Mr B did some good work today.
From the outside, it might not have looked like it. Sequentially, he was bounding around in a classroom, racing up and down a school hallway, whining and yanking on my arm, yanking on his brother, whining at his cousin, charging up and down the hallway again, leaping around in the gym and refusing to come when I called, collapsing in a grumpy lump outside the gym, whining some more, yanking on a door, screaming and yanking on the door, collapsing in the school's garden while we were trying to get to the car, and then finally getting in the car.
Kicking off that series was something rather uncomfortable for him. He saw his favorite old teacher from two years before, from the Montessori school he used to attend in early preschool (he then moved to a different Montessori school). But he wasn't able to warm up past his usual transition time - she was taking her daughter (ACK, when did she have a second baby!?) to the doctor's, so could only say hi briefly on her way out.
Then there was the next uncomfortable part - as much as he likes to be included, needs to be with and together with, having his brother show him off like a pet ('check out my brother's hair!') to his brother's old friends wasn't his plan. He tolerated it with reasonable humor, and then the second he got the chance took out his discomfort back on Mr G. Grouse, leap about in classroom, express discomfort.
And then he realized that he really needed to run off the distress, discomfort... stuff. He asked, begged, yanked on me. And there was no way I could accomplish this - I had only limited time to talk to the teacher, before she had to go. She was catching up on a year's worth of activity, growth, choices, changes. Acknowledge the need, yes, but I hadn't yet clued in on what was going on inside him, so I wasn't able to honor that fully yet, or understand its urgency.
More charging up and down the halls. Not alone in this, the entire crew, cousin included, were expressing their emotions in leaping about. The teacher remembered the cousin from preschool, told the summer-camp class stories about her caring and joyfulness, reminded me (and her, and Mr G) of when she used to tuck in her cousin (Mr G) at nap time, carefully making sure his blanket was placed properly, lovingly, tenderly. Yeah, the ten-year-olds blushed at that one. But the teacher didn't relent, she refused to let them pretend they had never been those kind and loving people to each other. (They still are, but they like to pretend that they're not, sometimes.)
And the talking, reminiscing - who was in whose class? Remember when you came in, I love how your family tells stories, your brother, how is he? And how is Baba? So many memories elevated, refreshed. I felt more than a bit nostalgic, and twice had to suppress getting teary, just standing there looking around.
Then a gap, while the camp students and teacher went down to the lobby for pickup time, and we stayed in the room, and the kids opened up a bit more into the space, and remembered. They pointed to different activities, asked each other if they remembered this, oh, and this one here? That other thing, that's NEW, and look, from here you can see the new playing fields! More yanking on me by Mr B, urgently, desperately. Needing to flee, to escape, to race around and let out the everything that was inside.
I still wasn't getting what was up, though. Why, when we come back to this school, do they insist on acting like monkeys, forget the rules, run in the halls? Safety, please, gentle children!
Finally, the teacher returned, and we proceeded in the wrap-up conversation, the mutual admiration, and the almost-deft expression of depth of feeling from cousin to her old teacher. She remembering her favorite work, the sequence board, all the way back from three years old, being sure to tell her old teacher that she was a favorite, no THE favorite teacher, ever... being told in return that while her academic success was grand, it was being herself that was the most admirable. I watched my niece make the half-uncomfortable choice to stand face to face with the too-difficult-for-age passionate speaking of truth, and make eye-contact, and agree, fight through to the acceptance if not comfort, and reflect back the love coming her way. Lovely cousin of my children, so steadily learning to be courageous in her statement of self. It was nice watching her acceptance of that too-close-in happiness, the intimacy of being genuinely admired by the teacher she admired, and the discomfort of knowing how time has passed.
And meanwhile, Mr B, leaping about, rolling on the floor, whining, nearly thrashing, pulling on me...
Finally, off to the lobby for a moment to talk to the head of school, and then yes, we can go to the gym, stop whining, and DON'T RUN IN ... the halls. Nevermind. I'll catch up in a moment.
Racing around in the gym, then. But ... really, we need to go home, they're locking up the school. Mr B's response: Collapse and grump outside the gym, begging to go back in and play.
Finally, I began to suspect something significant was going on.
"It's hard to come back, and not stay," I suggest.
That's the opening, but I failed to take my time with it. He won't move. We need to go, we do. And he won't move.
"You really like it here. You wish you could stay as long as you want."
Yes, again. Right. Now let me stay... and again, I don't allow it, move him along in his pain, encourage the reluctant child to walk through the depth of his mourning and loss. Right past the library... no, into the library. Yes, okay, go look around the libary.
"I want to stay, mom. I want to stay!"
"You really REALLY loved it here. You miss it." Stating it forcefully, matching my tone to his own.
"YES, can I stay?"
"Sweetheart, gentle B, we cannot. They're closing up, we have to go." I can't stick with his intensity, so I revert to just gentleness. It really isn't enough. He needs me to join him, and I'm not sure quite how. Or maybe I'm afraid that if I do join him, I'll sit on the floor and weep because I feel so much the way he does. I wanted to go to this school, myself - not that it existed when I was a child, but I wished it had. I'm not even admitting that to myself though. I'm just 'not there, not ready'.
I offer ice cream. Bribery, I know, but I'm hoping to transition his focus (or so I tell myself, but I kind of suspect I'm lying even to me). All the other kids cheer for ice cream, jump up, ready themselves to go.
B won't move. He tries to go out the side door, the one they use for special events. It is locked. He slams on it, shaking it hard enough to make me worry that he really will manage to pop the lock. He's screaming, now, GO OUT THIS WAY!
I'm now clear on what is happening. Making contact, I stroke his hair, let my voice fill up with my own nostalgia, regrets, and loss, and struggle again to keep down tears.
"It's so hard to go, you loved the events, you loved when you got to go out this door, you loved being here on special nights."
He lets go of the door, stops screaming, leans just a little towards me.
"I did. (pause) Mom, it's hard to leave when you are back in a place you love."
"I know, it's really hard. You loved it so much here."
"Yes." Grabs the door again, leans hard.
"I'm worried you'll actually break the door, and it will set off the alarm." He lets go of the door, but turns away from me.
"You loved going out this door, it was special." I run my hand over his hair again, and he leans into the caress just a bit.
I guide his body gently into facing toward the exit we can use. He turns, silently (but not defiant or resistant) and walks with me back to the lobby, out the doors with everyone else (them still leaping about and squealing ICE-CREAM!)
We don't make it past the garden, though. He sees the Lambs Ears, remembers that the ones in our garden are dying, having been accidentally ripped up while weeding. But this time, instead of screaming, he sits down, looks up at me, and says, "Mom, can you stop?"
"You want to look at them? You can look at them."
"Ours are all dead."
"Some of them, the others will be okay."
"Mom, it's hard to leave. I miss it."
He pets the plants for a moment, but only a few seconds, then gets up, and we all climb back in the car. He looks better, though his eyes are red-rimmed. But he's not quite done.
"Mom, it's really hard to go back to a place I love. I want to stay all day, and not just for a little bit."
"You want to come to camp here?"
"No. I just want to stay."
"You love it, you miss it. You want to stay all day."
"Yes. Next time let's come in the morning, so we can stay. What kind of ice cream are you getting us? Can I have an ice cream sandwich? Oh, darn, they have wheat. I hate that."
"We'll look to see what they've got, okay?"
"Okay. Can we go now?"
Okay, I'll call that done, then.
Despite the miserable wailing and the rolling about on the floor and the whining and the yanking on everyone, I was definitely proud of Mr B.
Mr G, perhaps just because he'd been older when he left, has processed his going, has come back to visit before, and left again. He got his loss out in a strong burst, two weeks into the school year last year, mourned the change fully. Mr B, in contrast, loved his new school, leapt into it without dismay, and never really wept for where he was not. He never let the loss in, he treated it as a separation from his brother, nothing more. It wasn't about the school, the sense of place, the memories. There were hints of deeper processing now and then, but not this entangled mass of emotion. Coming back now, as his brain has developed to the level where he can see the connections, understand the emotional importance of place, feel the friendship he had with everything there, including the garden... now he feels the loss with all the power of his intense passion, that incredible depth of feeling that is so essentially him.
And so it hurt. It hurt a lot, he didn't know what to do with it, he tried to find a way to release it, and I kept saying No.
Not that I could entirely say yes, I know - as a non-student, he needed an adult escort around the school, I could not send them off to the gym by themselves. And the teacher was not going to be there for a while, she's going back to her country of birth to visit a sick relative, so I cannot continue this conversation tomorrow or next week. Life isn't simple, and answers aren't always immediate, and even when we know ourselves what we need, the answer isn't always at hand. Sometimes we have to ride it out, and find the solution later.
He didn't bury the emotion, which was pretty darn impressive. Just held onto it, rode the wave, followed it. Let it carry him, was strong enough to carry it.
And yes, fortunately I finally noticed what was going on, found the spillway, opened it up for him, let it be okay to let it out. There were quite some lumps in there, some logjams, emotional debris. But out it came. Not every quake lake is immense, I suppose, but the force built up can still be powerful. This one was small on the surface, narrow and hard to find until I saw the flash of it, but deep. Like a fjord.
As much as I'm pleased with how well Mr G handles his feelings most of the time, at times like this it is clear that Mr B deserves a lot of credit. It was hard work, staying with that, not really taking it out on anyone else, just needing to let it come out, somehow. And then staying with it as it drained. It would have been easy to pretend it was something else bothering him, be angry at the vulnerability, be angry at me for choosing to change schools, be hurt or resentful or blaming. It would have been easy to misdirect the pain in order to not face it, to route it on a secondary path and try to ignore the deeper pain at the middle of his experience. It might have been simple to not come back to the painful truth, that this place he loved was no longer his on a daily basis.
I don't think he feels any sense that the second school is less - he loves it there, too, very much. And I suspect he will also love where he's going next year (and where he'll stay for eight years (presumably) - a steady home for his education, one place in which to root himself). But .. well, there's something to be said for remembering that first beloved school, and missing it, and knowing that one is missing it, and letting that flow, and honoring it by being fully immersed in it, without denying the hurt. Hard to do, but honorable, true, and worthy.
Good work, Mr B.