Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Stardom Week - Part 9

This is Part Nine of a Nine Part Series

If I owned a Gucci pantsuit I would have worn that for my meeting with Mrs. H. That was how badly I needed to be in battle amour. K pronounced that my outfit was perfect for the purpose at hand. The day was easier than I had thought it would be. Today was J's day to take her favorite snack to share with the class. Given the pattern of disappointments that she had dealt with since the beginning of the week, I had not given it to her to take to her class. I told J, I would bring it in when I went to meet Mrs. H in the afternoon.

The previous night I had been talking with M about this whole fiasco and he said something interesting. "It seems to me that you bear a great deal of resentment for this teacher. Why is that ?" I had no idea but it was true that I did not like Mrs H very much. I think we started off on a bad note from the first time she sent a note home addressed to Mrs (J's Last Name). Her denial of my existence and entity peeved me greatly. From that point on, everything went further south.

The few times that we had met previously she seemed intent on establishing that I was a single mother of very slender means who could ill afford the smallest luxuries in a child's life. Finally, she gave me minimal credit for knowing what teaching methods worked best for my child. For some reason she viewed me as an adversary who was bent on challenging her authority when in fact that was far from the truth.Maybe it was something about my personality or how I came across to her. It could be one of many things.

M was telling me about the Latin root of the word resent and how that meant emptiness of feeling. His theory was that the negativity that flowed back and forth between us had caused this impasse. After reliving the events of the week many times, that negativity had magnified to the point where I had started to see myself as a complete saint and her as the complete monster. There was no longer room for shades of gray in this. It was all black against all white. I thought that was a plausible theory. While he did not deny the possibility of racial discrimination, he believed that my reaction to the situation had a lot to do with my feelings (or the emptiness of all feelings) towards her.

We had talked about my need to maintain my composure in order to have a meaningful discussion with her. He had a suggestion. "Maybe you should try wishing for something good to happen to her tomorrow. Something you would want for yourself. That might help reduce your resentment and chanel some positive energy between the two of you". I thought that was a very interesting idea and it would not hurt to try.

My meeting with Mrs. H lasted almost an hour and we did part on better terms than we had been on until then. Based on both versions of the story (J's and hers) I concluded that she had indeed treated my child differently than the other kids. It was done so subtly that a kid not as hyper sensitive as J would not even have noticed.

I could tell she was shocked at J's ability to recall events with so much clarity and compare her experience with that of the other kids. No detail was too small to have escaped her. I impressed upon Mrs H that through the course of the week, things had happened that had caused J a great deal of disappointment and knowing my child she can go in denial when disappointed. And that would explain the lie about the events on Tuesday.

She was forthcoming on her own about having called J to her desk after reading my note because she was so surprised to learn how differently J recalled the events and she was hardly a forgetful child. Our conversation was a two dimensional thing. There was one meaning that was being conveyed directly and another that was suggested in an pregnant undertone. What I did not say was just as important as what I did and I from her facial expression and body language I could tell she was guilty of what J had felt "I was treated differently than the other kids".

On the positive side, I came away realizing that race had little or nothing to do with the whole episode. Mrs H was acting out of her dislike of me and unfortunately for J she became a victim of an unspoken war between two adults. She is competing with me as a parent and for some reason believed that the poster that I helped my child create was a sign of my victory over her, that I was the superior parent despite being divorced. When I told all this to K the next day she said "Yeah, women can be catty sometimes. But its better than her being a redneck !" My other friends were relieved as well though everyone admitted that on surface it bore all the signs of discrimination. It would be imprudent of me to not continue to monitor things closely for the rest of the school year.

I am not sure what the events of the week taught me about my identity as a single parent, a mother, a minority of color in a snooty white neighborhood, about my ethnically diverse friends, my child and not to mention Mrs H. It seems like I have opened a Pandora's box and don't have the least idea how to close it. I am not sure if I consciously decided not to see the racial element in Mrs. H's behavior with J knowing fully well that I was powerless to change it.

Maybe I decided that it was me the person, the woman and the mother that she disliked and not the color of my skin and my ethnicity. Maybe I was seeking to escape from something that made me so sick that I had to lay down and rest all Saturday to recover my normal functionality. Maybe I have gone into denial about the truth as I saw it and want to gloss it over so J and I can go on with life as usual.

1 comment:

Musings.. said...

Hi.. I read the entire series with interest.. I can understand most of that living in an alien country with kids and being a single mother too...

I admire your being reasonable and giving both the teacher and child the benifit of doubt.. Sometimes when kids lie.. I am so completely dissapointed and cant seem to figure out why.

By the way.. may be you would like to read a note that Abraham Lincoln once sent to the head master of his sons' school..

A letter written by Abraham Lincoln to the Headmaster of a school in which his son was studying.


"He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just and are not true. But teach him if you can, the wonder of books. But also give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun and flowers on a green hillside.

In school, teach him it is far more honorable to fail than to cheat.....

Teach to have faith in his own ideas, even if everyone tells him he is wrong.

Teach him to be gentle with gentlepeople and tough with the tough.

Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone getting on the bandwagon...

Teach him to listen to all men; but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth, and take only the good that comes through.

Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he is sad. Teach him there is no shame in tears.

Teach him to scoff at cynics and to be beware of too much sweetness.

Teach him to sell his brawn and brain to highest bidders, but never to put a price on his heart and soul.

Teach him to close his ears to a howling mob and stand and fight if thinks he is right.

Treat him gently, but do not cuddle him, because only the test of fire makes fine steel.

Let him have the courage to be impatient. Let him have the patience to be brave.

Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself, because then he will have faith in humankind.

This is a big order, but see what you can do. He is such a fine little fellow my son!