Most people would probably agree that I am not a confrontational person. In fact, I will do just about anything to avoid conflict. Even when it involves my children’s well-being, I am not quick to attack. Instead, I gather all the details, spending endless hours running through all possible scenarios until I have either decided on a plan of action or I finally come to terms with whatever it might be and put it to rest. This is why I am having such an issue deciding on what do about something that recently happened with my son.
Yesterday, I received a call from the school nurse. Her first words were “No one is sick.” My first thought was “Then, why are you calling me?” She went on to explain that my son had come into her office during recess complaining of a cough. She was concerned that he may have been having an allergic reaction to something because his face was red and splotchy. After asking a few questions, she soon discovered that he was very upset and the splotchiness was due to fighting back tears. He told her that he had gotten in trouble during lunch and had to “sit on the stage” (it is a multi-purpose room, and the stage is a place for kids to sit and ponder what they might have done wrong—the equivalent of public humiliation for my son). He had gone to the nurse because he was too embarrassed to face his teacher or his friends. When she asked him why he had gotten punished, he told her that he had accidentally dropped his football on the floor. The nurse did her best to make him feel better, and within a short time, she was able to walk him back to class.
On my way to pick him up a few hours later, I decided that I wouldn’t ask him about what happened unless he looked upset or if he mentioned it to me. When I finally laid eyes on him, I was relieved to see that he seemed fine, and I thought that maybe he had put the whole thing out of his mind. When my daughter got out of school, however, I could immediately tell that she already knew what happened and wanted to talk to me about it. I stopped her before she said something that would have reminded her brother, and instead waited until we were alone to find out what she wanted to tell me.
As it turned out, she had witnessed her brother getting in trouble. The way she explained it was that as he went to pick up his football, the woman screamed at him “What are you doing?” and immediately told him to sit on the stage. My daughter, seeing her brother holding back tears, went over to check on him. Just as she asked him how he was, the woman yelled—this time at my daughter—telling her to “get away from him.” This made my son cry, and as my daughter relayed the details of how she had no choice but to walk away from him, her eyes filled with tears.
The detail in all of this that made my maternal protectiveness kick in was that the woman who punished him was not a teacher, an Aid, or even someone who worked in the school—it was a mother, a woman whose daughter attends the school and who volunteers during lunch. It wasn’t the fact that she punished my son, it was that she screamed at him, and that this was the second time this had happened. It is not that I expect this woman to know the personalities of every child in the school, nor do I expect her to somehow treat my son differently. However, the very idea that an adult would actually yell at my child just seems to somehow cross a line.
Something very similar to this happened to my daughter a few years ago. During lunch one day, the kids were directed to sit with their own classes. When a boy in her grade—who wasn’t in her actual class—tried to sit at her table, she told him to sit somewhere else. This boy’s mother was volunteering that day, and witnessed her son being told to move to another table. It’s possible that my daughter may have given him an attitude, it’s even possible that she may have been rude, but she didn’t deserve what happened next. This mom yelled at my daughter, calling her “rude” and a “brat” in front of her friends. She then continued to rant about my daughter to the other table of students, and even to some of the other mothers who were volunteering—all while my daughter was listening to every word. The moment she got in the car that evening, she burst into tears. I had never seen her cry about school, and for the next few hours, all she could talk about was what had happened. Her main concern was returning to lunch and seeing this mom the next day. I had never seen her so distraught—filled with so much anxiety—that I realized that I had to do something.
I was able to find the woman’s email address, and I wrote her a letter. I did not yell, or swear, or write down empty threats. Instead, I tried to make her see things through my daughter’s eyes—my sensitive, kind, loving, and compassionate daughter. I reminded her that she is an adult, she shouldn’t have humiliated my daughter, nor behaved no better than the 4th graders she was serving. I told her that even if my daughter had done something wrong, she should have gone to the Principal or a teacher—she should never have taken it upon herself to publicly berate my child.
I received a response back from this woman that same evening, but nothing could have prepared me for her words—she apologized, and she thanked me for being so candid and heart-felt in defense of my daughter. She told me that she was ashamed of how she acted, even if it came in defense of her own child. We ended up writing back-and-forth over the next few days, and when she saw my daughter at school, she apologized to her as well.
I wrote about finding my “Village” in a previous post, and I am left wondering if by writing that email a few years ago, I might have—even in a small way—altered the way this mother may have since interacted with other children. Now I feel I am faced with a similar situation—here is a mother who is acting in a way that is hurtful to my son—should I reach out to her, a woman I do not know? I normally end my posts with my words of advice, but today, I am asking for your advice. What would you do in this situation, as doing nothing feels as if I am waiting for it to happen again? I am at a loss.
I have written an update to this post, which you can read here. I want to thank you all for your incredible words of support and advice—they mean more than I can say.