"Mama, I don't like school," said Maddie to me as I kissed her goodnight tonight.
It's been clear to me since kindergarten started two-and-a-half weeks ago that the transition was hard on Maddie. She truly enjoys new experiences, but she also likes to know her place in the social structure, and she prefers that her place be on top. Kindergarten was a whole new ball game there. She has quickly picked up on the rhythms of the classroom, her Spanish is excellent, and generally "school" as a societal construct makes sense to her.
Her social world is, however, topsy-turvy. Her closest friends from preK are in her class, but so are a bunch of new kids, and there are a total of 28 small people in the room with only one responsible adult. Maddie wants to stick with what she knows—her friends from preK—and leave the newbies to the side, but it seems that last year's besties are testing their wings with the new kids. Riley is off with his friends, and Maddie is left feeling adrift.
Maddie's used to being the queen bee, so this is hitting her very, very hard. She's got a strong, some (ahem, her mother) might say bossy, personality, and it's hard for her to be so unsure of where she fits in, especially since where she fits in might not be as the leader. I'm sympathetic, but it's also made her a tyrant at home, with a need to control even more than usual and a need to try to control all kinds of things that are not reasonable. Like everything. There are threats and demands, there is yelling, and there are ultimatums. It's most unpleasant.
What I find most frustrating about it all is how hard it is to evaluate the information she gives me. Five year olds are charming storytellers, but notoriously unreliable narrators. Are her friends really deliberately excluding her on the playground all the time? Does she really have a toothache? What actually happens at school each day is a bit of a mystery to me. I can ask a seemingly straightforward question such as, "Did you go to the library today?" and get a yes from Maddie and a no from Riley. They're in the same class. "Well, maybe that was Friday," amends Riley, but the thing is there's no way for me to tell.
The details of the situation are in some ways unimportant. If Maddie is feeling hurt, left out, and nervous about how to fit in, then those feelings need to be addressed. As an adult, I find coming up with a strategy for addressing those feelings challenging without understanding the nuances of where those feelings are coming from. I can hug and love and reassure, but I'm empty-handed and silent when it comes to ideas for what to do during a lonely recess. She's been packing a lovey in her pocket, a small bear, which has helped. It might be that time is all that can help, and we've talked about how periods of adjustment and transition can take a while to feel settled.
It's just hard to watch your child struggle with big feelings. Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems, or so I've heard it said. She's still pretty little in many ways, but things are starting to feel big. In a few weeks, I'm doing something for the first time: taking each of the twins on an individual, overnight trip with me. My mom and stepdad will keep one of them and I'll take the other over to the Oregon coast for a night. I'm super excited to do this for a whole bunch of reasons. With Maddie, I hope that while we're away, we can really talk about what's bothering her, uninterrupted and with focus. Even if the talking doesn't lead us to any solutions, I think the attention will help her. Riley will love the attention, too, but Maddie really needs right now. Small(ish) girl, problems getting bigger.