Every kid whines that they don’t want to go to school, right? That’s what I chalked my daughter’s morning sing-song-y complaints up to, anyway. Just the common wailings of a child. “I don’t want to go to school today!” It never occurred to me that there might be something wrong.
“Every kid has to go to school every day,” I’d day. “How else will you see your friends?,” I’d ask. “You’ll like it when you get there,” I’d nudge. I assumed my daughter was just not a morning person (like her mother!) and that she hated getting up early to get ready. I didn’t know she was actually having problems asserting herself.
My daughter is that rare breed of half-introvert, half-extrovert. If she’s around people she knows and trusts, she can be quite boisterous. But she also has a quiet side: she prefers reading and drawing to performing, for example. I’ve always understood this about her, but I never would have guessed her shy side was getting the best of her this semester.
We got in a fight this morning. It started simply enough. “Do I have to go to afterschool?,” my daughter begged. As is my habitual way of dealing with these things in order to get out the door, I just gently shrugged her off, responding politely, “Yup.” But she kept pestering me about it. “Please, I don’t want to go to afterschool today!” I urged her to stop crying, since I’m always worried about annoying the neighbors, one of the perils of apartment living. I’ve gotten really good at staying calm in the face of a meltdown, out of necessity and repeat experience more than anything else. But by the time we got to the car, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“I had to go to court to fight for you to be able to go to afterschool! How else am I supposed to work? And if I can’t work, how are we supposed to live?,” I shouted. My daughter looked at me and said, “Why didn’t you tell me that sooner?”
I don’t know. I thought I had. But I guess my intensity helped her understand exactly what was at stake.
When we got to school, I walked her in, and she was a little clingy, which isn’t too unusual. But I could tell that she wouldn’t go upstairs if I didn’t bring her all the way to the classroom, and that’s when she finally came clean.
“I don’t know anyone in my afterschool class. And I’m too shy to make friends!” She burst into tears and fell onto my shoulder. My heart broke immediately.
“Oh, sweetie. I understand,” I offered. “You shouldn’t be shy. You’re so smart and funny, you’re a great person to be around. Everyone will see that. Just introduce yourself.”
“But I don’t know how! Every time I introduce myself, since I only see those kids once a week, the friendships don’t last.”
The only thing I could think to say was, “Why didn’t you tell me that sooner?” We’d both been keeping our frustrations hidden for the sake of the other.
The good news is, she’s only had this class a few times, and I’m sure the situation can be remedied quickly. This is the first time my daughter hasn’t had one of her regular classmates in her afterschool class, and I guess she didn’t expect to feel isolated. I certainly didn’t expect her to feel that way. This outburst of angst took me particularly by surprise because I always ask my daughter how her day was, what she did in school, if she had fun, and this was the first time she’d mentioned her anxiety. Suddenly the unexplained Monday morning stomach pains made sense. She was nervous. I should have known, I thought. Something was wrong, that’s why she was complaining about not wanting to go to school. It wasn’t because she was selfish or couldn’t comprehend that I have to work in order for us to survive. She needed help and didn’t know how to come right out and say what the problem was.
On the way home, I recalled a book my daughter and I read yesterday. “Brundibar” is written by Tony Kushner and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, and the moral of it is essentially that people will always rally together so that good may triumph over evil. On one of the last pages, the illustration reads, “It’s never hard to find help. It is only hard to know that it’s time to ask.” A lesson for children and grown-ups alike. Sometimes our children don’t know how to tell us what’s wrong; sometimes we don’t know we should ask.