December 20, 2012

think twice

I am humbled and saddened by the headline news. A young man did something so horrific and unthinkable.

We gasp, we pause, we wring our hands. We wonder what it is like.

I don't know. But yet, I think I can relate. Yes, believe it or not, I get it.

I am the parent of high schoolers. One in the first year, one in the last. Like the world will tell you, it goes fast. But not so fast I've forgotten. In fact, I remember all too well. I remember a moment of fear. It gripped me like a demon.

When my first child was in kindergarten, I had the typical mom fears. I worried if she would have an accident, how she would navigate lunches, and if she would be understood. My fears were quickly alleviated. She was well beyond potty training, I fed her before she went to school, and while understood, she was recommended for speech therapy. (We took a wait and see approach which worked fine).

Nonetheless, sending our first child to school was fraught with the usual parental concerns. After the first week, she came home regaling tales of another classmate who seemed to bully her. She was by far the youngest one in the class (she began kindergarten at age 4, very close to the cut off date). I advised her to not tattle, but try to handle it on her own. I said, don't bother the teacher unless it's really big. I was determined not to be one of "those parents". I wanted to let life unfold on its own terms in its own way without me hovering like a control freak.

I had no idea what would transpire.

One September afternoon she came home, upset and indignant. She proclaimed that the young person who bullied her had lied. I looked at her quizzically. What are you talking about, I asked.

She proceeded to explain how she had spent the afternoon in the principal's office. That the young bully had said something horrible to her and when she told the teacher, they were hauled to the office. What happened I gasped with terror?

My child explained. "Mommy I got on the bus, and X said, I know where you live and my mommy has a gun. I'm going to come shoot you."

I was aghast. I ran to my answering machine convinced I had somehow or another missed a phone call. I was sure my negligence was part of this issue. The machine was silent.

I called the principal. Shaking. Inconsolable.

The first words were, "I figured I'd be hearing from you".

Flabbergasted, I only muttered. Um, yeah.

I quickly regained my composure to say, "Why didn't you call me? Why did my child spend the afternoon in your office and I had no idea?"

The moment quickly digressed. The administrator was in defense mode of an indefensible. Muttering things about how they handled it in house, that they knew the family and that they didn't want to make a big deal were lost on my ears.

My child received a death threat.

We lived in an exemplary district. We chose it for many good reasons, but primarily that it was known for its schools. I was beside myself. I had no idea what to do.

None. The school felt the situation was handled. They had called the other parents and determined that that remark "meant nothing", therefore no need to alert the parent of the threatened child.

I felt dismissed, but could not stop thinking about the 6 year old in Michigan who shot a schoolmate the previous year. I could not feel comfortable sending my child to school. The school had not done a psychological evalutaion, they had not checked police records, they did nothing but call the other kid's parents. All I knew was that what I expected and what the school did was not aligned.

I contemplated my options. My own child wasn't nearly as upset as I was. She was merely upset that the other child denied what they said. (for the record, that's just not something a kindergartner can make up, there is no doubt it was said any more than the child who said it would deny as much when they got in trouble).

I didn't know what to do. I drove my child to school the following day, and marching into the principal's office. I'd already contacted the school board. explaining my problem. So I asked the principal to give me the other parent's name and contact information.

I decided to contact the other parent.

I called that person on the phone and said, I cannot imagine what your day has been like anymore than you can imagine what mine was like. But I would like to invite you and your child over to our house and see if we can work this out mom to mom, child to child.

It was no easy call. It felt weird and creepy to be honest. I felt like I was contacting a potential mass murderer. But I didn't know. I just knew that unless I made contact with the source of my worries, in the absence of school intervention, I could not continue to send my child to school there. I already had a pile of parochial schools in the list.

Instead, I listened to another mother breakdown hysterically on the other end of the phone. Wailing, sobbing, crying. She couldn't stop apologizing, stating over and over she had no idea where her child's words came from. She just didn't know.

I realized then... the only thing more terrifying than having your child threatened? Is when your child does the threatening. I shed a tear or two myself during that phone call as I tried to maintain my stance as the victim. But I realized truly the best thing to do was move forward.

They came over. The kids played and we moms drank coffee and talked. To this day, we don't know why that other child said what they said. I do know that there was a happy ending.

What more could I ask for?


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