11 May There Will Always be a Mickey Eastman
Mickey looked into Sally’s cubby. He saw a small soft toy brown bunny in her tote bag. “Hey Sally, do you have your baby blanket too?”
Sally looked up from her drawing to see Mickey swinging Baby, her most beloved stuffed bunny. “Oh Mickey, please stop! Baby doesn’t like that.”
“Oh, she has feelings?” Mickey smirked. “You are dumb, Sally. Your name should be Baby.” He tossed Baby to the windowsill.
Their teacher, Kate Macaferri turned to see Baby in mid air. The whole class was looking now. Putting her arm around Sally, her friend Rosie explained, “Mickey did that on purpose. He is just mean.”
Mickey was under the art table, writing on the floor with a blue crayon.
“Please come out from under there, Mickey. I want a word with you. Let’s straighten this out.”
Dropping the crayon, Mickey backed out. He fidgeted, not meeting Kate’s eyes. “Why does she get to bring a toy from home and I don’t? Plus it is such a babyish toy. Maybe tomorrow she’ll bring her baby bottle.” He made a weird face at Sally.
Charlie walked in smiling, “Hi Mrs. Macaferri. Guess what? My brother Tommy lost a tooth and the tooth fairy left him money for two ice cream cones – one for him and one for me. We are going tonight.”
“What a great idea the tooth fairy had.” Kate smiled.
“Who cares about a silly old ice cream cone?” Mickey snarled. “Charlie, you’re as babyish as Sally.”
“I love cones. We have them with my Gaga and Pop,” Thomas’ face lit up.
“Oh big whoop! Thomas you’re like a girl. Want a pink bow?” growled Mickey.
“Children, let’s all stop for a minute and gather on the heart rug.”
Everyone, including Mickey was there quickly.
Kate looked at all the upturned faces. “Good morning. Don’t worry, you’ll be playing and drawing in no time. But our day has started off badly, and we need make it feel right again.”
“This isn’t about goo goo ga ga stuff is it? “Mickey asked sharply.
Kate said firmly, “No it isn’t! I want you to listen to this, Mickey. We are in a class together. It is our own little world. We all have to be kind to one another. You do not have to be crazy about everything a classmate does or says, but you do have to be considerate.”
“It’s just Mickey. He wrecks our buildings,” Tor said emphatically.
“Yeah and he hides my papers, “Caroline added.
“Let’s all try to understand that everything isn’t perfect anywhere. Maybe if each of us tries hard we can make our days together happy and nice. I know we can.” She smiled at them. “Okay, you may go back to what you were doing.”
As the children began to move around the room, Mickey shoved Sally. She hit her arm on the edge of a bookshelf and began to cry. “Are you crying? Should we call an ambulance, Baby?”
Kate quickly got a cold cloth for Sally’s elbow. Sally’s friends patted her. When Sally felt better, Kate turned to Mickey. “Hurting classmates will not be tolerated, Mickey. Get a book and sit by yourself for a while. And think about being nicer.” She shook her head, looking discouraged.
Later in the morning, the children went outside to the play yard. Tire swings and the monkey bars were packed. The children called happily to each other. Sally and Rosie ran in the open grass. Just then Mickey pretended to not see Sally and banged into her, making her fall. She wasn’t hurt, but she was very angry.
“Mickey, why are you just so awful?” She made a face at him.
Parents had begun to arrive. Sally’s mother, Mary, had seen the whole incident. So had Kate. She moved toward Mickey, who ducked behind a bush.
“Mickey, come here this minute. This is just ridiculous. Go and sit on the bench.” She sounded totally exasperated. “It’s my job to keep the children safe. You are making my job so hard, and spoiling all the fun. I’m going to have to talk to your mother again.”
Just then Mickey saw his mother open the gate and enter the playground.
She came right to the bench. “What’s the problem?”
“Lois, as you know, Mickey has been having a very hard time getting along with his friends. I mentioned to you last week that Sally has been his special target. Today he basically picked on her and hurt her all morning.”
Lois took Mickey by his wrist. “No iPad for you, Mickey. No dessert for a week and no stories.” Mickey scowled and tried to pull away.
“Lois, it would be great if you could really talk to Mickey. We have to come up with a plan. He has to stop hurting his friends.”
“We’re working on it,” Lois snapped. “Let’s not all gang up on him. Come on, Mickey. Your father isn’t going to like this news.” She kept her grip on his wrist all the way to the car.
Sally’s mother turned to Kate. “I’d like to talk to you privately and soon. I didn’t send my daughter to school to be terrorized. Sally talks about Mickey all the time. Can we meet before school tomorrow?”
“Of course we can. See you at 7:30?”
“That works well. Thank you.”
The next morning came quickly. Kate met Mary Williams at the door to the class, and led her to a seat. “I’ve been thinking about you and Sally ever since,” she told Mary.
“I am so sorry that Sally has had this hard time. She is such a sweet girl.”
“I’ve been basically up all night,” Mary confided. “Will and I are very upset. We want you to keep Sally and Mickey apart. He’s targeting her. It’s not right or fair. We want them separated throughout the day.”
“Mary, I can try. When we are in small groups, I can definitely separate them. But I can’t guarantee that nothing will happen. In such a busy class, my eyes can’t be everywhere every minute. I’ve arranged with Lois that Mickey will be sent home if he does something to Sally, and he knows that. He won’t want to miss school. This method has worked in the past.”
“Do you mean you’ve seen this behavior before?”
“Oh yes, of course. And it is always upsetting. But here’s what I’ve learned over the years: there is always going to be a Mickey Eastman. We don’t help children by isolating and protecting them from every problem. I will do all I can to keep Sally, and the others safe and happy in school. Sally is smart and kind. I know she wants to find a way to get along with Mickey. As she stands up for herself, and refuses to put up with meanness, she’ll gain strength and confidence. Amazingly, Sally seems equal to the task. Some of the other children are too.”
“I never thought of it that way. I feel better thinking that, with your help, Sally will be okay.”
Just then, Mickey came in with a bunch of lilacs for Kate. “Here you go, Mrs. Macaferri.“
“How lovely Mickey, thank you. Is your mother here?”
“Nope. She was rushing.”
Sally arrived with her father. “Hi, Mrs. Macaferri. Hi, Mickey.” It was a new day and Sally was all smiles.
Mickey looked up. “Hi Sally,” he said in a low voice. “Sorry for yesterday.” He quickly turned to the window and began studying the birds on the birdfeeder. Just as a chickadee and a cardinal began to peck the seeds, Mickey banged on the glass, hard, and chuckled as they flew away.
“Mickey!” Sally looked at him indignantly. “Please don’t scare the birds! We love them.”
Mickey looked from Sally’s face to Kate’s. They could almost see the wheels turning in his brain. “Okaaay, Sally. Okay, I won’t do it any more.”
The three adults looked at each other with raised eyebrows and small smiles.
Anne Martine Cook has 40+ years experience teaching nursery school children.