Humility has Many Faces/ AKA How I Crashed and Burned Teaching Emotional Intelligence to Kindergartn
Humility has many faces. Sometimes, it’s an epic addiction hellbent on destroying every part of your existence. Other times, it's a roomful of five-year-olds high on Red Bull on Kindergarten Career Day.
“You should have been a kindergarten teacher, Kim,” my husband said one night after I told him how much fun I had volunteering in our daughter’s classroom. “You missed your calling.”
He’s right. I love those little fuckers. They are my people. Curious, excited about life, messy, wild, filled with wonder, and absolutely no filters.
With Kindergartners you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. Or you do, and that’s ok, just a normal part of life. I relate to these pint-sized, ABC-learning superhumans more than I do most adults. They are fiercely entertaining and I love the conversations that happen in the absence of judgement or self-importance.
At my kids’ school, the Clip Chart is a color-coded behavior tracker. Everyone starts with their clothespin on green- green is good. Throughout the day, kids are clipped up for following directions, showing leadership, and other behaviors warranting praise. If their choices go the other way, they are clipped down, from green to yellow, “think about it”, to orange, “make better choices” to red, “parent contact”.
When my son was in kindergarten, he clipped down to red. He reached for my hand, his eyes cast down under a mop of unruly blonde hair, shifting the weight of his backpack.
“What’s wrong honey?” I asked when we were in the car and buckled up.
“I clipped down to red, mom.”
I had a choice. I could punish him. Tell him how he was wrong, how he was bad, and make him promise for it to never happen again. Or I could listen--with love, compassion and, most of all, curiosity and see what we both could learn from the experience.
We talked about what happened: he ate a cupcake wrapper to make his friends laugh. I hid a smile as I pictured him inhaling the paper wrapper and told him I understood how that could be funny. I asked if there were other ways he could make his friends laugh without the risk of choking or disrupting the class. We talked about options. And on that spring day a new dialogue began.
We don’t do punishments in my house. My kids aren’t bad-no kids are. They make choices that give them the opportunity to learn how to do it differently next time.
I shared this with my table of kindergartners when I was volunteering in my daughter’s class. I heard Marco gets clipped down everyday in hushed whispers and watched the kids smirk at each other.
I said, “Oh, that is so cool! Marco gets to learn how to do things differently.”
“Wait. You aren’t mad if Naya gets clipped down to red? She wouldn’t be in TROUBLE?” This, from a little girl with big eyes and long braids, who sounded like every girl who ever talked down to me in high school. I saw that she was shocked. Part of her was rebelling: THIS CANNOT BE TRUE! RED IS BAD!
Naya told her that’s how we do things in our family. We talk about what happens, how our choices affect other people, and what we can do differently next time.
I watched Braids chew on this information. I could see her tasting it, digesting it. She said, “That’s pretty cool. I like that.”
I felt amazing when I left. I’m changing the world! These kids are better off because they know me! My ego delighted. “Go KIM, Go KIM! You are the kinder whisperer!”
This, along with the vote of confidence from my number one guy, had me pumped for Career Day.
Because I’m a yoga and meditation teacher, I planned to teach the kids some simple breathing techniques to calm their nervous systems. Give them language to share how they are feeling and why. Show them how to have conversations with each other that are supportive and kind.
Seriously. These are five year olds.
What. The ACTUAL FUCK. Was I thinking?
My hubris was staggering. I pictured them sitting still on the carpet, breathing deeply into their bellies, counting the breath in and the breath out. The whole room becoming very zen after one round, 26 tiny Buddhas, criss cross applesauce, levitating on their newfound bliss.
I imagined them turning to each other, opening up about why they felt angry/sad/confused/lonely/embarrassed and being met with words like, I understand. I’ve felt that way too. Is it ok if I just sit with you? But, while I use this language with my children, they don’t usually use it with each other. My kiddos are good at talking about their feelings because I create space for that conversation. But they don’t go around speaking like a 35-year-old yogini mama with their buds.
To be fair, the kids didn’t have Red Bull for breakfast. They were just especially hyper, bored, and ready for recess.
I tried to do some yoga poses, thinking if I got them moving maybe they wouldn’t break out the scotch tape and kid scissors and take me prisoner. The teacher, sensing we were one more deep breath from Lord of the Flies, stepped in but to no avail.
It was a shitshow: kids falling on each other, yelping, bodies thudding and flopping everywhere.
I connected with two kids that day. Kids who were feeling left out and wanted to talk about it. Pretty much every other student was fighting for the title of “World’s Deadliest Creature.” Every single one those little mutants now knows how to breathe deep into their belly when they feel big emotions coming on. But overall, I crashed and burned.
I felt like a failure when I left. Who do you think you are, Kim? What were you thinking? Those kids are gonna go home and tell their moms and you will be a laughing stock. My delighted ego was on fire: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Kinder whisperer my ASS!
My day was ruined. Old stories started to bubble up. I had to use a trick I learned in recovery. I said, “Kim, you’ve got one day to entertain this crap, but when you go to bed tonight, it’s done.”
I woke up the next day and it was over. The black cloak of doubt and self-loathing disappeared with the first rays of sun. I realized that, like my children when they clip down, I am not bad, and didn’t do anything wrong. This was an opportunity to learn.
Maybe I was supposed to learn humility. As an addict, any space of inflated godliness is dangerous. It means I think I have the answers, that I think I am in control--two key factors in my story with alcoholism. It’s OK to think I know everything, as long as I remember that I also know nothing.
Maybe I was supposed to show my daughter what it looks like to fail with grace. She had a lot to say about my time in the classroom. She began, “Mommy, I don’t know if I should say this. I don’t know if it’s mean.”
“Go ahead, sweetie. I appreciate your honesty.”
“Well, the kids thought you were boring. The other yoga teacher was way better. We did soldier pose and falling star.”
I cringed inside, my suckitude validated, but smiled outwardly. I laughed as my daughter, all elbows and pink bows, wobbled into the poses for me.
“Are you sad Mommy? I did like the part about feelings…”her voice trailed off.
“I’m a little sad, honey, but that’s ok. I know what I can do differently. I’m just really happy that a yoga teacher came in that you guys liked and now your class likes yoga, because I love yoga.”
Her relief was palpable. We hugged it out.
Maybe the lessons are undefined. Maybe the point is to keep showing up, crashing and burning. Laughing and dancing in the flames. Showing ourselves and our kids that we literally can do no wrong, and that magic occurs in the most ordinary places.
One lesson is clear anyway: The teachers deserve a shout-out. You’re in it every day. You are the true heroes of this world.
All my love,