Today was my first day in kindergarten for this school year. This makes my third year to tutor with this same teacher. Every year there is a new group of smiling faces and new things to learn.
Sure, the students are learning, but so am I. Sometimes you have to see life from the perspective of a kindergartner to really understand things. There is nothing more honest or unvarnished than a five year old.
This class is composed of children from all around the world, living right here in this little suburb of Nashville. That is part of what I like about my adopted home. People from all walks of life and all cultures and all faiths make this home. It is a welcoming place that in its own little way is a bit like what I think Heaven is like.
This class is just like the other two I have helped with. There is a mixture of language ability, with some native English speakers and some children who will only hear English in this classroom. There are kids from Uzbekistan, the Congo, and Mexico, as well as ones who were born and raised right here.
That is part of why I am here. I have a degree in English. I have tutored students with learning difficulties in college. I speak English clearly with no accent. I think being able to read and write is one of the most important things you can do.
The Mayor of Nashville has made it possible for Metro employees to volunteer in the schools during work time for an hour every week. There’s a little bit of schedule wrangling and a background check and you are in.
Plus, I wanted to make a difference. I don’t have children. I feel this is a way to help out my community.
Today was hard. Today was only the third full day. Kindergarten is a big deal if you’ve never been to day care or pre-k. This is also the earliest I’ve been there. Normally it takes a while to get all the paperwork done to get started.
Today they were working with foam blocks, learning about color and shapes and counting. One little girl’s creation got knocked over. I suspect that it was an accident. But for her it was the end of the world.
She wailed. She said she wanted her Mommy. She said she didn’t want to come back. She’s four, and four is a hard age. Four is a bit young to be in school.
I wasn’t sure what to do. You can’t talk reason into a four year old. You can’t talk it into anybody when they are in the middle of grief.
Because this is grief. This is being upset that things aren’t going the way you want or need. This is reality not meshing up with want. She might be an only child, and has never had anything taken from her, and has never suffered loss before.
She’s not been taught her how to self-soothe yet. Nobody has taught her how to deal with her feelings. Four or forty, grief is grief. And sometimes the only way to learn how to deal with it is to live through it.
She wailed and cried. She left her table and went to her spot on the rainbow rug. Each child has a square on the rainbow rug that she or he sits on when the teacher is instructing at the front of the class. I thought this was a good choice. It was away, but not running away. She could have chosen to leave the room, to escape by running down the hallway.
Being in school for the first time is a lot like being in a mental hospital.
All the rules are different. The people are acting weird. Nothing makes sense. You can’t do what you want to do.
And you can’t leave. Well, you can, but it is difficult.
I went to her. I sat next to her on the rug and patted her shoulder. I spoke calmly to her, that it was an accident, that she could make another one. She calmed down a little bit. I don’t think it was my words or my presence, so much as she had cried enough for right then.
She got up and went back to her table. She pushed the blocks around, away from her, quickly, forcefully. Her pitch was going up. She’d calmed down while away from the table, but being back reminded her of the reason for being upset.
Several of the other students came over to help her. One was a sweet girl I’d worked with last year who was repeating the class. She is from India and has a cleft palate. She just needs some extra work with language, but her kindness needed no words.
This is what we do, we humans. We come nearby, to help. But we can’t fix the problem, and we can’t take away the pain. We can try to clean up the mess. We can try to distract each other. But mostly we just bear witness to pain. Mostly we sit with each other in our suffering.
And that is enough.
They say that time heals all wounds. We can’t save each other from pain. We can’t insulate our children and our friends from the hurts of life. But we can be there. We can listen. Sometimes we can heal just by our presence.
It takes time to learn how to deal with hard emotions. I was having quite a few myself. What do I do? How do I help?
I prayed. I listened. I didn’t say “it’s going to be all right” because that is a total cop-out.
Just like with learning English, the students have to do the work. I just have to be there.
Together we are learning.