The voice on the other end of the phone was dry in its affectation.
“I have Stone with me, and he needs a change of clothes.”
It was the school nurse. I muttered in exasperation and asked if she could give me 30 minutes to get there.
“I’m not at home right now, but I’ll pick up some things and be right there.”
What was going on? Stone’s accidents at school were becoming more and more frequent this semester and I have been really worried. He hadn’t wet himself like this since Pre-K. This was frustrating and unnatural for a boy the age of 6 to be doing this so often!
I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got the call, however. Somehow, I’d gathered the presence of mind over the weekend to ask Stone what was going on behind him wetting himself so often, rather than relying on “Old School Parenting”; merely beating him for it and promising to do so again if he had another accident in school. This is what he told me:
“Miss X doesn’t let me use the bathroom when I ask. I always put up the bathroom sign and she says ‘no’. She said we can only use the bathroom when it’s time to use the bathroom.”
Eventually, in anticipation of a refusal to be allowed to go to the toilet, my son just stopped asking altogether and took it upon himself to piss on himself wherever he stood in the moment. The only thing that has spared him complete embarrassment and teasing from classmates is that his uniform pants are dark blue, making wet spots impossible to detect. The scent of urine, however, is a completely different story. It’s a smell imperceptible to children, but that adults know well.
So yeah, I was “pissed off” when I arrived at school with freshly purchased underwear and a new pair of pants. I strode into the nurse’s office with a grim look plastered to my face. I greeted the nurse with the same dryness she’d accorded me earlier.
“Good afternoon. I’m here to give Stone his change of clothes.”
She looked surprise to see me.
“This is your baby?”
“Yes. Stone is my son.”
Her face still registered confusion. Moments later, she composed herself enough to tell me what had led to him being sent back to her office. I was absolutely livid, y’all hear what I say?
“Well, Mrs. Grant – the way it was presented to me was that Stone was coming to school smelling like urine. Like –“
“ – like I’m just some chick at home who don’t do laundry and sends her kids to school smelling like piss, you mean.”
I didn’t mince words. Why should I? The directness of my tone and delivery took so much wind out of her sails that it was pointless to deny it. Her shoulders slumped just slightly as she conceded the truth with one word. “Yes.”
I stared at her. She stared back. Eventually she broke the silence.
“This doesn’t make sense. I KNOW you…”
“Yes. And I can assure you that I spend several hours a week doing laundry and that I do not send my kids to school in dirty clothes, and certainly not reeking of urine!”
Now, permit me to tell you what the nurse meant when she said she “knows” me, and please understand that this is not to brag. I am a very involved parent…not as much as those uber-parents who spend so much time at school that they are unofficial members of staff, but very involved nonetheless. I am at every school event. I make every showcase. I chaperone and volunteer. On teacher appreciation week, gifts I have given in the past have included name brand handbags (my favorite teacher got a Calvin Klein), Cami Cakes and quirky beer cups from Junkman’s Daughter. I treat my educators well, because I DO appreciate them. Not everyone in that school knows my name, but they certainly know my face, and more importantly, my standards. So no, it didn’t make sense to the school nurse that my child would be sent to school smelling like last week’s pile of nursery school waste.
“Stone, tell Miss Nurse what you told me…. about what Ms. X says when you ask to go to the bathroom.”
True to his nature, Stone delivered the facts with that same blank, emotionless façade he bears when he’s being made to recount a horrible memory. He was shifting his weight from side to side, a tic he’s acquired trying to deal with the discomfort of bearing rashes that have formed between his legs – a consequence of being forced to urinate on himself in class, or on the playground, or wherever he finds himself when the urge strikes him.
“Ms. X always says ‘no’ when I ask to go to the bathroom.”
To her credit, the nurse was aghast and made preparations to take immediate action.
She pursed her lips and growled, “Oh. Oh NO. We can fix that. Matter of fact, we can fix that today.”
I helped Stone get dressed, made sure he didn’t have to go to the toilet, and sent him on his way to class to finish out the day. The nurse informed me that she has one other child in the school who is just incapable of holding their urine and that they need to be sent to the bathroom on demand. Some babies just can’t hold it, you know?
“Would you write a letter so that we can include that in Stone’s file?”
I already had a pen and clipboard in my hand. “Absolutely,” I said.
Just as I had done with the school’s counselor, I thanked her for her attention and left. The only difference is, I was hopping mad when I walked out of the school’s double doors this time.
The very idea!
Me? Abena Owusua Malaka Gyekye – to send my child to school in rancid clothing? What do they take me for!
And then in a fiat, I knew what Marshall was experiencing when the counselor indirectly suggested that we were poor. I could not brook the idea that anyone would think that we were dirty… Not when I’ve dedicated more of my time to cleaning in the last 11 years than I’ve spent doing anything else.
I suppose we all have that one thing, that one nonnegotiable about our persona that we can’t (or won’t) allow to be sullied by misconceptions or prejudice. For my husband and I, we discovered that it is poverty or that we are dirty. For others it might be drunkenness or lasciviousness. George Bush revealed that when Kanye West said that he ‘didn’t care about Black people’, it was the most despicable point in his presidency. I don’t know if George Bush is an actual, hardcore racist, but I do know that the idea that someone would paint him as one is not something he handled well or could accept. The only reason I believe in his sincerity is because of the way he banged that table when he was talking to Matt Lauer. Something about being called a racist was a real affront to his spirit.
I confess, I was feeling Georgie on this one. I wanted to bang on the nurse’s table the same way and scream: “Dagnabbit! I have to do laundry soon as I leave here today! It’s one thing to say you don’t think my whites are not bright, it’s another to conclude that I don’t wash ‘em at all!”
What’s your “thing”? Do you know what it is? Have you ever been confronted with it? How did you handle? Did you throw things? Did you want to?