By: Heather Bredin
I was standing by the fence, holding a child’s hand. He was crying. Loudly. And he’d been crying loudly for the last 3 hours.
“I miss my Mommy!” He choked out for the millionth time.
“Mommy is coming soon,” I said flatly.
“When all our jobs are done?” he sniffed.
“Yes, when all our jobs our done.” I responded like a robot.
“I need a hug!” he cried. I bent down and he snuggled into my arms, his body shaking.
Outdoor time usually helps me to self-regulate, and the kids seem much calmer too. Even in the fenced in space, the 70 children and six adults do not seem crowded. But I also feel on display. I can feel five pairs of adult eyes on me, and I can’t help second-guessing myself. “Did I handle that right? Do they think I’m a good teacher? Do they think I’m too soft?” My inner monologue does nothing to help me stay calm. My muscles are tight, like a spring.
That day four words kept repeating in my inner voice. .“Put the tears away,” I’ve heard that phrase many times from other teachers over the years. It’s something I used to say. But now I know better, and I’m trying to do better. But it’s not easy.
I saw the looming shape of my fellow teacher approaching. She is my friend, and we talk about our struggles. If she couldn’t hear the stress in my voice or see it in my face already, I’m sure she remembered me venting about this little guy yesterday after school, and how hard I was finding it to soothe him. She had listened and nodded, and I felt better after talking to her, but now, as I saw her approach, I stiffened. The inner voice rose up in full force. Self-doubt washed over me in waves.
“Is everything ok?” she asked, looking down on us. “No,” I wanted to say. “I don’t think I can do this.” But I said, “Yes. Fine.” I tried, and failed, to keep the stress from leaking into my voice.
Little Bobby (not his real name) put everyone on edge. I was desperately trying to be calm, to co-regulate, to soothe him. I was trying to turn his alarm off. But my body was reacting to his stress as if it was a warning of danger. My body was saying, “Where? Where is the threat? This person is acting like there is a threat, but I can’t see it!”
I knew my body was reacting to him, and so I was trying to take deep breaths and tell myself that there was no threat. I tried to relax and speak slowly; let this child know that he was going to be okay. But my body was winning.
I closed my eyes. I told myself that everyone around me is here to help me, to support me. I said to Bobby, “It’s okay to cry. You are safe. I’m here to help.” I stood up. “I’m going to take him for a walk. We’ll be right back.” My colleague nodded, her eyebrows knotted in concern.
I took Bobby by the hand and led him away. We went to take a drink at the water fountain, to sneak a look into other classes and to count the all the doors in the hall. He was crying through most of it, but sometimes he calmed long enough to ask a question. “Is this where the big kids go to school?” “Why are there so many rooms?” And in those little questions I saw hope.
A couple of weeks later the same teacher came to visit my classroom. I smiled as she swept her gaze around to all the kids playing in different areas of the classroom. Her eyes fixed on Bobby, sitting on the floor building a tower with his friend. “He’s come a long way,” she commented. I followed her gaze to where he played. He was smiling as they took turns adding blocks.
“I guess they all get there in their own time,” she continued. I turned to look at her, bracing myself for judgment, but her face was soft and she was smiling at him.
“We all get there in our own time,” I corrected her, and my inner voice whispered, “You’ve got this.”