Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Leif's First Stage Performance - Japan - May 1981 - Age 6

Leif was the tallest kid in his kindergarten class, his first grade class (taller than the teacher), and just about every class until he was a sophomore in high school. Even then he was one of the tallest. So it's hard to realize that even as the tallest, he was once pretty small.

We moved to Japan in the summer of 1980 and he started American kindergarten at the Sagamihara Elementary School. (In Germany, he had attended a German Kindergarten, where he was the only American child, but a German Kindergarten is a preschool.)

His beloved kindergarten teacher in Japan was Mrs. Snell. She was an amazing, enthusiastic woman with an infectious smile and a ready laugh. She recognized Leif's outstanding art talent and intelligence.

Not long after the start of the school year, Leif got frustrated about something that happened in the class and threw something at another child. Before she could even scold him, he apparently felt so bad about his lack of self control and the possibility of hurting the other child that he crawled far back under a table and wouldn't come out.

This wonderful teacher, instead of cajoling him, threatening him, or trying to drag him out, called me and asked what might have precipitated this behavior and what she should do about it.

It happened that he had had a similar outburst of temper in the German Kindergarten, and had hurt another boy (minimally), and had been thoroughly chastised for it. He definitely deserved discipline and he needed to learn self control, but Leif was mortified at the public humiliation.

At the American kindergarten, he not only felt ashamed of himself but was scared of the consequences. Mrs. Snell got down under the table with him and told him that she understood why he was there, and that he was right to be ashamed of his behavior, but that he was forgiven and he could stay there until he was ready to come out. This was only one reason he loved her, but that kind of understanding is a rare gift.

Leif apparently made up his mind, under that table, that if he was going to lose his temper, he had better not take it out on human beings. From that time, when he lost his temper (which was rare, but dramatic), he would take out his anger on inanimate objects and did not throw them at others or hit them.

One of the highlights of his kindergarten year was the big stage play they put on, a very funny and rather sophisticated version of "The Three Bears." Here is Leif on stage with his sign saying, "Papa Bears Need Liberating." The sign on the scenery in the background read, "Liberation, not confrontation." I wish we had a video of the production.

Oddly enough, Leif didn't show any interest in acting, singing, or being on stage again until he was a sophomore in high school and tried out for a part in "Guys and Dolls."

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