Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

An open-ish letter to my 5-year-old's preschool teacher

Dear Kathleen,

Thanks so much for all that you're doing to help Aidan in his development. We really appreciate the conversation that we had with you last week about his current challenges. (I'm sure it's not easy to be the bearer of bad tidings to parents.)

We want you to know that we really appreciate candid feedback. If there is anything that you wanted to say in our discussion, but withheld because you were worried about how it would be received, please don't hesitate to share it with us.

We agree with your assessment of where Aidan is at. In stressful situations -- specifically, social situations with his peers -- Aidan reverts to an animal persona. His behavior is frightening (or at least unwelcome) with many of his peers, and if it continues who stands to become a social outcast. He seems to be overly identified with animals, as evidenced by his constant play with animal characters (mostly modelled in beeswax) and his encyclopedic knowledge of animals.

We've thought carefully about what we can do to redirect Aidan's behaviors into better directions. Anne had suggested redirecting his requests for factual knowledge of animals towards more imaginative play, and that has worked very well. I was surprised at how readily he accepted it. The other day he asked me whether gibbon's arms were longer than gorillas, and I told him, "I don't know . . . do you think we could ask them?" It quickly turned into a game to see who could think of the best way to trick gorillas into holding their arms out to be measured. It feels like a better direction . . . he laughs more, anyway.

Aidan responds to stories, and we're looking for more stories to help him identify more with people, especially people in right relation with animals. The first story that came to mind was the story of Mowgli from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book -- the story of a boy who must leave the wolves who raised him to rejoin human society, so that he might obtain the fire that will let him defeat the tiger Sherah-Khan. If there are others that you can think of that might help him, let us know. We've also been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books, which Aidan loves dearly.

We thought carefully about your suggestion of giving Aidan the experience of caring for a small animal pet. We're more than willing to give it a try, but there are a lot of circumstancial factors against adding a guinea pig to our home -- mostly, we're afraid our dogs will kill it at some point if it ever gets out. It didn't help that PetSmart labelled them as appropriate for "age 8 and up".

What we have done, which needs doing anyway, is to start rehabilitating Aidan's relationship to our dogs. Aidan likes to give the dogs treats, and we've shown him how to make them do certain tricks (sit, down, etc.) Aidan has now resumed feeding the dogs their suppers, after successfully negotiating with his little brother on how they will share the privilege. If Aidan can learn to be gentle with our dogs, I have no doubt he could do the same with his peers.

One thing that wasn't mentioned, but which in retrospect seems obvious, is that we just need to give Aidan more practice with initiating social contact with his peers. Aidan only gets the opportunity two days a week, usually, when he goes to school. We've started working harder to get more play-dates with the few local families that we know, so he just has more chances to find new strategies for engaging people. He played with the Marchman's boys today, and there were no instances of growling or clawing. ;-}

Again, we're brainstorming everything we can do to help Aidan; if you can think of any other tactical advice on how we can better engage Aidan's social development, do let us know.


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