Friday, September 14, 2007

"I'm telling!"

We've just finished up our third week of school. It's been one of those periods where I'm busy and time is flying on the one hand, but on the other I've crammed so much into such a short time, that 3 weeks has felt like 2 months.

My baby boy started kindergarten. With another set of mixed emotions, I am now a free lady from 8:15 until 12:noon. Of course how do I spend most of that time? Either at the school or doing work for school. Two mornings this week I've devoted a couple of hours to cleaning the house, so that's good. (I like to clean with no one here, because then it actually stays clean--until someone else gets home!)

Back to my boy. Twice last week I picked him up from class in tears. "It wasn't a good day, Mom." The first day, I couldn't ever figure out the problem. The second day he told me. A little boy in his class who my heart is currently breaking for has a difficult time not trying to destroy or eat my son's lunch. That second day #4's teacher saw the tears and came to ask what was wrong. The discovery resulted in more trouble for this poor little boy and an admonition to #4 to "tell me if something like this happens again." The teacher reiterated to me that I should convince him to tell her if there is trouble with this kid.

When I was a girl, I never understood when to "tell" and when to not. Sometimes adults were surprised by silence and encouraged openness, and others a kid could get in as much trouble for tattling as for doing the bad thing. There was always an explanation that if it wasn't your business, if you weren't directly involved, keep out. But then sometimes, adults didn't even want to hear if one sibling had hurt another. And others, you could get in trouble for knowing a bad thing a classmate did without informing a teacher. It really seemed to depend on the mood of the grown-up you decided to tell or to not tell.

Of course, now that I am an adult myself . . . I'm still as confused as when I was a kid. My own patience for tattling indeed depends on my mood, and the recent frequency of such behavior, sometimes the severity of the actions being told about, and sometimes even on which kid is telling and which kid is misbehaving. So how do you set a standard for when to tell and when not? When I explain it to my kids, and I usually drift off into thought, trying to make it clear to myself what my expectations are. It's so subjective that I can't make my own rule.

So for now #4 has permission to tattle on his classmate and used that permission today after his banana got smushed in half. #4 was praised for doing the right thing--telling teacher so that she could take care of it. I think I agree with that in this situation. But I can't help but wonder whether we're training my boy to stick up for himself or to be Johnny Stool-Pigeon. Maybe at 5 it doesn't matter. Maybe I have a few more years as a parent to figure it out. Maybe #4 wll grow up and explain it to me. If he does, I'll be sure to tell.