A couple weeks after starting kindergarten, my son shared with me his affection for one of his school table-mates. A private boy, like his father, Nikolas told me about her only after I was sworn to secrecy—this would become an Eickhoff family secret.
I was privately pleased with my discerning son. Nikolas had his sights set on "Heather," and from what I observed from volunteering in his class, she was not only cute-as-a-button, she was one of the most well behaved and smartest kids in his class. Heather was the kind of girl who would never be put on "yellow."
Nik's teacher used the image of a traffic light to handle discipline problems in class. All students started the day on "green," but if they had to be reprimanded several times, they had to move their handprint to "yellow," and on the very rare occasion, the dreaded "red."
The system worked well and by their return from winter break, yellow sightings were an uncommon occurrence.
As the year progressed, Nik's teacher found it necessary to move the children around, rearranging seating assignments to maximize learning and separate misbehaving cohorts. Nik gradually moved farther and farther from heavenly Heather, until he ended up at a table with "Amy."
On a cynical day I would tell you that Amy was the anti-Heather—a girl who had seen yellow as much as any other student in class. She was bossy, talkative, with a little naughty thrown in. My frequent trips into the classroom provided my opportunity to cherish each student, but Amy was one of the few who could occasionally get under my skin with her behavior.
Recently, Nikolas had an incident with Amy. After school, many of the parents take their kindergarteners across the street from school to the park. This is a great opportunity for the children to use up that over-abundant energy they have, and the parents can enjoy some grown-up conversation. On this particular trip, one of the dads decided to chase the kids around. In an attempt to help this father, Amy grabbed Nik around the chest, pinning his arms to his sides. He was trapped and screamed loudly for Amy to let him go. After she let go, Nik was full of anger and had some choice words for both her and the father. This quickly ended our time at the park, and Nik had to write an apology to the father, one of our neighbors. I told Nik that he had been disrespectful, and even though he didn't have to be friends with Amy, he needed to be respectful to everyone.
Imagine my surprise when, one Friday several weeks later, Nik casually mentioned to me that he and Amy had broken up.
You mean she was your girlfriend? When did this happen? I thought. But I smiled quietly to myself and later shared the details of this romance with my husband.
The following Monday, as we were driving home from school, Nik commented that Amy was the meanest person. I asked him why, and he told me she threatened to come in our house at night and do bodily harm to our family.
As I drove in silent shock, Nik added that he didn't believe her. But I could tell he was upset by the tremor in his voice.
"Did you tell your teacher?" I asked while pulling into our driveway. When there was no answer, I turned to see my angel's eyes well up with tears.
"Do you want me to tell her?" I asked in full Mama Bear mode.
Nikolas speculated the kind of trouble Amy would face. I could tell he was looking for revenge. Even with my bear claws still out, I knew this would be a better time to show Nikolas the importance of extending grace.
Before we headed inside for lunch, I had one more question. "Do you think that Amy might have said those things because she is still upset that you broke up with her?"
"Mom, that was like three days ago!" Nik replied.
Oh, my son, you have a lot to learn about girls.
I wrote a quick email to Nik's teacher explaining what happened. I emphasized that we weren't looking to punish Amy, I just wanted her aware of the situation in case the drama continued.
The next day the class had a new seating arrangement. Hopefully, that will take care of things for the last five days of the school year. But even if the seating arrangement hadn't changed, I knew that Nik—and I—needed to be reminded of the importance of extending grace.
As I have done since I started volunteering in his class, I pray for each of Nik's classmates and ask God to give me (and Nik) a heart open to the Amys of our world. We all need to extend a little more grace—no matter what age or how many "yellows" we've had to experience.
- How can we help our children walk the fine line between being Christ-like and being a bully-magnet?
- If your children attend public school, how can you best pray for their teachers and classmates?
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