Saturday, May 10, 2014

stand

In honor of Mother's Day, I post this story of of a sixth grade memory of my Mom.  I don't have memories of a smothering, doting mother - she was never over-protective or too involved.  Sometimes I mistook it for her not caring as much as some of the other Mom's.  Now I know how strong she is.  She wanted me to be the same, and I am.  Thank you, Mom.  I love you.  


Mom and Me - 1982



In the sixth grade there were two crosses in my life I had to bear:  Garrett Mitchell and my mother. 

Garrett Mitchell was the boldest, whitest, most popular kid in the class that all the boys were afraid of and all the girls secretly wanted to marry.  He hated me, and said so several times a day.  If there was a moment of dead silence hanging in the classroom, Garrett was sure to fill it with a jab about my looks (ugly), my brain (deficient) or my popularity (severely lacking).  This usually was received by my fellow classmates with laughter…because it usually was funny.  For everyone but me.

When I would tell my mom on the drive home, her pep talk was limited to “Just tell the teacher,” or “So what?  Just ignore him”.  This would sometimes be followed by a story of Eleanor Roosevelt not being insulted by someone because she had not given them permission to insult them.   I had heard about Eleanor’s response too many times.  I usually collapsed into a rumpled heap in the seat and sometimes moaned, “You don’t even care, why do I even tell you?” 

What I have learned as I have grown into a woman and an elementary school teacher is that Garrett knew how to bully me in innocuous ways: ones that the teachers wouldn’t bother with, even if they heard him.  Even if others laughed.  He wasn’t hitting, kicking, destroying my property, threatening my safety or racially slurring me.  He just was “teasing” me, they would say.  I was encouraged to ignore him, even if I were not equipped with the ignoring skill.

In the world of bullies, Garrett was a stealth one.  In the world of mothers, mine was a silent one.  I noticed her hanging back when all of the other mothers socialized in a chatty group when they were supposed to be keeping order on the playground or supervising hot lunch.  Mine was gentle, quiet, occasionally friendly with the others, but not like the others.  My best friend, Kim’s mother gave Mrs. Hughes an earful when Kim’s homework had been turned in and lost.  I thought all the other moms were the same: always sticking up for their daughters.   Neither Garrett nor my mother fit into my world of extremes- I was an emotionally-driven, noisy child that demanded attention and a response in every situation I found myself in.  Hence my status as perfect target for Garrett’s bullying.

One day my mother came to school to serve on yard duty, supervising a lawnful of students eating their sack lunches behind the school, either on benches or in circles cross-legged on the grass.  Because Kim was absent from school that day, I ate my lunch by myself on a bench against the classroom wall.  Next to me was my clarinet (all the pretty girls played the flute) and my music stand.  I was due at band practice in ten minutes and the lonely lunchtime would soon be at an end.  My mother wandered close to me, her whistle dangling from her thumb and forefinger, but she knew not to approach me to talk to me- a sixth grade rule: only losers talk to their supervising mothers at lunch. 

I was about finished with my lunch when Garrett sauntered up the lawn, a good distance away from me, but close enough to mumble something about me being by myself all alone at lunch time.  I glared at him, then cracked that he seemed to be alone as well.  For some reason, this angered Garrett – a reaction I was not used to seeing.  He approached me carefully, then grabbed my music stand and flung it against the fence.  “Now fetch, doggie,” he said, smiling. 

That’s when I heard the blow of the whistle.  My mom, completely out-of-character, yelled at the top of her lungs, “MITCHELL!!  Get back here!!”  Garrett (as well as most of the students on the lawn) faced my mother with a look of surprise and fear on his face. He suddenly realized that his actions were just witnessed by my mom- a not-so-silent version of her.  He froze, then walked toward her.  “Pick that up and give it back it back to her!!” She said, pointing authoritatively at the music stand, propped against the fence.  Garrett transformed his walk from sixth grade cool to obedient robot, something that made me both smile and feel sorry for him.  After all, to be corrected on the lawn by a parent was the most humiliating thing that could happen at school.

Garrett brought me my music stand, and just so that I could witness it, he glared as he got close to me, just to show me that things were still the same in our world.  I accepted his offering with a smile, and glanced over at my mom, who was still watching.


That's when I realized she always had been.  


Me and Mom 2014