I hated being a kid. It was one long string of frustrations, burning jealousy, emotions that seemed too big for my body, and fear.

I think I was a pretty awful kid. I was afraid of everyone so I took the defensive position and got them before they could get me. I had no self-control. I wanted to control everyone else, though.

Now I’m teaching kindergarten and I very often sit and stare at a kid, not knowing what to say. You’re so much like me. I know you want to control everything because the game in your head is so perfect. I know you can’t understand why no one else will do things your way. I know it seems like a brick wall goes up in front of everything you want, every five minutes.

How can I help you understand that patience will be so hard for you to learn, but it’s the only way you’ll ever have peace? I couldn’t learn to wait, to let go, to compromise until halfway through college, when I was learning to teach you.

I didn’t set out to learn patience: that kind of vision quest doesn’t work for me. It’s another frustration that wizened crones do not appear along the roadside, granting magical gifts in exchange for stale Wonder bread and Kraft singles. Secretly I always suspected I’d be too possessive of such delights to share my lunch, anyway. I am the eldest child in all the true, nasty old ways. I learn things the hardest way I can find, by making dumb mistakes over and over, ignoring cliches and other truths. The Golden Rule. I got hurt a lot and when I was at the bottom, I couldn’t take the pain anymore. So I changed. I let go. I learned to wait. To enjoy what I have, right now. I don’t have it down solid by any means, but at least I can see the path now. The brick wall has some holes in it.

Because of that, I know how lucky I am to be loved. It’s almost worse to able to be good sometimes instead of never; it makes the times I fail even more shameful. My trying-to-be-good is the same as yours, kid. Patience, kindness, self-control. I am just as indulged as you are, just as loved, just as undeserving. I still act like it’s owed to me, this grace, this love. I’m grateful but not grateful enough. I’m still a bad girl.

I am the blind leading the blind, kid. I’m still in the dark. I can’t let you see that, though, because then we’ll both fall off this narrow bridge we’re walking together over dangerous waters. I’ve got to keep faking my vision until 4:00 pm. You don’t even know what the word “patience” really means, and I’m not sure how to teach you right now. You might parrot the definition, might even try it once and wait for the hobby horse, your heart twisting in your chest; but feats of Zen are rarely accomplished in kindergarten, in my experience. There’s plenty of gut-wrenching pain, though.

And what if that’s not what you’re thinking at all? What if I’m not even listening to you? What if you are not a small version of me at all, and my selfishness is cheating you of your own identity and your own tragic flaws? It may be a coincidence that your words, your voice, your face take me back twenty years. Or twenty minutes.

Advertisements