Jelly Cats And Pink Bear

Hard to believe that Mattie has been back in school for more than a month!

The start of a new school year has never been the easiest of time for Mattie but I get the feeling this time round, entering 8th grade, that she has settled a little better that in previous years. One reason for my thinking thus was the difference in Mattie’s reaction to the new 6th graders. Last year, she had arrived home on her first day and, with a look of disgust on her face, said, ‘Mummy, the new sixth graders are so small – one of them only comes up to here!’ (she had pointed to her waist). This year, Mattie arrived home and said, ‘Mum, those new sixth graders are so cute!’

Last week a bug was doing the rounds of the local schools and one morning the school nurse rang to say that Mattie was feeling a little queasy and needed to be picked up. As soon as Mike brought her home she promptly fetched her favourite throw and pillow from her bedroom, along with several cuddly toys, and settled down very happily on the sofa to watch morning TV. I did not think Mattie seemed particularly unwell but I nevertheless made her a hot water bottle which is something of a tradition at such times. Later that day, I sat near her on the sofa as she picked up each cuddly toy (all of them ‘jelly cats’) and reminded me who had given her each one. The oldest was a pale-grey cat given to her by my brother, Lloyd, shortly after her adoption. The second oldest, a buttermilk-coloured rabbit, had come from Mike. Then came a shaggy rabbit from her Aunty Molly and Mattie reminded me that Molly had bought her cousin Mei an identical one. The fourth ‘jelly cat’ was a fluffy fawn-coloured rabbit from her Aunty Caryl – ‘This one has especially soft pads,’ Mattie said, fingering the rabbit’s feet. We then came to the last ‘jelly cat’, a pale-brown rabbit. I scratched my head for a moment until Mattie began to grin and I then remembered buying her this cuddly toy in Oregon, during our recent road trip. ‘I bought it because you forgot to bring a cuddly toy along,’ I said. It was the first time she had failed to do so and I had been surprised.

Mike, who had been listening to our conversation, smiled and said, ‘So are you going to take all your cuddly toys to college with you later on?’ Mattie promptly replied, ‘No, only Pink Bear, he will always be my favourite.’ Mike had bought Pink Bear during our first Christmas visit to Texas when Mattie was five. Whilst the two reminisced, I thought of the English homework that Mattie had been assigned to read and answer questions on earlier that week. Entitled The Middle School Conundrum it pointed out that although adolescents in middle school (ages 11-14 here) sometimes act like 15 year-olds, underneath they are are much like the 9 and 10 year-olds who have not long left elementary school behind; and because teachers do not always pay heed to how emotionally close the middle schooler is to the elementary schooler, they miss the chance to teach the whole person – the child who is leaving childhood behind as well as the young adult looking to be more independent.

The paper, combined with the picture before me of Mattie, lying on the sofa with her hot water bottle and surrounded by her cuddly toys, seemed to me to be a reminder to we parents, too…

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