Sunday, July 20, 2008

Grace and the Mighty Imagination

Each night when I put Grace to bed, we spend a little bit of time talking about how our days went and giving each other general life updates, and then we chat a bit about what's coming up the next day. A common topic of conversation each night is what Grace did that day at day care. I ask her about all of the fun projects she did, or all of the songs she learned, and I love to hear all the news regarding the field trips her class frequently takes. Thursday night, as we were running through our nightly bedtime ritual, Grace rolled over and looked at me somberly and said, "Today at school, we went to the park, and I was all alone and I was crying."


I asked Grace to tell me the whole story from start to finish, and she told me that her class was playing at the park (there's an elementary school and a large field across the street from Grace's day care, and there is a small playground on the other side of the field that her class frequents). Gracie said that when it was time to go back to day care, her teacher lined up the rest of the kids in her class, and then they went back to school without her. She said that she started to cry because she was all alone and afraid. I asked her who came back for her, and she said, "No one. I had to walk across the grass to school by myself." This meant that she also crossed the street by herself. I asked (commanded, really) her to tell me what happened one more time, and she retold the story, exactly the same as the first telling. I asked Grace if perhaps this was a dream that she had (she has vivid bad dreams every now and then), and she said flatly, "No. This was for real."

I attempted to get more information about this from Grace, but she was getting tired and soon fell asleep, so I sprinted downstairs to fill Aaron in. Of course, being the alarmist that I am, my voice was shaking and tears were filling my eyes as I told Aaron that Grace's teacher left her behind alone at the park and she had to walk all the way back to day care ALONE. She must have been terrified! Someone could have abducted her! She had to cross the street by herself! This is the worst kind of negligence!! How could they have done this to my baby?!?

Aaron attempted to calm me down a bit by reminding me that Grace does have a history of telling stories that aren't necessarily rooted in reality, and he asked me to at least consider the possibility that she wasn't really left at the park alone. Still, he was alarmed by this as well, and we agreed that Aaron needed to ask her teacher about what happened right away in the morning when he dropped Grace off at school. We agreed that if Grace had indeed been left behind at the park, we'd yank her out of that day care so quick that heads would spin, and we would also file a complaint with the board of directors of the day care as well as with the state. We also prepared ourselves for the fact that if something did happen, the teachers probably wouldn't be too forthcoming, so we might have to do some investigating. I told Aaron over and over how disappointed and shocked I was. And, I argued, the story that she told me was so detailed and vivid that I couldn't imagine she just pulled it out of thin air. Still, we have had nothing but positive experiences with Grace's day care and I found it almost unfathomable that this could happen.

I didn't sleep well at all that night. Whenever I closed my eyes, I could see Grace alone and crying and feeling afraid, and it just made me sick. I was very glad when I morning came and I knew that we would have some answers. I made Aaron rehearse with me the conversation that he was going to have with Grace's teacher and I reminded him to please call me as soon as he spoke with her. Then, I left for work, certain that I would be receiving some very bad news within an hour.

I stared at my cell phone sitting on my desk , willing it to ring, until Aaron called, and I was surprised at the tone of his voice when I answered. He sounded bright and cheery, not angry or rushed. He told me that he had a conversation with Grace's teacher, and her story was MUCH different from Grace's. Apparently, her teacher was attempting to get all of the children lined up to head back to day care and Grace was lallygagging in the distance, taking her sweet ol' time sauntering over by the rest of her class. Her teacher threatened that the class was going to leave without her, which prompted Grace to cry, and she rushed over to join the rest of her class. She was not left alone at the park, and she certainly didn't have to walk back to school by herself.

Granted, threatening a child into compliance isn't the best course of action, but we're all guilty of that (especially with a child like Grace who does things on her own timetable), so I couldn't find anything shady or overtly negligent in the teacher's version of the events that took place. I took a deep breath, thanked God that my worst fears weren't confirmed, and shook my head to think that yes, Grace DID fabricate this story. She's four--where does she come up with this stuff??

When I picked Grace up at school later that afternoon, her teacher rushed over to me and apologized several times for threatening to leave Grace at the park. She told me that she would NEVER say anything like that to Grace again, and she assured me that she keeps a close watch on ALL of her class at ALL times, and that she carefully counts the children before leaving anywhere. And, I believed her.

On the way home, I asked Grace why she told me that her teacher left her alone at the park, and I watched her in the rear view mirror as I waited for her to answer me. All that she did was smile shyly and tell me that she didn't know. I started a sermon about lying and exaggerating, but she abruptly cut me off with, "Sorry, Mama. I won't do it again."

I guess it's a good thing that my kid has such an active imagination. She amazes me sometimes with the things she comes up with. Then again, it's a little scary. What kinds of intricate tales will she be weaving when she's sixteen and coming home an hour past curfew??

It's staaaaaarting...