For most of his first 15 years of school, from pre-K through high school graduation, Son sat next to a sweet girl I’ll call Angel. Although not close friends, Son and Angel always got along, and I have a lovely picture of the two on their senior trip. I never had occasion to get to know her parents, but of course I’d see them across the room at school events.As it happens, Angel has a brother — I’ll call him Ralph — the same age as Son’s sister, and of course seating by last names also lands these two next to one another. And there the parallels end.
This is the second year that Ralph has been nasty to Daughter. If this were a workplace and not a middle school, she’d have no trouble winning a sexual harassment judgment against Ralph. Use your imagination. Then there are the insults about her acne: a face like raw hamburger meat run over by a truck. Daughter lightens her hair and Ralph says she looks like a crackhead streetwalker.
Ralph is cruel but not stupid. His proximity to Daughter, a command of sotto voice techniques, and a craftiness to keep one eye on the teacher mean he can get away with this. I don’t blame the teachers. They have 25 kids to keep track of. Unless they hear the remark themselves, it is hearsay and they are forced to tell one kid that they think he or she is lying when the other invariably denies the accusation.
I tried the usual: ignore him; if you don’t react, he’ll quit. And the reassurances: he must be a very unhappy little boy to treat you that way.
But really, no one should have to put up with being verbally abused day after day.
And then it came to me that this was the rarest of cases because maybe, just maybe, I could bring it all to an end without involving teachers or principal.
I know where Ralph’s father works. I put on my skates and headed for his office for a little talk.
Reader, I worked him. I began by giving him a copy of the picture of his daughter and my son, saying, have you ever seen two lovelier young people. If he were confused about why this woman had shown up at his work with a picture of her kid and his he didn’t show it as I spoke of what a good friend Angel had been to Son. Oh yes, he agreed.
Then I got serious: That is why, Dad-of-Ralph, I just cannot understand why Daughter and Ralph cannot get along.
Now Dad-of is surprised, which isn’t surprising. Kids come home and maybe tell you what has been said about them. They don’t tell you what ugly things they’ve said.
To Dad-of’s questioning look I go on: Now I don’t know, maybe Daughter is doing something to provoke Ralph, and if she is, please let me know – here’s my number – but she comes home in tears over the cruel things Ralph says to her. And you know, Dad-of, this just can’t go on. We must find a solution, don’t you think?
Dad-of makes an attempt to regroup and notes that sometimes all the kids are doing something and just one gets the blame. And I readily agree. But, I continue, I don’t think that is the case here because of the proximity issue. He’s right next to her. There’s no confusion about the source of these comments.
Dad-of is now rather mortified, assuring me that he will get to the bottom of this.
And I say: oh, that would mean so much to me. Ralph and Daughter might not ever be friends, and that is fine. All I want is for him to treat her with respect.
I wasn’t sure what Daughter would think, but when she got in the car with the beat-down look once again, and I told her I was fairly certain that after today she would suffer no more at Ralph’s tongue, she was elated.
And thus I became an awesome mom.
We are now three weeks post-little talk, and there have been no more insults from Ralph.
Unsurprisingly, Ralph did complain about my visit to Daughter, asking why she sent her mommy over to his father’s office. Daughter responded: Hey, I didn’t send her anywhere. She has a life; she does what she wants to, goes where she wants to, and says what she wants to.
Got that right, my awesome Daughter.