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          I knew this was it.  This was the defining moment. Every eye in the room was on us. I had to stand my ground or lose all my authority. When I was young and naïve, I let people intimidate me but that was going to change. This was my first day and my fresh start. I was the boss. I was the one in charge and this person was openly disobeying me. His name was Tony. I was far too familiar with his type. He was smart, charming and incredibly handsome. The exact type that always intimidated me in the past. Everyone adored him and because of this, he got away with murder. If I backed down now, I would never have his respect. This was it. I had to make him eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwich or lose the respect of every four-year-old in my preschool class forever. As I said before, this was my first day, I had just started as the preschool teacher in a private Catholic school. 
         At first, like everyone else, I was charmed by Tony. His cherub face was the embodiment of innocence. His giant doe eyes were rimmed with impossibly long lashes and his grin would melt an iceberg. Tony moved through his day as though he were surveying his kingdom. If Tony pointed at a toy, the other children would scramble to bring it to him. If another child had the toy he desired, there was no negotiation Tony got the toy. While the other children dutifully sat at their assigned seat, Tony stood, not on his assigned spot but on a decorative carpet that displayed the image of an ice cream cone. If anything were not to his liking, the tears would fall. Now when I say tears, I mean huge tears that streamed down his cherub face like shimmering rivers. His thick, black eyelashes held tears like misty drops of dew shining in the light of the sun at dawn. Then he would say in a small voice “I want Abuela.” Disney could not compete with this kid. He melted the heart of everyone in his path. The other kids in class would stop what they were doing to try and console him or offer their toys. 
         I started watching him closely. He was smart. This kid knew exactly what he was doing, sitting where and when he pleased, taking the most popular toys out of turn, and mocking any direction he was given with the release of giant silent tears, and the unrelenting expression of sadness in his beautiful little face. His tears were a faucet he turned on and off. He was a four-year-old Keyser Soze from the Usual Suspects. When time for lunch came around that first day all the kids sat down with their lunches and began eating. All the kids except for Tony. He was standing next to the table. He looked at me and said, “I want my cookies.”  When I tried to explain to him that he had to sit down and eat his lunch, cue the waterworks. Big crocodile tears poured from his eyes. This tiny little voice crying “I want Abuela, I want my cookies” in the most desperate and pathetic tone. I said to him again as soothingly as I could, “No, Tony you must sit down with the other kids and eat your lunch.” This went on for a minute or so until Tony realized I was not backing down. I wasn’t giving in. That is when his tone lost its sweetness and became fierce. His once angelic tears dried on his reddened face, and he demanded his Abuela. You could hear a pin drop. Every kid in the room had stopped eating and they were all staring at the two of us. I should mention at this point I know Tony’s grandmother. Tony knows this too. I leaned down so we were face to face and whispered “Your Abuela would be so disappointed in you right now.” Tony cocked his head slightly to the side. His eyes still glistening from the tears, his faced still flushed with anger, and he squinted at me slightly. The silence in the room was deafening. I could see Tony was struggling with his next move. I knew he did not want to stand down, but we both knew the significance of a guilt trip that only a Catholic Abuela could wield. 
         After what felt like an eternity he sat down, and I handed him his sandwich and he took a bite. The other children slowly returned to their lunches and my teaching assistant leaned over and whispered, “I can’t believe it! He is eating the sandwich.” The rest of the day continued without incident. Did I fight fair? Perhaps not, but when faced with the oppressive dominion of a tiny authoritarian dictator, extraordinary measures were invoked for the good of the realm. Since that day, Tony and I have come to respect one another’s position in the classroom. He is allowed some indulgences. He still stands on the ice cream cone. But when I give him a firm no, he understands he has reached a boundary he cannot cross. He knows I have a fearsome weapon in my arsenal. Because of our unspoken playground treaty, I need not use it, but he knows it is always at my disposal.

Preschool Tyrant

by Veida Dima

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