She barged in to my classroom three minutes before the kids were allowed to enter. "It's not okay with me that the art teacher allows the kids to paint without a smock. She came home with paint splattered all over her brand new shirt. It was Brand New!" She'd looked me straight in the eyes and raised her voice at me. She had some pent up venom about the paint and the dollars and the message and I don't know what all else. I guess it was probably about respect.
I looked up and to the right, breathing in a good slow breath through my nose. I took a brief moment to gather my thoughts or my wits or locate my cool or put on my filter or whatever I needed to do to remain professional. I exhaled and met my student's mother's eyes with my own, equally determined eyes. Her hands were on her hips, and her sunglasses were perched on the top of her head causing some stray hairs to stand up straight like hackles on a dog about to freak out. She had a stance like a dog, too: proud, aggressive and territorial. I let my arms fall to my sides.
I told her I'd ask the art teacher about it. I assured her that I understood it can be frustrating to lay out a bunch of money for something only to have it tainted. I reiterated my earlier suggestion that she send her twin daughters to school in clothes she didn't value quite so dearly. I explained that most often, a messy kid is in fact a sign of time well spent. I counseled her calmly to refrain from sharing her angst about mess with her daughters, as they were well within the norm for fourth grade stainage, paint-wise or otherwise.
She relaxed her stance ever so slightly, and her hand went instinctively to her hair as she said again how disappointed she had been in the school for allowing this to happen. "It just makes me feel run over,"she whined. Behind her, I could hear my class making their way down the hall to the room. I glanced above my trespasser's head at the wall clock : 7:59. No time to even read the sub's notes from the past four days.
I had just returned from Florida, where my husband's brother had been murdered. He'd been shot point blank in the face by his neighbor and left to die on a front porch. It was messy. He was forty and he had two kids. The whole thing had left a stain that made me feel run over. And I was just disappointed in the world and I couldn't believe the government down there would let people buy guns so easily, and shoot them too.
We had arranged for a beautiful service in a gigantic gazebo by the ocean where we could cry about our loss and more importantly his children's losses. We could look at the horizon and curse the injustice of it. We had been reflecting on issues - enormous issues of faith and respect and order and chaos and life and death- for those days in Florida. I was back in the classroom now though, and she was pissed about the paint.