and then she started FREAKING OUT about it. Then liked it again. Then not. Kids are so random!

We have many Somalian families in our neighborhood and my girls were a little confused by their clothing (covered heads, long flowing outfits) and it was hard for Iris to see that they were just like her, only in different clothes. I think they just need time to warm up to differences sometimes.

followthatdog said...

It is weird, but at school he has started saying he doesn't like her to one teacher. It is stressing me out. I don't think it is actually about her being different, maybe more strict, but the darker skin thing would be strange since many of the teachers of different ethnic backgrounds and the first teacher he would continually rave about also has dark skin. It isn't like he's never been around a diverse population either. I think that was a guess by his teacher and now we're back trying to get to the bottom of it. I'm hoping it just fades away as I continue to give him the "be nice, it is never ok to be unkind" line and quit trying to play mommy-detective about this.

geekymummy said...

I don't know why he doesn't like Donna. Rosa usually doesn't like ehr teachers if they have reprimanded her, but it doesn;t last long.

But regarding the drop off and pick up thing, read the chapter on 'transitions' in the spirited child book if you have the time, apparently having a tough time transitioning between activities/situations is a classic "spirited Child" quality and they have some helpful insights.

Green said...

Not exactly the same thing, but I took my friend's 6 yr old to check out a dance studio for ballet classes. While I was talking to the owner, she got a dark look on her face, started urging me to leave, and wound up in a TERRIBLE mood, acting all bitchy and attitudey.

I prodded and prodded, and then it came out she'd read something on a brochure that called it a dance SCHOOL. She thought I was going to have her leave her school and go to this dance school instead.

A most obscure misunderstanding.

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