I’m not proud to admit it, but I hate a five-year-old. And before you stop me with, “But he’s five! Can you really hate a five-year-old?” Let me say, I’m quite serious, I can and I do.
It all started last year when my older son enrolled at a nursery school that boasts a very open concept. I love it. I love the teachers, I love the classroom space, I love the multiple opportunities for free play and problem-solving that the freewheeling nature of the program allows the children to utilize. I seriously love my son’s nursery school. (If you love yours – or if you don’t, don’t forget to leave a review!) Unfortunately, I don’t love all the kids at the nursery school.
As part of the open concept of the nursery, the children, aged three to five years old, spend a lot of time mingling with each other despite breaking apart for age appropriate tasks. Due to how the cut off dates with birthdays inevitably work, that means that there is an age difference between the youngest and oldest child of almost three years in the classroom at any time. At this formative age, three years is a massive difference. And, of course, with a summer birthday, my son was one of the youngest when he started.
As children are wont to do, my son fell in love with the older boys in the class and idolized them. He set his sights on one particular child as the subject of his hero worship, the alpha male in the class, “Kid A.” What Kid A did or did not do to inspire the hero worship is still in question, but my son came home everyday with tales of how Kid A said this and Kid A did that, that Kid A loves this and Kid A hates that. (Perhaps I should have been a little more concerned that Kid A’s main interests were war, guns, and poop jokes, but hey, boys will be boys, right?) He described how he was Kid A’s partner on the walks to the park, and how he sat with Kid A everyday at lunch. Until one day he didn’t.
For anyone who has ever been teased during childhood, or experienced a friend “break up” on the playground at recess, you know how painful and devastating that sort of loss was at the time. But what I didn’t realize before I had a child of my own, is that there is something even more devastating- watching your child experience that loss.
One day my son came home from school a bit sullen, and I asked him about his day. “It was fine,” he answered.
“What did you do? Who did you play with?” My normal questions, but probably asked with a little more urgency since I could tell something was wrong. Eventually I coaxed it out of him.
“Kid A told me he doesn’t want to be my friend anymore. He said he doesn’t like me and doesn’t want to play with me anymore.” I turned away from him trying to act casual and nonchalant.
“Did he say why, honey?”
A three-year-old has only so much ability to comprehend and explain his own actions and emotions, let alone the actions and emotions of another person. “No, he didn’t. I don’t know why. He just doesn’t want to be my friend anymore.” Matter-of-fact and sad at the same time. That little sh*t!
Queue the mom deluge of advice: You don’t need him! You have other friends! You should play with Bobby or Joey! He doesn’t know what he’s missing! You’re better off without him! (Who knew parenting a preschool age boy was so much like parenting a teenage girl?) And meanwhile there was the inner mom dialogue: What happened between these kids? Should I call the teacher? Are other kids being mean to him? Did he do something to inspire this reaction from Kid A? He can be a bit bossy and true, he sucks at losing. Will this shake his confidence? Oh no – he’s such a confident kid, I don’t want this to shake his confidence! Will other kids start being mean to him? Oh my god, was I Kid A when I was a child? Is this karma? I need to teach my son to be kind to everyone, to play with everyone, to not be Kid A, to not be me! My poor baby!
Instead I took a breath. He was three after all, and his arch nemesis (well probably not his arch nemesis, but definitely my arch nemesis) was five. FIVE. And I decided to wait and see how it played out.
My son did stop playing with Kid A. I heard about him a lot less frequently, and began hearing more about other children in the class. I brought him to birthday parties, and I organized playdates where I watched him play (mostly) nicely with other children in the class. I was actually proud that my son seemed to take the rejection in stride- just like ok, I’ll move on. In his resilience he found a new army of friends to surround and enrich him. But sometimes he would say out of the blue, “Kid A used to be my best friend, but then he didn’t want to be my friend anymore.” And my heart would break a little bit for my son’s first heartbreak.
Next week my son is starting nursery again as one of the older boys in the class. Kid A will be gone, and we will probably never see him again. We’ve had several discussions about the new friends that will be starting at the school, how they will be younger and how he will have to show them the ropes. I want to make sure that my son is never the Kid A of the class to any other child, so I am trying to reinforce kindness as much as I can. At the same time I also realize that not everyone (and children in particular) is nice, and not everyone is going to be a friend, and this was a lesson my son was going to have to learn at some point in his life. Maybe he’ll be a better and kinder person himself for learning it in nursery school.
Doesn’t make me hate a five-year-old any less, though.