Sunday, March 22, 2009

When is a Mistake not a Mistake?

My post yesterday about how I learned in Grade 1 that I was smarter than other kids has me remembering another event from those days.

When I was in Grade 2 one of my friends introduced me to a boy named Chad who was in Grade 1. Chad was totally different from any other kid I had tended to befriend. He was a total mess all the time: food on his ace, underpants sticking out over his belt, never a coat zippered, old food in his desk. And the most disturbing thing about him was that he didn't try to please the teacher by paying attention or trying to complete his work. I don't know anything about Chad's family and I don't know what my friend's connection was to Chad, but for some reason he immediately became my project.

I can remember helping him into his galoshes at recess time, and doing up his coat, and making sure he had mittens. I even remember coaxing him to bring his notebook and a pencil outside so I could help him complete his writing. I could not understand why he was so ambivalent to taking care of himself or to trying his best at school. I didn't hang around with him or play with him; I only tried to mother him, since he clearly needed help to get through the day.

One day I was totally frustrated by his behaviour and I wrote him a note that I placed in his disgusting desk among the bread crumbs. It said, "You are a nit-wit. Why?"

The Grade 2 teacher, Mrs. Adams, found the note and knew I had written it. She gently but firmly accused me of being mean to him and told me that I must stop bossing him around. My desire to be respectful of her prevented me from trying to explain that I was trying to help Chad, not control him. I never did explain myself to Mrs. Adams, but I did as she said and I never spoke to Chad again, although I continued to be acutely aware of how he would come in from recess with his boots full of snow and with raw, red hands from wearing no mittens, and of how he could not read or write or even recite the days of week in order. I felt sorry for him, but he moved when I was in Grade 3 and I never saw him again.

I now wonder why I felt such a compulsion to help that boy. And even more mind-boggling is the question of why I found another such boy to 'save' when I was in highschool, and another one after university. In each of these three cases I was introduced to the male by someone who was already my friend (or in one case, by my brother). And each of these three males was, in all honesty, a total loser. Someone who did not have it together at all. Someone who was a bottomless pit of misery, anxiety, deceit and bad decisions. Not just a loser, but a user.

So this begs the question: am I a total sucker? Why would I commit myself to helping someone who would not put any effort into helping himself? Am I totally altruistic, or just an idiot? What would make me put all my values and personal priorities on hold for someone else? To repeat a metaphor from another day, why would I hitch my wagon to a sinking ship? And why was there no Mrs. Adams when I was a teenager and again in my 20s to shake some sense into me and get me to walk away?

I have no answers here. But I am very intrigued now that I have found this particular pattern in my life. Now that my children are my top priority, I will not likely be sucked in by similar circumstances again and I sure hope I will notice if my children show similar behaviours. The past is in the past and can't be changed, but I can still hope to learn from my mistakes.

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