My son has escaped the kindergarten pen at his school at least four times. The pen, perhaps harsh in name, is actually a lovely fenced-in play area with toys, a large sandbox and shade-giving trees. It exists to keep the smallest of our school-aged children safely contained until they’re mature enough to be let loose on the field at recess, and gives many parents peace of mind. Most of the kids seem to enjoy the pen, running around happily and taking turns on a few small bikes. It’s one of the nicest kindergarten areas I’ve seen, with large rocks and tree stumps for climbing on, and a raised garden bed where things can grow. It’s more than pleasant, but to my son, it represents absolute oppression (or at least a challenge). He is not staying in there without a fight. God help me, and his teachers.
Some days, I get reports that my son has escaped the pen. He’s burst out in the seconds it is open or slipped out through a tiny gap at the corner of the fence. One time, he simply climbed up, reached over and unlatched the closing mechanism before making a run for freedom. Fortunately, he is less subtle than he is agile, and he’s always been caught.
There are other reports from the school, or the after school program. He’s had a meltdown because he had to stop building with Lego and move on to another activity. He smacked a kid who knocked over his tower. He’s fought with his best friends and thrown sand at recess. A kid threw sand back and he wailed, inconsolably, because he can’t take what he sometimes gives. He’s gotten into a wrestling match with a boy twice his size and pushed a kid who called him a silly name. He’s intense, quick to over-react and never not loud – a volcano of emotion that bubbles over at home, in the classroom and wherever else he goes. He is four years old.
He has exceptional teachers who navigate his ups and downs with ease, speaking to him calmly and with respect for his emotions. There are days I show up to morning drop-off exhausted, war-torn and emotionally drained because of the battle of wills I’ve fought before 9:00 am. I wonder what the other parents think, or what stories their kids have brought home. Is he the-kid-who-escapes-the-pen? The-kid-who-smacked-my-kid? That-one-who-always-melts-down? It breaks my heart to think that’s all someone may see when they look at him. His teachers smile and welcome him warmly. They’re good at their jobs, and I truly believe they like and understand him. I walk away from the school, and within seconds, I miss him terribly.
I miss him because I know the boy that not everyone sees. I know that this intense, emotional child who plays rough and melts down at the drop of a hat is also sweet, kind, loving and smart. I see so much more than any incident report could ever explain.
I see the boy who snuggles up to me each night, reading books about dinosaurs and sharks. Who loves information and can’t wait to tell me what he’s learned at school. Who wants to be a police man, a paleontologist and a veterinarian. Who defends bees and wants to help the polar bears.
I see the boy who likes me to scratch his back while he falls asleep, and sleepily asks me to sing Three Little Birds while he drifts off.
I see the boy who wakes up with a nightmare at 2am and asks to sleep in our bed, curled up with his head beside mine on the pillow and his tiny feet stuck in his father’s neck.
I see the boy who wakes up in his dino pajamas with a wild crown of bedhead, asking for Honey Nut Cheerios and Wild Kratts. He has a favourite blanket, a favourite stuffed animal and always wants the orange dino vitamin.
I see the boy who loves animals and is scared of the dark. Who does everything with passion, happily or not, and is wildly affectionate. Who adores his sister, even though they drive each other insane, and lives to make her laugh. Who draws pictures and tells stories with unbridled enthusiasm. Who hugs his grandparents tightly and crawls into my lap when he’s tired.
I see the boy who asks questions about the world, about nature and people, and shows compassion. Who hugs his friends, argues when he perceives injustice and throws compliments around like confetti. The boy who whispers, “I love you so much, mama,” when I tuck him into bed, and asks me to stay with him until he falls asleep.
I see my kind, sweet, loving, complicated boy who is only four years old, and still has time to mature and grow. The boy I love so much, no differently than I love his type-A, rule-following sister. My beautiful son.
I hope others get to see a fraction of what I see. There’s so much more to the boy who escapes the kindie pen, and one day, he’ll share that part of himself with the world.