When To Warn the Teacher

Sunday, February 6th, 2011 | The Thing About School

Rory and Wyatt had a ski lesson together this past weekend. They’re both good skiers, but Rory took a tough fall early in the season (it was not so much the fall as it was the giant snowdrifts she fell into, and the fact that it took me twenty minutes and the ski patrol to find her ski) and she has lost her mojo. A lesson seemed like just the thing. Plus, I wanted Rob to take a snowboarding lesson with me, and this would clear that time–Lily had “race training” and Sam had a friend to ski with.

The coach I really wanted was busy, but I went with another good one, known as “Boo.” And agonized some. Should I warn Boo about Rory’s, um, peculiarities with new adults? She likes to test them, see if maybe THIS grown up is the one who will give her candy and let her do whatever she wants.

But I figured that in the grand scheme of kids who have ski lessons, she couldn’t be THAT BAD. We saw them from the lift a few times. It looked like it was going reasonably well. I could tell that Rory was being Rory (“I will do what you told me to do, but not exactly like you told me to do it”) just by the way she was going almost, but not quite where he was pointing, but it seemed fine, and at least they weren’t on the bunny hill, which was all she wanted to do post-crash.

Then we ran into them at the bottom of the lift after an hour and a half (each lesson, theirs and ours,was supposed to be two hours).

“I think they’re done,” Boo said.

“Tired?”

“Well, no. I think they’re done with me.” The obvious second half of that sentence went unsaid.

“Ok, fine, I’ll cut short too.”

“They’re very good skiers, both of them.” He told me what they worked on, etc. “Wyatt did great. He’s very quick. Really listens.” Pause. “Rory…” he looked at her dubiously. She was sitting on the snow, pretending, as she likes to, that she cannot get her skis together and will therefore need someone else to carry them. He leaned over to help, and I stopped him. “She’s fine, I said she can do that.”

He looked disbelieving. “Like I said, Wyatt did great. Rory…well, I’m sure she’s a very good person. Underneath.”

I about fell over laughing. I don’t know what went on up there, to leave him with so little to say, but I love the desperation of that. It’s like, I’m the ski instructor! We are supposed to say something positive! I’m grasping at straws!”

It’s a good thing all the instructors know me, or I would never be able to get her another lesson.

I always struggle with what to say to a new teacher about Rory. Some teachers love her, and they fall into two very clear categories: the ones determined to love the little adopted girl, who is “so sweet” (and it’s true, she’s very sweet, if you are the easily manipulable type) and those who genuinely like both her spirit and the challenge she can present. She’s lucky enough to have both this year, and probably next, for Montessori. I’ve found that people who don’t know her history–as in, how recently she was adopted–or really aren’t interested are more able to fall into that second category, and many of the ones who’ve known her longer, and saw some of that rough first year, that are caught in the first. Along with them I count many of the teachers I have needed, for one reason or another, to fill in.

Now, that may be occupational bias (I’m sorry, but speech therapists and their ilk are just inclined to be more determined to like someone, and hockey coaches, for example—and apparently ski instructors—not so much). So I may be drawing a false conclusion about the results of a little pre-info. And I could give less info—could just say, look, she’s a kid who challenges authority, but once you prove you’re not going to put up with it, she stops—but that’s not the full story, of course. And even that gives such a false impression—she’s not a defiant kid, or rebellious. What she has is a control issue—she really needs to be in control, and if she cannot be, she really needs you to prove that you are very solidly, one hundred percent in charge, but that you will actually live up to the promise implicit in that.The best approach is to take one firm stand and then, one she’s given in, return to happy normalcy, ideally with some sort of gesture towards good things (like a hug, or an offer to move on in some way). The two worst approaches are a) give in, because it means so much to her and very little to you (why NOT pick up her skis, or carry her backpack, or let her sit on the other side on the lift, or whatever?) and b) stay firm but irritated, so that the control battle is still going on.

Rory and I spent months in that last phase, so I know from what I’m talking about. Battling Rory is like getting your finger caught in the old “chinese finger trap” thing: you only win once you sincerely don’t care about winning. I don’t want to control Rory. I want her to be a happy and contributing part of our family who lives up to certain standards, which is a very different thing. I admit that it took me a while to realize that.

And I’m not sure it’s something I could really tell a teacher, anyway. I think it may be something you have to learn on your own. The question is, should I try?

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Related posts:

  1. Who Said I Didn’t Want to Raise a Quitter?
  2. Do you Snuggle Post Time-Out?
  3. A New Kind of Bad Influence
  4. Re-entry: Not Pretty
  5. Gettin’ the Skates On

1 Comment to When To Warn the Teacher

Wuxi Mommy
Monday, February 7, 2011

If this is not SuSu, I don’t know what is! I am utterly stunned as you have just described our daughter to the “T” as no one else ever has. I can’t even find the words.

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