Monday, Squeaker's school sent home a book of rules and consequences that reads like the Federal Penal Code, complete with mandatory sentencing. For this infraction, you get a parent conference. For this one, a temporary suspension. For this one, a year-long suspension. Certain types of infractions are immediately escalated far beyond what I would expect in an elementary school setting.
I'm glad they're strict, but I also began to worry about whether they apply any kind of reasonableness for extenuating circumstances or for the age of the kids. Assault, for instance, is a serious offense. From what the Mister tells me, the kindergarten boys are whaling on each other all. the time. Constantly. Pushing, shoving, head-butting each other .. Is that assault?
Wednesday I got a call from the school. I hadn't programmed their number into my phone, so I didn't answer it. Oops. When I called back, they told me that Squeaker had sustained a minor head injury on the playground. A kid was swinging and Squeaker got in the way, so he got kicked in the head, and then his head hit a pole. Ouch! They said he seemed okay after an icepack and some quiet time. I thanked them for calling. He had a bruise and a sore noggin when he got home, but seemed fine. "My poor baby! The dangers of the playground," I thought.
I had no clue.
Thursday I got a call from the Mister. He was furious. Apparently, Squeaker had purposely hit another boy in the face, seemingly for no reason. When the Mister made him apologize and then informed him they were going home, my darling son informed his father that he was going to tell Mommy. "Here! Go ahead! Tell her!" When my child heard my voice, he burst into tears. We talked for awhile, and then hung up.
I was a mess after that. All I could think about was that book of rules, and the fact that my child had just broken one of them in a big way. And with articles like this everywhere I turn, I was terrified that we might be heading down a very long ugly road.
Here's the background: My son is in kindergarten, a sweet little kindergarten, with lots of kids from well-to-do families. Well-to-do white families, I must add. Squeaker and one other boy are the only Black kids in the 5 classes of kindergartners, and the school is only for kindergarten, so we're talking two Black people in the entire building. All the teachers and staff are white. There are several Asian children, and Squeaker's best friend is the sole Native American child. Squeaker stands out. But he's also popular. He is, and has always been, a friendly social child. He's part of a clique of girls (no surprise there) that apparently exerts a fair amount of power on the playground. I can imagine that all sorts of mischief might arise from the various dynamics at play. The boy he hit, Jason, is half-Asian, which, y'know, has no relevance except that thank god it wasn't one of the white kids. Other than his ethnicity and the fact that Jason is a good 6 inches taller than Squeaker, I don't know anything about this boy or his parents. Nor did I have any kind of idea as to what really happened. Squeaker and his sister hit each other sometimes, like all siblings do, but I've never known him to hit another kid.
I gently grilled him in the car that night, on the way to his gymnastics class. He spun a long story about how he and the girls have a crystal buried in the garden at school, and how Jason wants the crystal and tries to steal it from them. "He's mean to us!" he said. "What do you do when people are mean to you?" I ask, expecting the various nonviolent responses we've drilled into his head over the years -- walk away, tell a grownup, etc. "Be mean back to them!" he replied. Oh boy.
After more talk, I started coming to the conclusion that Squeaker and his posse were probably teasing the boy and that Jason had acted out his frustration. Squeaker said Jason had tripped him, but it was unclear whether that was the same day, a month earlier, or perhaps a figment of his imagination. I told him I was sad when he acted mean, and he said he was sorry and he wouldn't be mean anymore.
Friday, our manny picked Squeaker up from school. He told the Mister that Jason's dad had been on the playground, which is unusual. Usually, his grandmother is there. The father asked our manny if he was Squeaker's father. Double uh-oh. In my head, the father was there to challenge us, to yell at us for his child getting hit. He would complain to the school, condemn my son, and down the disciplinary road we would go. My fretting was epic.
Today, Saturday, our manny texted the Mister. "I forgot to tell you something that seems important. On the playground Friday, Jason told Squeaker that he didn't like black people. His dad made him apologize."
And, suddenly, the situation became something else entirely.
Already it starts.