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Who’s the Boss?

She doesn’t know it yet, but my mother volunteered in Simon’s class yesterday. Or at least, a younger, shorter, darker version of her did. Those differences between the two of us aside, she surely would have recognized nearly every word that came out of my mouth.

And that would be because today, for the first time over an extended period of time, I HAD to sound like my mother in order to discipline a child. Simon is sufficiently compliant that I rarely if ever have to invoke what I think of as “the wrath of Rita” (hereafter WoR). To be fair, I didn’t get much of that myself growing up. But my brothers sure did, and I remember what it sounded like. Nor do my preschoolers get exposed to the WoR, as for the most part it would be developmentally inappropriate.

But with a group of misbehaving second-graders? Bring it! Wednesday I brought it to math circle, where I work with a group of above-grade-level kids to enrich the curriculum. The current unit is on geometry, and the kids are learning the very beginnings of fractions. When I last saw them two weeks ago, most were struggling to visualize fractions and therefore couldn’t manipulate them at all. I made some progress with them, but was excited to return with better visuals.

So this morning I dragged out Simon’s old Geomag toys, which I thought were perfect for the task at hand, and headed over to school. I expect kids to be chatty at 2:00 p.m, and I understand that super-bright kids who already understand things might be antsy. I was ready, willing, and able to deal with normal 7-and-8-year-old talkativeness and restlessness. What I was not ready for was straight-up rule defying and being ignored. And unfortunately, one child in particular refused to not talk out of turn, to not touch my supplies, to not make spitting noises, and to not roll around outside of circle.

Rita, however, was well prepared for the situation, so I channeled her. Here’s a sampling of what the worst offender heard:

“Really? I have three-year-olds who listen better than this. Are you a three-year-old?”

“What part of ‘don’t do that’ do you not understand?”

“I’ve just about had it with you.”

“Do you want to explain why your hands are in my bag without my permission? I didn’t think so.”

And on, and on, and on. With accompanying death stares and raised eyebrows.

After our session was over, I chatted with the teacher, whose look and expression conveyed a combination of “Oh honey, I deal with this every day” and “At least one person now understands my pain”. Then she let something interesting slip. This student has accumulated a huge number of tardies this year because his/her parents cannot get him/her (name and sex hidden to protect the guilty) to get dressed on time in the morning.

“What!?” I shrieked. “What do you mean they can’t get him/her to get dressed on time?”

“The parent tells me, ‘We can’t make him/her put his/her clothes on.'”

Gobsmacked, it was once again Rita who replied. “The hell they can’t! Who’s in charge in that house anyway?”

“I think we know who’s in charge. And I don’t understand it, because I wasn’t raised that way and I didn’t bring up my own children that way.”*

“If they can’t control him/her now, God help them when he’s/she’s a teenager. Idiots.” Rita continued: “It’s pretty simple. You say, ‘I’m going to count to 3, and if you aren’t putting your clothes on by the time I get to 3, I’m going to help you. And TRUST ME WHEN I TELL YOU that you will be much happier if you do it yourself. Do you understand me?”

The teacher was laughing at this point. Our backgrounds are completely different when it comes to race, religion, and geographic origin. She’s also 15 years my senior, whereas I’m a close demographic match to and neighbors of the parents of the misbehaving child. Which just goes to show you that superficial similarities are just that. The other moral of the day is that while many of us fear turning into our mothers, it can come in quite handy. I’ll be back in class next week, and I’ll be bringing the WoR with me just in case.

*Simon’s teacher is in her late 50s/early 60s, comes from a small town, and is African-American. I’m going to guess that her own upbringing and the way she disciplined her children can best be described as “old school”.





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