Every Saturday Sophia and I go to a Mommy and Me Spanish-immersion class. I would very much like to give Sophia the gift of a second language, but unable to speak one myself, I decided we’d tackle bilingualism together. The Spanish class is wonderful—highly engaging, hands-on, entirely in Spanish, and the language-rich activity changes up about every five minutes which is just about right for a toddler’s attention span. I’m learning a lot.
I would love to be able to say that Sophia sits attentively, compliantly responding to the teachers requests and interacting with the class. But this is how this morning went:
Teacher (in Spanish): Sophia! My heart! How cute you are! Welcome! Sit down please. You have your baby doll with you! Fantastic! Take off your shoes.
I remove both Sophia’s and my shoes. Sophia immediately slides her feet into my clogs and proceeds to clod around the room.
Me (in English, whispering): Sophia, please take the shoes off (and then my attempt at Spanish) Sientate!
Sophia begrudgingly takes off the shoes and sits down in my lap.
Teacher (in Spanish): So! Today we are going to begin by washing our dolls. Sophia, look at your doll’s hands. They are dirty. Yuck! Phew! (There was a Spanish exclamation for this, but it eludes me.) Let’s wash them! Wash them! Wash them! (Then she sings a song while Sophia, delighted, washes her doll’s hands. The only words I catch are “I wash my hands.”) Okay, Sophia. Now dry them! Dry them! Dry them! Very good! Okay! Who’s next? Alex, your monkey’s nose is so dirty! Look at it…
Sophia is already across the room, climbing on top of a chair and grinning at me. I ignore her, and she returns to my lap.
The teacher moves on to the next student, “Oh, Miguelito! Your elephant has dirty ears!”
Sophia is trying to pry the doorstop up off the floor with her 16-month old accomplice, Alex. I ignore her, and she returns to my lap.
The teacher is now with Juan, who is crouched behind his mother. “Juan! Come over here! Look how dirty your bear’s mouth is!”
Sophia has opened a small wooden cabinet and is reaching for some electrical wires inside. There comes a point where the behavior cannot be ignored. I silently redirect her back to the circle.
The teacher moves on to the last student, Mateo, who is deliriously rolling around on the floor. “Mateo, sit here! Come sit on your mother’s lap. Is this Goofy? How did he get so dirty…?”
Sophia is now embracing her co-conspirator, Alex. This has drawn the attention of the entire class. In English: “Look at Sophia and Alex! She goes for the younger men!” “I hope this isn’t any indication of what she’ll be like as a teenager.” “Sophia. Wait until after class. The other boys will be jealous!” etc. Sophia, relishing the attention, commences kissing Alex…on the lips. Before I can make it over to them, he’s kissing back, and the two of them are going at it. I pull my little cougar off of her prey, and try to hold her down in my lap. She twists expertly and, before long, is out of my grasp. Choosing my battles, I allow her jump up and down squealing “Salto!” as we wait for Mateo to have his turn. At least she’s being disruptive in Spanish.
Sophia is the only niña in this class. The other students, the niños, have a fraction of her activity level. They cling to their mamás, only gradually migrating out of their mothers’ laps over time. Occasionally the niños will shyly follow Sophia’s irresistible example…but it’s my girl leading the boys into temptation—not the other way around.
After class, I apologize profusely. “Lo siento, Adriana! I’m just never sure if I should let her go, or bring her back. On the one hand, I don’t want to feed into the behavior; on the other, I don’t want her to be interrupting your class….” Adriana reassures me that it’s fine. Sophia is doing what she should be doing at this stage. She’s not being naughty, she’s being a toddler. Well, okay, but then what are the other kids doing?
My mother’s long-term significant other, a.k.a. Grandpa Bernie, has nicknamed Sophia Schpilka-Baby, derived from the Yiddish word schpilkas, which roughly translates to “Ants in your pants.” From the moment Sophia wakes up (leaping into a standing position and shouting, “Get Out! GET OUT!” at the top of her lungs) to her last moments before bed (fighting Kevin and I like a feral cat as we brush her teeth) the child is in constant motion, heat radiating from her body, hair matted with sweat, cheeks flushed and a broad smile plastered across her face.
One might think she is months away from her first dose of Ritalin. But, as much as I long for the 3-hour nap her little friend across the street bestows upon her mother, there are is no speed in Sophie’s immediate future. ADHD according to Russell Barkley (the It-Boy of ADHD) is about three things: 1) impaired impulse control; 2) excessive task-irrelevant activity; and, 3) poorly sustained effort.
But when Sophia and I approach a street, she holds my hand, stops and looks for moving cars. And if there are a stack of books nearby, she will bring them to me, one at a time, listening to me read for at least an hour (if I have the stamina to do it). And recently, she learned to put on her shoes through persistence and sheer determination to go outside. These are not the behaviors of a child with ADHD.
Here’s what I wish more people understood: activity level exists on a continuum from the lap sitters to the wall crawlers. I have seen way too many kids diagnosed with ADHD or hopped up on drugs when they simply have high activity levels. A true child with ADHD simply can’t help him/herself. It is painful to watch. There are no internal controls. The child longs for limits and can’t find them.
The Sophia in Spanish is curious, she’s on the go, wanting to examine every little thing, (“How works it?”), see how I’ll react (“Mommy doing?”), but will only venture out as far into the world as I’ll let her (“Don’t touch it. Mommy says no.”)
In the womb, around 11 pm each night, she kicked as if her intent was to come busting out of my abdomen just as soon as she gained the fetal strength to do so. The challenge will not be to dull or curb these passions, but to ensure that this energy is used for good (and not evil).
Que Dios me ayude!