Tuesday, August 24, 2004

First Day of School Redux

I have, at times, been bowled over, or reluctant to have discomfort, and so have not been the advocate for my children that I could have. Case in point: when Sam was in third grade, he told me about two girls bullying him, but because I was busy and didn't really take it seriously, I didn't contact the teacher or talk to the principal until the school year was nearly over and these girls had already done a real number on his self-esteem. They made a quiet point of making mean comments very quietly, treating him like he had cooties, and just generally singling him out for ridicule.

I have become aware that we don't really have a vocabulary in this country for the kind of damage that mean looks can inflict: smirks, crossed-eyes, giggles, the raised eyebrow, etc. These things are not very concrete. And if adults have a hard time articulating their effect, imagine the difficulty for children.

Sam spent most of last year reconstructing his sense of self.

Yesterday when we went to meet his teacher, he let out a yelp as he realized that the worst girl, the one who had led these attacks, was in his new class. He calmed down and decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, a year's worth of maturity. I was not so sure.

I told the teacher and then the principal my concerns.

This morning, I took his brothers to school first-- they often win by virtue of being younger and more. But that was possibly a mistake, and possibly a good thing. By the time I got Sam to school, we were late. He hates this. He hates going in late and having attention. It's not so bad during the year-- I am always late and he hates it, but at least last year he was in a friendly class.

Imagine it on the first day when you know that Chloe Hubbard awaits you. Her seat was directly in front of Sam's.

I took him in and they were in the middle of class introductions. Chloe is a pretty little blonde girl with glasses. Very pretty, in fact. And she looked at Sam the way a cat looks at a tunafish sandwich. She smirked and caught another girl's eye and laughed, with the slightest turn of her head toward Sam. She focused her little girl stare on him as he stammered out his introduction. The teacher's back was to her, but I was in the hallway, fixed upon her. She caught my eye and corrected the look on her face, and that was enough. I knew what the year held in store for my son.

I went to the principal's office and said, "I need to have Sam moved out of that little girl's classroom."

Miraculously, they didn't question it or try to argue. The principal recommended another teacher, the teacher I had wanted Sam to have to begin with, and I didn't have to say a word about it. I would have taken any teacher to get Sam away from Chloe, but this is a double blessing.

I went down and asked Sam if I could speak with him in the hall. He was so embarrassed that he was going to have to move classes, and I pressed him close to me and let him cry. The principal came to get him and told me she would send someone back for his things, so he didn' t have to go back and clear out his desk in front of Chloe Hubbard.

I know that Sam's new teacher probably made Sam feel at ease right away because I know Tommy well. He is a great reader, and a great soul, and we have been friends for years. I am so relieved I could cry.

This morning, my heart was pounding well after I had driven to work and come in. The adrenalin was pumping.

You know, it occurred to me this morning that whenever I have an eyelash on my cheek, I wish to be able to take care of my boys properly. In whatever form that happens to come in.

My friend Rachel always says, "The universe takes care."

There have been times in my adult life (which really began three years ago in the middle of winter when I took my small children and walked into the bank and cleared half of the money from my joint account while my husband was out of town) when I have worried about financial security (say, every day of my adult life), but this morning it occurred to me, as I blew the eyelash off my freckled cheek in the mirror, that I'm not the only one in this picture. There are little people who need to be taken care of. And whomever is watching out for me is watching out doubly for them.

The universe takes care.

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