In defense of my child

“Do you even want to hear my side of it?” my child asked.

“No,” was my tense response.

I had been informed by someone about his actions and behavior and did not like it one bit.

I didn’t want to hear excuses or justifications.

I had been told by someone I trusted that my child had done something uncharacteristic of him.

And because his behavior since turning 14 was that of some small stranger, I believed them.

Believing this person was not a bad thing; the person was trustworthy, and I had known them for quite a while.

The bad thing was not believing or listening to my child.

I didn’t give him an opportunity to tell his side of things.

He wasn’t even allowed the chance to defend himself.

Why did I do this?

Well, for starters, I am not a perfect parent by any means.

And, I was taking his behavior personally.

Over the last few months, there had been a shift in our dynamics as we have butted heads in some heated disputes.

He has been moody, mouthy, and argumentative.

He has been withdrawn and opinionated when he was trying to engage in conversation.

All traits I didn’t care for very much.

So, when someone told me he was misbehaving, I believed them because it supported my own bias.

I was angry.

I was disappointed.

And I was not going to let him tell me what happened.

I took someone else’s words over his.

I am not saying we shouldn’t listen when someone tells us things about our kids.

By acting like we have perfect little angels that do no wrong, we get in a very dangerous dance that creates kids who think they can get away with everything and sets them up for a life of entitlement.

But I do think we should also listen to our kids, especially when we know they are inherently good ones.

A few days later, I had a meeting with one of my child’s teachers.

“He is a great kid,” she said when reviewing his notes.

Her genuine words resonated in my heart.

I repeated them.

Suddenly, hearing another person’s perspective reminded me of a fact I had somehow forgotten.

“I am glad you said that,” I told her. “Since he’s turned 14, I feel like I don’t know him.”

The other teachers in the room nodded. “It’s the age,” one said.

“Yes, it is the age,” another commented.

“So, this is normal?” I asked.

I had never been a 14-year-old boy before; I had been a 14-year-old girl and couldn’t really remember what I was like. According to my Mama, I was pretty horrid.

“It’s normal,” I was told.

I asked another friend who had two sons. She too assured me this was normal, even thought it was not exactly my favorite phase.

“We did some obnoxious stuff when we were 14, too,” she assured me. “We just don’t remember it. But I am quite sure we were just as bad. But boys will come around. Believe me; they do. That heart they have is still there, it’s just buried over hormones right now.”

His compassionate, kind heart was what I had always loved about my child. It was what others had loved as well.

I was thinking about all of this as we went through a drive thru one evening.

“I owe you an apology,” I began. “I should have let you tell your side of what happened. I am sorry.”

He looked at me and nodded. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I was not being very fair to you. And I was over-reacting just because I have taken some of your behavior personally. I should have heard you out.”

“I just don’t understand why the person said that,” he began. “And after thinking about it, the only thing I can think of, is she was just trying to look out for me because she cares about me. So, maybe it made her a bit overprotective. What do you think?”

I thought it was amazing that my child was looking for the positive in the other person, instead of trying to cast blame or fault, or even justify what he did.

He was looking at the heart of the other person.

For a fleeting moment, I saw that little tenderhearted boy flash before my eyes again.

Suddenly I realized, he may not be perfect, and he will make mistakes; that’s how he will learn. He may do some stupid things and get in trouble.
But deep down, he is a good kid and has a good heart. And I needed to remember that a little bit more.

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The Season of Sick

For four years, my house was a healthy place.

There was only an occasional allergy flare if I accidentally dusted or went outside when something was blooming.

Having a cold, flu, virus, or stomach bug was something we had gratefully avoided for a while.

At least, that is, until my child started school again.

The first week or so, he came down with something.

“He’s rebuilding his immune system,” I thought.

I didn’t know he was rebuilding mine as well.

A few days later, I came down with whatever crud he had.

Two weeks passed, and we were back at the doctor, getting swabbed for strep.

Of course, it came back positive and a round of antibiotics was prescribed, along with something for nausea because this strain also made one sick.

“It’s going around,” the doctor said. “This is the fifth case I have had this morning.”

“He hasn’t been sick in years,” I said. “He’s gone back to school and this is the second time I have been in here with him. The first month of school is not even over yet.”

The doctor just nodded and handed me the scripts.

By some small miracle, I didn’t get strep, but I have caught everything he else he has brought home.

And he has been sick just about every other week with some form of creepy crud.

The usual remedies that have been my tried and true methods have not even made a dent in these maladies.

Oscillococcinum, elderberry syrup, hot tea with lemon and honey – none of them yielded their usual results.

“We are going to need Granny’s home remedy,” I told Mama one day.

“Vicks all over the body?” she replied.

“No. Moonshine.”

As sick I have been the last few months, it seemed like a sensible cure.

At least it would knock me out for a few days.

Just when we would get through one round of illness, another one struck.

It has been a never-ending cycle of crud.

“I feel sick,” Cole said one evening.

“Don’t even start with that,” I said.

“I do though,” he protested.

I knew he did. I just wasn’t ready for yet another round of whatever throat, upper respiratory, stomach demon he was going to be fighting this time.

He somehow shook that one off, only to have it rebound the last week of school before Christmas break, right as he was taking finals.

“If I hadn’t missed any days of school, I wouldn’t have to take my finals,” he said, his head leaning against the window as I drove him to school.

“Well, you’ve been so sick, you haven’t had any choice but miss,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “You know who got to exempt? The kids that have come to school all sick and spreading their germs. That’s who. Because of them, I am sick and having to take these finals.”

I felt his pain. I have always been of the “if you’re sick, you stay home” camp and thought the whole perfect attendance thing was over-rated.

When I picked him up later that morning, he was looking forward to a few weeks to rest and recoup. And Taco Bell, his own cure-all method.

I thought surely a few weeks of rest and in his own familiar environment of germs would help he recover, and we could enjoy the holidays well and happy.

But the next morning, I woke with a tickle in the back of my throat.

“Oh, no. No, no,” I thought.

For the next 10 days, I was sick with whatever pestilence and plague my child had been fighting.

We sounded like a bunch of seals coughing 24 hours a day. There were days where all I did as sleep off and on as I watched Hallmark movies. I am not quite sure if I even showered as days ran together, only separated by the countdown to Christmas on the tv screen.

I went through tons and tons of stuff – cough drops, soup, tea, you name it – before finding solace in the old standby of Nyquil.

“It’s an OTC moonshine,” Mama declared as she sang its praises. “And it will help you rest, which will help you get well.”

I didn’t like taking it, but I didn’t like being sick either.

After what felt like an eternity, just a few days before the beginning of the year, we were back to our old cough-and-mucous free, feverless selves.

Then, Cole had to go back to school.

The first week was fine.

Maybe he has finally built his immune system back up, I thought. Maybe mine was as well.

Then, the second or third week, I had some tummy bug.

I went back home after taking Cole to school.

He was calling by 9:30. “Mom, I think I have what you have,” he said, sounding weak.

Just this week, he has missed yet another day.

It has been a vicious, awful cycle.

I am to the point I do not want to leave the house until all the bugs, viruses, flu strains, and everything else are over.

“Is mono contagious?” he asked the other day.

“Why?”

“This kid at school has it.”

“They were at school?” I asked. He nodded. “Where do they sit?”

“Right behind me.”

Of course they do.

The season of sick was evidently a long way from being over.

Ears Wide Shut

Listening is truly a lost art form it seems.

People just flat out no longer listen.

Instead, it feels more like people are only listening long enough to catch an opportunity to talk about themselves.

I find myself telling people things – important things – only for my words to be completely ignored.

Don’t even try to ask someone if they were listening. Odds are, they won’t hear that question either.

Listening is important.

You can pick up some pretty important information just from listening.

Case in point, a situation my child came to me about recently.

“You may hear from my teacher,” he began.

That’s never good, I thought. My experience had taught me teachers only called when something was wrong and usually, it was when the wrong-doing was on my behalf.

Instead of jumping right in with my questions, I decided this would be a good time to listen.

Mama always knew if she gave me the quiet treatment long enough, I would spill what she needed to know.

I thought I’d give her tactic a whirl instead of jumping in with my accusations and allegations.

“I made a zero on an assignment, but it counts as a test grade,” he continued after my silence.

“But it wasn’t my fault.”

I nodded slowly.

“Do you want to hear why it wasn’t my fault?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Well, my teacher told us we had to grade our own assignments, but we had to do in pen. She told us we could not use pencil.”

“OK.”
“I had picked up a pencil in my left hand and had a pen in the right,” he went on. “It was just out of habit. Really. I always have a pencil that I am bouncing. But she came by and picked up my test and gave me a zero. Just because I had a pencil in my hand – and it is not even the hand I write with!”

Now, I could understand his disappointment and frustration at getting the zero. I would have been devastated.

But that was not where his frustration was coming from.

The first point of contention was the teacher was one of his favorites.

She has known him most of his life and in Cole’s opinion, knew he wouldn’t cheat.

His second issue – and the one he was the most vocal about – was that she did not let him explain.

“I wasn’t using the pencil to grade my assignment. I was just bouncing it. Like I said, it wasn’t even in the hand I write with. It was not fair.”

“It didn’t have to be fair,” I said. “She said not to use a pencil.”

“I wasn’t!” he argued. “You aren’t listening to me. I had the pencil in my left hand – I am right handed! I couldn’t change the answer with my left hand.”
“She didn’t know that,” I said.

“She would have known had she let me explain.”

“She didn’t have to let you explain. She said no pencil. You had a pencil. End of story.”

“Did you hear what I said? I said, I had the pencil in my left hand. Not my right. I was not using it. Only bouncing it.”

“Did you hear what your teacher said? She said no pencil. She is a teacher. Not a cop. Not a judge. She is not there to hear your argument or for you to state your case. She told you if you used a pencil, you got a zero. She walked by and saw a pencil in your hand. So, it made sense to conclude you were going to use it. I don’t blame her and stand by her zero.”

I think at that moment, I lost a lot of mom points with my child.

I had always been the first to rush in with the cavalry to defend and protect him.

I had always stood up for him.

But this time, I didn’t. Instead, I told him the teacher was right.

I wasn’t going to call her, nor was I going to email her, asking her to let him explain.

I was going to let him learn this hard lesson.

He had heard his teacher say one thing – not to grade the paper with a pen – and thought he could go do another, as long as he wasn’t grading it.

Her instruction was implied.

It wasn’t spelled out explicitly, but it was more of a subtle understanding: just don’t pick up a pencil, because it will look like you are changing your answer.

And sometimes, those subtle understandings are the hardest to discern. Especially when we are only listening for what we want to hear.

The purple house pride

I always get nostalgic this time of year.

There was something so special and magical about the beginning of a new school year.

Brand new notebooks with clean, crisp pages. The fresh packs of pencils. The coveted big box of Crayolas that made you the queen of the classroom.

To me, the start of the school year was exciting and magical, a welcomed end to the boredom of summer.

One of my favorite things was getting to meet my new teacher.

Of course, the bar had been set high in kindergarten by Mrs. Howard. She was the litmus test by which every teacher and most humans must pass, with her sense of humor, compassion, and encouragement.

She made me love school. If I could have stayed in kindergarten with her as my teacher forever, I would have.

First grade, however, almost ruined my love for school.

This one teacher – one –tainted my whole school experience.

And she was bad enough that Mama still holds a spite and grudge against her to this day.

“She should have never been around children!” Mama will exclaim any time the woman’s name is mentioned.

I agree, but I don’t quite hold a grudge against her like Mama does. But then again, I am the child in this scenario; I am sure my perspective would be different if I was in Mama’s position.

This wretched woman did several things throughout my first-grade year that gave Mama good and justified reasons to dislike her.

“Stronger than dislike, Kitten,” Mama will remind me. “I cannot stand that woman.”

Now, what would possibly set my mild-mannered, kind-hearted Mama off like this? The woman whose favorite mantra was “there but by the grace of God go I?”

Well, let me tell you, it was not pretty, but it may not have been the most dramatic of events.
It was a primary school straw on a camel’s back.

My introduction to first grade left me wondering if one could possibly flunk out of school due to erroneous paper folding. I never successfully folded the construction paper in the certain manner this horrid teacher wanted.

I didn’t say a word to Mama; instead, I begged Granny to help me fix it.

If anyone could fix something that involved paper, fabric, or anything related to crafts, it was Granny. I am fairly certain she could have built a house with a needle and thread.

Granny helped me interpret the directions, which we followed explicitly. The teacher still said it was wrong.

“Now she’s saying I did it wrong, and I don’t make no mistakes!” Granny said. “There ain’t no pleasing this woman.”

She wasn’t wrong.

We followed the directions, but she insisted it was still wrong.

A classmate did it the same way, yet this woman did not admonish her the way she did me.

“Maybe you need to go back to kindergarten,” she said to me one day.

“Will you stay in first grade?” I asked.

“Yes,” the bitter woman replied.

“OK.”

I wanted away from her. I had no idea how or why she disliked me so. I was a chubby little woblin of a child and eager to make adults happy. Usually, teachers loved me.

But this woman hated me.

She had even told me on the first day of school she had hoped I wasn’t going to be in her class.

What kind of adult does that? What was wrong with her?

Of course, my beloved Mrs. Howard was teaching first grade that year and I had hoped and prayed, to the point of negotiating with God I would give up all things Little Debbie, to have Mrs. Howard again

Instead I got this shrew.

Mama was right, she had no business being around small children.

One day, we had to color a picture for fire safety week. We could color the house any color we wanted, as long as the fire and the fire truck were red.

My house was my favorite color: purple.

Not pink, which I have never cared for. Not white, not brown.

Purple. See, long before I fell in love with anything Prince, I loved the color purple.

So, my house was purple.

My fire was red – even though fire is really not red but more of a yellow-orange hue.

And my fire truck was red.

The two requirements were met.

The teacher refused to hang mine on the hall with the rest of my classmates, declaring in front of the class that no houses anywhere in the U.S. of A were purple.

“Your mother will not be proud of what you did because I will not hang it out on the hall with everyone else,” the woman told me.

I shrugged. “That’s okay, my Mama is proud of me anyway.”

“No, she’s not,” the woman sneered. “Your picture will not be allowed to be displayed in the hall. How could she proud of failure?”

Even though I was a kid, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, my Mama was proud of me whether my painting made the hall display or not. That didn’t earn my Mama’s love or praise.

Years later, I was standing in the drugstore with my friends Laura and Jane when that horrid woman walked by. She greeted both while ignoring me.

“She still hates you,” Jane said shocked.

As a new school year starts, this experience always comes to mind because I know there are more Mrs. Howards in classrooms than there is that horrible woman.

But, I hope, more than anything, there are more children knowing they are loved and worthy beyond just what gets hung in the halls.