Recently, I was rushing at the last minute to pick up tickets to a ballet performance. When I arrived at the theater minutes before the show was scheduled to begin, I was stopped by a long line. I waited, growing increasingly frustrated, and waited. Finally it was my turn. As I hurriedly approached the window to get my tickets, a woman who was not in line stepped in front of me and overtook the ticket window. She actually slightly pushed me as she bee-lined for the window. I was stunned. I spun around, incredulous, trying to get anyone around me to share in my reaction. An usher in a suit was standing nearby.
“She just cut me in line!” I exclaimed to him.
No sooner had these words come out of my mouth did I begin to hear all of my students’ little voices saying the same thing, over and over throughout the school day. “He cut me! She cut me in line!”
The usher looked calmly at me, with an expression that implied I was overreacting and made me feel a little pathetic.
“You will be next,” he said dismissively.
I was taken aback by my own visceral fury at this woman cutting me in line. I mean my blood was boiling. The feeling of violation was palpable. This woman cut me in line and the guy in charge didn’t care!
When this happens at school, I always tell the kids in my class:
“Don’t worry about that. Just let them stand in front of you. It’s not a big deal.” Sometimes I have the offender go back to the end of the line. But I rarely take this affront very seriously.
Experiencing it myself felt powerful. Like the usher intimated, it’s no big deal. But yet, there is something fundamentally unjust about following the rules when others are not.
Of course, I got my tickets right away and made it to my seat before curtain call. But I stored this experience away in my brain and remembered to relay this story to my class the following day. I wanted them to know that I finally got it. Someone cut me in line, too, and it felt awful!
When I told my class this story, more and more kids kept coming over to hear it and asking me to tell it again and again. They were fascinated that this had happened to me, intrigued by the details, and genuinely outraged by this offense.
“What did you do?” they wanted to know after I told them how upset I was.
“I told the man in charge,” I responded.
“What did he say?” they asked.
“He didn’t think it was a big deal!” I exclaimed. “He told me I could be next. But I still felt really mad!”
The kids giggled at the thought of me in this situation. They wanted to hear more. In hindsight, I think they wanted a resolution that felt more satisfying. Don’t we all?
I told them that the important part of this story was that I finally understood how bad it felt to be cut in line, and then how really bad it felt to be dismissed by the person in charge. I wanted the kids to know that I truly empathized with them.
Realistically, it’s just not practical or feasible to address each and every affront that happens in an early childhood classroom. But sometimes kids just need someone to share in their everyday frustrations. Someone to understand and say: “I get it.” Sometimes we all do.