The Seventy-first Chart

February 15, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

Based on the Random House Dictionary, the online resource Dictionary.com offers the following definition for the phrase to extract: “to extract is to draw forth something as by pulling, importuning, or the like.”

The military might resort to extreme measures to extract information from our country’s enemies, but I wonder whether they should use mothers of young children instead.  I bet the mothers could get further in finding out the truth.  Because when a mother can get a four-year-old to confess to something, she has accomplished nothing short of a miracle.

Last week Four got in the car after school all bubbly about her day.  She told me about group time, where at certain points in the morning the teacher splits the class into two sections.  The lead teacher takes one section and the assistant takes the other section, and each group receives teaching based on skill level.

On this day the teacher’s assistant, Ms. A., led Four’s group and had devised a game, the source of Four’s effervescent behavior.  Ms. A. would ask the children in the group a question related to what they’d learned; if the student asked answered correctly, Ms. A. would draw a portion of a gingerbread man on the board.  While the other children waited their turns, if they didn’t participate or listen, Ms. A would erase part of the gingerbread man and “win” that round.  The objective, of course, was to get Ms. A to draw the entire gingerbread man.

As Four buckled herself into her car seat, she described the entire drawing—the button nose, the frosting lining his arms, the squiggles marking his pants.  She remembered all of the colors Ms. A. used.  She remembered how much of the drawing Ms. A. completed.

When I asked what question Ms. A. asked her, suddenly Four’s memory failed.

“I forgot,” she replied nonchalantly with a shrug.

“Well, she must have asked you something,” I said, slightly surprised but suspicious of her instant amnesia.

“I don’t remember,” Four said.

“Did Ms. A. have to erase a part because you weren’t listening or participating?”

I got another shrug, and the amnesia persisted.

And right then I knew that something had happened.  I didn’t think she’d gotten into too much trouble; when Four goes to school, she turns into a demure, obedient child.  She laughs and has fun with her classmates, but she saves the screams of delight and the crossed-arms moments of indignation for home.  But most telling is Four’s sensitivity: if someone calls attention to her for any reason at all, Four gets embarrassed.  And then, many times, she gets mad.

Because she’d gotten into the car in such a cheerful mood, I realized Ms. A. had probably admonished Four in a gentle sort of way that she hadn’t minded much.

She also didn’t want to tell me about it.

I refused to give up, though.  I wanted to hear directly from her exactly what had happened.

I let it go at that point, and during the rest of the drive home we talked about other things.  We got home, Four had lunch, and I put her down for her nap.  Because she’s fighting a cold, she fell asleep and I let her rest.  But I knew I’d ask her about the gingerbread man incident again.

And I did just that.  When I woke her up after her nap, I climbed into bed next to her and we chatted for a few minutes about nothing.  I let her sleepy eyes blink awake and watched as she slowly came back from the land of dreams.  After a little while, I asked her in the most offhand way possible whether she’d gotten in trouble during school that day.

She nodded solemnly, her head rubbing against the pillow that still supported her head.  Ms. A. had had to erase part of the gingerbread man because Four had somehow gotten distracted and didn’t pay attention when her turn came.  Because she’s still not old enough to fully articulate situations like this, Four couldn’t fill in the details for me.  But I let her know I didn’t feel angry or disappointed, and I praised her for admitting that Ms. A. had called her out.  I also reminded her of one of my rules—that if either of the girls ever gets in trouble and comes to me and owns up to it themselves, I won’t get angry at them, no matter what they’ve done.  If I find out from someone else or from some other source, then they’ll definitely hear from me.

After making sure she understood what I said, I let it go.  My extraction session had succeeded.  This time.  Does this mean I get to work for the military now?

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