This is the view from the parking lot of my children’s preschool. It’s a magical place, where every single teacher is amazing beyond words. I hike nearby, and sometimes I’ll stop in for a little-kid fix. I love watching the three and four-year olds tippy-toe running, their hands outstretched, confident someone will be there to dust them off if they fall.
Both of my children went there, and since they are such completely different personalities I had two completely different experiences. My son, active guy that he is, spent most of his time outside kicking a ball, digging in the sandbox and racing about with his little buddies. My daughter is more reserved, and spent most of her first year observing, rather than joining in, the activities. Even the second year, she was tentative. If there was any conflict at all — if another child wanted her toy, for example, or her spot at the craft table — she’d often just relinquish the item and walk away rather than cause a fuss.
She was my first, so of course I fretted. I wondered how she’d be able to handle herself as she grew older, in settings that weren’t as nurturing as this one. I worried about how she felt. And the teachers, who taught me so much there, would gently remind me that every child is different, and that she needed to have the space to figure out some of these things on her own. When I think of my children, in my heart’s eye they are always back at that school, round-faced and sweet and innocent.
Last night, we went to fencing. (Yes, I am still fencing. I do not appear to be getting any better at it, but at least I’m not getting any worse.) We’re taking class at a different location this year, with the same instructor, but the group of kids are all strangers to us. When we walked in last night, a handful of the younger boys were exuding that type of energy that automatically signals a tough class — bouncing around, knocking into each other, driving the instructor a bit crazy.
One of the boys was being particularly difficult, and when we fenced he kept making these giant swashbuckling gestures, flailing as if he wanted to remove my head and helmet both, whacking me wherever he could reach. He was fencing ‘like a jerk’ as my instructor says. It was not a fun match, and while I usually go easy on the littler kids, by the end I was perfectly happy to deploy my superior height (yes, he’s a young one) and cunning and beat the pants off of him.
My daughter was in line next, and as I passed her I whispered to watch out for him. She nodded, a little too nonchalantly for my liking, then went off to fence him while I moved down the line to my next match. And of course I fretted, straining to see her out of the corner of my mask. She’d retreat from him, I just knew it. She’d let him push her around, let him score touch after touch because he’d back her into a corner and rather than fight such an aggressive personality, she’d just give up and walk away. He’d hit my side once, particularly hard, and I worried about her getting hurt.
When he lunged forward, she calmly stepped back, and used the force of his attack to impale him on her blade. She stabbed him in the heart. And then she did it again. When she finished with him, her next match was me, and she beat me fair and square for the first time — 5-4. And when she won, she smiled.
My own heart might have been a little sore, watching her and remembering the preschooler she’d been, but I was very proud.