I have a spirited second son. In public, he’s always been lively, chaotic and a bit of a character. He’s the first one to put himself forward for any task, the first to suggest a game that everyone will want to join in with and he can hold his own with any age of child. He’s a joker, a wag, a card. Children years above him at his primary school go out of their way to say hello to him. Watching him in action is - I imagine - a bit like watching the Pied Piper in his early years.
However, he is also a sensitive, thoughtful and intelligent child who loves nothing more than curling up at home with a story and his favourite cuddly toy. He’s always kind (he once took the fall for a weeing-in-the-sandpit incident because he was worried the real culprit would cry if the teacher found out and he didn’t want his friend to feel sad). He makes sure his friends are played with equally at break time because he doesn’t want anyone to feel left out and he squeezes me so tight when he cuddles me I often think I will burst.
He’s a showman I guess. He has a public face that more often than not, obscures his more sensitive, and rarely seen, other side.
At school they call this ‘spirited’. But as I’m gradually realising, being spirited in teacher-speak means only bad things. And sometimes, being spirited - even though you’re not unkind or uncontrollable - means you get pigeon-holed and, dare I say it, can often lead to you being labelled as one of the naughty kids.
And at tonight’s performance of the Year 1 Nativity play, I realised that is indeed what has happened. My little fella sat with the one other so-called 'naughty’ kid on the benches at the side of the stage, allowed to do one loop of the nativity scene before sitting back down, whilst the rest of the class took their place in the limelight. He sang his little heart out, knew all the words, did all the actions, danced all the steps, but from the side of the stage. He sat quietly when he had to and didn’t miss a beat. He loved it.
But still there he sat and although my heart swelled with pride at his little performance, it hurt a little and a few tears welled up for all the wrong reasons.
When we got home I asked him whether he had enjoyed the play and he said it was great fun being a villager although that he had originally asked to be a King but 'only the good children got to do that’.
Wise classroom management or pigeon-holing? Playing to their strengths or limiting their ambitions? I don’t know. It’s only a play after all, but I can’t help but worry that if so-called spirited kids are never given a chance to show what they can do, never given that opportunity to muck in, how will they ever be able to prove their detractors wrong?
He was a really good villager though…
* This is one of those heart-on-sleeve posts that I have, in the past, been wary of posting. I hope it isn’t self-indulgent or blinkered and rather is honest realistic and fairly pragmatic. I love my son (and his brother) more than anything in the world and I never want his potential to be thwarted by someone telling him he can’t do something or that he’s somehow not good enough. I know teachers have a difficult job but so do kids. Self-esteem is a fragile thing when you’re five.