Tuesday, April 04, 2006


In Which No Good Deed...

So, last night, a rainy Sunday night, the phone rings. I half-expected it to be the parents of Andrew, the bully Thomas stood up to last week and in so doing earned himself a week's worth of lunchtime no-recess detention.

As followers of this drama know, Andrew went unpunished, even though he started the incident by bullying an Asian American girl in the class (and insulting her appearance), and I had no confidence that the vice-principal was going to see that justice would be done. So naturally when I saw Andrew--as he was in the act of taunting Thomas last week before school started--I took it upon myself to have a word with the bully. There was a little to-do in comments a few days back about the wisdom of me having a few words with the kid, and while I have no real regrets, it was not a stretch to suppose he might tell his father, who would then want to call me and perhaps play a little game of my-dad-can-beat-up-your-dad.

Of course the above speculation was for naught because it wasn't Andrew's dad at all.

But it WAS a dad.

"This Mr. M? Thomas' father?" a male voice asked in a thick accent.


"This is Junu Kim. Jackie, my little girl, she is in class with Thomas."

"Of course! Thomas has told me about Jackie and I met her when I came to class."

"Yes!" he said excitedly. "You told the story of the cat and the train! Jackie likes cats very much. Very good story."

"Well, thanks!" I said, pleased not just that she had remembered, but that she had told her dad about it. "Thomas and I worked on it together."

"Thomas is a good boy. He is a good friend to Jackie. She talks very much at home but not at school. Thomas is very kind to her."

"Thank you," I said. "Thank you very much. Did Jackie tell you what happened Monday?"

"Yes!" he shouted. "This mean boy called her names and pushed her and Thomas helped her. Now HE is in trouble?"

And I explained the story so far.

"Did you happen to get a call from the vice-principal, Mr. Assouline?" I asked, thinking certainly the answer was no.

"Yes. He called Friday." Junu told me more, but I was stunned. The Dean of Discipline actually did what he said he would. "When I told him what happened to Jackie, he told me the mean boy and Thomas will both be punished for fighting," he continued. "I told him this was not fair. Thomas is a good boy! I wish there was something I could do to help."

I thanked him and we commiserated for a minute or two. Apparently, Assouline assured Junu that Andrew would be spending next week's worth of recess in the administration A/V room, watching videos with titles like "All the Colors of the Rainbow" and similar productions devoted to diversity training for the elementary schooler.

"Listen, thank you for calling and telling me what you told the vice-principal. I really appreciate it."

"Thank you, Mr. M. And please thank Thomas. Jackie says he is her friend forever!"

We thanked each other again and again, and then rang off. "Now, THAT'S more like it," I said, and immediately told Thomas, who was getting ready for bed.

"Isn't that great?" I said. "See? Andrew didn't get away with it. The bad guys don't always win."

If I was expecting a big hug and a smile, I was sorely disappointed. "That's it?" Thomas asked indignantly. "Andrew gets to watch TV?!? That's not fair!"

Well, when he put it that way...

It was restless night for some of us, much tossing and turning and anxiety (and Thomas had trouble sleeping too). By Monday morning, he dragged his feet and generally slouched around down-heartedly until it was time to catch his bus. Even the grandparents were not sufficiently distracting enough. In the end, all my Dad could manage was to give him a hug and warn him to watch out for flying pencils. I reminded him that his lunchtime detention would only be five short days and then it would be forgotten. "Come on, chin up. It won't be so bad," I said lamely. He didn't have much to say in response to any of us. When he tromped onto the bus dragging his bookbag behind him, he didn't even turn and wave.

So then it was my turn to tromp off to work, and you never saw a more conflicted dad in your life. Part of me just wanted to turn up at the school at lunch and take Thomas to McDonald's and tell the Dean of Discipline to go fuck himself. But I knew that was carrying it too far. I had pursued things enough to make sure that at least the other boy got in trouble and that Assouline actually did his job enough to confirm that fact. I should have been satisfied. But I wasn't.

Then the phone rang in my office around 4:30 and when I answered it, I jumped right over satisfaction and headed straight for flat-out disbelieving elation.

You just won't--

I mean, you think I do unbelievable stuff? Wait til--

Okay. Let me back up and lay this out in narrative form, As if I were there. Because believe me, the only dismaying part of what happened today at lunch was the fact that I wasn't in the room to witness it myself.

So to set the scene: Imagine a first-grade classroom, all primary colors and Lilliputian tables and chairs. Thomas sits in the middle table and when he arrives that morning to take his seat, he is surprised and delighted to see his regular teacher, Mrs. Dodd, back from vacation. Thomas smiles at her, but she is not smiling back. She waits until the whole class is seated and the bell rings. Then she leans on the front of her desk and says, "So, aside from Thomas and Andrew, who wants to tell me what happened when you were getting in line for lunch last week?"

See, unlike Assouline, who believed 7-year-olds had the memories of octgenarians with advanced Alzheimer's, Mrs. Dodd knew her kids.

Olivia, who was my informal guide when last I visited the school, stood up immediately, all authoritative in her Girl Scout vest (or are they Brownies at that age?) and gave a more or less full account of the event, including some of the insults Andrew threw at poor shy little Jackie.

"...Thomas told him to stop, just like you taught us about handling bullies. But Andrew didn't stop. He jumped on Thomas, but Thomas knocked him down and Mr. Assouline took Andrew to the nurse while Thomas got in trouble."

"He hurt my arm!" Andrew protested.

Mrs. Dodd ignored him and thanked Olivia. She looked around. "Is that what really happened?"

The rest of the class nodded.

Then she turned to shy Jackie. "Jackie?"

Jackie wouldn't even meet Mrs. Dodd's gaze. But she replied, barely above a whisper. "Andrew poked me and called me fat and called me 'round face' and made me go in the back even though I was line leader." It was the most she had spoken all year.

"I was just kiddin'!" Andrew yelled, deciding to change tack.

Mrs. Dodd continued to ignore him. "Thomas?" she asked. "Why did you get in trouble with Mr. Assouline?"

Thomas looked at her. "Because I tripped and pushed Andrew, even though I was helping Jackie. And that's fighting."

Mrs. Dodd nodded. "And what should you have done?"

"Just told him to leave her alone. Or tell Jackie to get in line with me. Or gotten Mrs. Tinkle." (Mrs. Tinkle, you'll recall, was the substitute teacher while Mrs. Dodd was gone last week, and we can only assume Mrs. Tinkle didn't witness the incident because she was off somewhere, perhaps living up to her name.)

Mrs. Dodd nodded. Then she turned to the class. "And what should the rest of you have done?"

The silence, I imagine, was deafening.

Every kid looked down at his or her desk. Except Olivia, who shamefacedly raised her hand. "I should have helped Thomas and told Andrew to stop too."

There were other subdued nods and murmurs of "me too."

"That's right," said Mrs. Dodd. "That's what we learned when we learned about bullies. Everyone helps. It's not right to bully people, but it's also not right to let your friends stand up to bullies by themselves. Now, Thomas and Andrew have already been talked to, but I want the rest of you to think about this and remember it."

So it was a pretty quiet morning, I guess. But as the lunch and recess hour grew nearer, the class naturally got more excited. After the previous night's rain, it had warmed into a nice spring day--the kind where it would just kill you to have to stay in, you know? Who wouldn't be excited (besides Thomas and Andrew, I mean)?

Finally, it came time to get lunch boxes and get in line for lunch. Thomas grabbed his lunch box and sat back at his desk. Andrew took his and skulked off to the administration office, where that award-winning video "Words Hurts Too" no doubt awaited him.

I can just see my son, his head down, face red, sneaking glances at his friends, feeling like crying but trying to keep it inside. I can imagine the the moment all too easily and painfully.

But it's hard to imagine what he made of the next moment.

I know what I made of it. When Thomas told me what happened, I made an idiot of myself there in my office, hooting and cheering and feeling like I'd landed in an ABC After School Special.

For in that next moment, shy little Jackie stepped out of line and handed Mrs. Dodd a note. Mrs. Dodd read it, first with a quizzical expression, then with a smile. She beamed at Jackie, who stared at her shoes. "All right, Jackie. Go sit back down," Mrs. Dodd said.

The class murmured at this. Finally Olivia, obviously the Class Boss, spoke up. "Mrs. Dodd, why is Jackie staying?"

Mrs. Dodd looked at Jackie. "Can I read this to the class?" she asked. Jackie nodded.

Mrs. Dodd cleared her throat. "This is a letter from Jackie's Dad. It says:

Dear Mrs. Dodd,

Jackie and I have talked and she feels very bad that Thomas got in trouble trying to help her. Therefore, with your permission, she decided she would like to spend lunch and recess in the classroom with her good friend Thomas.

Thank you.

Junu Kim

Mrs. Dodd looked at Jackie again. "I'm very proud of you Jackie. That's what good friends do. You get a GC card this week." GC cards, incidentally are Good Character Cards. When a teacher catches you doing something good, you get a card. Collect enough cards and you can redeem them for prizes.

Derrick, who usually sits with Thomas at lunch, piped up. "If we stay in, can WE get GC cards, too?"

Mrs. Dodd smiled. Derrick is the class opportunist. "No," she said. "But...if you want to stay in for lunch and recess to keep Thomas and Jackie company, you can."

Immediately, the righteous Olivia stood out of line. "I'll stay," she said, and sat down at her seat.

Caitlin, a friend of both Olivia's and Thomas, looked pained. She didn't pack a lunch but bought hers in the cafeteria. "Can we come back after lunch?" she asked.

Mrs. Dodd nodded, then a bell rang and she sent the kids off to lunch.

"...and then after lunch Caitlin came back. And so did Derrick and Nathan! And we all sat and read books while Mrs. Dodd graded papers," finished Thomas, but it was hard for me to hear because I was hopping around my office doing the equivalent of a touchdown dance. Oh my God! First-graders staging a spontaneous SIT-IN!!!

"You were right, Dad! It wasn't that bad!!" Thomas said. Of course, I heard that part.

I untangled myself from the phone cord, trying to talk and cheer at the same time and so have no idea what I said.

"Well, it wasn't bad til the other principal walked in," Thomas corrected.

"Assouline came in?" I asked, all urge to cheer leaving my body. "What happened?"

"I don't know. He and Mrs. Dodd talked outside in the hall, but when she came in she was all huffy and talking to herself. But Mr. Assouline never came back."

"So, how do you feel now?" I asked.

"Okay, I guess," he admitted. "I wish I still didn't have to stay in. But it was neat that Jackie and Olivia and Caitlin and everybody came back. It was...neat." he repeated, unable to quite couldn't articulate what he was feeling, so I said it.

"It's pretty cool when your friends stick up for you, huh?"

There was a pause. "Yeah," Thomas finally said. "They're like my best friends now."

"And that's why it's good to help people. That's why doing good is its own reward," I said.

I was waiting for him to say something else like, "Gee, you're right Dad. You did everything just perfectly and we'll always be pals even when I'm a teenage ass."

But instead, all he said was, "I gotta go. Mom says I have to clean off the table for dinner. Come home soon! Bye!" And with that he unceremoniously hung up.

Not quite sure what to do next, I looked at the clock. Hey, it was time to go.

I grabbed my coat and bag and headed for the door. Once outside, I saw the sidewalk was still gleaming with puddles from last night's rain. I passed a coworker as she was on her way back into my building.

"Better watch the sidewalk," she said, pointing to the puddles. "It's kinda slippery."

But she needn't have worried.

My feet never touched the ground.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

I got a teary smile when Jackie gave that letter to the teacher. Thanks for sharing the happy ending with us.

P.S. Brownies are Girl Scouts. :)
That is the most absolutely perfect ending ever.
That Thomas is a very lucky boy to have freinds like that.

Now all you need is to arrange for a second-grade 5'2" 120-lb Hungarian foreign exchange student with a chip on his shoulder to live with you for a bit. I think he would prove useful.


That was completely cinematic. Oh captain, my captain!

Goddamnit, I love these stories. So happy for Thomas and for you.
Do you live in Pleasantville? ;) Seriously, that's so unheard of in this day and age. How ultra cool.
Oh, damn. Where are the Kleenex when you need one?

What a great group of kids! Thomas has some loyal friends.

T. :)
It would be fun to know was ASSouline said to Thomas' teacher...he probably wanted to make her send the other kids outside, I imagine. But I'm glad the story had a happy ending.
It's proably not kosher to quote an entire article as the Quote of the Day...

Take consolation in knowing that you made me tear up at 7:50 in the morning.
I've found there are three guaranteed professions for bullies:

1 - Law enforcement
2 - Corrections
3 - Teaching

Sounds to me like Assouline will end up eating massive quantities of crow at the hands of some of these children, all of whom have displayed ten times more character than that walking rectal orifice could show in ten lifetimes - especially Thomas, who led the way.

Nothing like an administrator with a Rooney complex (a la Ferris Bueller's Day Off) getting a taste of his own meds.
what a great story.
your son is a first grade Spartacus.
*sniff* Wow, the good guys win in the end although in an unexpected way.

You know, Thomas probably got a better life lesson from that ending than if Assouline had relented and just let him off detention.

Special applause to his teacher and Jackie's dad.
Nothing like a happy cry first thing in the morning. That was the most Hawsome thing I've read in a long while.
The things that happen in your world are surreal. That was an awesome ending to this tale that caused me to tear up a bit. Sort of like one of the Judy Blume stories I loved long ago--the endings were always perfect.
It's funny, as I'm reading this, I'm picturing the scene in "Rudy" where all the tough football players come in and throw their jersey's on the coach's desk so that Rudy can play. This tears me up just as much. Wow, just wow.
jerseys*, no apostrophe. (I hate a typo, especially my own.) ;)
smile. sigh. sniff.

Sweet.Poetically sweet.

There should be more like Mrs. Dodd.

I'm gonna have the warm fuzzies all day today, because of this.
I am totally crying at my desk at work!!! Now I have to compose myself :>

Good for Thomas, and good for Mrs. Dodd!
Holy cow! That WAS an afterschool special. You live a charmed life. Lucky bastard. :)
very cool for thomas, and hopefully the whole class calling andrew on his actions will help.

asshat or not, at least the jerk followed up with jackie's parents - which is way more than i thought he'd do. now what did he say to mrs. dodd??
Fabulous ending. I hope that it carries through the week. And that mean old Mr. Assouline can learn a lesson from this as well! Thomas is a very lucky boy to have such wonderful family and friends.
Reading an anecdote like that gives me hope for the future.


Oh, I'm so pleased.

I would respectfully amend the comment that said bullies go into teaching. They go into administration.

And I'll bet I know what Mr. Assouline said to his teacher - he probably didn't believe her that the students had come up with the idea themselves and was reprimanding her for making what he thought was a comment on his power. A friend is currently dealing with an administration that believes she lies about what goes on in her classroom (she has a violent special needs child who they refuse to take out of her class), and there is nothing she can say that will make them believe her, even if parent helpers and aids agree.

The best part here is that the truth - even the unpleasant bits - came out. Hurrah for teachers (and fathers, and friends) who treat children like people.
I had to run to my husband's office next door and immediately tell him how this all played out. And I could hardly speak for the tears and sobs! Everyone must wonder what happened. :)

Love to Jackie and her brave little soul. Love to our hero, Thomas for standing up for the little people. Looks like being a super hero isn't so bad. After all, NYC all loved Spidey, and would have stayed in for recess for him too. :)

This is just the best feel good story ever.
I am consistently surprised at how the tears come when I read these stories. I mean, I actually resolve not to cry when I start out these stories, and yet right there in the middle, my face gets hot and my nose twitches and the tears come. And I know that it's not just the writing, but the actual events. I feel that life is hard, that there is so much injustice in the world. To see justice be celebrated by such young people, it gives me faith. Please, tell Thomas "thanks for the inspiration" for me. Oh, and thank yourself while you're at it, Mr. Man. You're such a genuine contribution to the good in the world.
I never thought much about where the unborn go, and I hoped your childhood "in line for a bus and will get the next one" belief was true. But this is no longer such a comfort now that I know the chee-toh won't have Thomas for a big brother, or you for a father. Or the Brownie or HLS, or the grandparents or Big Brother for an uncle. Did i forget anyone?

Belated but deeply felt sympathies.

and hooray for Thomas, and you, and Jackie, and Jackie's father, and Mrs. Dodd, and the other kids!

Two questions: did you ever find out what the nurse had to say about Andrew's arm?
and what tidbit of info did Mrs. Doohickey give you?

Andrew's arm wasn't hurt. I just neglected to write about the part where I called the nurse and pretended to be all concerned and wondering if there was serious damage or hospitalization and should I call the parents because my son was responsible and my insurance should pay and blahblahblah and she interrupted me to tell me what I already knew: he was fine. In fact, spent so little time in the nurse's office, he was back out playing at recess right after the incident.

As for my neighbor the sub teacher, she was the one who pointed out that the school has a Zero Tolerance policy for hate speech (as well as derogatory comments about appearance, such as telling a kid she's fat), which I had Assouline read that part in the handbook a few entries back.

It's also why I've made it clear to Thomas that he can't call Andrew "piggo face" anymore.

Even though he so TOTALLY is...
I nominate this one for immediate inclusion on your "best of" pages. What a fantastic ending! Bravo, Thomas! Bravo, Jackie! Bravo, Mrs. Dodd! Bravo, Whole Class! Bravo, MM!
Too perfect!!! How does this HAPPEN?! I almost don't believe it, in today's world, that something so sweet and wonderful like this could happen in a classroom. My heart feels so big right now.
I can't tell you how relieved and pleased I am to know that there are kids like Thomas and his friends in this world. It's enough to restore one's faith in humanity. I hope my Monkey is lucky enough to have friends like this, and is kind enough to be a friend like this, when he enters those scary elementary school halls next year.

Thanks for another tear-jerker, MM.
Mrs. Dodd showed what a great teacher she is...what an amazing show of great character. I'm proud of YOU, MM, for handling everything so well, and I'm so proud of all those kids. What a fantastic ending to the story. :)
Jeeeeeeepers, first you had me crying at 7am this morning with your wonderfully amazing conclusion...and now I'm all weepy again reading everyone's comments! :)

These are happy, my-heart-is-full, tears, though - and as much a blessing as the happenstance that creates them.

Thomas is a terrific little guy. Ain't it grand when the good guys win?
I got to deal with my own university version Assouline today, so coming home to this ending ROCKS! Thomas' friends kick ass. Of course they do, cause so does he. You're raising a great little man, my friend.
aaaahhhhh!! =) =)
Thomas: my hat is off. You're going to grow up to be such a good man. I feel so privileged to be able to follow along :-)

Thanks again, MM!
Wonderful ending to this story~! (Although you should add a Kleenex disclaimer somewhere!)

Sounds like Thomas is in good company, it gives one hope for the future.
I need to go find a tissue, but I'm thrilled for Thomas and you that things turned out this way.
That is SO COOL. Everybody learns something, except maybe Andrew, who just gets to watch TV.
To respond to Irene's comment about Andrew, I have a fantasy about that. I think that Andrew probably has at least one friend in class. That friend will tell the story of the sit-in. In my fantasy, Andrew combines Mr. Man's upbraiding with this story and decides for himself that he needs to give "being nice" a try.
Awesome! I hope there are some Thomases in my son's classroom through the years. Our little guys on the autism spectrum could really use them.

I'm not crying, really I'm not.


Take Care
YES! WAY TO GO! I wonder what Mr. Assholeine told Ms. Dodd. Anyway, HOOOO-RAY! Nothing that heroic ever happened in my elementary school.
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