Spillover: Part I

319957_2250928345422_1635707259_nI used to teach at a school that was in the middle of nowhere. To earn extra money, I would teach Saturday School, which was a remediation/detention session that lasted about four hours. Rarely more than a handful of children came, and I spent most of the morning trying to wrest their apathy away with my typical talk of the future–a land of colleges and jobs and stable families. A land away and better.

There was one student who was often in Saturday School who simply did not belong there: P—– was there essentially by choice: smart and personable, from an affluent, loving family, this child was misbehaving for sport. Not for attention. Not out of parental hatred. Simply for fun.

I got sick of it.

The student’s parents came for pick-up one Saturday, on their way to a planned outing. As I escorted the teen to the car, the mother, holding up a packed lunch, greeted her child warmly. “I got your favorite,” she called.

I started muttering to the kid then. Things like, “I had foster kids who would have LOVED to have a mother like that.” “If my kid had Saturday School, she’d have plain peanut butter on whole wheat, not her favorite lunch.” And, finally, “You are going to break that woman’s heart. Look at that woman! Does she deserve to have her heart broken?

We approached shiny black sports car, the happy mother. We exchanged hellos, and then I said, “I just have to ask: is P—- breaking your heart?”

Immediate tears answered for her. Yes, her heart was breaking. It was unfathomable: this child, this spectacular child, so witty and charming, was deliberately doing this. Choosing this.

P—- and I had a mildly hostile trunkside conference while Mother wept in the passenger seat and Dad stood beside the car. “Look at her,” I hissed. “Look how much she loves you! Again, does she deserve to have her heart broken by you?

No. The child was horrified. No, no, a thousand times, no.

“Then stop. You are going to break her heart. Just STOP.”

There was revelation; there was also so much shame. There was Dad in a suit, waiting. Mom, crying, holding the lovingly-prepared lunch, and the child, the goofy, guileless child, who just didn’t know. Who didn’t understand the spillover–the fact that a child’s actions impact a parent’s world. 

A causes B and B causes C, and so the dominoes fall.

P—-‘s dismay is with me now, a decade later. The child’s tears, the quick hug for Mom.  The clamber to the back seat with the lunch, now understood to be a trophy.

The mother, looking at me, mother to mother, not parent to teacher. “You . . . you are not like the other teachers.” A happy chortle as she ducked into the car.

It was so simple: just a telling, a listening, and a realizing.

It was so simple, then.





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