Monthly Archives: May 2009

Be cool, Stephen: Part Deux

So Tuesday I drive my kids to school and the wife and I show up unannounced in the principal’s office.

Still smarting from my son’s recounting of the choking incident, I was ready to rip someone a new one.

“Are you here for Family of the Week?” asks the receptionist, ever so politely.

 

This is where it all went down.

This is where it all went down.

“No.” I shoot back icily, “we’d like to speak with the Principal about an incident involving our son yesterday.”

Don’t be acting all sweet when you know you’re running a zoo lady!

“Do you have an appointment?” Again, with the sweetness.

“No.”

No advance warning. No chance to get your stories straight. 

“Please have a seat. And who is your son’s teacher?” she asks, once more, ever so politely.

“Ms. Lennon.”

I think I’ll stand, thank you very much!

If I thought I was hungry for blood, wifey was pacing back and forth as if she sensed prey close by.

A few minutes later, we see our son, hand-in-hand with his teacher, Ms. Lennon, walking down the hall to the principal’s office.

Ms. Lennon is fine. She and Chima make a handsome vision walking towards us.

Why didn’t I have teachers like that when I was in school?

We exchange pleasantries and I go in.

“Now we understand that you were understaffed yesterday, so you may not be aware, but apparently, when the kids were on their way to music, Jaleel…”

“No daddy, Jahier…”

Boy, what have I told you about interrupting me?

“Whatever his name is, was upset that Chima cut in front of him in line, and retaliated by choking him.”  

Let it sink in.  Marinate over that!

I continued, “he came home totally out-of-sorts, and I understand that this Jaleel fella…”

“Jahier, daddy!”

You are about to be whupped!

“Uh, this Jahier is a trouble-maker, and I can’t be concerned about my son being harmed in kindergarten, by another kindergartner no less.”

Ms. Lennon looked a little peakish. 

You should be shook!

She left us to talk to ‘Big Momma’ Ms. Lindsay, the school’s principal, and returned a few minutes later to invite us into the principal’s office.

There we sat, Ms. Lindsay, Mr. Brennan (the school’s counselor), the wife, Ms. Lennon, Chima and I.

Again, I went in. I recapped the previous day’s incident, with frequent pauses for dramatic effect, allowing myself an opportunity to gauge the reaction of the school officials gathered before me. Blank faces stared back.  

Man, this is a hard crowd!

The principal started, “Chima, didn’t we talk yesterday?”

What? Chima? Talk? Yesterday? 

“Yes.”

What the hell do you mean ‘yes’? Boy, I thought you said said no one was around…

“As soon as I called his name…you see they were in the music room because that’s where they wait for their buses…the tears just started.”

“He’s very sensitive.” chimes in Ms. Lennon.

The wife nods in assent.

Crying? Cause she called him out?

The principal continued, “I asked him why he pushed Jahier…”

Geeeeeezzzzuusssss!

Long-ish story short, my son was not choked.  He put his hands on the other boy first.  He was ‘talked to’ at school (hence the tear-stained cheeks). When questioned, he embellished or selectively remembered the parts of the incident guaranteed to elicit the appropriate response from the parentals (from mom dukes really, she’s easily swayed).

At the end of the day, I was all up-in-arms over nothing. The school is fine. This Jahier chap is not troubled.

My advice to all you parents: take your kids at their word, but maintain a little bit ‘o distance, lest the truth be slightly different.

I got nuthin! 

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Be cool, Stephen. Be cool.

Be cool, Stephen.  Be cool.

I’m repeating this mantra as I excuse myself from a meeting, rush out into the hall and call the wife.

“What the fuck is going on!?” I demand as she picks up and starts to recount the incident giving rise to the ‘Jaleel choked Chima in school today’ text on my iPhone (which I was reading surreptitiously until I got to that line and flew into a fury).

Be cool, Stephen. Be cool.

I’m trying to check my inner rudeboy as people from other offices stream past me in the hall.

I growl into the phone: “Where was his teacher?” “What were they doing?” “Who is this Jaleel?” “What EXACTLY happened?” The questions stream rapid-fire from my lips.

Be cool, Stephen. Be cool.

“In the back of the line.” “They were on their way to music class.” “He’s a boy from his class.” “That’s what I’m trying to figure out.” Come her responses in equally rapid fire fashion.

“Where was Miss Lennon?” “Where was the class aide?” “Why was Jaleel putting his hands on Chima?” More questions, I’m not satisfied.

Be cool, Stephen. Be cool.

Through the phone I hear my wife ask, “Chima, where was Ms. Lennon?” My son answers, “She was in the class because Ms. Paris was out sick.” Ok. That answers the aide question too. Understaffing, Ms. Lennon doesn’t play that shit.

More eavesdropping, “Chima, why was Jaleel touching you?” Son: “He said I cut him in line.” Inaudible contribution from the big sister chiming in with her two cents, no doubt. Cutting in line, choking.  This kid is clearly fucking troubled.

Be cool, Stephen. Be cool.

Ok. Chima’s talking, so he’s fine. “No bruises, I hope.” “No he’s fine.  He just had the remnants of tears streaking down his face.” 

“Did he tell anyone?” “No.” My son’s got tear trails down his face and no one even noticed?  WTF!

Be cool, Stephen. Be cool.

Tomorrow, I’ve got a date with the principal, the teacher and a little boy named Jaleel (at whom I intend to glower until he gets the point). 

I hope I remember my mantra.

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Dad’s First Rule of Parenting: Protect the Family

I frequently complain that there is no instruction manual for being a parent. I mean, we all have some innate parenting abilities (baby crying, go to baby) but some parenting skills come more naturally than others.

As I was making sure all the doors and windows were closed and locked last night, it dawned on me that parenting is not about the grand gestures, but the simple things we do: checking the doors and windows before you go to bed at night.

I started thinking about the myriad of little things, that, in the aggregate, truly make us parents: tucking them in to bed, reading stories, playing together. These little events create a rich fabric of experience through which children find themselves and develop.

Children thrive on security, so as I walked my beat, through the house, I came up with the first rule of parenting for dads: protect the family. Do what you’ve got to do to ensure their safety.

This doesn’t mean packing a Smith & Wesson, but it does mean that as parents, we take whatever steps are necessary to keep our physical (and emotional) surroundings free of hazards (both internal and external).

I’m going to compile a list of these little jewels and share them with you from time to time (I know my six readers can’t wait!).

My goal is to be a resource for dads (and moms, but mostly dads) so that the fellas get some parenting guidance too.

BTW Oprah, I’m available for interviews.

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