Sunday, December 13, 2009

Playing Well With Others Is Overrated

The first trimester of the school year is complete and the report cards have been sent home. While this is normally a pretty uneventful day in our house (no, I wouldn't really beat them if they get a B), this trimester held a little more excitement because since she is a kindergartner, it is Zoe's first report card.

Instead of the standard "A-B-C" grading standard, kindergarten uses an "O-S-N" system. The letters stand for Outstanding, Satisfactory and Needs improvement, although I think it would be more appropriate if they stood for Overachiever, Sort-of-gets-it, and Normal.

I had no concerns about her academic performance, but her tendency to chatter and lack of patience makes me a little nervous. As I reviewed her report card, I was relieved to see that, unlike some adults I know, she "displays self-confidence, has a positive attitude, demonstrates self-control verbally and physically," and in the words of her teacher, "is a pleasure to have in class." Then I got to the "works/plays well with others" and saw that she wasn't doing such a satisfactory job. Or was she?

When I asked her if she is fighting or arguing with the other kids, or maybe even being bossy at times, she initially said, "No mom. I'm always nice to all the kids, and I always sit quietly at the table."

Without saying anything, I just looked at her and smiled. After a minute or so, she clarified her answer.

"Sometimes, Nathan is so naughty. He doesn't listen and he picks his nose, and the teacher says 'Nathan! Go wash your hands!' and he doesn't go, he just sits there. I try to sit quietly, but it's so gross. And Tim. Tim will start to sing for no reason and he sits right by me and it gets so annoying. And sometimes, when it's my turn to play with the truck and that one other boy tries to take the truck from me, I'm not going to give it to him, because it's still my turn!"

After hearing all of this, I felt conflicted. Do I encourage her turn a blind eye to the nose picker, become more tolerant of the impulsive off-tune singer, and give in to the demands of the truck hog? Hell no. This is a girl that is confident, strong-willed, outspoken, smart, and pretty much kick ass. She's a five-year-old trying to figure out how to get along with gross, sticky, linguistically-challenged, hygienically-deficient children. As long as she isn't yelling "Haven't you ever heard of a bath?" while shoving them onto the ground, I think she's doing just fine.

Earning respect without being viewed as a bitch-in-training is something that's nearly impossible for girls to do, and it seems that if they're not being labeled as bossy bitches, they're being called a push-over. I'd rather my daughter risks being called bossy before she has toys taken away from her during free choice time.

Whenever I have the "pleasure" of volunteering in her classroom, I am reminded of the fact that I do not play well with others, and would definitely get a failing grade. But I've had a lot of time to discover who gets on my nerves (a lot of people) and who I would do tequila shots with (you know who you are). The process of getting to this point is something everyone should go through. I wouldn't want Zoe to miss out on this experience just because she was already annoyed by everybody with a quirk or two as a five-year-old.

I don't want Zoe to be intolerant and hyper-critical of kids that may smell funny, eat ear wax, or still watch "Caillou," yet. I will encourage her to be more patient with her classmates, compromise more often, and maybe just subtly plug her ears once in a while when Tone Deaf Timmy starts humming a tune. And I will definitely teach her the "look" she can give to some of these kids that will wordlessly say: "I kick ass. You don't. And your mom dresses you funny."

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