Last night as I was wearily putting the kids to bed, there was one thought that subdued all others jostling for dominance: God! Just one more day until the weekend. The thought of Friday night set my heart racing. Friday is a euphemism for ‘Saturday Eve’, a day when we can get out of bed at our own leisure; when we’re not slaves to an alarm clock; when I don’t have to pile my kids into the car and fight traffic on 400.
School is hard. It’s hard for the kids, it’s hard for the teachers, and it’s hard for us parents. Even with formulas and standards (like uniforms and down to the minute time tables), the endeavor of educating a child is a challenge. That’s why teachers who are able to wing it and step outside of the proverbial box and restrictive standards while still getting results are so commendable. Some people are really good at going off script. Others should never deviate from their firmly defined roles and the structures built therein. My daughter’s art teacher apparently falls in the latter group.
As I said, I was relishing the thought of an end to this 5-day hell cycle when my bliss was shattered. At 7:49 pm, I got a strongly worded email entitled “Your Daughter’s Behavior in Art Class Today” which read:
Good Afternoon Mrs. Grant,
This is Ms. X, your daughter’s Art Teacher and I am informing you about her behavior this afternoon in Art. I have taught your daughter for three years; however, today she was extremely disrespectful and inappropriate towards me.
Today my boyfriend volunteered to help with the Art Show. He came to my class at the end of a transition to put his bag down. In front of the whole class, your daughter asks, “So when are you guys planning on doing it?” and warranted a reaction from the entire class.
I do not tolerate extremely rude, disrespectful and very inappropriate personal questions from a 5th grade student. Our school also does not tolerate inappropriate innuendos either.
The expectation is for her to write me a public apology and she will deliver it. The class is receiving a counseling session about this issue and will also be writing apology notes. If there is an issue about my expectation or the school’s, we will have to send your daughter to the counselor/admin. If this happens again, it will warrant a referral.
Please let me know if you need any more information.
Ah ah! My daughter say whot?!? This girl wan’ kee me ooo!
Naturally I fired a response to the email, apologizing profusely and assuring said teacher that my child would indeed be writing the letter as expected. But before I hit ‘send’, I asked my child what happened in class to get a better understanding.
“What did you say to Ms. X’s boyfriend today?”
“I asked when they were going to do it, but I didn’t get to finish asking my question. I was trying to ask when they were going to go on dates n’ stuff.”
“Why were you asking about that?”
“Because everyone was shocked that Ms. X had a boyfriend. We didn’t know she had one, so she told us we could ask them any questions.”
And so she did.
The woman is not correct. If you ask a classroom full of 10 and 11 year-olds if they have questions about your boyfriend, you better bloody well prepare yourself for all manner of nonsense. An African woman would never make such a mistake. First of all, an African teacher wouldn’t bring her boyfriend to school and introduce him to the class. She would have him wait in the car park with Fan Yogo until classes were over so that he could take and molest her off campus like respectable adults do. Now I was indignant. What was wrong with this Ms. X? What kind of poor decision making was this on her part?
I told my daughter to go and finish writing her apology letter and to bring it to me when she was done for approval. When the task was complete, I asked her if she knew what “do it” meant. To her credit, she didn’t feign knowledge.
“It means to have sex.”
Her eyes widened in horror. Then she teared up. Finally, she buried her face in her hands.
“Poor Ms. X! She must’ve been so embarrassed!”
Her voice was breaking and she strained to say the words. That’s when I knew that she was sufficiently repentant and that the act was one borne of ignorance, not of malice. I hugged her and told her it was okay. She just needed to make sure that she verbally apologized in addition to handing over the letter. Then I sent her to bed and asked God why S/He would burden me with these trials. And then God spoke to me in the midnight hour in a dream…
In 1990, when I was about my daughter’s age, we hosted a young man from New Jersey named Cedric. His parents were Ghanaian but he’d grown up in the States his whole life. He was about 17. He didn’t seem like one of the bad boys that frustrated Ghanaian parents sent back to the continent as punishment for their misdeeds. On the contrary, Cedric was well mannered, well dressed and well-spoken.
One night at dinner, my mother asked about his hair. Cedric (who preferred to go by Sed) had an impressive high-top fade that was angular, shiny and constructed for the gawds. In a world where all the area boys had nappy Gumby’s or close crops, Sed’s hair easily distinguished him from the pack. My mom asked how he achieved the look.
“You have to blow dry it and pick it upwards to get this height,” he replied demonstratively with imaginary tools. “But I’m having a hard time finding a barber here in the city who understands how to finish off my hair. It normally looks better than this.”
My mother hummed sympathetically. Meanwhile, I was so pleased that I was allowed to participate in adult conversation (Sed was 17 and therefore qualified as a grown up) and not banished from the table like my younger siblings that I felt now would be a good time to proffer some commentary of my own.
“So next time you go to the barber shop, why don’t you ask them to give you a blow job?”
My mother’s spoon fell on the table with a clatter.
Sed almost killed himself laughing.
I looked at both of them in bewilderment. What? What did I say?
My mother whispered at me harshly and asked, “Do you know what a ‘blow job’ is, Malaka?”
“Yes! It’s when someone blow dries you hair…?”
“No!” she said, still whispering harshly, “It’s sex!”
She forced the word ‘sex’ through her lips with the determination of Andy Dufresne breaking out of that sewer pipe in Shawshank Prison. As the gravity of what I’d just implied slowly took hold of me, I felt it only right to ask if I could clear the dishes and exit the dining room immediately. This only made Sed laugh harder. Why wouldn’t he stop laughing? If he had been a bad American boy, it would’ve been easier to dislike him for finding so much mirth in my folly; But as I said, Sed was really a nice kid.
I’m sure this ‘do it’ fiasco will serve as a non-fatal lesson for my daughter. One day, she too will tell her kids the story of how she inadvertently asked her teacher about her sex life and got the entire class in trouble in the process. I’m sure it will also serve as a reminder to Ms. X not to leave herself open for open-ended questions from pre-pubescent Earthlings. Sometimes people forget that just because today’s American kid is built like a young adult, there is still the mind of a young, not-fully-developed child in there figuring out semantics and vocabulary, and struggling to understand when to apply those appropriately. In cases like these, the child is more likely interested in what shoes you’re going to wear on your next date and most likely has zero interest in your genital gymnastics.
In the meantime, we have to figure out how to keep this from escalating up the food chain as Ms. X has threatened. The classroom to prison pipeline is very real. Come on summer. Come!
This is why I miss the diaper stage. What is the most inappropriate thing your child has ever said to an adult? Naw! Don’t try to act like they haven’t. You know your kid(s) is as nutty as mine.