The other day, I picked up my child at the usual time when his teacher told me that my son was in the office because he was hurt.
A whole bunch of scenarios went through my mind at that time. Hurt how bad? Who hurt him? Did he get into a fight?
My two kids are very physical with each other. They wrestle, they jump on and at each other, they sometimes even hit or kick. They are completely normal (based on what I hear others say about how their kids play with their siblings).
But when a teacher tells me my kid is hurt…it’s a different kind of emotion I’m feeling. When they hurt each other on my watch, it’s one thing, when it happens away from me, it’s much harder to process.
I get into the office while the teacher tells me something about a punching game that got out of hand.
I’m still confused. Punching game? I know Ben can get physical, but for the most part, he obeys and respects the rules at school. He’s been attending that school for four years and he’s never had any trouble…why now? What the heck happened?
I get to the office and see him sitting with two of his friends. Both boys are older (in grade 3) but in his class (it’s a split 2/3 class). He is sitting there looking straight ahead and the other two boys are nearby not saying anything. I kneel down and ask the usual questions: Where are you hurt? Let me see your arm. What happened? Who punched you? Why was there punching….?
I’m slightly distracted. Sonja wanted to wait in the car, and the office was busy. There were kids there who hadn’t been picked up by someone in a timely fashion, some teachers whom I knew to see but didn’t know their names where hovering near the secretary, the secretary was on the computer and phone….there was commotion and noise..
My first thought was, the boys that were with him were with him because the three of them got into a play-fight that got out of hand. His teacher said something about it getting out of hand….
Ben’s ok. He looked like he cried, but he wasn’t crying when I was there in the office with him. While we wait for the principal to deal with this situation, I tell the secretary I have to go get Sonja, don’t want to leave her unattended in the car for what could be a while…I ask her to keep watch on my kid, and go get her.
When I get back, the boys are not there. Their jackets are….they went in to speak with the principal. I wait with Sonja, and after a while, Ben’s two friends are dismissed. They don’t say anything to me but one of them leaves his jacket on the couch in the office. I call after him to come and get it and see his dad and younger sister in the hallway.
I don’t know what to think. Did they get into a fight? Why are they picking on my younger, smaller boy? Did they pick on him? It’s not likely, I know the boys and I know the families….
After a short while the principal comes out with Ben. He sits on the couch and I go into an office with her. As we walk she passes an office with a boy in it, and she peeks her head in and tells him to please wait in the office by the secretary, she needs to use this room.
The boy leaves. I briefly wonder why he is in that room by himself, but I have not met him nor did I recognize him, so I don’t worry about it for long.
The principal starts talking to me in the type of way that I consider double-speak. I remain confused but also distracted by the ongoing interruptions: the phone rings, she takes it, the intercom starts talking and I try to listen to her but keep hearing the intercom. She talks in such a way that makes it clear to me that she takes a zero-tolerance policy for physical violence and makes a big point of letting me know that this is her position.
The whole time I can’t shake the feeling that maybe Ben perpetuated some silly game that ended with him getting hurt by older kids….but the principal never came out and said that.
I was too – something – to speak up and ask direct questions. I did ask this: the boys that were with Ben just now, they are his friends. Did they get into it together and had a fight?
Her answer was something to the effect that it is often friends that make poor choices that end up in someone getting hurt.
I’m agreeing, nodding my head, but still confused. What is she saying? She is not saying anything specific, or naming names, because her role is to protect all children.
But what the heck happened?
I told my husband much later, after I had time to process the meeting, that I should have done two things: the first is to have Ben present and hear his story first. He is my son, he is a victim who got hurt regardless of how it came to be this way, and I wanted to show him that I advocate for his safety. Second, I should have asked more direct questions and insisted on clear, not double-speak, politically-correct language. WHO started the punching game? WHERE was the supervising teacher during this time? WHY did it get to the point where someone, my kid, got hurt to the point of crying?
None of this happened. Ultimately it was obvious that the principal had several other issues going on, and she made her point (as far as she was concerned) illustrating to me, the parent of the hurt child, that she is taking a zero tolerance to violence.
I left, took my children, went to the car. I was not mad, I was confused above everything. Sonja was very concerned, kept asking Ben what happened and how it happened, and I said to her that I would like to talk to Ben later, when we got home.
Which I did.
Ben was very mature and clear about it. I asked him to explain to me what happened, and suddenly a lot of information became clear to me.
The little boy that was sitting in the empty office and sent to sit on the couch by the secretary when the principal and I were walking by, he was the perpetrator, and the reason why Ben was hurt. Not the two friends who were with Ben when I got there. The two boys that stayed with Ben were there are friends, and as witnesses.
This is a very important point to remember, because later in the evening, after I understood how this all came down, I actually spent quite some time thinking about the boy who did the punching. Ben, the kid who got hurt, MY KID, was with friends. The boy who did the punching, whether he understood or not just how far he had gone with this so-called punching game, was all alone. No friends to stand by his side, no parent there (yet) to take him home or support him or help him out in some form.
This weighed, and still weighs, on me.
Yet it concerns me too. If I change the scenario to middle-school aged kids and this kid who threw the punch had, in my imagination, pulled a weapon on my kid, would I still be concerned about him?
I see a little 7 year old boy sitting alone in the principal’s office. I see my 7 year old boy surrounded by two 8 year old friends who are supporting Ben. I see a parent, me, there to advocate for the safety of her son. I see no parent advocating for the boy who threw the punch.
I see a principal who can’t speak like a normal person because she has to address all the children’s needs while assuring parents that a safe, violent-free environment exists in her school.
I see a whole lot of things, and none of them make me particularly happy.