The office visit
“This is So-and-so, principal of the abc elementary school.”
I knew exactly who she was. “Oh, hi!” I said. Was I being too cheerful? While we had chatted cordially while I was at school for one thing or another and I had received many a recorded message from her over the years, the personal call felt a little ominous to me.
“We have a problem.”
“We do? Who is we?”
“Your youngest. He’s sitting in my office.”
“Oh, no! Really? Him?”
“Can you come in?” I had told my son’s teacher during our conversation after the last almost-office visit (averted when my son decided to make a “better choice” at the last minute while on the way to the office) that I was just up the street and would be happy to come in and support any sort of disciplinary action.
“Okay, I’ll be there in 5 – no 10 – minutes.” I remembered I wasn’t all the way dressed in leaving-the-house clothes. I picked up my office phone and realized that the conference call was about to conclude anyway so I hung up, and sent an IM to the moderator to apologizing for the premature hangup, since I know how rude it is to hear people beeping out at the conclusion of a meeting before it’s actually over, and set my online status to “stepped away.”
I slipped on a jean skort and changed from my athletic slide shoes to a pair of “dress flip flops,” rearranged my hair and was on my way. When I got to the school, I realized I better get rid of the gum I was chewing, but added lip gloss to my otherwise un-made up face. (My mom never went anywhere without lipstick, and while my brother and I used to bust her about it, now I have become her.) I felt like I was the one in trouble.
I got to the office and the office ladies said, “No need to sign in!” Apparently they all knew I wasn’t there to volunteer that day.
I saw my son sitting in the inner sanctum of the office eating his lunch. Mrs. So-and-so headed me off and debriefed me. I imagined he was having a hard time getting back into the swing after being out of school sick for four days during his second full week of kindergarten. Or maybe he just really didn’t feel like doing the work. Or both.
We sat down and together with him and I listened as she gave me the little-ears overview of the situation: my son has a disrespectful attitude and refused to do his work, and some of the things that he had told her, such as, “My brothers want me to get in trouble.”
And though I had the sense that my comments hadn’t been necessary up to that point, I chimed in, “Of course they don’t, honey – do you know neither one of them have ever had an office visit?” I wasn’t going to let his brothers be the scapegoats, a recurring theme in our family in which he reveled and through which I had begun to see.
Ultimately, my son’s teacher came in to join the meeting. When he apologized, they returned to class together, and I returned to my home office for my 12:00 p.m. conference call, feeling once again like “the worst mother in the world.” In fact I obsessed about that for the whole hour with my walking buddies later that afternoon.
That evening at dinner, before I could bring it up, my youngest blurted out the story of his office visit to his brothers.
“Wait, what?” his oldest brother perked up.
“No, you didn’t! Really? What did you do?” my middle son asked.
“I didn’t want to do my work and I pushed the papers off the table. I said ‘whatever’ and ‘I don’t care’ to Mrs. So-and-so.”
And, because my youngest had dragged his brothers through the mud, I added, “He told the principal that you guys wanted him to get in trouble.” The ensuing conversation went something like this.
Oldest: “We do not!”
Middle: “You can’t tell her that!”
Oldest: “Oh my gosh, I’m embarrassed that you’re my brother!”
I gasped inwardly and put my hand on my youngest’s knee. “See, they definitely don’t want you to get in trouble. I don’t want you to get in trouble either!”
Middle: “Geez, just because you don’t wanna to do something doesn’t mean you don’t haveta do it!”
Oldest: “Yeah, and you can’t talk back to your teacher! That’s like, really bad.”
Middle: “Yeah – really, really bad!”
My youngest looked at his brothers with wide eyes and said nothing, but the gears must have been turning because it’s been a week and I haven’t received any more phone calls from school officials.