I am thinking about loss tonight – something I’ve had my fair share of experience with– and the many ways loss occurs in the life of a 4 year old. What presents as loss, how it manifests itself, the implications.
I‘m remembering our morning meeting today with our sweet little ‘A.’ Her soft-spoken voice is even littler than she is, and she’s one of our smaller children. ‘A’ has a truly radiant, inner joy and a resiliency that is her typical nature in the classroom.
Her mother came to us recently and told us her daughter had lost her raincoat. She (the mom) seemed somewhat agitated about this, but we assured her we would keep an eye out.
In the scheme of our sometimes chaotic classroom, losing a raincoat is not a big deal. Plus, ‘A’ is usually very responsible and diligent about her personal items, even when she is lugging not one, but three, coats out the door — plus a lunch box and backpack.
During today’s Morning Meeting, the kids seemed particularly precocious. I tried to settle them so I could get through the calendar, the morning message and the greeting, but they kept calling out with important messages — some raising their hands with serious looks on their faces.
I stopped the routine of the meeting and gathered everyone’s attention.
“It seems like everyone has a lot to say today. Does anyone have a problem they’d like to talk about?”
All hands shot up in the air. The usual suspects called out, “Me! Me!”
‘A’ looked intently at me with her round, earnest face, her hand straight and still in the air. “A,” I said, “What is your problem?”
She began to speak. Then she stopped. She took a breath. She made a few noises as she searched for her words. She swallowed. She looked at the group. Her face actually got flushed, but she persevered. We waited. She fidgeted a bit and showed visible distress.
“I lost my coat,” she began. The class looked concerned, and all eyes fell on their classmate. We all strained to hear. ‘A’ was breathless and her cheeks were red. “My raincoat.”
‘A’ looked at me with watery eyes. “What color was your raincoat?” I asked.
“It was red,” she answered.
“Is there anything else you can tell us about your coat?”
‘A’ continued with great struggle. “It had my brother’s name in it.” She told the class the name and spelled it out for them. Then she looked at me with tears and restrained quivering.
The class – as is their way – began to spring into rescue mode, enthusiastically coming up with a strategy for finding ‘A’s coat. Our resident Rescue Go-to Guy, ‘J,’ shouted, “Maybe she left it on the playground and it’s under a bush!”
Another child suggested it was buried in the sand (this is where we think Teddy, another child’s favorite toy, also ended up – the abyss of lost toys!). Our class pragmatist asked if we had checked ‘lost and found.’
And while the discussion veered into the territory I love – community and solutions and support for one another – all I could see was the obvious distress of little ‘A,’ the one so greatly impacted by the loss of this coat. I was perplexed by her reaction. And it made me wonder what this loss was really about.
Clearly, the coat was a hand-me-down from her big brother. Was this significant? But for ‘A,’ it was a cause not only for loss, but also anxiety and a degree of sadness I had not seen before in this child.
I wondered: how much of a role does parental approval play in a scenario like this? Is the child trying to please her parents and therefore can’t tolerate their disapproval? Is the loss of the coat a metaphor — a symbol of some other loss of control?
The entire day was difficult for this student of mine. ‘A’ seemed fragile, on edge, hyper-sensitive. Couldn’t this translate into the adult life — that we are afraid of losing the things we perceive we need for basic survival? Do we fear our own capability of being responsible, of taking care of ourselves?
I pride my class so much on their independence. “You are so grown up! You know just where to put your coat.” Maybe too much so? Am I making them feel pressure to keep it all together?
Things get lost. We move on. We buy new coats. We get wet in our fleece on rainy days. We curse ourselves for forgetting our umbrellas. Somehow we hope to build some tolerance in our own small failings. I want to build this resiliency and tolerance for loss in my own class while still encouraging them to be responsible and independent. It is a balancing act of accepting our own humanness.