Just seeing me made her scream. Not cry. Wail. For half an hour. One third of the 90 minutes there were before, as her after school substitute, it would be my job to escort her, plus two other toddlers, to the afterschool playground. I know who of us was scared-er. She was; but not by much.
She didn’t need her teacher to tell her what was going to happen. She knew who was missing – the correct after school lady. She knew who I was – the stranger who didn’t belong. When she saw me go to the door, and heard me tell the other two kiddles to line up, the screaming began again. Cajoling was out of the question; neither of us liked this situation, and we were both stuck with it. I put on my “I mean business” voice. “You have to go to outside with me. Would it make you feel better to hold your friend’s hand?” “No!” interjected between body-racking cries.
Who knows how far it is between an open door and the hallway outside? If you have tried to move 3 toddler to whom you are a stranger, you know it is a very long way. If one of them is screaming, it is to the moon. If you don’t know that there is a front playground, and you try to take them to the playground in the back that you are familiar with, it is like time travel and not the good kind where you wind up with Eric Bana.
We had gone about 12 feet before I knelt down next to her, holding back the other toddlers, or so I hoped. She was wailing just as much, attracting attention throughout the entrance lobby. But she had stayed with us this far.
“You are doing so good!” I told her, bluntly, without any pandering. “I am so proud of you!” The screams paused for a split second. A little window opened. Before that moment, I don’t think it had occurred to either of us that you could be screaming and doing great, simultaneously. “You are doing a great job. I’m really impressed!” It was true. She was my hero.
The wailing reappeared briefly, but its spell was broken. A recognized friend appeared from the office, and together we went to the right playground, where the kids had, of course, tried to take me all along. I was too flustered to operate the childproof gate; my rescuer had to do it. Finally on the playground, she found a more familiar face, and eventually calmer, moved out on her own to push a tricycle around the concrete trail. When she was in earshot, I named it to the other teacher, letting her overhear. “(insert real name here) is really brave!” I said.
Later – half an hour later – I saw her looking at me from the safety of her tricycle. I caught her eye and waved unobtrusively. She smiled at me, and pushed on.