Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Paint Stains

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.

True story.

14 comments:

Dibs said...

A true story, beautifully told.

My sympathy for you and your family on this loss. I can't even imagine what you all are going through.

I also have tremendous respect for your ability to celebrate your brother-in-law's life in the face of such a tragedy.

I don't understand why every angry idiot has access to a gun. It is a puzzlement.

For Myself said...

Dibs...
It was a long time (three and a half years) ago. For some mysterious reason this particular part of it resurfaced for me today, so I wrote it down. It seemed so ironic. Thanks for the well wishes though.

smiles4u said...

Isn't it something that we can get so worked up over something like paint on a shirt...even if it's an expensive shirt?...and then we go through things like your brother-in-laws murder and the life long affects on his 2 children and we come to realize that those things, like paint on a shirt are so small. When we go through these big things our perspectives change...we don't see people, things or situations the same. How hard for you to handle this situation in light of what you had just been through. Even though time has passed since his death I am sorry for your loss. I pray his children are doing well.

Kirsten said...

I'm so sorry for you loss.... three years ago or not.

Well written, great post.

Kari said...

Perspective. This reminds me, that whatever happens in life, to keep things in perspective.

Things like this, and the tragedies some bloggers have suffered lately, remind me of that.

Jen W said...

Thanks for sharing that. It definitely puts in perspective the level of angst I feel (or shouldn't feel) for certain events.

Dana's Brain said...

And yet we allow the clutter of things like stains to get in the way. That's part of human nature, I guess. Part of the frustration of parenting. I wish I could be someone who enjoys the time more. I am trying.
Thanks for the reminder. So well told.

Carolyn...Online said...

Oh my god. First of all, I'm sorry about your brother in law. I hope his kids are doing ok now.

Second, parents who freak out when their kids clothes get messed up are asshats.

Vodka Mom said...

holy crap.


isnt' that just always the way it is. We all never know the real back story........i wonder what hers was....

bernthis said...

omg, oh God, sorry, that is unbelievable. I'm so incredibly sorry. i don't know how you just didn't scream at her. that is just so incredibly horrible.

I love when the NRA says, "guns don't kill people, people kill people" what a crock of bullshit

cIII said...

Fuck.

I've nothin' else other that that. I usually use "fuck" when I'm stunned and taken aback. It's a handy little crutch.

And. I'd be sooooo terrible at your Job. I'd have probly said "fuck" and covered her with a Paint Sprayer.

You know, 'cause I'd keep it lying around and full for just such an occasion.

Zip n Tizzy said...

You always stun me with your transitions, and it took me a while to remember that you'd written about your brother in law in the past, and that this hadn't happened last week. But, none the less, I'm so sorry for the trauma that placed on all of you.

Oddly enough, I understand why you would have even written about the two incidences in the same post. This misplaced anger transpires in so many ways, and we are very, very lucky there are teachers in this world leading by example like you. It's so important for young kids to learn to listen before they react and to recognize that often what's being presented to us has much deeper roots.

anymommy said...

The first post of yours that I ever read was about your brother-in-law's death. Your writing has been awing me ever since. Again, I'm sorry.

This essay made me think, deeply, about the times in my life that I've been overwhelmed by irritation about something small and taken it out on someone innocent. Someone whose life I know nothing about. Recent death? Miscarriage? Depression? I have no idea. I feel like I've grown a lot the last few weeks. I just wish it didn't take such huge tragedies to remind me.

the letters i wish i'd written said...

Beautifully written.