“There is no reason for you ever to wind up in the principal’s office,” I say.
She sighs and looks away.
“Ever,” I repeat for extra emphasis.
It is the end of summer, and I have received the teacher assignments for the year. Miss F. has been placed with someone who has the reputation for being stern.
“She’s not going to let you get away with the things that happened last year. I’m just saying.”
“OK, Mom. I get it!” Miss F. responds with a roll of her eyes.
I have grown used to the eye roll, and for better or for worse, Miss. F. has grown used to my rattling off these types of warnings.
I am a taskmaster mother.
Homework must be done the moment my children step off the bus, and Miss F. is not allowed to have after school play dates during cheer season. My standards are high for my kids. School comes first. They don’t play hooky. I expect good grades. I expect top notch behavior.
When I arrived at the Book Fair that day, compromising my standards in any way was the last thing on my mind.
“Mommy, I don’t know what to get,” Miss F. mumbles.
Miss F. does not mumble.
“You don’t have to get anything.”
“I’ll talk another look around.”
“We can go to Barnes and Noble later this week,” I offer. “They have tons more books there! “
Miss F. sulks and looks back at the book display, as if being able to find a book that meets her liking has become the most important mission in the world.
“Listen,” I move in closer. “We are not going to buy a book just to buy something. We’ve done that before. There are plenty of book fair books at home that have never been read.”
“All right,” she shrugs. “I won’t get anything.”
We walk back to her class in silence. She is sad, and I know it’s not over a book. This is how my kids have reacted to the monkey wrench that has been thrown into their lives this month. While they took the “big news” in a stoic manner, it’s the little things that have brought out the tears. The inability to pick out a book. The Lego lightsaber that was chewed up by the dog. The ripped paper bag puppet. My forgetting to stock the refrigerator with my son’s favorite yogurt.
As I walk Miss F. back to class, she starts to cry.
“Baby, are you OK?”
“I don’t feel well.”
“Is it your stomach? Is it your head?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t feel right.”
“Come home,” I say reflexively.
I go to the office to sign Miss F. out.
I dodge the flood of questions from the school nurse, the teacher, and the secretary, and I whisk her to my car.
We get home, and Miss F. settles into bed to read. She doesn’t last there long.
“Mommy, can I hang out with you while you clean the kitchen?”
Miss F. is my shadow the rest of the afternoon. She folds laundry with me, puts new sheets on the beds, and stands outside the bathroom, talking, as I scour the tub.
Sometimes, Miss F. can be so adversarial, that I forget that she is just a little girl who needs her mother.
Later, that night, I lie next to Miss F. as she tries to fall asleep.
“Mommy, I have to tell you something. I wasn’t sick today.”
“I didn’t feel right. But I don’t know if I was sick. You know what I mean?”
“I do.” I stroke her hair.
“I don’t care if you wind up in the principal’s office.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t care. I don’t care if you get in trouble and wind up in the principal’s office. It’s not the end of the world.”
“OK. But I’ll try not to get sent there, Mommy. I’ll try.”
I know you will. But no matter what, I still love you. Even if you go to the principal’s office every day this year. I will still love you. “
I sit up. “I’m here. I am here no matter what. Okay?”
Miss F. nods sleepily and puts her head on the pillow.
I’m too hard on her. I always have been. And even though I can’t change the past eight years, I need to change things between us, especially right now.
The rules are about the change around here.
Sometimes revising the rules begins with breaking them.