SmallOne was very, very excited to start school - we've always joked that this kid was born ready and we essentially expected her to walk through those doors and never look back. On the way up the steps on her very first day, she passed a gowned teacher from the Upper School, and tipped him a jaunty, "Morning, Sir!" before skipping on down to the Junior School entrance. She was pretty confident, for 4½ years old.

The first few months of school seemed like they were going as anticipated; I kept hearing from her teachers that she was helpful, cheerful and generally a delight. By December, though - things were changing - at least at home. SmallOne was routinely coming home from school very angry - she began having screaming fits at the slightest provocation, and there was suddenly so much door-slamming around the house that it felt like we were living with a hormonal teenager.

One day we were on our way home in the car, and after a lengthy silence, she commented very quietly à propos of nothing, "I don't have any friends." Not "I wish I had friends," or "No one likes me," but just a simple statement of fact. At first I thought it was just a bad day, but it soon developed into a daily refrain - she would make the statement, but would not be drawn on it - no matter how much i probed, there was no other information offered.

This was… odd. I had been getting requests for play dates - and in fact, rather more than I thought was strictly normal: sometimes there would be multiple requests a day, and they mostly started the same way, "X just LOVES SmallOne - she is her best friend."

Something was wrong. I asked the teachers for their perspective and they promptly stated that, "She is the most popular girl in the class - everyone wants to be her friend." And yet SmallOne maintained that she had no friends - and she soon stopped wanting to go on play dates, though the requests continued to pour in.

And the whole time, I kept thinking, everyone sounds like they're telling the truth here: "How could both of these perspectives be true?"

Advertisement

After the holidays, everything got worse. SmallOne's mood deteriorated at home to the point where she was spending large chunks of the day alone in her room. She wanted to quit dance - something she had loved for virtually half of her (short) life. The happy mood at school began to fall away - one day, she threw a reader across the classroom during an assessment screaming, "WHY would anyone read that stupid book in the first place! Did you not listen to me when I told you I had it memorized from when you read it to the class in the Fall? This isn't reading!"

That was a clue, but I didn't see it. This outburst was characterized as an example of a behavioural problem, so I took it at face value and we tried hard to correct SmallOne's attitude. This was an abject failure and SmallOne began to beg to stay home every day. She had headaches and stomach aches and overslept for the first time in her life - and the school had no explanation other than the suggestion of "a difficult social situation" with one particular girl in her class.

Upon closer examination, this girl turned out to be a vengeful bully. Amazingly enough, SmallOne worked out some strategies for dealing with her - it turned out the bully actually wanted her attention, so SmallOne simply decided to make sure the bully felt included by the entire class. It was quite a lot of work, but she did it - this, too, was a clue.

Advertisement

Just when the bullying was finally improving and I thought everything would surely go back to normal, SmallOne began making quiet statements about wanting to die. In the spring, she stayed home from school for an entire week, and in a panic, I went to see a psychologist who finally turned on the lights for me.

SmallOne is a rare academic gem, able to work many, many grade levels ahead, regardless of subject. She is socially adept to a fault: loath to stand out, she can deliver a fine-tuned performance for each person she meets - and it is precisely tailored to each person's expectations. This, of course, explains why her teachers thought she was completely average, and it explains how she was so popular with peers, yet so alone - and so exhausted.

SmallOne is a great deal better now, one year later, though not without scars. We began homeschooling her in September, to great success - she needs time to shore up who she is, and really explore what she truly loves. She is thriving in dance and has been accelerated there, as well. Last year was incredibly scary and painful, but I think we know SmallOne in a way we didn't before - and she is finally learning how to be herself.

Advertisement

(BACK)