I sent this note to Nina’s teacher this morning:
I’m writing because I’d love a chance to talk with you about Nina. Nina is the youngest of three girls. Her oldest sister Jasmine died at age 10 after a lifelong struggle with cystic fibrosis when Nina was only 9 months old . Her sister Gabrielle is 7 years older – a great kid, but obviously as a thirteen year-old, her role is more sister/watcher than sister/friend. In a lot of ways, I suspect Nina feels like an only child. As you may know, this is her first year at Aguilar. Last year, she attended Patterson Elementary out in East Mesa with family friends. Nina’s father and I separated this summer and she and her sister elected to come live with me. The separation is very amicable and we see Jeff often. You may even recall that Jeff was with us on curriculum night. The girls spend weekends with him, and if he’s able to get a job and move out to Tempe, we’ll probably split custody more equally. At any rate, I’m letting you know all this so you have a sense of where Nina may be coming from in her behavior.
Nina came home on the first day of school with a mark under her eye. When I asked about it, she told me that someone at her table had accidentally hit her with a crayon. I probed a little, because Nina has a history of letting kids, particularly boys, pick on her so they’ll play with her. On the other side of that, Nina can be really demanding and/or clingy with kids when she plays, so I get that it can be frustrating for other kids. She also often seems to be in a very different place than other kids. I know she’s bright, but I don’t know if this is an intelligence/creativity thing or if it’s a social skills issue that needs addressing. At any rate, after we spoke about the crayon incident, it sounded like she and the boy at her table were either playing or fighting over a crayon and she got whapped when he let it go. Not a big deal, though we did talk about appropriate play and when to involve an adult.
Yesterday morning at the bus stop there was an incident with a slightly older girl who was new to the stop. Nina walked up to her and said hello, and the girl very clearly told her, “Leave me alone.” Nina was crushed. We had a brief talk about not letting things like that get to Nina. I explained that the girl had seemed mad when she got to the stop (she seemed mad again today), and that it didn’t have anything to do with her. This concept seems hard enough for adults to get – it’s completely lost on Nina. She looked absolutely rejected, head hanging, shoulders slumped. Then in the bath last night, she showed me a cut on her cuticle, one that was clearly fingernail shaped. When pressed, she told me that someone named Montana had done it on the bus yesterday and that it hadn’t been friendly. I told her a) not to sit next to Montana on the bus anymore and b) to be sure to let an adult know when things like that happen.
Philosophically, I’m relatively non-interventionist as a parent. I like to think I’m pretty aware of cause and effect. And I think most of the time kids learn better with gentle guidance from parents rather than a heavy hand. I would rather teach my children to do things themselves. As I said, I know that Nina can be really energetic, overly affectionate and pushy when things aren’t going her way. As an adult it’s hard to know how to cope with her sometimes and I can see that for a young child, it’s harder still. Jasmine and Gabrielle completed first grade quite a long time ago, but I don’t remember either of them having trouble with other kids hurting them. I also see Nina isolated quite a bit. I watch her at the bus stop and as I said, it’s almost like she lives in a different world than her peers. She’s quite friendly, smiles at them and tries to make conversation, but most of the time they ignore her. Her response is generally to move away at that point and play by herself. Sometimes she comes over to me and I give her a hug, and then she moves away again. She’s so different than her sisters were at her age and I find myself at something of a loss these days. I don’t know how concerned I should be about all this – maybe I’m hypersensitive because Jeff and I are at a tough spot. I was hoping maybe you could shed some light on how she seems to be doing in the classroom?
I’m not sure what else to do. I don’t want a bully situation to arise because I didn’t do anything in time. And I don’t know how much of Nina’s difficulty is related to her being highly creative and how much is just social awkwardness.