“Don’t you worry, Momma. You stay here, and I will protect you. I’ll snop those bad guys. They won’t hurt you. Don’t worry, okay, Momma?”
I smile, because he’s channeling what I want to say to him on a daily basis.
I’ve written a few times about the increasing issues we’ve had with bullying at school. (Mind you, for clarification: I call it ‘school’, but it’s daycare. He’s only THREE.) Bryan had spoken to the director, who has since left the position. We saw nothing improving, so when we learned of an interim director coming in, Bryan took another opportunity to speak to her.
She was appalled. Which was the response we were looking for.
During the lengthy discussion, she mentioned that she had already been working to bring anti-bullying curriculums into the Pre-K classes, but didn’t realize the issue was as prevalent in some of the younger classes. She promised she would work to alleviate that.
We felt better.
Communication between ourselves and the staff started to improve, something we had to believe was spurned by “the talk”. When Tony had a documented incident of a classmate scratching both of his arms (elbow to wrist, poor boy), they called me as they were documenting it to let me know. I appreciated it.
Later that week, we had the same child push Tony down and a teacher let me know. She said he seemed fine, so they didn’t document it. The same kid? I asked. New kid, they answered. Doesn’t speak much English. Aggressive.
I asked Tony about it later and he said they were playing tag. Okay, cool. Kid just got a bit too rough during a game.
Last Tuesday, I went to pick Tony up. When the kids are outside playing, as I arrive, I like to sit outside and watch them. I didn’t see Tony at first glance, but didn’t think anything about it. When I walked onto the playground, I could see from the doorway that Tony was crying. Sobbing, actually. I looked at the teacher, who was closer to him than I was, and she shrugged and said, “He’s been really cranky today.”
Okay, sure. It’s also 85 degrees outside and meh, I’ve been known to be cranky from time to time.
But when Tony came to me, his face was COVERED in dirt. CAKED. His face, through his hairline, down to his shirt collar.. covered in the bright red clay we have here in the south. Baby, why are you so dirty?
“I spit it out, Momma! I no like to eat dirt! Dirt makes me sick! I spit it out!!” He was sobbing.
Why are you eating dirt, baby? “I not like to eat dirt!” I know, sweetheart. Why were you eating it?
“They made me.”
I whirled around to the teacher, furious. What has been happening here today? Again, she shrugged. “He’s seemed kind of tired today.”
That is not a valid reason.
And I picked up my sobbing child, who hung limply over my shoulder, and cleaned him up at the water fountain inside. My voice was shaking, out of anger and frustration and what I generally call “Momma Bear”.
We got home and Tony was immediately fine. Ah, the joys of being three. I, however, was not so fine. I called Bryan and tried (in vain) to relay to him what had happened without crying.
“Let me let you go,” he said, without me finishing. But I’m not done yet, I stammered. “No, let me let you go. I’m on my way there.” This is what I like to call Papa Bear.
We looked at our options. We could pull him that day. If we did that, we’d be stuck without child care at least temporarily and neither one of us were in a position to adapt to that in our jobs. We could run out the week. There were nothing but waiting lists in our neighborhood. Waiting lists and almost double the costs.
Instead, we talked.
We talked to the director, who again – APPALLED – as well as the assistant director. We implored that something be done, some actions be taken. We gave documented accounts. We spoke to the administration who has taken over the network our daycare belongs to. We gave detailed histories of the children in their classes, reminding them how staff has often been shuffled around to command that group of boys.
I think – I think - we did the right thing. There are now extra hands in that classroom. There is a staff workshop scheduled to spot and handle signs of aggressive behavior. And communication has improved even more so between ourselves and the staff.
Look, my kid is no saint. He’s also three. I realize that there’s a good chance that he’s not blameless in that situation I walked in to on Tuesday. But I know my kid, and here’s what bothers me the most: 1) my child was upset – visibly upset, sobbing, and shaken, 2) children (willingly or otherwise) were eating dirt, and 3) a teacher stood not four feet away from this happening and did not a thing.
(Also, my kid HATES getting his hands dirty. HATES it. I cannot imagine he would willingly put his hands in dirt for any reason.)
I (again) have brought up enrolling Tony in a karate class. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but damnit, I need him to feel strong enough to say no. I need him to feel like he COULD kick-ass, but be smart enough not to. Because he IS smart enough. It’s just the strength we lack.
“I’ll snop those bad guys, Momma. Don’t you worry.”
Oh, my baby. I worry so much more than you know.