Jan 22, 2014


I wasn’t going to talk about this because, well, it’s awfully embarrassing.  But then yesterday while I was out shopping, a friend came up to me in the store and commented about my writing, and how much she enjoys reading it.  And she said, “I think it’s because you’re so brutally honest.”

I realized, if I’m not honest about everything, that’s not truly being honest. So... here goes.

This past Thursday I received the phone call from a principal that you don’t ever want to receive... your kid is in trouble, and you need to come get him.

I’m not going to go into a lot of the details of what Quinn did - to protect the innocent.  But, suffice it to say, he did a bad thing using some bad language that was, well, not very well received or much appreciated.

Well, shit. I have NO idea where he learned those words from.

Yes, I have a mouth that would embarrass most truckers.  I know it.  I’m not proud of it but, well, there it is. I swear. Sometimes an awful lot.

However, Quinn knows, and has known for quite some time, that those words are not appropriate to use in certain circumstances.  Slam your thumb in the cupboard at home and yell an emphatic s-word and we’re okay.  Drop an f-bomb in the school lunchroom? Not a very good plan.

I’ve also had lengthy conversations with both children about what hate words are (like “faggot”, “retard”, “gay”, and, of course, the n-word) and why they should never ever ever under ANY circumstances use that language. Ever.

So Quinn getting in trouble for using bad language - Mama was NOT happy.  And Quinn felt awful.  He was depressed, despondent, morose... So there have been many discussions and many meetings (with his therapist, his youth pastor, his grandfather, his principal, the dean of students, his father...) about how, just because he did a bad thing, it does not make him a bad person - it is what he does now that defines him.  A big part of that is accepting responsibility for what he did wrong, and trying to make amends.

Thus Quinn started on what we have been calling his apology tour.  First, he apologized to me. Unprompted, with big tears in those sweet brown eyes, he gave a pretty mature apology to his mother, which I have to admit must have been a little scary because I’m fairly certain I looked like I wanted to strangle him.  And it wasn’t one of those, “I’m going to say I’m sorry so I get out of trouble” apologies either. It was a sincere, “I really screwed up, I’m sorry for disappointing you, what can I do to fix this?” apologies.

That was a step in the right direction.

Then there was having to go back and face people at school.  That’s a pretty daunting thing for anyone - but for a kid like Quinn who doesn’t have a normal response to stressful situations, it’s especially difficult.  Quinn just isn’t able to shake things off like other people do.  He takes things far more personally, they hurt far more deeply, and take far longer to get over - if he ever does.  It causes him a lot of pain, anxiety, depression, sleepless nights, bitten-to-the-quick fingers, migraines, and queasy stomachs.  Life hurts kids like Quinn a lot.

And for the Mom watching him suffer, it hurts even more.

So, when I received a message from one of Quinn’s teachers that said, “...our kids will forever make us humble, and that doesn't mean they are bad people. Quinn is without a doubt a quality being. He made a mistake... It doesn't define him ...He is not at all a bad kid! He made a mistake. We all do that. Like I said, I have no idea what happened, but I still love that little guy. He's a great soul.”

I let Quinn read the message, and it made him not quite as scared to face the doors of OJ.

Today, Quinn met face-to-face with another of his teachers.  After they discussed Quinn’s assignments, Quinn took a deep breath, stood up straight, looked his teacher in the eye and said, “I want to apologize that my behavior caused me to miss your classes.”

His teacher stood up, came around the desk, shook Quinn’s hand and said something along the lines of “I don’t know what you did to get in trouble, and I don’t care. You’ve never behaved badly in my class, so we’re good.”  I’m paraphrasing because it was hard to get it exactly right, what with the tears in my eyes watching Quinn perk up and give his first truly genuine smile in several days.

Quinn then continued on with his apology tour by meeting with another teacher, with much the same response.  This teacher informed Quinn that no one had ever taken the time to apologize to her under similar circumstances, and how proud she was that he took the time and responsibility to do so.  Another big grin.

To those teachers who spoke so kindly to Quinn - you really have no idea how much that means to him.  Thank you so very very much.

It’s been a pretty rough couple days at the Sargent household.  But I think today the message really came through that it’s not the horrible things that happen to us (or that we do) that define us - it’s how we react to those horrible things that matter.

Redemption.  It feels pretty good.

Jan 11, 2014

Tiny Dancer

'85 Prom. Not awesome.
My 13 year old middle schooler had an “activity night” at school yesterday.  Back in my day, I think we called them school dances, but these activity nights have games, and they can play around in the gym, and sometimes they have the pool open. Anyway, I knew nothing about it because, of course, Quinn didn’t tell me.  When I asked him why not, he said he didn’t want to go. When I asked him why not again, he said he doesn’t really play basketball very well (so the gym thing is out), he’s not a great swimmer (so the pool thing is out), he’s not terribly interested in the games being played and... there’s that dancing part.

And then he got this weird, embarrassed look on his face and almost shouted, “I just didn’t want to go, alright?!?”

Hmmm. My mom-spidey-sense sprung into action. Do I sense a teaching moment?

See, not all my teaching moments have to do with flipping the bird, and girlie magazines.  This is one of those times where I felt it was important to get a social message across.  So I gathered the children together and began to discuss that most awkward of teenage milestones, the school dance.

First, I asked Quinn if he even knew how to “slow dance” with a girl.  Nope. No idea.  So Peter and I showed him the ungainly circle shuffle of our era: the boy places his hands at the girl’s waist, the girl throws her arms gracelessly upon the boy’s shoulders, and they slowly shuffle their feet while moving in a circle, mostly trying to avoid looking at each other or (God forbid!) talking to each other.

I really hated school dances.

I have no idea how it’s done now, but I imagine it’s not much different. Oh, I’m sure the fast dances have changed -- less jumping around, more twerking --  but I doubt slow dances have improved much over the decades.

Then we moved on to the anxiety-ridden part of the school dance: asking someone to dance.  I started my teaching moment with Claire.  Basing it upon my own school dance experiences, I told her that I didn’t care if the class toad - the kid who was a foot shorter than her and twice as wide, who smelled like cheese and sweat a lot - if he asked her to dance, she was to smile nicely and say, “Sure.”

When I was in middle school and high school, if I didn’t suddenly have to go to the bathroom when the slow songs came on, I would dance with anyone who asked me.  Not that many did, but if anyone asked, I would say yes.  Peter can actually attest to this.

See, I felt that if anyone had the courage to walk across the cafeteria - that wasteland of gawkiness - to ask me to spend 3 minutes shuffling across the floor with them while Spandau Ballet crooned what was “True” in the background, I wouldn’t negate that fearlessness by embarrassing anyone and laughingly telling them, “No way!”  Nope. Not gonna do it.  I takes a helluva lot of guts to walk up the the girl you sorta, kinda, maybe like a little bit and ask her - in front of all her friends - and that bravery should be rewarded, not made fun of.

So I told Claire I didn’t care who asked her to dance, she was to smile and say yes.  She didn’t have to dance every dance with that person - she could limit it to one. But she would say yes. And if her friends all laughed at her, or ewwwww’d her - she was to tell them that it take a lot of courage to do what that boy did, and she wasn’t going to be mean to him.  Maybe that message would get passed on to the mean girls. Maybe.

And then I talked to Quinn.  I told him that someday he was going to have to make that trek across the enemy lines to ask a girl to dance. That he should. And that, more than likely, the girl was going to laugh at him and say no. Because girls are bitches.  But that he should not let them stop him, and he should keep asking. Because, eventually, he was going to find that girl who was nice enough to dance with any boy who asked her.

Even if he is a foot shorter with sweaty palms.

And when the song was over, he needed to look her in the eye and tell her, sincerely, “Thank you for dancing with me.”  Because, at the end of the day, I still believe that graciousness and good manners will win over mean bitchiness.

So Quinn said that maybe next activity night he’ll go. And maybe he’ll even go to the dancing part. And maybe he’ll even ask a girl to dance. And if she turns him down, he’s just going to shrug it off and say okay. And not let it bother him. Because he’s cool with himself, which makes me so proud.

Just don’t expect me to chaperone. I hate school dances.