Monday, May 12, 2008


At the beach with the 2 K-2 classes. Down on the sand, Scott has joined me after playing in the dunes with some children. Felix approaches, a solemn look on his face: "Scott I talked to my dad. You know what you said about not wanting to be my friend any more? Well, it's just an 'empty threat'. It's an empty threat and you will want to be my friend, and we'll be playing together again soon. Do you understand that Scott? It was just an empty threat." He paused, waiting for Scott to acknowledge the error of his ways. Scott spun around a piece of driftwood, spinning, skipping, oblivious. "An empty threat" Felix repeated gravely. "It means nothing."

I reflect that Felix is on the right track. I see that his problem is that he is unable to leave it at this. He hangs around anxiously, wanting immediate fruit for the seed he has planted. I see that it is very important to him that Scott see things his way, and he's waiting for confirmation of this. I feel sympathy for his inability to leave it. He's too invested.

I'm watching to see if any of this is sinking into Scott, but it doesn't appear to be. Felix could be reciting a rhyme, or speaking another language. A pause, then, "Well, if you don't want to be my friend any more then I won't ride home with you in your car." A few beats more, then "Well, maybe I will ride home in your car." The two of them ran off toward the dunes leaving me bemused.

Later that night s'mores have been made and consumed, stories the kids made up themselves told around the fire. It's getting dark and as kids do everywhere, they're revving up. There's a vigorous game of chase with obscure rules going on around the building where we've gathered. One adult has called to the children that they need to start settling down. They're running clockwise around the building, so I go counter-clockwise to intercept Scott and tell him it's time to go get ready for bed. I encounter Felix and his crumpled face first, and realize with sinking heart he's crying. Of course it has something to do with Scott. Felix wails, "I was chasing Scott, and I knocked him down--and I hurt him--and he said I did it on purpose!!!!!" Scott's nowhere to be seen: "Where's Scott?" "He lied to me!!! He's lying to me!!!! He said I did it on purpose!" At this moment his father appears and I leave them, trying to find Scott. Behind me I hear, "Scott was threatening me! He always threatens me!" As I rounded a corner I could see Scott standing with another little boy under the tree, holding up an elbow with a spot of blood on it. Behind I hear someone's query to Felix and his answer: "Oh, I just had some trouble with Scott."

Scott's furious. "Look what he did! I told him to go one way and he went another and knocked me down. He wasn't following the rules! He did it on purpose." Fortunately Felix's dad has pulled him out of earshot for their own little heart-to-heart otherwise we'd be in for an earsplitting "yesyoudid/noIdidn't" howling match. Each throwing gasoline on the other's flame.

These are the very tricky issues to negotiate. Children this age don't have a working understanding yet that another mind behind another set of eyes comprehends shared events very differently. It's so delicate to try to differentiate between one's experience of outside events, and one's perception of that experience. To a child they are one and the same: I'm hurt, therefore the one closest associated maliciously caused it. There is no way that Felix can comprehend that to Scott his turning right when Scott had told him to turn left, resulting in knocking Scott down it's obvious that he, Felix, acted on purpose. It is so clear in Felix's mind that he didn't intend harm that he can only feel Scott is lying if Scott accuses him of this. In this way a single misunderstanding compounds and then compounds upon itself again.

However, they played wonderfully well the next day and seemed to enjoy their ride home in the car together. (A lesson for parents in differentiating their relationships with each other from their kids')

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