It is the last day of school and he is beginning his end in tears just like he has done in the past.
Last night I made a medium sized parenting mis-step. We were home, snuggling in bed a bit after bedtime, and he began silently crying. This kind of cry is not whined or screamed, it doesn’t have messy snot or heaving chests. The tears just streamed slowly out of him. This is what happens when he is struggling with something too big. So I asked him what was making him feel overwhelmed. And he told me. At the assembly for the last day of school the third grade was going to break into a flash mob. And he didn’t know the moves.
I thought flash mobs were over…but I guess they have resurfaced in third grade classrooms and elementary assemblies. Back in time to torture my child.
“Can you come get me?” He pleaded. “I would just have to miss half and hour.” If you pick me up at 9:50 and return me at 10:20 I could miss the entire thing. I stroked his hair with my free hand. I was silent, waiting for him to retract his request. We lay close together and he matched my silence with his own. It seemed like such a ridiculous small thing. I could walk across the street and rescue him. So I told him I would.
As he exhaled and shuddered to calm I felt the tumult start inside me. Why would I have said this. After a decade of encouraging (and requiring) my kids to fight their own battles I was going to bail him out of this one. Just because it is easy to help him doesn’t mean it is the best choice. Rescuing him from these 20 minutes of public performance was robbing him of the opportunity to dance…or negotiate an alternative.
Also- and I don’t know how relevant this is- I would never pull him out of school to avoid a math test he dreaded. The flash mob was part of the curriculum…and likely some kids’ favorite part.
The next morning as he stumbled into my room like a sweet sleepy mole I saw the corners of his mouth curved into a smile. Usually he snuggles like he is only semi- alive in the morning but today he kisses me as he climbs into bed. “Thank you mama, thank you for helping me.” “I’m sorry Leo, but I changed my mind.” His slitted eyes flew open. “What? Why?” Here I began to stutter out some sort of multi-model learning philosophy and comparing dance to spelling, taking about different aptitudes and opportunities. He didn’t blink. “Why does that matter? I don’t want to dance, I don’t want people to see me.” “I hate everything about it. I hate getting direction, I hate repeating everything a thousand times. I hater worrying that I won’t know the steps and I hate people watching me.”
“I’m sure you could talk to your teacher…ask if you could just stick in your seat.”
“It is MANDATORY. I need to dance.”
At this point I am feeling badly for my waffling and a little baffled by our reverse Footloose world. A school where kids are forced to dance. I wonder if this will be on his report card and he tightens his brows. He is very upset and I am taking this lightly.
For 30 minutes he sits in the chair in his fleece and cries and asks “why.” This flash mob rivals a life threatening illness in its potential consequences. He seems to think this will end him.
Finally he is up, his blue suit like smurf death on the floor. His upset has turned to anger and I wonder if he has entered the grieving process. Quickly he is bargaining. “What if you come with me and I talk to the teacher?” “Fine. I tell him.
We cross the sunny street together and he doesn’t smile at the teacher who womans the cross walk. Usually she chats with him and she watches him walk on wordlessly and her face creases. This kid can spread his misery far and wide. Arriving under the sun, with our feet on different planets we wait for the third grade teacher. Other kids have yearbooks and colored pens. They have sandals and ribbons. They have soccer balls and snacks. Leo has my shoulder. He is buried into me still weeping. He doesn’t want to be watched at the dance but he has basically shut down the third grade activities. Some kids pat him on the back. Others stand with their faces pressed almost into my breasts asking. “What’s wrong, what’s wrong.” His face is red, and I wonder about his tolerance for attention…there have to be more eyes on him now than on the dance.
This is not the first time Leo has had trouble on the last day of school. He offers them nothing and finally the crowd departs. His teacher approaches. She too has eyes only for Leo as a skipping parade of kids try to greet her on their last day. “Leo has something to ask you.”
He glares at me as if this was not the deal. As if I have betrayed him yet again. She watches us. And after all of this I buckle. “Leo thinks the flash mob idea is the worst ever, and if he dances he dies.” I say. Or something sort of like that. “No problem” she chirps at us. “No problem at all, I was just going to tell kids they can just stay in their seats at assembly if they want.” “Thank you” Leo and I chorus as if choreographed “Thank you so much. “No problem at all” she tells us, reaching out her arm to pat Leo’s shoulder. But he has turned, his hand is outstretched for a yearbook, markers are thrust into his hand, and he is signing his name like the celebrity he doesn’t want to be.
I walk back across the playground, my shirt wet with tears, and have no idea if I handled any of this correctly. The fifth grade teacher who Leo ignored on the way in approaches me to ask. “Is leo OK?” She sounds like the third graders and I am grateful for her concern…”He didn’t want to dance.” I tell her, rolling my eyes. Looking back at me her eyes are huge, filling her slender face. She shakes back shining hair and nods at me. “I hate dancing in front of people too.” She is serious. There will be no flash mob for Leo. I figure it doesn’t really matter. The same conclusion that got me into this mess. I sigh back at her. “I hate it too.”