Elena spent a lot of last summer afraid that she was going to have an accident. I don't mean an accident where someone gets hurt – I mean she was afraid that she wouldn't get to a bathroom in time. Last summer I learned where most of the grocery stores within a few miles of us keep their bathrooms.
Starting the second week of September, Elena didn't want to go to school. She wouldn't tell us why. It wasn't her teacher. She loved her teacher. She'd been waiting three years to have this teacher. It wasn't anyone else at school. She loved playing with the other kids.
Each day when Kim or I would take her she would cry and say she didn't want to go to school. At the end of the day we would pick her up and she would be as happy as can be. Kim and I were stumped. Elena hadn't been this way when we'd dropped her off at pre-school or at Kindergarten. What was different?
Her teacher called me one day and explained that Elena was very afraid of wetting herself at school. We talked to Elena about it. She understood that she could always ask a teacher to go to the bathroom and they would let her. Still she was upset when she went to school. We sent her with a change of clothes that she kept in her locker in case anything happened.
Maggie showed us a side of herself that made me proud. Maggie never resisted a chance to tease Elena when it was over something insignificant. But Maggie recognized this was serious and so she quietly told Kim and me that Elena had had an accident in Chinese class and it had embarrassed her.
Elena and I made a deal. If she would go to school five days in a row without crying, she could bring a special headscratcher into school and use it to scratch her teachers' heads if they would let her. There were a couple of days where it was close, but Elena made it through the week.
And then it happened.
The thing she was most afraid of actually happened. She had an accident at school. She was so wrapped up in an activity that she had waited too long. Her teacher got her her emergency clothes and she got cleaned up and changed in the girls room. When I picked her up after school her teacher told me quietly what had happened.
But here's the thing. Once it happened it was no big deal. No one teased her. She didn't feel particularly embarrassed. Accidents happen. She shrugged it off.
To our relief and surprise, Monday morning she couldn't wait to go to school. She was excited to go. Kim had washed her back up clothes and put them in a bag for her to keep in her locker at school in case it ever happened again. It never did.
I'd forgotten all about this incident until last week when Kim was at school to help sell tickets for Carnival. Some first graders waved to her and told her to come up to their classroom because they were cleaning out desks. They told her that she would have to clean out Elena's desk.
She asked them what they were doing down stairs. They said they were taking some items that nobody claimed to the lost and found. One of the items was a little bag full of clothes. Elena's emergency clothes. Kim waited until the kids had gone back to their classroom and picked up the bag. She looked at the little outfit that she'd sent to school to give her little girl comfort and backup. She put it back in the bag and handed it to a friend who has a little girl who will be able to wear it.