April 28, 2017
By Ekta R. Garg
As I mentioned last week, Eight found out a couple of weeks ago that her beloved teacher will move to North Carolina during the summer.
Never mind that the child will move on to the next grade and not even have this same teacher next year. And never mind that even though other teachers she’s had are still at school and now Eight only greets them in passing. She’s decided that her teacher moving has ruined her whole life.
It’s going to be the worst summer ever, according to my younger child. All the awesome summer camps (including one whole week of Hogwarts-related activities as well as two weeks of Lego robotics fun) can’t make up for the fact that Mrs. B. will leave. Not even the fact that we’re taking another big family vacation in July and will be there during Eight’s next birthday can tip the scales back in summer’s favor.
Oh, especially not that. Because when Mrs. B. told the class that she’ll leave town in July, all bets were off. Eight’s birthday was ruined. The trip was ruined. All of summer had already found itself heading down the drain.
With Mrs. B. leaving during July, nothing will ever make the world good again.
Or so says my firecracker of a daughter.
It mystified me initially why she would take this so hard. We’ve talked since this calendar year started about how she’ll be moving up to fourth grade in the fall. While she wasn’t thrilled with the idea of leaving her familiar classroom and Mrs. B. behind, she had started warming up to the idea of going into fourth grade. When I pointed out that she did just fine after leaving Mrs. C. at the end of kindergarten and Mrs. K. at the end of first grade, Eight had to concede that I had a point.
This situation is different, however. First, Mrs. B. was also Eight’s second grade teacher. Toward the middle of the year last year, another teacher in the school announced her retirement. The school did a little moving around of staff and also hired someone to take the place of the teacher retiring. In the staff shuffle, it worked out that Mrs. B. looped up to third grade.
Eight was ecstatic, as were many of her friends, and, of course, Mrs. B. herself. She’s got two little ones of her own at home and cares deeply about her students, so she’s a perfect third grade teacher. When I’ve volunteered at the school, she’s trotted over to me several times brimming with excitement about a new teaching idea or method.
I didn’t always understand all the teaching-related terms she used—I spend most of my days tackling prepositions and fighting head hopping—but I had no trouble interpreting her enthusiasm for doing something more, helping her students get better, finding ways to push them and yet keeping school fun all at the same time.
I thought at first that maybe Eight’s reaction stemmed from the fact that she had the same teacher for two years and had grown more attached to her than her other teachers. Mrs. B. has helped Eight in her academics as well as with small matters of dealing with conflicts with friends. I joke that the two share a mutual admiration society.
As I spent some more time mulling the situation, though, I realized something else.
This was the first time my child would have to say goodbye to someone to whom she’d grown exceptionally close.
Most of you in the parenting fraternity already know (or are beginning to find out) that a child’s world is fairly finite. The questions they ask relate to the fact that, when they’re young, they understand their four walls and the people immediately around them best. They count on the stability and regularity of their familiar routines and loved ones.
When big things change, though—like when we have to move from one state to another—kids get stressed out. Younger children deal with the stress by regressing in their behavior. Some of them will go back to biting or hitting, they often regress in potty training, and some of them will cry more easily.
Eight is old enough to verbalize what’s bothering her, and we’ve worked diligently to explain to her that she does need to verbalize her anger. Hitting and lashing out is for little kids, I tell her often. She has words now. She just needs to use them.
But with something as complex as the process of letting go, a little every time every day, I don’t know if she can fully articulate it.
We went through a spate of about 10 days where Eight got irritated more easily with everyone at home, gave in to her frustration by raising her voice, and became teary eyed more frequently and with more ease than before. In the past I would have probably gone through the entire 10 days before figuring out just why my generally sunny child had suddenly become a perpetual grouch. This time it only took me about two days to get there.
Unfortunately, in this case, there’s not much I can do. There’s not much anyone can do. I explained that to Eight one weekend evening when, after getting in trouble with her father for the umpteenth time, I pulled her into my writing studio and settled her on the comfy chair. We sat side by side, feet propped up on the ottoman, and I explained that I knew she was struggling with Mrs. B. leaving. I also told her that as much as her daddy and I would love to make all the sad and mad feelings go away, we really couldn’t change the situation.
I hated to admit that to my child. I’m her mother. I’m supposed to be the harbinger of all the secrets in the universe (well, at least, all the secrets that an eight-year-old could fathom.) But here I was admitting to my daughter that I didn’t have a solution to make her heartache go away.
Funny enough, Eight seemed to accept what I was saying with a little bit of jaded resignation. It was almost as if she’d already figured out what I was telling her. She just needed to hear it out loud.
We chatted for a while, cuddled there in the chair, and our talk offered her a small turning point. Eight still finds herself getting sad—a few times, when I’ve gone to say good night to her, she’ll tell me that she can’t stop thinking about the fact that Mrs. B. is leaving—but she’s also finding productive ways to turn her sadness around. She and her classmates have begun planning a going away party for the ages, and the second grade teacher has mentioned a few times how proud she is of Eight for using her energy in a positive way.
We continue to have talks about turning negative feelings into positive actions, and Eight is starting to internalize what we’re saying even if she’s having a difficult time putting it into practice. But I do see progress. It makes me sad that she’s losing someone she loves so dearly, but I do know that this experience won’t go wasted.
I just wish I could do something more to help my baby girl feel better.