We’d been hearing the girl’s name for months. Sometime just before my daughter’s spring break from kindergarten, she announced, “I asked Amy* (*name has been changed) to play with me today at recess, and she said ‘no’ really mean.”
Of course, I hate hearing that anyone doesn’t want to play with my daughter. (In truth, I can’t believe there’s anyone who wouldn’t—she is AMAZING and wonderful—but I also know I’m a bit prejudiced.) But I also know that kids are fickle, and a lot of that has nothing to do with meanness.
So when she told me this about Amy*, who had been placed next to her at her class work table since January, I shrugged it off. I told her I was sorry to hear that, but that I knew she had plenty of other friends she could play with, and that she should move on to play with them instead. Then spring break came and all worries of Amy were forgotten for a couple of weeks.
But then Amy’s name started appearing in a lot more conversations after spring break:
“Amy always says my name like O-LI-vi-UH (insert mocking meanie face here).”
“Amy told me I couldn’t use the glue and we were supposed to share it.”
“Amy told me I was lying that I had a bike, and I even told her I HAD one like three times!”
“Amy made fun of my shirt.”
“Amy took my smelly pencil.”
“Amy told Sarah* not to play with me.”
This Amy person was starting to sound like a real pill. I really, really wanted to march down to that school and roll Amy’s little head around on that playground, but I also really, really want my daughter to learn how to fight her own battles without me. I frequently offered her advice about ways to deal with it. I said things like, “Oh, just ignore her, honey, she’s just trying to get a reaction from you. Don’t give her what she wants and eventually she’ll forget about it.” Or I’d say, “Tell her you don’t like to be spoken to that way, and just walk away.” And as the end of the school year was drawing to a close, only a few weeks away, I told her, “Just get through the year, honey, and then you won’t have to sit next to her anymore.”
I also was desperately fighting the urge to go say something to the teacher. We had loved the teacher, and I had volunteered in the classroom numerous times and had seen her at work—she was amazing and the kids loved and respected her. I didn’t want to spoil a good relationship with the teacher, or undo all the good will she had established with my kid, by being THAT parent.
You know who THAT parent is. THAT parent is the one your teacher friends always complain about over Friday night glasses of wine. THAT parent is always wanting special treatment for their kid. THAT parent complains all the time about his or her child being mistreated. THAT parent doesn’t trust the teacher to do her job. THAT parent has a spoiled rotten, mischievous child, and yet THAT parent believes the child couldn’t possibly do anything wrong, ever. THAT parent is an overinvolved, pushy, giant pain in the ass.
I was so afraid of getting on the teacher’s nerves, and was so anxious to prove that I could get my kid to fight her own battles, that I kept my mouth shut about Amy for months. Then, two weeks before the end of the school year, Olivia came to me on the verge of tears as we were getting ready to leave for school and said, “Couldn’t we just take a break from school?”
“What?” I asked. “What do you mean, a break? You have summer break coming up in two weeks!”
“I just don’t want to go to school,” she said, and her little chin quivered. Something was up, and this was not about being sick.
“What’s wrong, honey, do you feel okay?” I pressed.
“I just…” and here came the big sob, “I don’t know why Amy has to be nice to me some days and mean to me on other days!”
It turned out, after we sat down to talk about it, that Amy had been bullying and manipulating my kid for weeks—taking her belongings from her and hiding them, pushing her stuff off the desk, insulting me and daddy (terribly upsetting for her, although I insisted I didn’t care what Amy thought of us), and threatening that if Olivia told on her, she’d have to move to yellow on the discipline chart for tattling (a line in the sand that a kindergartner who wants stickers cannot bear to cross). This was bullying, and I was shaking with anger. How had this been allowed to go on for so long that my child was now afraid to go to school? Hadn’t a teacher intervened? Hadn’t anyone noticed?
Screw being THAT parent—I didn’t care anymore. I made a big stink with the substitute teacher, I emailed a detailed and frustrated description to the teacher, and I insisted that a letter about this be placed in a file for next year so that she would never again have to sit by Amy.
The reception I received was wonderful—from the teacher and the aide, both of whom insisted they’d had no idea, becausemy daughter had never said a word. It turns out that she had been so afraid of getting in trouble for tattling that she’d forgotten how important telling is (this part of the curriculum is something I have plenty to say about as well, but I’ll save that for another post). Amy was moved immediately, she was watched like a hawk, and I am happy to report that Amy is in a different class now, and has, I heard last week, been nice on the playground so far.
But when the teacher responded to my email, she asked this question: “Why did you wait so long to tell me?”
We had to own this one. My husband and I had both hesitated to say anything, neither one of us wanting to be THOSE parents and both of us unsure as to how much was the right amount to advocate for our kid.
But never again. We learned our lesson. We would be THOSE parents, and get over worrying about how that looked. When something didn’t feel right, we would no longer wait around for it to resolve itself. We would speak right up, be in front of the teacher regularly, share our concerns (in a polite and respectful way, of course) anytime things didn’t seem right at school.
So when, after the first week of first grade, Olivia had cried numerous times about not wanting to be in first grade and how nobody would play with her at recess, and when I didn’t understand the kinds of work that were coming home, I contacted the teacher and made an appointment. Rather than being defensive or guarded in those early days of the school year, she was marvelous. She invited us in to chat, told us we were all a team in looking out for Olivia, and spent 45 minutes going over the curriculum and how she grades. I had expected 10 minutes of her time, but she had shown no eagerness to shoo us away (and on a Friday, no less!). She thanked us for coming to her. She told us she wished more parents did.
I am THAT parent, and I’ll never worry about it again.
I urge you to be THAT parent, too. You should never, ever be worried about advocating for your child. If not you, then who? Don’t worry you’ll sound foolish or overprotective. Don’t let your worries about being THAT parent, the one you imagine will make the teacher roll her eyes (it’s likely she won’t) prevent you from doing what’s right for your kids. Be nice about it, but do it. As it turns out, way too many parents are absent—they don’t look at their kids’ homework folders each night, don’t take “red” discipline marks seriously, don’t read with them at night, and don’t step in when behavior issues (their own kids’ or others’) become problems. Teachers (the good ones) want you to come to them about these things. And if your teacher seems unreceptive, keep talking until someone hears you. Go to the counselor, the principal.
But please start with the teacher. I confessed to my daughter’s first-grade teacher that I wished they would give out a first-grade orientation packet, so we parents would know what to expect. And you know what she told me? “I used to give those out. I spent hours doing it. But nobody ever read them.” Teachers want you involved. I know I will be from now on, and I will speak up when my gut’s telling me to.
Don’t worry about being THAT parent. Take pride in it.