MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA
Innocence is defined as “lack of guile or corruption; purity,” according to Google. As I prepare to send my 5-year-old son off to kindergarten next September, this is the word that is smacking my mind like a hammer. He is sweet and good and kind. He wants to be friends with everyone in his class. He has no airs about him. He doesn’t recognize differences in race or religion or politics. He reminds us that stupid is a bad word. Whenever I say I’m getting old, he says, “No, mamma, you’re beautiful.” And when one of his friends cries, he is willing to hold out his hand or offer a hug. He has not yet realized the world is pummeling him. For this, I’m grateful. And I want it to last.
The First Sign of Trouble
As many readers know, my son had delayed speech. He did not really start talking until a year and half ago. I’m proud to report that he recently tested out of speech. In fact, now, we usually can’t get him to shut up. We get to have full-fledged conversations, not to mention arguments, with him. That’s just fine with us. During testing, the school’s child study team wanted to have him tested for ADD and ADHD, so we headed to a local hospital. It turns out he doesn’t have any attention disorders either. But the doctor did talk to us about getting him kindergarten ready. What she said stunned me.
Now, I must preface this by writing that this doctor was helpful and kind hearted. She worked well with my son. She impressed my husband, mother, and me. She told us that our son seemed kindergarten ready. When I asked what we could do to help him prepare. She said he was immature and that the other kids would probably have more “street smarts.” They’re going to be rougher and might not be as sweet, she explained. He needed to toughen up and get more worldly. At 5. At 5. At 5?
“Hell no,” is what entered my mind. But I just said, “Thanks.”
Confirmation the Doc Was onto Something
My son has only gone to school with other children with speech delays and other challenges. The class is tight like a family. The kids all help each other. They are sympathetic and understanding. They don’t make fun of anyone for the obstacles they have had to overcome. Their teachers are special people, who serve as strong role models. They foster the culture of kindness in the classroom.
My son and 4-year-old nephew are playing on an in-town soccer league with some kids already in kindergarten and first grade. They are not nearly as skilled as their teammates. They are just learning the game. They are smaller. They have to develop their skills and better understand the rules. But they get out there and play. One of the other kids called my son a loser and asked why he couldn’t score a goal. I saw the smiles drain out of my son. He was pale and reluctant to keep participating. Where were the other kids’ parents?
We convinced him to get back on the field. It was not even a game. It was practice, and this was a chance to improve, we explained. I also told him to never listen to anyone who called him names. I was proud he didn’t stoop to the boy’s level. But I know he also would never stand up for himself, which wasn’t good either. Suddenly, it hit me like a soccer ball to the head; the doctor was right.
Meanies All Around
Those mean girls are not just in high school. They are not even just girls. I started looking around. My niece’s class was full of kids calling each other names. She often has stomach aches that disappear when she gets away from her “friends.” Another mom told me about first graders shunning another boy during a play date. We’ve all heard the stories of online bullies and maltreatment on the playground. Some of it is a tale as old as time. Some of it is a new kind of evil, more sinister and grown up.
My first instinct is to teach my son how to pull a good left hook and never let anyone mess with him. But just the thought breaks my heart. Instead, I’ve decided to hang onto that innocence. I want him to have a pure heart, to give everyone a chance. I want him to be kind. I want him to be the kid who goes over to that shunned boy and extend a hand. I have been talking to him about bringing others who are left out into a group.
Indeed, he played with another student who doesn’t yet speak the other day. They didn’t really interact, but they kept each other company in the play area. His teacher tells me he helps another little girl who doesn’t speak at all yet. He will take her by the hand and show her the classroom and what she has to do. “She doesn’t talk yet, but she’s trying,” my son said of this girl. “I can tell she has a lot to tell me.” That’s something. That’s a win for innocence. That means I’m not giving up on this. And I’m not trying to change him. Those “street smarts” and “maturity” will have to wait.
What I Tell My Son
Every day before he goes to school, I tell him to do the following:
- Listen to your teachers
- Pay attention
- If your friends are misbehaving, you should not follow them
- Lead your friends into good behavior
- Be nice
- If any of your friends are in trouble (crying, upset, not feeling well, etc.), you must help them
- Be nice (bears repeating)
- No hitting, no kicking, no biting, no pushing or shoving (he’s never done this but I want him to know it’s wrong)
- Be nice (oh yeah, I’ll say it three times)
Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10. For handmade crafts and party gear, visit the Italian Mamma store on Etsy.