Close encounters with 9-year-olds: Please keep me from looking ‘stupid’

I should’ve seen it coming. Never pretend to understand the 9-year-old mind, for your efforts shall be fruitless and fraught with frustration. What am I talking about now? (A question that’s often directed my way.)


After the first few days on the new job teaching at Daughter’s school, she has been incredibly helpful, supportive, and perhaps even a little proud of what her father.
How could this be?
First, she rides in each morning with me — no more bus stop — and enters the building when I do. This no doubt represents a privilege accorded to few students.
Next, when I receive my assignment(s) for the day, she is my guide. It’s a K-12 school, broken down into two large buildings linked by a single, small annex.
Each day, she’s landed me in the correct neighborhood. Sure, I’ll catch on soon and find my own way, but in the meantime, it saves me from looking like the lost rookie I am.
What has meant the most to me are the random, meaningful mid-day hit-and-runs.
Examples:
* Second day, in the hallway, running a line of Kindergarten students, I suddenly feel a hug from behind; I turn and there’s Young Daughter, with a friend standing next to her. “My friend said, ’Isn’t that your Dad?’, so we came over to see you.”
* One day, eating lunch at the teacher’s desk in the room where I was subbing: I look up and there is Young Daughter with another friend, each with an armload of library books. “We were going to the library and wanted to stop by to say hi.”
Sweet.
What’s still a bit touchy, though, is what to do when I encounter her friends. I don’t want to appear to ignore someone, but I also realize it’s a volatile opportunity for me to do something embarrassing.
When this happens, I don’t find out until after the fact, and exactly what I did can still be a mystery to me.
In terms of guidance from Young Daughter, the advice I’ve received runs along the lines of, “Don’t do anything stupid.”
This, unfortunately, leaves me to sort through a wide-open range of fatherly actions and statements.
I will need to get used to this. Adolescence and the teen years are yet to come, and today’s fast-changing world requires kids to adapt and make decisions in ways I never could have imagined when I was 9.
We listened and danced to The Beatles (OK, people still do that), competed in down-to-the-wire Math bees in our stay-in-one-place-all-day classrooms, where we developed calculator-like skills, timing and precision), and assembled Delaware scrapbooks out of construction paper, poster board, news and map clippings. We wrote letters to the State Chamber of Commerce to get glossy, color materials to cut up and use in the scrapbook.
No Google, no clip art, no Excel, no video presentations — all standard in today’s classroom (at least until tomorrow).
I digress. Simply put: It’s impossible to imagine how it would’ve felt to see one of my parents when I popped out of Miss Victor’s 4th grade classroom.
Back to 2016. So far, so good.
But even with all this positive energy and feedback, I will always do my best to be sure she has the space she needs to be herself — not just someone’s Daughter. This means I’ll still steer clear of making first contact in casual social encounters that might occur in the hallway, library, or elsewhere.
It’s the best way to keep from doing something stupid.

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