One of the most rewarding and scary things about parenting for me is how similar Charlotte and I are, and how different. There are so many things that she says and does that remind me of me. Lately, at four and a half, she has begun developing a temper, lashing out physically when she never has before. She stomps her feet, throws things, and kicks out when she's mad, which more and more happens as she's tired or hungry, and completely unable to self-regulate. This is something I know about myself, and seeing it in her makes me half-smile in recognition. There's another side to her, a cheerful, open, friendly side with an especial interest in older kids that I just don't recognize. She will go up to any kid that catches her eye, even a seven or eight year old, and try to strike up a conversation or join in their game. Was that me as a kid, and I just forgot? Has my shyness as an adult shut off those memories? Or was I just never like that, more reserved? The adult me just doesn't recognize that side of her, and sometimes it just leaves me at a loss.
Charlotte's preschool is a public one, part of the elementary school here in town. I love that she's in the same building she'll be in for kindergarten, that she's meeting the "specials" teachers and the principal, and that she knows where the gym and library are already. By the time I'm leaving her at school all day with a lunch packed and putting her on the bus, she'll already know the lay of the land, and the names of her classmates.
There is a smaller scale playground, fenced in, that is off the three-classroom wing that makes up the preschool and kindergarten classes. The preschoolers play out there before pick up, and sometimes the kindergarteners play too, an extra recess when they need to shake their sillies out, or when the weather is too good to be believed.
Today was one of those days, and I have to tell you, any time you see a kindergartener and think how cute and tiny and little they are, just unleash a pack of them on a bunch of preschoolers, and you'll be amazed at their transformation into raucous giants. Here is another of the places where my own memories of four years old fail me. I can't remember how I felt when I was four and a half and faced with a flock of six year olds, seemingly all blond, tall boys who yell. But I know how I feel as a mom when I watch that swarm descend on the pre-schoolers' recess. It makes me tense, stand on the balls of my feet. My jaw clenches a little. For the most part, unless they have a sibling in the preschool, the kindergarteners have no interest in the "little kids." There is this group of boys, however, that has picked up on Charlotte's desperate interest in the big kids, and they have decided, for whatever murky six year old reason, to encourage her.
What they do, as a pack, is run up to Charlotte and scream, "Oh no! She's going to get us!" and then run off. Then she tears off after them. Back and forth across the playground, over the equipment, around the baby slide, well out of the way of the swings. The teachers seem to be okay with it, but it makes me nervous. Because, while Charlotte doesn't get it, I can read their faces. They aren't playing *with* her. They are using her desperation to be one of the big kids for their own devices. It shouldn't bother me. There's no reason for it to bother me. There's no real mockery or mean dialogue going on, not that I can hear, just a lot of "Nah-nah-nah-nah-na-na, you can't catch me!" sing-song, and "Oh no! She's getting close!" But when Charlotte is chasing them, she has no sense of self preservation, and no interest in listening to me at all. I'm calling at her that it's time to go, and she doesn't care, and why should she? Chasing is more fun than getting caught, less scary then getting caught. If they were chasing her, I would put a stop to it instantly, and I know the teachers would too. It's pretty sinister to have five kindergarten boys chasing a preschooler, even one who is four and a half and the size of a kindergartener herself.
The other part of this is that she's saying things to me, while I'm trying to get Charlotte to stop chasing the boys and come home. Some of the things she said today is "I have to defend the preschool kids," and "I have to defeat the big boys." She's saying that she has to protect the other kids from them. I know that she's just playing a game, but I'm worried she's going to get to rough. She's a bruiser. She's inherited my Swedish peasant physique. It's kind of hilarious that she has declared herself the preschool's champion. I just don't want her to take it too seriously.
I have enough experience with kids and playground dynamics to know that this is "all good." No one is doing anything out of line, the teachers have an eye on things, and this is all normal healthy kid stuff. It's just surprising to me that even how I know it's cool, and I can see that it's cool, I can't help but feel on edge. I feel the same way when Charlotte approaches older kids on a public playground. I want to intercede and steer her away. I don't want her feelings to get hurt, or for her to get made fun of even if she doesn't realize it. Because of her size I am usually pretty confident that she's not gonna get picked on physically, but watching her try the monkey bars (covered with kindergarten boys, who, to give them credit, never once stepped on her hands or anyone else's) it occurs to me that she quite possibly could try something far beyond her skill level and get hurt by accident. Though, given Charlotte's personality (and my own as a child) that's just as likely under her own inspiration as from following anyone else.
It's the same parenting quandary all over again. As a parent, your job is to protect your child - but from what, exactly? And how far? Today I settled for watching from afar as Charlotte tore up and down the playground, purple coat & pigtails flapping from exertion, and occasionally tried to get her attention so we could leave. I have to promise myself that if the same thing happens tomorrow, I'll just take her coat, take a breath, and just let her chase.