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Christopher is 4 years old and frequently grown-up angry.  One morning he stomped out of his classroom and into a restroom area down the hall.  Suddenly aware that I was nearby and watching, he turned to me with a jerk and shouted, “If I am mad at somebody, I just look at them and say, ‘Hey Bitch!’”
 
I clamped my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing and considered carefully before responding, the fewer words the better.  “Guess I just never say it.”
 
“What?” he replied in a rapid-sharp voice.  “What do you mean you don’t say it?”  Surprised I wasn’t reprimanding him?  Wondering if I was telling the truth?  Curious if I had an alternative to his harsh way of talking?
 
“I simply don’t speak to people that way. It does not come out of my mouth.” 
I delivered this with a silent, shoulder shrug and pretended to get interested in a developmentally inappropriate, preschool worksheet stapled to a bulletin board.
 
Since his outburst didn’t provoke me, he immediately abandoned it and became absorbed in the water fountain, turning it on and off and diverting streams of water with his tongue and his fingers, in other words, exploring the properties of water.  It was a soothing diversion and ultimately calmed him enough that he could walk back with me to rejoin his friends.  Too bad there wasn’t a water table set up as a workstation for this little man with the mouth.  But those also have gone by the  Leave Every Child Behind wayside.

Alternately, Jorge healed himself at a water table.  He arrived for a visit, having lived in 10 different foster homes before his fourth birthday.  His hyperactivity and anxiety were so extreme that no family could soothe him or survive him, therefore he rotated from one placement to the next.  Prescribed a steady dose of Clonidine, you wouldn’t have known it from the way he ran directly at a solid wall, smacking full force, face-on and then collapsing in a fit of giggles.
 
It was the water table that drew his attention.  The girls usually commandeered it, washing baby dolls or dishes, transferring liquid back and forth from tea kettles to jam jars.  Most days, boys weren’t allowed but somehow everyone knew Jorge was different and for him the rules did not apply.  He spent two weeks standing behind the crowd of girls listening in on their conversations.  He always wore a smile, sometimes nodded his head in agreement with an opinion expressed but never edged past the periphery of bodies to join in the fun.
 
Then the earth’s orbit shifted and his hands slipped into the delicious drench.  There was no budging him after that.  He was polite, always patient and ever alert for that perfect moment when it would be okay to slide into place.  He had figured out the human arrangement and was careful to comply in ways that guaranteed access to the dreamy drink.  There he would vibrate in endless delight, stuttering less and speaking more, solidifying an identity and a circle of friends who did not fail him.  In the water he learned how to become.
 
 
 

 

 

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