Thursday, March 23, 2017

Sam and Izzie

It was December four or five years ago. A new student joined our class. His name was "Sam". He was a boy with a shy smile, big dark eyes, and a somewhat limited understanding of the English language. We greeted our new friend, and gave him space at the yellow table. He was to sit next to "Izzie". Izzie had a little bit of a temper, was very competitive, and was a great reader. My intention was for Izzie to help Sam get acclimated to our classroom, our procedures, and new classmates. The day before I had pulled Izzie to the side and asked her to be our new friend's helper. She was excited and up for the challenge.
The day that Sam joined our classroom community happened to be the day that we were playing subtraction BINGO in math. The class had earned this privilege, and they were very excited. I knew playing any game, and possibly losing, would be a challenge for Izzie. To prepare the class for the potential for losing and disappointment, we reviewed appropriate responses to being upset about a loss. "Bummer", "Maybe I'll win next time", and "Good game _____" were just a few of the phrases we reviewed and wrote on the board.
Sam took his place next to Izzie and I happily noticed her making sure he had counters and put one on his free space spot. We began our game, and as I read the subtraction problems I also wrote them on the board. I saw Izzie regularly helping Sam, and the two of them smiling as they shared answers. I went over and quietly complimented Izzie on her good sportsmanship. She beamed with the responsibility.
The end of the first game resulted in a BINGO for Sam. Because he was a bit shy he didn't yell BINGO himself, but rather Izzie yelled it for him. Izzie seemed proud of her participation in this win, and she did not have a tantrum as she had in the past when confronted with a game loss. I heard a few "Bummers" and "Good game Sam" and we went on to the next game. The math period ended with Izzie not winning any of the games. I could sense a bit of disappointment but she kept a brave face.
Later in the day we were outside for recess. I was walking around the playground and I found Izzie crying under the climber. I approached her and asked her if she was okay. She ignored me and turned her head. Having a strong suspicion about what was bothering her, I asked if she was sad about not winning a BINGO game. She started crying harder. I sat with her a while not saying anything. After she stopped crying she said "I am glad Sam won". I told her that she did a great job being Sam's friend, and we talked about how you can feel happy and sad at the same time - happy for Sam and sad for yourself. Izzie seemed really surprised about that statement. It was then I realized that first graders didn't really have a grasp on that concept of feeling more than one emotion, and it was okay and normal to feel that way.
Fast forward to March of 2017. I am reclining in the living room, listening to country music, thinking about all the nice things that have happened lately. We have an upgraded, upstairs bathroom due to the generosity of good friends; I have wonderful relationships with strong women; a husband who still loves to make out; and thank G-d no one was hurt when our parked car was rammed into yesterday. Yet I was sitting there crying so hard that I was having trouble catching my breath. Yesterday I couldn't run to my child as she was distraught and crying - I could only watch as I tried to comfort her with only my words. I was getting angry at myself that I was "sad" when all these "happy" things had happened. And then I remembered Izzie and the lesson she learned during BINGO - that it was perfectly acceptable to feel more than one emotion.
I laughed as I compared myself to a first grader. I thought of the sorrow I felt last night learning that one of my online support group friends had passed; I smiled at remembering how funny it was as my Mom blocked herself from Sonky's paws behind the manual wheelchair. I shed tears for my inability to bend my own right leg; I laughed about the Tastycake escapade. I cried for the loss of my voice; I laughed at the words that my voice recognition software thinks I am saying! Thanks to Izzie I remembered that it was perfectly normal to feel this way. Thanks Izzie.

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