Just a Little Water

I’m currently working on two posts that are proving harder to write than I anticipated. It’s one of those cases where the process of writing down my thoughts is causing me to dig deeper into them, which is good, but it’s also delaying their posting quite a bit. In the meantime, there’s a story from work that I’m feeling the urge to share.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I work in a special ed preschool. We are currently in the “do assessments then play because who cares about work its summer bitches!” stage of the year, and in that spirit last Friday was water day. We set up a sprinkler on the playground and filled several plastic tubs with water and bath toys. The next hour was all happy screams and soaking wet chaos.

After a few minutes, we noticed one kid was missing. Tommie (not his real name) was hiding behind the slides. In the past he has had trouble distinguishing between the screams that mean “This is funny and exciting” and the ones that mean “we are scared,” so perhaps he had concluded this water day thing was some unholy torture. Or perhaps he simply thought water belonged in bathtubs and water bottles and getting splashed with it on the playground was incorrect.

Our first attempt to convince him that water was a friend was to invite him onto the swings, which were partially in the path of the sprinkler. During regular playground time it’s one of his favorite activities, and we thought the association might make it fun. The same trick had worked with another kid last year. This time, however, he sat on it for a minute before saying, “Tommie get off? Tommie get off?”

We let him off, and he returned to the refuge of the slides. After giving him a break, one teacher took his hand and gently lead him to the other side of the sprinkler. It was not the sort that went all the way back and forth, but went about halfway up and then down again. She had him on the side where the spray wouldn’t come down on him. She held his hand out so he could feel the water on his fingertips, and see that it wasn’t going to hurt him. At first it seemed to be working, but then he started shaking and she let him go.

I was feeling pretty bad for him at this point, and I thought the least I could do was make him feel good about having tried the water twice. It’s a little hard to know how much language he understands, but I went up to him and did my best. I told him he did a good job trying the water, and I was proud of him. I gave him a big grin and a thumbs up, which he copied. I had that sense of practically seeing the wheels turn in his head, as he tried to piece everything that was going on into a coherent picture. After I felt I had either made my point, or come as close to it as I could, I gave him some space.

A few minutes later, he was slowly creeping up on the sprinkler. He studied the spray, and stuck his fingers back in the jets with the air of a little scientist. I wandered up to him and casually stuck my own fingers in. He watched me, obviously seeing that the water wasn’t hurting me but still on the fence about the whole endeavor. I remembered how much he likes having his feet painted for footprint art, so I stuck my feet over the jets and said, “tickle tickle,” which is what we always say when we are painting.

He immediately copied me, and started grinning.

From then on, he was practically glued to the sprinkler, first sticking his fingers and toes in, and eventually running through it like the rest of his friends were. By the time we had to pack up, he was sitting in one of the tubs and very sad about having to come out. As I was pouring the water out of the tub, I decided he should be rewarded for his bravery. I called him over, and poured it out in front of him; a miniature waterfall for him to play with. Tommie stuck his hands in and splashed the last of the water all over his face, laughing hysterically.

My job is awesome.



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