Friday, May 28, 2010

I'm No Mother Teresa, but He's no Jeffrey Dahmer Either.

Today, I spent most of the day with a kid that, for the last 183 school days, has been my nemesis.

I fully realize that as a teacher, the politically correct thing to say is, "I love ALL my students. ALL my students are precious and wonderful. I love them, and they love me." And then, like all "good" teachers, I'd take off my apple sweater and broomstick skirt and schoolbus earrings and go get good and drunk.

But I'm not just a teacher. I'm a human. And you're a human. And don't a few other humans, be they 13 or 31, just bug the ever-loving shit out of you? If you say they don't, then you're a mother-effing liar. Or you're Mother Teresa. But let's face it, I bet even Mother Teresa knew a few jackasses. She just had more self-restraint than 99.9% of the world's population. This is why she's Mother Teresa.

But, back to my nemesis.

This morning, he, of course, did not have a signed permission slip to go to the zoo with the other 450 7th graders. After a deep breath and an eye roll or two, I told him he could call home, and I could take verbal permission from his mother, who, oh, by the way, is a total nutball. Seriously, she's cussed out, hung up on, and threatened the jobs of like 5 of our teachers, including me. She's refused to show up to parent-teacher meetings, dodged conference calls, and told me by phone that "while he's at school, he's YOUR problem." Needless to say, I was not ready to put up with her shit so early in the morning. Before my Diet Coke.

I was nervous.

While he was begging her.... BEGGING her... on the phone for permission (and I'm listening to his end of the conversation and watching him shake with nervousness), this kid reveals that he wants to go today because he's never been to the zoo. Ever. Not once. Because she's never taken him. Right then and there, my mission became: getting this little rat bastard to the zoo. Because -- even little rat bastards should go to the zoo. Fo' reals, the Fort Worth Zoo is flipping awesome, and every kid should go. Every. single. one. I got on the phone, managed to get permission without getting cussed out, and made my nemesis's day. Then I switched his group to my group in hopes of keeping him out of trouble and keeping the other group leader mildly un-crazy. Chances of either of us having a great time = doubtful.

I felt insane.

On the way, another kid (who'd also never been to the zoo... or Six Flags... or Wet 'n' Wild... or Chuck E. Cheese... or even to Putt-Putt) nearly barfed on me because she was carsick and hungry because she didn't have breakfast. If I didn't know her story, I'd have thought she was faking it to get the peanut butter cookie in my bag. But she wasn't faking, and she got the cookie.

And I was sad (not for my cookie. for her. I'm human but not an a-hole.)

In fact, THREE of my kids had never been to the zoo. That's 30% of my group that had never traveled the 11 miles to see one of my city's favorite attractions.

I was appalled.

Once there, my nemesis told me his favorite show was any show on Animal Planet. And that kid must watch the hell out of some Animal Planet because he was a fact-o-rama. I thought he spent all of his spare time coming up with ways to drive me crazy.

I was stunned.

At lunch, six of my ten kids had no money for a treat. Four did. This was going to create even more dischord in my already oddly matched group. Eleven Icees and $33.00 later, everyone had a treat. Everyone was happy. Everyone was grateful. Everyone was shocked that someone would spend her money on them. Everyone had lunch. Except my nemesis, who had nothing but an Icee because his mom didn't pack him a lunch. Then he had my Baked Lay's and most of my sandwich. That's right, his mom wouldn't give him money or a lunch bag.

Now I was hungry... and still pissed.

It was hot. It was tiring. It was time enough to see only a fraction of our wonderful zoo. I was bummed about not being able to show the kids more. But on the way out, my nemesis said, totally to himself, "My mom is going to get so bored with how much I have to tell her about today."

Then I was heartbroken.

I wanted to scream at this woman. I wanted to shake her. I wanted to ask her why she has chosen to "house" her son but not "raise" him. I wanted her to know that a relative stranger -- someone who knows her child just 80 minutes every other day -- took her son to the zoo for the first time. And I wanted to strap her to a chair while he relayed his adventures to her, and every time she yawned or asked him to be quiet, I planned to slap her in the back of the head and ask her how she could dare to be bored with her own kid's happiness. I wanted her to know that sometimes an Icee and a Subway sandwich and being close enough to a kangaroo to reach out and touch it really does make things better for a while. I don't know this woman, but I know there's absolutely no excuse. How can you not be excited for your child? How can you not love your child? Even Jeffrey Dahmer's dad continued to love him, and he was a freaking SERIAL KILLER. Your kid just can't behave in English class. There's a difference, lady, and maybe if you gave a shit, he'd behave once in a while.

I was outraged at his mother. I was ashamed at my impatience with him.

On the way home from the zoo, my nemesis got into trouble for slap-boxing with another kid on the bus, and my nemesis hit me in the head with a paperwad that he threw. Once we were back from the zoo, I was ready to let my nemesis go run around crazy for a little while. Truthfully, I was ready for my nemesis to be someone else's responsibility for a bit. For an afternoon, I felt like that apple-sweater wearin' teacher who loves everyone, but then I realized, again, that I'm just human.

And I was disappointed.

But while we were at the zoo, for those 2 hours and 15 minutes? He wasn't my nemesis. He was just a kid, wide-eyed and ready to see everything he'd only witnessed through a t.v. screen. And I wasn't his teacher. I was just a girl, remembering why I took this job, digging through her purse for $33.00 worth of happiness.

And I felt hopeful.


  1. That made me teary. Hands-down my favorite blog post to date.

  2. Thanks, Court. I will let you take Elliott to the zoo for the first time, but I want to be in on the millions of times afterward.

    Seriously, thanks for being a mom. A great one.

  3. So have been in some of those situations...then you know why they are little shits. Only way anyone pays attention. Biological reproduction does not make a parent! He will remember this the rest of his life. You are my current hero.

  4. As I was editing my grades today, I came across a few names where I thought, "I wish I'd talked to him/her more." It's so hard to get into all of our kids' lives, but when we do, there's always a tiny glimpse of us. Even if it's just a wide-eyed kiddo at a zoo.

  5. Absolutely love this!!!!!!!