Viviana cries every day. This morning she came to me with wet cheeks. She started early today, said I to myself. Once sobbing started, she could continue for a long while.
What is the matter sweetheart?
Between sobs and sucking in air, she told me that Alvin, a square-jawed, pebble–eyed, unsmiling brick of a fourth grader, had called her a cry baby. A stupid little crybaby to be precise. And he repeated the words – stupid crybaby – several times, as if to make it so.
Hard-edged stuff that spilled from her classmates’ mouths- Viviana could not handle it. Never had I met a child as thin skinned – Today, in her blue tights and red high-tops, this third grader made an easy mark- tossed into battle with no defenses whatsoever.
All of these circumstances came to a head as she took in air for another big wail. I wished I could find a way to make her stop. Instead, I fanned her face with my clipboard as if to cool the pink flush in her cheeks.
Don’t cry . . stop, stop . . .breath . . talk to me. . . tell me what happened. .
No use. Tears rolled up and over the top, flooding out, punctuated by repeated claims of injustice. He adversary stood three feet away, arms crossed, eyes rolling. Then he cut in:
Shut up Viviana. You cry all the time. Big crybaby.
Name-calling made nothing better. Uh oh, said I. We are going up another notch. No turning back
Viviana cried with abandon. She seemed to rise up and sink under at least five times. She dissolved and melted down into a little heap. A small cluster of children and I gathered around her and waited. I stepped in front of her, studied her face and tried to find some little inkling of an idea to help me help her.
It came to me that this little girl was made of water. Sounds, scents, even thoughts poured in. Alvin was the opposite; a little rock with not a hint of emotion. Not a bad kid. But not the kind of boy who might understand that his words could pack a punch. In that moment I wished I could draw on my own element – the power of air- to blow away this stand off away as if it were no more substantial than a smoke ring. Viviana, a little puddle, spilled out everywhere. Alvin stood his ground, staring at her. A classmate had to shove him back to get him to move.
Then, the bell rang and the exchange ended. As if on cue, the girl stopped sobbing, and wiped her face, stood up and joined her class’ line. Alvin dropped his arms and eased a bit and got in a last word:
That girl keep wasting my time! – And that was that. Game over.
I stood by myself where we had all had been. Great problem solver, Grand reckon-er. What a difference I had not made – Strong as a wish. Firm like a wisp blowing in – assertive as a question. Not the kind of air power I had wished for.
I coached myself as I left the yard. Ease up. Change comes no matter what. Maybe because of you or maybe not. You may never get to know. Persistence, Principal John. That has to be both the goal from the beginning and your take away at the end.