There was a time when I was in an angsty phase.
Overall, I had a pretty happy upbringing. I’m sure I had stubborn moments as a tot, but from my parents’ stories, I sound generally compliant. And I was definitely not a rebellious preteen or teenager.
The intermediate years, though, were a time of transition. I suddenly became aware that people could be cool or uncool. Smart or dumb. Included or excluded. My friends would like me one day, and the next, they wouldn’t want to come over. My younger sister would bother me relentlessly as only precocious younger siblings can. To top it off, my parents were preparing for a divorce, and I think I could sense the internal strife. I’m aware that these were privileged problems to have, but in my eight-year-old brain, things were serious.
During this time, I had a tendency to “run away.” I wanted to prove how little my family would notice my absence, how little they cared about me. I didn’t, however, want to put myself in actual danger or discomfort. So, I would slip out the back patio door, walk down a retaining wall, and take a seat on our swingset. I would pump back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until the rhythmic movement took over, and the problems didn’t seem so pressing anymore.
Some of my fourth graders are going through their own angsty phases. They get disproportionately upset about missing materials or their peers’ thoughtless comments. They’re upset about the weather. They’re upset about the schedule. They’re upset about their socks. They’re upset about being at school. They’re upset about going home. I know that these reactions are a symptom and not a cause. There are hard things happening in their lives. There are changes. They’re hurting.
I’ve noticed that these students gravitate toward comfy chairs that I have in my reading nook. They’re not barred from sitting in these chairs during class time, but they’re not expressly given permission either. Any of my suggestions to go to our class’s agreed upon break spot or to visit other teachers for a break is met with resistance. Resentment of authority.
I think these students are inhabiting some of the tension I felt during my angsty phase. They have a need to be comforted but also to be vindicated about their cynicism. A need to belong but not to be vulnerable. A need to be free but also to feel familiar. A need to feel understood without wanting to understand. It’s hard. Most of them are getting help and support from multiple sources. But I’m glad they have a physical location they can visit in my classroom. I hope they find their own swingset. A place where their problems can ebb and flow away.