In October, I took on 5 year old Dima (Dimitri) as a private student. The setup couldn’t have been better. His home was a five minute walk from my former apartment, and his wealthy mother was so anxious for her son to learn English that she was offering a whopping $60 an hour. When I first met Dima, he was sullen and angry. I brought in books and games and tried to encourage him to say something, but all he did was glare at me. Our next phase of progress was him telling me that I wasn’t allowed to touch his things. I picked up a car and he said, “Stop it.” I touched his books: “Stop it.” I picked up a stuffed animal: he kicked me. I kicked him back. We established that I was bigger. He screamed in rage and threw things at me.
When I moved out of my old apartment, teaching Dima became even more of a pain. Instead of waking up and toddling over to his apartment 5 minutes before we started, I had an hour on the metro to get to him and an hour back. I sat on the train grumbling about getting up early to hang out with a kid I couldn’t stand. He was obviously spoiled and used to getting everything he wanted.
One week he ran up to me eagerly. His mother had gotten a new ipad and he wanted my permission to play it during class. I used it as a way to slip in some English words. For all of his annoying habits, he’s quite bright and picked up on the new vocabulary quickly. (Blow up! Explosion! Watch out! Tree! Rocket!) After two lessons of my sitting there getting paid to watch him play video games, we reached the new arrangement that he could play for the last 15 minutes of class. This news was greeted grudgingly, so we looked for other distractions.
Almost every time I came over, he had some new toy to show me. About a month ago, that new toy was a giant Lego battleship. We sat down to start putting it together, and he got frustrated when it didn’t go as quickly as he wished. He called for his mother, and she came in to help us assemble it. When I came back two days later, the ship was finished. His mother had put it together by herself. It had taken her 5 hours. She told me proudly, “I am Super Mom.” That’s when I really realized how lonely Dima was. I was surprised and saddened that his mother wouldn’t take those 5 hours to do something significant with her son—they could have built something together and built a lasting memory, but instead it’s now just a big ship made out of plastic that sits forgotten on his dresser.
Our time together started a really positive turn when we started role playing. I pretended to be a doctor and looked at a small scratch he had with a serious face and voice. We played Doctor for the rest of the lesson, and the next class he ran to the door bursting with excitement and ready to play Doctor again. He told me that first I was a Little Girl playing with her ball and he was a puppy. (Little Dog) The ball accidentally hits the Little Dog and he dies. Then the Little Girl calls for the Doctor. The Doctor comes with his serious face, the Doctor Hat and the Doctor Bag. He grimly does everything he can for Little Dog, but in vain. I was thrilled that he was suddenly exploding with language in his desire to really play and direct the scene, but I thought it was creepy that I was killing a puppy every five minutes. I pulled out a book (“Stop it!”) and flipped through it to point to the animals to give suggestions for other animals we might play. He likes to combine the traits and colors of the animals to create a super ninja animal for himself. He usually starts out as a monkey with me as a cat, but that quickly develops into a ninja tiger monkey with a snake tail and me as a colorful gorilla.
Today, when I was the cat, he threw me some fish to eat. I ‘ate’ a lot and then clutched my stomach and groaned that I was a Fat Cat. That led to the following game:
Dima: That’s you, that’s fat. Come here. That’s here, that’s Dima. That’s you mama gorilla. That’s me little gorilla. That’s me fat. That’s Doctor Doctor! That’s sleeping and (cutting motion) wake up!
Meghan: Ah, I will have a baby? You are the baby? I go to the doctor and have a little gorilla.
Dima: Yes. That’s you La La La! (our way of saying that I’m a girl playing with a ball and walking in the park) and you fat. You sleeping in house and wake up.
Meghan: I go to the park and I get fat, go to my house and sleep?
(Dima gives Meghan a stuffed seal to put up her shirt so she can get fat)
Dima: Yes. That’s you Doctor Doctor!
Meghan: I go to the doctor. Oh! It is Little Dima! He is a beautiful baby gorilla!
(Meghan then takes the little gorilla home. He then celebrates his first birthday)
Meghan: Little Gorilla! Wake up! It is your birthday!
Dima: One Birthday!
Meghan: You are one, Little Gorilla! (singing) Happy Birthday to you!
Dima: No! One birthday!
Meghan: Yes, you are one! (singing) Happy Birthday to you!!
Dima: NO!!! One!
Meghan: (comprehending) Ahhh…….(singing) Happy Birthday ONE you!!
(Mama Gorilla gives Little Gorilla a cake and a present, but draws the line at breast-feeding)