When I was eight years old, our chocolate labrador, Meg, was struck and killed by a car in Sheepshead Bay. She was only three, and she was a beautiful, docile animal that would allow all three of us kids to stick our hands down her throat and pull her tail, even while she was eating. She was well-trained, too, and would come tearing straight for you with as little as a hand wave in her direction, which was why my father allowed her to run freely in a parking lot that terrible Sunday morning. It was a hit and run, and my father and his brother knelt by her side to see if there was anything they could do, but poor Nutmeg was in shock, and she bit my uncle ferociously on the wrist before passing away. My uncle had to go to the hospital. When my father told the three of us what happened, it was the first time I saw him cry.
I feel like that these days, like our poor dying dog, biting helplessly and uncharacteristically at anything that comes my way. I’m so furious about what happened this past week at our son’s public school that I felt like biting the head off the lady at the post office just because she didn’t have any collector’s stamps. An elderly man gave me a disapproving glance because I pulled too closely alongside his parked car that same day, and I literally stepped out of my vehicle and shouted at him for looking at me funny. And then he shouted something back at me as I entered the post office to which I screamed back — “Go take your medication!” — only to turn my head forward and notice about thirty people waiting in line, all looking at me with expressions that can only be described as a mixture of horror and disgust. And really, the truth is I did pull alongside that man’s car awfully close. He had a right to be irritated, and probably I am the one who needs to be medicated.
This is all misdirected anger, I know. This Friday marked the second week of Ray’s matriculation into kindergarten, and although he rarely gives up any information, this past Wednesday while snapping a few Legos together he said something so quietly, in such a whispered tone, that I almost didn’t hear it on my way to the kitchen. He said, “The music teacher grabbed my arm.”
I walked backwards into the dining room where he was sitting in front of the small hill of Lego pieces and said, as quietly and nonchalantly as I could muster, “I’m sorry?”
It took a while to get the whole story out, mostly because when you ask a small child questions you must use a very open-ended line of interrogation lest you lead the witness. You can’t say did she yell at you because you were bad, but why did she yell at you, or even better: tell me exactly what happened and I will give you four ice-cream cones before dinner.
Here is what happened. He was fooling around in music class, trying to impress Armani with silly sounds, when the teacher grabbed his arm and screamed in his face WE DON’T DO THAT IN KINDERGARTEN.
And here’s the part that really killed my head. “Mama,” said, puffing out his chest proudly, “I felt the tears coming out of my eyes, but then I just put my head down and said don’t cry, don’t cry, and so I didn’t.”
My son doesn’t cry easily. My daughter, Lucy, will cry if you hug her the wrong way. But my son? He watches me cry during Les Miserables as if he’s got some kind of dissociative disease. He’s practically sociopathic.
Here is the first thing that came into my mind after Ray told me this little story. And also the second, the third, and the thirty-third.
I am going over to that school and I am going to beat the daylights out of that teacher. I don’t care what my five-year-old did in there, I don’t care if he set fire to the maracas, you don’t touch my child in anger. I am going over there and things will happen that cannot be written here and I will probably end up in jail where I will edit my memoirs, the working title of which will be, I Am Going to Kill Her.
Last Thursday night, the eve of my first post about the atrocities of public school, Lynn and I attended Curriculum Night. We skipped the introductory assembly, where the principal spoke to parents for thirty-five minutes about how wonderful a community we all are, followed by a short presentation by the PTA president who encouraged us all, literally, to save our beer bottles and put them into a receptacle outside the school to raise money because last year there were enough beer bottles to raise a thousand dollars! We came in at the tail end of this speech and went straight to Ray’s kindergarten class, where we listened to her tell a group of parents that she preferred we not be in the classroom as helpers because it confuses the children as to who is the real mommy in the room. She spoke about the curriculum and her reward and punishment system, and how safety is the most prominent part of classroom discussions, especially during the first few weeks of school.
Ray did tell me the other day that two children in another kindergarten class were being unsafe with pencils, and the punishment was to sit and face the wall in another kindergarten classroom where you didn’t know the teacher. And, Ray added, if you were especially bad you had to stand and face the wall, you couldn’t even sit. I know this is true, by the way, because I casually asked the aide about it the next day, and she proudly concurred that Ray’s account was accurate. I did not ask her if she knew the year was 2013 and that McCarthy was no longer in office.
Ray’s kindergarten teacher went on for a while, talking about sight words and proficiency report cards, and when the last parent had thanked her for all that she had done in the first eight days of school, Lynn and I stood up to speak with her about his excessive number of Time Outs and what happened in music class.
She was very friendly and straightforward, and we actually appreciated being told that the parents she hates the most are the ones like us, educators and homosexuals. Just kidding. She doesn’t care about the homosexual part (I don’t think). But she made it clear that she doesn’t care for parents who know anything about pedagogy. This annoys me. I believe the more sophisticated approach to parental involvement is to use classroom parents to your advantage. With such a large classroom, a teacher can always use another person to help a wayward child with the glue stick.
I realize she was trying to be funny when she said, “I hate parents like you,” or better yet, “I don’t do a newsletter because I don’t want parents to know what I’m doing in here,” but I am also of the mind that every joke is your subconscious fighting its way to the truth. We didn’t think her jokes were funny, even though we pretended to laugh. Still, we feel his teacher is competent and non-volatile, she is having to deal with an extremely large class, and that for the most part she is doing the best she can with the resources that she has (parent banishing not withstanding).
We asked her how to approach the music teacher, not so much because we didn’t know, but because we were interested in her reaction. She indicated in so many words that this particular teacher is a screamer. She also said the first thing she always asks a teacher when she finds out a child has been screamed at or arm-grabbed is to ask: what did he do?
In short, she said it wasn’t a big deal.
I disagree. I don’t think the first thing you ask is, what did he do. I think the first thing you ask is, are you a medieval imbecile and if you dare touch my child again or even scream at him would you like me to drive a stake directly through your heart or would you rather I hammer a nail into your eye?
With this lively attitude, we bid our adieus to Ms. Law and went to see the music teacher.
And here, dear readers, is where I will leave off today. Stay tuned for Public School, Part 3 first thing in your inbox, or on the blog, Thursday morning.