Dragons in our heads
Monday, September 18, 2017
I unknowingly created a dragon.
I made the mistake of telling Theo that he’d have a substitute teacher.
He seemed fine the entire car ride to school, but once we got there, he refused to get out of the car. Like, really refused and had to be physically pulled from his crouched position at Sophie's feet. I was discreetly getting more and more angry and frustrated and mean, making whispered threats through clenched teeth because you can’t lose it completely in the middle of carpool line.
After a slammed door (me) and some tears (him), something finally clicked for me: this kid is genuinely scared of something. The fear itself may not be valid, but he doesn’t know that.
“Was your last experience with a substitute not a good one?”
A nod of the head indicating no. “I clipped down last time!”
“Oh. I see.”
Clipping down is not good. It is a public reprimand in front of all your classmates. It is, I imagine, embarrassing and downright awful for a little tot of 5 or 6.
Having this knowledge softened me. He still wasn’t correct in his assessment of his fears, but he needed help seeing that. I tried to deconstruct his dragons for him, to tell him that the hardest part is stepping straight into your fears because usually it’s not as bad as we make it out to be in our heads anyway. But he didn’t believe me, and to be fair, I still don’t believe myself sometimes. He even said he’d stay in bed all day if I would just let him stay home--this from a kid who has to be cajoled into his sheets every single night, as if he’s never experienced bedtime routine and doesn’t know what a toothbrush is.
I took his hand and walked him to his room where we found another little boy already weeping in his chair. I later found out that he is a Syrian immigrant, brand new to the school, the city, the country, and likely the language. He will have to navigate being the new kid and finding friends— which is daunting under normal circumstances—with the added weight of grappling with the harsh reality that he has had to flee his home. The teacher took the other boy, and the school counselor led Theo in, who was still crying and reaching for me. As trite as it sounds, especially with the fresh awareness of how so many have struggles far greater than my own, this still never gets easy. But I knew I had to leave, because my job was done for the time being and my presence likely wouldn’t have helped. His fear was being left, mine was letting go.
Sophie skipped as I forced myself to walk away when we ran into the principle and I learned about who the other crying boy was. The principle had noticed Theo having a tough time and assured me he’d be ok, which I knew, but it’s nice to hear that other people care.
Theo likely won’t remember this particular morning. It will be a barely noticeable blip in a lifetime of heartache and beauty and deadlines and dentists and detergent. But hopefully it will sink into his subconscious that most of the time, our imaginary dragons are just that—imaginary.
I know I often harp on this point about empathy and kindness and patience with people who see and experience the world from a different vantage point than we do. It can feel old and tired and maybe even too politically correct and yea, yea I got it. But apparently I have to keep re-learning it and be reminded that it's actually not politics, its real people. It's our neighbors and our partners and our parents, the right and the left, the sick and the poor and the underprivileged. It's the immigrants. It's the black community. It's my 6 year old with his real but misinformed fears and it's having to do breathing exercises through math homework with my 8 year old because 9 + 9 will always equal 18. Just memorize it. God help me with the math homework.
Much of the time, we make those that are unknown out to be dragons in our heads.
Who’s to say I’m even doing this right. It's a tricky dance knowing how to be alive. I wonder where each of us goes when the world is quiet around us, whether we all speculate as to why we’re here and how we’re here and if I said the right thing and will I always feel so unsure and where do I belong?
Despite my questions and unknowing, I keep coming back to this verse these days: John 15: 9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love." You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. I am loved. Therefore. Love. Love. Love. Remain in my love.
This is often hard to do, no denying that. I have no platitudes to offer. It is hard to love, and sometimes it's even hard to know what love looks like exactly. Love and justice are sisters, after all. Press on.
Sophie and I stopped in at lunchtime to check on Theo and give him some candy because I was still feeling guilty for manhandling him out of the car. He is totally fine, of course. Not a care in the world except for flagging down his buddy from across the room amidst screams and spilled milk. An elementary school lunch room will make you realize how amazing teachers are (and please mix me a margarita.)
At one point I looked up and noticed the other boy, the immigrant, who was inconsolable at drop off. He walked into the lunchroom with the same counselor who had been helping Theo. He was no longer crying. He grabbed a tray and browsed the food, one of the kitchen staff pointing and smiling and letting him know what’s what. He’s standing there, looking like he belongs.
Because he does.