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Monday, January 2, 2012

Lessons from Fred: Separation

     Six-year-old Michael’s moans were interrupted every few minutes by gut-wrenching sobs as his little head, sporting a new haircut, rolled to the left and then to the right. His forehead never lost contact with those little boy forearms resting atop each other on his new desk. The rest of our class just could not bear letting him cry alone. One after another the young First Grade students began to sob in sympathy for the pain Michael was enduring at having been separated from his twin, Matthew. The teacher tried to reassure all of us that things would be okay; that this was the best thing for the twin boys who had never before been separated from each other. Hmmm, didn’t seem so good to the rest of us but what did we know, it was our first day of school, after all. The teacher must know best, right? She told us to try to pay attention to her and just let Michael cry if he needed to cry. We didn’t need to help him. We needed to do what she told us to do; which, at that exact moment, was to take out our new workbook with the bunnies and kittens on it. Peter took out the math workbook for his new deskmate, just in case he would stop crying long enough to check out the colorful new book. Sadly, his new friend was not at all interested. Michael stayed uninterested for the rest of the day, as a matter of fact. His tears really dampened our first day of school and we all hoped Michael would feel better the next day.
     Unfortunately for all of us, though Michael was quiet for part of the classtime, his school days still included long bouts of grief and tears. The teacher just spoke a bit louder when Michael cried or moaned so that we got the idea we were to pay attention to her and not to the grief-stricken little boy.
     Then, it happened: Michael’s pain found new expression. He was quiet and, though not smiling, he was actually doing his work like the rest of us. Another lady came into our classroom and our teacher called Michael up to meet this visitor.
     “Michael, I would like you to meet Mrs. Smith. She just met Matthew in Mrs. Kiser’s room and wanted to meet you, too.” Michael turned his head to look at the visitor, the pencil he had been using still in his hand.
     “Hello, Michael. I am happy to meet you.” She was smiling, our teacher was trying to smile, but Michael was far from smiling.
     Our teacher was urging Michael to greet Mrs. Smith because the nice lady had come to meet him, etc. Well, don’t you just know, the entire class had put down their pencils and Mrs. Smith and the little trio had our full attention. Thirty-one pairs of six-year-old eyes were trained on Michael as he raised his pencil, grabbed it in both hands, and stared at the visiting Mrs. Smith. Michael was standing in front of the teacher’s desk with his back to us but none of us had to wonder what he had done when the loud “Crack!” changed the silence in the room, now filled with gasps from every desk, including the teacher’s.
     I cannot say for sure that Michael’s broken pencil proved to be the final straw in this stand-off; there may have been other less dramatic events that didn’t stick in my memory. However, our First Grade class picture had both of the twins in it and everyone was more-than-jubilant for the change!
                                                                *ALL of the names in this anecdote have been changed.

     If you Google this question, you will find a host of reasons on both sides of the “separate twins or keep them together for the early years of school” issue. I am not an educator and, while I have studied child development fairly extensively over the years, I must admit that this first-ever experience with an agemate suffering this separation has, definitely, colored my opinion.
     Life at Fred Graff Elementary School offered us a lot of experiences with matters never addressed in our little workbooks, such as separation.  All kinds of separation, not just the obvious separation from home. Separation from the rest of the class as a punishment for talking too much or disobeying the teacher. Separation from the rest of the class when we are picked to stand in front and read from our First Reader book—something I liked much less than being sent to the cloakroom for a few minutes to help me stop talking. Separation from the “popular kids” when not picked to be on the team that would most assuredly win the game outside at recess—or worse still, separation because I was not picked by either team!
     Separation can be a painful thing sometimes, but it can also bring joy to our lives—such as being first in the Spelling Bee or being picked to sing a solo or play the lead in a school production. Whatever the result of our separation experience, these early exposures to separation were instrumental in teaching us important life lessons.

****Lessons from Paul: Separation… Coming Tomorrow

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