Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Crying over Paper Edges

After two years in Brasil, I came back to the US and was enrolled in Mitchell Road Christian Academy.  The transition was pretty tough. 

It was January, so I was joining a class in the middle of a school year.  I knew nobody.  The rules were unfamiliar (stand up when an adult enters the room, ask permission to go to the bathroom, etc.)  It had been two years of being the only student in a correspondence course  And now I was interacting with students in a classroom setting.

Yeah.  That's right.  When I left in the middle of second grade, kids would bring in stuff for show-and-tell.  In fourth grade, not so much.  As the new kid, I already was a little out of the social center.  With two years missing from my social development, I was immediately pegged as the weird one.  The weird one who brought in cool stuff for show-and-tell, but strange nonetheless.

There were many differences that I was facing.  My class in Brasil included a banana supershake break, a feature that was strangely absent in regular 4th grade.  As the only student in class, I was able to fit in all of the day's lessons in 2-3 hours.  That was not the way that MRCA worked.  PE in Brasil was done outside of class, with bb gun in hand, or swimming in the river, or canoeing down the agarope.  
If it happened today, my parents would be arrested.
My poor teacher - Mrs O'Connell - had her hands full - even more so than she realized.  One day, she took a show-and-tell item away from me, and sent me to the principal's office.  Apparently 4th-grade teachers get a little nervous when you bring a huge Buck knife to class - even in 1980. I cried the whole way to the principal's office.  And I cried again, at the end of the day, when I picked it back up.  And then for good measure, I cried again, when I showed Mom.

On the playground, I understood none of the social rules.  Flying solo in the classroom didn't prepare me for changes in social cues and interactions there.  More tears, nearly every day (which did nothing to help my social standing.)  And kids are always kind to the new, strange, weepy boy, right?


Mrs O'Connell's class also had a rule that all assignments had to be turned in on paper with no torn edges.  No ripping the page out of the spiral-bound notebook and handing it in.  If it was torn out, you had to cut the edges.

Her handing my homework assignment back and telling me to cut the edges off, that was just another straw on an already overloaded camel.  I broke down in sobs.  Again.  Mrs. O'Connell reached for the box of kleenex.  Again.

Unsurprisingly, for that six weeks my report card had decent grades, except... I got a "N - Needs to Improve" on Self Control.

In retrospect, I know that what I was dealing with was pretty complex.  I was fighting serious culture shock, and I had no tools to help me with it. Not only were the rules very different between Brasil and the US, but the rules that I had learned in 2nd grade had been changed on me. The language was different, the timing different, and the activities were different.  And for all that my mom wanted to help me, it was something I had to deal with alone.  I simply had to incorporate all of these unspoken rules into my understanding of how the world works. 

So today, when I get a new assignment at my job, or get thrown a curve with rules that I didn't know existed, I sometimes remember fondly that poor, bewildered ten-year-old.  Here, at least, in the burrocrazy with all of its myriad rules and limitless supply of hoops to jump through, I am able to know that the rules are changing for everyone.  Not just me.  And I never have to worry about cutting the edges off of paper (although supervisors are still wary of hunting knives....)

That re-entry was tough, and I still flinch when I see notebook paper with torn edges.  But I also remember with fondness an overwhelmed teacher who was ready with an extra box of kleenex for a kid who was struggling. And it reminds me to be kind to my co-workers who are fighting with the slippery slope and moving target that we see every day.  I keep a box of kleenex close at hand.

And a pair of scissors to cut the edges off my paper.  Just in case.


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