Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Sunburst's week of Trapeze Camp was a grand success. She truly enjoyed herself and learned so much more than even I had anticipated. Obviously she learned how to trapeze --to climb the tall ladder and extend her body over the brink of space. To trust other folks and their safety equipment. To have faith. To contort her body mid-air and do tricks. To take direction and act upon it quickly. To wait in line for a good long while. To deal with other kids trying to annoy the heck of out her. Yes, she got a crash course in that, too, and it led to some interesting discussions.

Sunburst had never before been put into the position of dealing with obnoxious peers. We mostly hang out with other homeschoolers, who by virtue of being around their parents all day, are usually quite well-behaved. There isn't that "mob-rule" sort of mindset that creeps into the mix when kids get together in a largely unsupervised group. The first day out Sunburst got a bit hen-pecked by the obvious leader of the pack of older girls. It wasn't awful, but the girls were singing a particularly unnerving song to try to annoy anyone they could. The other kids, having been previously exposed to such ideas, groups, songs, or what have you, were immune. Sunburst was not and gave the girls just what they were looking for: a target.

They sang. She covered her ears. They sang louder. She complained. They sang even louder. She walked away covering her ears and complaining. They followed her and sang even louder. And on it went, until finally, Sunburst came running over to me feeling very confused and hurt and picked on. It's amazing that such a nonsense song can make one person feel that way, but when you add the mob mentality to it, it makes perfect sense.

People can get a bit weird in groups. It's almost like a group takes on a persona of its own. Individuals cease to think for themselves. The consequences begin to seem inconsequential. There's group force, afterall... a group carries one another. Like governments. By paying taxes do you support wars and laws you don't believe in? Like big corporations. By buying their goods, are you saying yes to child-labor in third-world countries? Like speeding. If every car on the freeway is going over the speed limit, do you keep up with traffic? And then again, is it safer to keep up with traffic? Like looting. Remember the visuals of the people looting in New Orleans last summer-- the folks walking out of stores with tvs juxtaposed with the folks walking out with diapers? That's a whole 'nother sack of beans.

Whenever I think about group identity and action, my mind always calls me back to that short story, The Lottery, by Shirley Jackson. It's heavy and deep and way too applicable to this world we live in. If you haven't read it yet, by all means you should.

But what about Sunburst and her forray into "socialization?" My advice to her on that first day was to ignore them. She couldn't do it. The group gained in force and continued a strong rally against her. Again, it wasn't name calling or anything like that, just that annoying song. At the end of the first class the group even felt carried and empowered enough to taunt her loudly enough to wake up Kitty Bill. Even my admonitions didn't stop them from continuing on the next day.

Again, I explained to her that they wanted her to react. If she didn't react, it would cease to be fun, and they would stop. Einstein told her to sing with them-- the old adage we learned from Bugs Bunny cartoons: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

I wondered would she choose this route-- would she join them in the singing? She's only seven. I could hardly expect her to do more than that, but I silently hoped she wouldn't. I hoped that somehow she had a stronger sense of self than this. I want my kids to be able to stand up to adversity. To not be afraid to be themselves and hold fast to their moral ground. To be brave and true and kind. That's the goal right? But at seven?

Maybe we got lucky. She went back into fray and did something completely unexpected. She picked out the oldest and tallest girl in the class, one of the non-singers, and made friends with her. She found a common-denominator with a fourteen-year-old and they carried on an animated conversation for the rest of the class. The next day Sunburst made friends with the leader of the group of singers. She went right up to her and rubbed the girl's shoulders for a minute. And that was the end of that.

Sometimes I think we adults are way too complicated. Maybe the way to world peace is one back rub at a time.

1 comment:

  1. The Lottery! I havent read that in years!! So true and a good reference in this situation. Congrats on Sunburst's strength of character, to both her and you! Isnt it interesting how lessons come to us in often unexpected places!!!
    I try to only do camps that have only homeschoolers involved in them, but that isnt always possible. Usually not so much because I dont want to have them around non-homeschoolers as it is that we have to pay for the camp and my eldest(Asperger's dx) will not get anything from the camp except the obsession over the other kids behavior. It is nice to read about how this has been such a positive learning experience for your family. Maybe I should do some things with the intention to be just the social aspect and not worry about the camp topic. Sort of an experiment... It seems Sunburst will make more use of her new found confident social skills than her flying trapeze skills, although amazing and cool!!! :-)


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