Last winter, I spent most of a lunch period trying to coax a first grader off the floor of his classroom and into the cafeteria. I used all my best moves: quietly cajoling, being stern, counting, calling home, pleading. Christopher would have none of it. He had fallen apart, and none too quietly. He was in near hysterics, having kicked off one of his nice new sneakers and was frothing about on the floor in tears. Most of the noises that came out of him were not precisely verbal. After a fifteen minutes of waiting for the storm to pass, I finally figured out what his main issue was: his shoes. They were nice new shoes, the kind that kids his age were anxious to have because they did not come from Payless. These were the real deal. They were also at least a size too small.
And once I was able to make this connection, Christopher was begging to take his shoes off. His teacher had been encouraging him to put his shoes on so he could walk to the cafeteria. If you walk to the cafeteria, you can have your lunch. If you have your lunch, you can go outside. If you go outside, you can play. Christopher didn't want to play. He wanted his shoes off.
To be fair, there was probably no way to know this before it happened, since Christoper is mercurial on his best days. Christopher is the last kid off the playground after recess, since instead of walking to his line he is off chasing a ball or another student, usually with some mild bad intent. Christopher is a challenge when his shoes fit.
Eventually, I got him up off the floor, in his socks, and we walked to the office where his mother had arrived to pick him up. She had become used to coming by in the middle of the day for one reason or another, but this day I made sure to let her know that there was no particular malice in his actions. He wasn't able to communicate his discomfort. He needed words.
Now he is a second grader. Christoper is still a handful. He still needs to be corralled on any given day, but he is working on his words. This past Tuesday, I was waiting out in front of the school with him as he was the last of the kids to be picked up after dismissal. He had a good day, and he showed my his behavior contract: Three stickers. Good job, Christopher. As I watched him flit about on the stairs, I tried making conversation. I noticed he had Marvel super heroes on his backpack. I asked him who his favorite Avenger was.
"Hulk," he replied, without hesitation.
I noticed that The Incredible Hulk was not one of the characters represented on his backpack. This was an organic idea. "Why is that?"
"Because he only becomes the Hulk when he gets mad."
Way to use those words, Christopher. You've come a long way.