Kindergarten Lessons – Body Fluids

Let’s talk about pee.

While no one in their right mind would ever choose this topic, no rendering of this escapade with the children could be complete without at least one chapter devoted to the topic. Pee is a part of the human experience and for little ones too often publicly so.  In my classroom of 10, six have peed on my classroom floor (and a couple of more on the playground). Perhaps the abundance of pee is reflective of age (6-8 year olds), perhaps the severe emotional disturbances facing these kids, most likely the steady flow is a combination. Whatever the reasons, I have been well acquainted with body fluids (of all types) this year.

And here’s what I know: it hasn’t killed me, at least not yet.

On the almost-last day of the semester, Tyler pooped in his pants and strutted naked (and poop-smeared) while I attempted to direct him to first wiping and then washing (neither very successful). On the last day of the semester, Tyler got in a verbal altercation with a peer and, as it escalated, he dropped his drawers, grabbed his junk and… (miracle of miracles) he didn’t pee.

Here’s the second thing I know: mercy lives and laughter is healing.

There are a million reasons that a child might pee (or worse) on a classroom floor but I suspect Occam was right. The most likely reason is the simplest: they can. There are few things a child can control and where they leave their bodily fluids is one. As a teacher I can control how I respond, but I don’t get to control the direction of the flow. Like it or not, in this one I am powerless.

Sure, I try bribes. One of my new little guys, Ralph, naps every afternoon and pees at the end of every nap. For a couple of days he was interested in the little cars I promised and actually chose to wake up dry and collect his toy.  Even now I cherish the sweet smile he shared with his hand-held out as he reported: “I didn’t use it on myself.” He was super proud of the first car he earned and (the very next day) the second; but by the third day, choice trumped persuasion. Perhaps in time the rewards will trump the power play, but until then it’s to my advantage to keep a cool head and a bottle of order eliminating disinfectant.

Powerlessness is an essential human experience that none of us can ultimately avoid. We come into, and then out of, this world in a state of dependence. Childhood is fraught with vulnerability and in our adulthood the myth of self-sufficiency sets us up to fail every time. But powerlessness becomes blinding cruelty when children are neglected and, worse, abused. The enormity of the emotional pain suffered by some children is mind numbing and (quite literally) crazy making. And in the face of this powerlessness, some children make the one choice they can: where to pee.

On the one hand, I wish that I could find it in my heart to cheer the modicum of response-ability demonstrated as a child engages in such willful behavior. But let’s be real, sewer systems weren’t designed to hold rose-water and I know that the very storyline of this post is, well, disgusting. What the kids and I both know: pee stinks.

Tragically, for the most vulnerable of children, life does too.

Kindergarten Lessons: The Greenless Child

As I sit in the Sunday morning birdsong and ponder the sensations of the week, I am struck by the significance of one unlikely hug. It was quite unrehearsed and as silent as the child who surreptitiously slid beside to me to share it. Even in the moment, I was surprised and even touched. For the briefest of moments I turned my attention to him and said a quiet but heartfelt “Thank you.” And then he was gone.

As I hold that moment in the quiet of this morning, I realize that I had been introduced to this child long before he was born. Back on the other side of my adult life I enjoyed a collection of church poems written Ann Weems. Mostly happy poems with a slight edge, there was one that settled into my heart as a challenging omen: Greenless Child.
I watched her go uncelebrated into the second grade,
A greenless child,
Gray among the orange and yellow,
Attached too much to corners and to other people’s sunshine.

As I hold Friday’s brief and silent hug, I realize that it came from the greenless child. He is the child who has spent a semester in my classroom hiding under the desk, mumbling under his breath, screaming only (but frequently) when the classroom noise overcomes him, with a single sentence mantra: “You’re not listening to me!” Occasionally he’ll mumble a curse and even more occasionally strike a peer or even staff to gain attention, but most often he’s under his desk with his headphones trying to block out the chaos of the world.

And with a classroom of children throwing desks, I confess that I was grateful to let this one child quietly hide.  The challenge is that in his hiding he was neither happy nor healing. His accusation that I wasn’t listening wasn’t altogether untrue.

Midway through the semester, I realized that I needed help to connect with this child and asked a colleague who professed to enjoy this greenless child. I needed to learn to listen to him.  When my colleague referenced the child’s wit and sense of humor I was genuinely confused, thinking that we were talking about different children. But I began to watch and listen with new openness.

I’d like to tell you that I fell in love with the child, I was able to now discern his mumbled sentiments, and that he became a participating member of our class. Not so much. But there were times when I could hear his words, days when he did come out and participate, and moments when I was undeniably filled with a high regard for this him. In this child too I could finally see and celebrate the sacred.

As the day opened on Friday, I was walking with he and one other student to breakfast. The other child was on a roll of antagonistic and mean statements and when I successfully ignored him, he turned his verbal insults toward the greenless child. Now more in tune, I effortless dismantled the aggressors barbs, noting the genuine gifts of the child demeaned. “He is funny,” I noted, “with a great (if quiet) sense of humor and,” I chided, “if you don’t know that you haven’t bothered to get to know him.” I was, of course, talking to myself. But the mean rant abated and the otherwise greenless child gave me a look of wonderment. It was later that morning that he offered the stealth hug.

Now on the third day, listening to both the spoken and unspoken, I begin to realize that the child dismissed as greenless might be a rich and royal purple. A greenless child is only deficient if we insist on a world of blue and yellow. In a world that needs red, celebrates purple, and delights in orange, we need the one we would discount as greenless.

The only deficiency was my limited vision. I am grateful for this child’s healing teach because, quite frankly, we need every bit of the rainbow.