Wednesday, September 06, 2006

When Your Stomach's Empty and Your Mind is Full

Yesterday, Una's preschool class was playing in the yard when I came to pick her up.

"Run, run, to your mom," Ellen, one of Una's preschool teachers, urged Una when I came into view.

Una stumbled toward me on the grass. Her eyes were red and puffy.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I didn't have my snack," She wept.

Ellen said, "I told her she couldn't have her snack b/c the whole class doesn't eat snack."

"You mean she didn't eat her breakfast?" I inquired, and unzipped Una's fabric lunchbox I had just picked up from her cubby. The preschool class routinely eats breakfast at preschool (although Una refers to this as a snack). Inside her lunchbox were the three half-slices of banana bread and the uneaten container of garbanzo beans. The kid's stomach had been empty for hours and hours.

And then the light dawned on Ellen: "Oh, I didn't even think to check her lunchbox. I just assumed she'd eaten breakfast since I arrived at preschool after she did." She bent down to Una's eye level. "I'm sorry Una. It was my fault you didn' thave food in your tummy. I goofed."

She handled it beautifully, and humbly, yet my heart was in my throat. My child had fallen through a crack. She'd gone hungry for hours, suffered what she knew to be a true injustice. She lacked the verbal powers to articulate the discrepancy to her teacher, and sat at preschool hungry, red-eyed, and not-playing. I didn't know and couldn't do anything about it.

The regular teacher, who is always there when Una is dropped off, wasn't there yesterday. If she had been, she would have known, she'd have been Una's champion. This is what scares my about public schooling and private schooling, and any sort of institution where I send my kids: Sometimes, some days, their needs will be neglected. They won't be seen. Is this something to just deal with? How permanent is the mark? Will the overall loving kindness of these particular preschool teachers cover over the injustice that was done?

Una's physical discomfort was so great she only mildly computed Ellen's apology, and when I prompted her to respond she squeaked "I forgive you" without looking up. In the car, she demanded answers in a wavering voice: "Why did Ellen say I couldn't eat my snack? Why did she think I'd eaten it? And she didn't even give me any juice."

Oh, the promised juice. I told Una that very day I would allow her to have juice at preschool instead of taking water. Her mouth had thirsted for it from the moment I spoke the word.

At home, I fed her, juiced her, hugged and kissed her, and read to her from our current Bobbsey Twin mystery. After finishing teh chapter, I got up to leave her to finish her lunch at the kitchen table. At this point she'd eaten banana bread, lentils, two cups of juice, and garbanzo beans.

"Mommy," she said. "My stomach is empty, but my mind is full."

I paused. "Where did you here that Una?"

"Wilbur said that to Charlotte."

"Huh. So you're stomach's emtpy, but your mind is full?"

"Well," she held her stomach for a second, "now it's only a little empty."

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