Wednesday, March 29, 2006


In Which McGruff Takes A Bite Out of My Ass...

So I came home from work to find only the Brownie and Blaze down in the family room, watching TV.

"Where's Thomas?" I ask.

HLS gives me a look of disgust. "He's up in his room. Went there right after he got off the bus and won't talk to me." Then she gave me The Look. The ones that says I have to go up and pry it out of him.

Though he is only 7, sometimes Thomas has the reticence of a teenager. Ask him about his day, and his stock answer is, "Nuthin." Unless he's been to art class or done something fun in computer class. Sometimes he has a bad day at school, but when he does he usually sulks in a very public way until we finally ask him what's wrong, and then we find out that Luis got the Good Markers in art class and wouldn't share or that Caitlin played with the girls and not him and anyway they were playing a girl game and he didn't want to play, so hmmph.

But he never goes up to his room.

I climbed the stairs and opened the door to Thomas' room and found him hiding under his Justice League comforter. I tried to pull it off but he kept pulling it back over.

"Okay," I said. "I just came to talk to see if something's wrong and find out if I could help, but if you don't want to..." I turned for the door.

"If I tell, you'll be MAD at me!" he said, suddenly throwing the comforter off.

"Why would I be mad?" I asked, turning back.

Thomas was silent for a long time, then he pulled a slip of paper out of his bookbag (also hidden under the comforter with him) and handed it to me.

It a piece of standard size paper, emblazoned at the top with the words:

Alan Assouline
Dean of Discipline
Vice Principal
Thomas' Elementary School
Somewhere, USA

[Then the rest of the paper was a form filled in with very tightly compacted handwriting. The parenthetical text is what was filled in:]

Name of student: (Thomas)
Primary Teacher: (Mrs. Dodd. Mrs. Tinkle substituting currently)

Disciplinary infraction: (The Dean of Discipline personally witnessed Thomas fighting with another child while waiting in line to go to lunch. The fight resulted in the injury of another student.)

Disciplinary action: (In accordence [sic] with our Zero Tolerance policy for ANY violence among students of any age, Thomas has been given detention during the lunch and recess period every day. Disciplinary action to begin on Monday, next week, and to continue for the full week.)

WARNING: Future infractions of our Zero Tolerance policy may result in the suspension or expulsion of children OF ANY GRADE from this school.

If parents have any questions or wish to request a meeting, they may call 555-1212 to schedule an appointment.

(A. Assouline)

I read the letter through a couple of times. Something about it bugged me instantly, and I'm not talking about the normal parental reaction to leap to your kid's defense. There was something else, something I couldn't put my finger on. I mulled this over as I examined the notice. There was a place on the back for a parent to sign, confirming receipt of the note. Thomas sat there in his bed, watching me carefully, tense as a bowstring.

"Are you mad?" he asked.

"No," I said. "If you really did something wrong, it looks like you're already going to be punished."

Then Thomas started bawling. "I know. What's detention, Dad?" he said between sobs. "Are they going to put me in jail?" Well, he may be 7, but he's still my l'il guy, and I grabbed him and sat him on my lap and hugged him while he wiped tears and boogers on my dress shirt.

But at that moment, I realized what annoyed me about the letter: It wasn't just the formal language--like it was a police report--it was that it exuded an excessive amount of authority. I mean, honestly, does an elementary school really need someone who not only calls himself "Dean of Discipline" but who refers to himself in the third person, using that title in a report he made out himself? And "detention"? For a first grader?

"Detention is just a scary word that means you have to stay inside during lunch and recess," I finally answered, when Thomas had pulled himself together. "You'll probably have to sit in the school office or your classroom. And you can't go to recess for a week."

Thomas managed to look both glum and relieved at this news. "It's still not fair!" he said, tears hot on his cheeks as he smacked the bed with his fist. "Andrew didn't get in trouble at all and he started it."

Ah, Andrew. I knew about this kid, the class bully. He's one of the oldest in the class (actually so is Thomas) so he's much bigger than most of the kids. He's the same height as Thomas, but outweighs him by a good, oh, 20 or 60 or 100 pounds. He's a husky boy. And he knows it. It's his prime tool of intimidation. Thomas had some problems with him almost from his first day of school. He would take other kids' toys, or throw rocks and sticks at them. And he always managed to escape the notice of teachers. Naturally, he ended up in Thomas' class, proof again that if it weren't for bad luck, my family would have no luck at all. But it was also a good thing, because Mrs. Dodd has got Andrew's number and knows what kind of crap he pulls.

Except...Mrs. Dodd was out, I realized. And the hapless substitute, Mrs. Tinkle, probably had no idea what a junior asshole this kid was.

In the first few weeks of school, Thomas had some problems with him until Andrew threw one rock too many and Thomas winged it back at him, narrowly missing his head. Not missing a beat, he said, "Stop throwing rocks or next time I'll hit you in your big piggo face!" Andrew stopped throwing rocks. At Thomas anyway. But he still bullied other kids, kids who weren't as tall as he was.

"Maybe you better tell me what really happened," I said.

"It's like the new principal says. I was fighting with Andrew," Thomas said glumly. And I thought, New principal? But then I remembered Her Lovely Self telling me the principal was out of town too, at some conference. Obviously the vice prin--excuse me, Dean of Discipline--was left hold the reins.

"Tell me how it happened," I said. "Tell it like you tell me stuff when we do your blog."

Thomas sat silently for a minute, his face still red with shame. Finally he spoke.

"Well," he said. "We were in line for lunch. And Mrs. Dodd was gone but she left a list for Mrs. Tinkle about who the line leaders were. And Jackie was line leader." Jackie, by the way, is a shy girl, not much of a talker. She also happens to be Asian American and is just a little on the husky side herself. It's just a point we might come back to later, so bear it in mind.

"So then," Thomas continued, "Jackie got in front, but Mrs. Tinkle didn't use the line leader list Mrs. Dodd left. So when she sent us to lunch, Andrew got up in front and poked Jackie and said, 'Get your fat, round face back at the end of the line!' And stuff like that. He was saying all these really mean things to her."

"So then you fought him," I said.

"No!" Thomas insisted. "I wanted to help her. When we had McGruff at school, he told us about stopping bullies and I tried to do that."

Ahh, McGruff, I remember him well from my own youth. The charmless anthropomorphic dog in the trenchcoat, always entreating kids to "take a bite out of crime." More recently, he's been part of an education program through schools and public-service announcements on TV, to help kids deal with bullies.

"You're supposed to all go up and get around the person being bullied and be her friend and tell her to come with you. Or tell the bully to leave her alone. So I did that." Thomas explained. "But no one else did. It was just me. And I said, 'Leave her alone. She's the line leader.' And he said 'Make me!' and then he jumped at me."

I pursed my lips. Here came the fighting. "What did you do?"

Thomas forgot himself for a moment and got excited. "I didn't fight him, Dad. He just came to me and--ZOOM--I zipped away one way, except for my foot. He went right by me and tripped on my foot and fell on his arm and started crying that I broke it." Then Thomas recovered himself. "That's what the new principal saw when he came around the corner. And Andrew didn't even break his arm. He was out at recess later."

"So let me get this straight," I said. "You stood up to a bully who was being mean to a girl. You did it just like you learned in school. The bully attacked you first, but tripped and fell. And you got in trouble?"

Thomas nodded.

I was flabbergasted. "Didn't the..." I looked at the paper again for the guy's name. "Didn't you tell Mr. Assouline what happened?"

Thomas shook his head. "He just took Andrew to the nurse. And then later I had to go to his office and he said I had detention and I had to take a trouble note home to you and Mom."

"Did he talk to any of the other kids? Didn't Jackie tell him what happened?"

Thomas shook his head. "Jackie doesn't like to talk."

"And that's it. That's everything that happened?"

"Yeah," Thomas said. He looked up at me again. "You're not mad?" he asked with a searching look that broke my heart.

"Mad?" I said. "Oh you bet I'm mad." Thomas cringed at this for a second before I continued. "I'm mad at THIS guy!" I said, shaking the paper. "They teach you this McGruff stuff in school and when you try to do what they teach you, you get in trouble? That's ridiculous! And Andrew didn't get in trouble at all?"

Thomas shook his head. "He pretended like his arm hurt, but he was throwing a football at recess later." He looked at me again seriously. "You're mad at the principal? Are you allowed?"

"I don't care if I'm allowed or not," I said scribbling on the back of the sheet.

Thomas looked. "I have to bring that back to him once you and Mom sign it."

"We're not going to bother Mom with this at all," I said, as I finished scribbling and handed the paper back to Thomas. "You give this to Mr. Assouline tomorrow." Thomas stuck it in his book bag and already seemed visibly relieved that he wasn't in trouble both at home and at school. In fact, he seemed to be in a state of total disbelief. "I thought you would be really mad because I was fighting," he said.

I shook my head. "First, I'm VERY proud of you for helping Jackie. No one else stood up for her. But you did. That's what Good Guys do (Thomas sat up a little at this. He's pro-Good Guy). Second, Andrew started it. He called the girl names and then he tried to jump on you. All you did was move out of the way. Not your fault he tripped."

Here, Thomas hung his head. "Actually, I kinda let my foot stick out, like Batman does when the bad guys come at him. I just didn't think he would fall over and cry."

I shook my head. "It doesn't matter. It was self-defense. I don't think you did anything wrong. And I certainly don't think you deserve detention."

"Really?" Thomas asked. "Do I still have to go?"

"We'll see," I said. "It all depends on what Mr. Assouline does when he sees the note."

Because, of course, I hadn't signed my name on it at all. Instead, I had written:

Thomas' father formally appeals the judgment of the Dean of Discipline, and requests a meeting as soon as possible (and here I listed every phone number and email by which I can be reached). Until a meeting can be scheduled, Thomas' father refuses to permit Thomas to attend detention or be subjected to punishment of any kind in relation to this alleged incident. Failure to comply with this request will constitute a violation of the State School Law, which allows parents to consult and appeal all disciplinary judgments. Thomas' father awaits a call at the Dean of Discipline's earliest convenience.

Or, roughly translated from the formalized speech:

Mr. Dean of Discipline, you just opened a serious can of whup-ass...

Oh - I just can't stand the thought of poor little Art Lad's crumpled up face, all scared because the Dean of Idiots couldn't be bothered to even find out what really happened.

Go Dad Go!

Message to Art Lad: You *are* a Good Guy, just like your daddy! We are all so proud of you for trying to stand up to that bully! :)
aww, Thomas IS a Good Guy. Good for him for standing up to the bully.. you and HLS raised him well.
yay Thomas!!!

that is unbelievable that they would give detention to a 1st grader anyway.

go MM!
Oh, boy oh boy oh boy, more fun.
Be glad you don't live up here in Ontario, where Art Lad could just as easily have been suspended or even expelled. When they say "zero tolerance" up here, they *mean* it. I've seen kids get suspended for throwing snowballs. Not even at each other--over a fence, just to see how far they could. Geez, if they were that strict in *my* day, the entire school would have been kicked out, including about half the teachers.
Good goin' Thomas.
I LOVE it when you open up a can of whup-ass, MM! Go get 'im.

Thomas, I wish there had been a little boy like you to help me when I was in the first grade. I got picked on a lot. I would have been glad to have a friend like you.
Thomas is a special kind of Superhero.

Sick'em MM!
You know how much I hate to give you anycredit, but man I can't for this one. Assoline (ha ha. That name. I can't help myself) is about to get smeared across his office wall.

By the way, about yesterdar I'm getting my nephew a camera for his birthday. Maybe a camera phone so he can alway have it with him. I would give ANYTHING to see a picture of you on fire. What a dumb shit you are.

Kick Assoline's ass, kid.

Oh shit. That mofo isn't going to know what hit him. Seeing how you handled this makes me look forward to being a parent. So I can open up a can or two...

I'm looking forward to his response.
As the window people at Really Big Home Improvement store found out, it is a mistake to mess with MM, the Consumer.
The Dean of Discipline is about to discover the wrath of MM, the Father.
You Go!
You go, MM!! Stick it to The Man!!
Fight the Power! YEAH!!

seriously, if Art Lad were my son, I'd be doing the same thing. I hate it when injustice is done to kids.

I think you should have also requested the Bully's parent's be present for the meeting too....a little two birds with one stone action....the old "one-two" punch!!

Good luck!
First, I echo what's been said in previous comments.

Second, there's a bigger picture here. Think of how this is going to affect Thomas and his self-esteem. Having something this serious happen (to the grownups who read this, imagine it was happening to you, and then replace Detention with Jail) and to have your Dad take your side so completely, so unconditionally, these are the events that shape children, that turn them into extraordinary grownups.

I have personal experience with very similar events (many of them), and my parents either ignored my pain or took the bully's side. From my perspective, Mr. Man is a dream parent, the kind of parent I hope I am.
Thomas is VERY MUCH a Good Guy. Way to go, Thomas!

MM, give that overly-officious bastard everything you've got.
Ha! I love it.

The coolest thing my mom ever did was, when I was in 2nd grade, defend my honor against a dour-looking rather unhappy middle-aged elementary school teacher by the name of Mrs. Hein. She was my math teacher, and my reading class was after math. The bell rang to signal the end of the class, so as usual I got up, trotted down the hall, and promptly seated myself in Mrs. Noble's reading class, which was my favorite. Before I even knew what was happening, Mrs, Hein came storming into my reading class, slammed her hand abruptly on my desk, glared me right in the eye, and proclaimed: "YOU did not have permission to leave MY class! YOU will write ALL of your spelling words 100 times EACH and turn it into me tomorrow morning!" And with that she turned on her heel and just as abruptly departed. What had my mother steaming is that a.) the bell had sounded, and she had never before verbally given us permission to leave, and b.) giving me spelling assignments was my reading teacher's jurisdiction, not my math teacher's. Needless to say I did NOT have to write my spelling words out 100 times each, as my mother had stormed into the principal's office to inquire about what kind of place he was running where teachers are "allowed to harass students in this way...". Evil crone of a woman. Sad when you are bullied by your math teacher as opposed to another student...
GO Thomas! He's so cool for standing up for that girl. Must've inherited some of those fight-injustice genes.
Way to go Thomas for standing up to the bully!

Way to go MM for standing up for Thomas!

That's the meaning of family.

MM, in your case, truth really is stranger than fiction ;)
Your kid is awesome. You should be so proud.
MM, I love how you handle are my hero!! I hope Thomas knows what an awesome gift he has received in having such a cool dad!
This makes me sound SO Texan, but...

Bless his heart!! Poor guy, tried to stand up to this little asshole, and he gets in trouble for it. I love the way you handled it, though. Can't wait to see what Mr. Alan Ass-face has to say about it.
My brother was suspended in middle school when a girl hit him. Note that he didn't initiate the fight and he didn't hit her back (the teacher backed him on both these points) but he was the one suspended. My mom and grandmother didn't fight it--they just took him out to a special lunch on the day he had to spend out of class. :)

Way to go!
get 'em, mm! i wish i had a hard time believing that two adults would be so power-hungry and quick to judge the situation. :-/
I am sooooo proud of Thomas. Let him know it. I got bullied in school too, and no one ever stood up for me either. Here is fearless Thomas, doing his best as a crime fighter and all.

Way to stick it to the dude who was in charge while the Principal was out. I am sure this is going to end well, and I cannot wait to read it all!

Thank goodness the Lord lit a fire under your tookas and sent you back to us. :)
"Dean of discipline"? Seriously? Well, obviously way too seriously. Ugh.

I still remember when I was in the 3rd grade and had to stay inside from recess only because I passed by some misbehaving kids at the wrong time. The teacher wouldn't listen to me. The punishment was carried out before I even got home, but I would've much preferred it if my mom had at least sympathized instead of taking an "it's over with so move on" stance. That just sucked.
Kick some ass, MM. That is so far beyond ridiculous...the "dean of discipline" (doesn't it sound like said dean should be wearing lots of leather and chainmail?) needs a kick in the rear. And way to go, Thomas -- I love that he actually stood up for someone in a crowd of kids who wouldn't have done the same.
Go get him, MM! That story almost made me cry for Thomas.
Great post! I love the title :D

I feel so bad for Thomas. I'm so glad he's got someone helping him to be the Good Guy that he is :)
Aw, what Thomas did, that's not a Good Guy.

That's a hero. Well done.
I am in total awe of just how much of a leader your son is. He has shown great character in the way he treats others and looks out for them, at his own expense.

You and HLS are extremely lucky having such great kids. But, I know that you both have raised them well, just look at everything they've done.

Keep up with the great work you're doing!
Oh hell yea.
How do you make me expect the next post about the detention of a first grader just as eagerly as the next Battlestar Galactica episode?
Also, "Zero Tolerance" is one of those buzzwords that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Now, THAT's what I call a Dad...!!
My friend Steia Rockhold of Kimball Nebraska had lunch detention both Tuesday, like you did and Wednesday, March 28th, and 29th, 2006!!! She had it Tuesday, March 28th, 2006 for backtalking to an aide in PE the day before. This was the same day you had it. She also had it Wednesday, March 29th, 2006, for shouting a bad comment across the auditorium during an assembly the morning before.
My friend Steia Rockhold of Kimball Nebraska had lunch detention on Thursday and Friday, August 31st and September 1st, 2006 for cussing in English class on Wednesday, August 30th, 2006. She also just had it today, Tuesday, September 5th, 2006 for being disrespectful to her classmates in English Class on Friday, September 1st, 2006!!!
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