Tuesday, March 31, 2009


In Which the Waiting is the Hardest Part...

My mom marched me down the hall to the classroom where Mr. F held court. And with each step--especially when we passed the spot in the hall where only a few hours earlier I'd been made to stand, and cry, and surrender my Story Book--I began to rethink accompanying my mom to talk to Mr. F. I knew from experience that my mother could be hell on wheels and would not tolerate anyone having at her child, especially for a wrong he had not committed. In fact, judging from her muttering as we walked, I think it's safe to say she was in a state of disbelief over the man's behavior.

She wasn't the only one who was incredulous. Up until that point, I naively understood that there was only one kind of teacher--the beneficent, wise adult who loved all children equally and who only lost their tempers in the face of the most outrageous childish behavior--and even then only to children who really deserved it. It had never occurred to me for one minute that there might be a teacher who would take an unreasoning dislike to a kid--to me in particular--and who would so utterly lose his cool in the presence of that child, and of other children, never mind another teacher. It was an awful thing to realize, I can tell you. It had a way of making the floor beneath my feet feel unsteady somehow. I felt that I had uncovered some kind of secret I was not really meant to know and the knowing of it made me feel terrible and small and scared. I can still recall the utter misery of that feeling on that day.

Although, I must say, it was wonderful having my mom with me. As a child, I was much closer to my mom than to anyone else in my family and having her by my side--slightly leading the way, in fact--made me feel hopeful, despite my intense trepidation. True, she never coddled me or was mushy or drippily affectionate to me--certainly not in the way she would be to my offspring some two decades hence. But she never failed to tell me and my brother that she loved of us, and she had always made it clear that we could count on her at any time for anything. She was the very definition of "unconditional," and I just knew that, long before I was even aware of the word's existence. That knowledge made up for rather a lot in my life.

My father, for example, sobering up after some awful night's tirade against me or my mom or my brother, could be disgustingly lick-spittle in his fawning affections and cozening attentions, in a way that I sometimes, to be completely honest, wouldn't have minded my mother displaying. But I had come to decide that these emotional states were apparently an either-or proposition as far as parents were concerned, and it would be years before I had my mind changed about that. For the moment, though, I was all too glad to take the quiet confidence and fortitude that my mom excelled at displaying, even if it came with a rather less florid demonstration of her love.

Heavens, wasn't that a digression? And not at all what I know you came here for. So let's jump right to the action in Mr. F's classroom.

The man himself was sitting at his desk at the head of the classroom, diligently--one might even say, studiously--ignoring the door and focusing on some papers on his desk. Next to him, within reach of his right hand, was my Story Book, closed and sitting flat on the desk, although I noticed with a certain proprietary annoyance that a few pages were sticking out at odd angles, as though they had been pulled from the book and placed back haphazardly.

My mom's sensible shoes made a hard clacking on the linoleum floor as she strode smartly up to the desk, and this noise prompted Mr. F to look up. He glared, hard, at me first, then looked my mother in the face, his eyes brightening.

"Well, good afternoon, Mrs. M," he began, a broad, beaming smile on his face, and as he said this, all I could think was that Mr. F was some kind of comic book super-villain, the kind who could seem superficially sane and lucid and even friendly, but the moment you turned your back, he'd become the Joker and start spraying you with acid. I wondered if my mom would be fooled by this show of false bonhomie, possibly even think I'd made this all up (I had, in my brief panic and confusion, forgotten that I had my teacher as a witness to Mr. F's bat-shit craziness).

My mom smoothly cut across him, her Boston accent sharp in that tiny Midwestern classroom. "Oh, are we feigning kindness and civility for this exchange?" she asked. "Or would you rather resort to raging and screaming and shouting, which you evidently prefer when dealing with students? Because I'm perfectly happy to address you either way."

Mr. F's smile faltered only slightly. "Oh, now Mrs. M, aren't we going to be friends? I just need to talk to you a little bit about MM's attitude, and then--"

Well, to her credit, my mom heard him out, and I'd relate it all for you here, but of course you heard most of it in my last post, and from the big man's mouth. I did note that he'd changed tack a little. Instead of going with his original accusations--that I was making up stories about my classmates and then passing the stories around school--he instead told my mother that he'd noticed that I was getting too big for my britches (I swear that was the phrase he used) and that he felt I was doing myself no favors to draw attention to myself in my obvious grandstanding way.

"I've seen the way MM uses his little book here to get a lot of attention and I think that sort of thing can go too far," he concluded, patting the book.

If his speech had flummoxed my mother (I can tell you it had me gaping a little), she didn't reveal it. She simply snapped her hand out. "That book was a gift from me to my son and I'll thank you to give it back," she said.

Mr. F hesitated for a moment, looking darkly at me, then put his hand on the book.

"Oh, but first--" my mom said, causing Mr. F's hand to linger a moment on that yellow plaid cover. "I'd like you to point out to me the pages where my son engaged in his 'malicious mischief-making,' as you called it this morning. I'd like you to point out to me the parts where he wrote anything remotely negative or untrue about any child in this school."

Mr. F froze, which I noticed only because I froze too. It was only then that I made a mental scan of every page, every story in my Story Book. In the stories I wrote, I had included nearly all of my classmates at one point or another. I had written in some goofy things about myself and my best friend Shawn, too. I might have even gone so far as to include my Big Brother in a story or two and to make mention of the fact that he was a bit of a tubbo (which, you must understand, wasn't malice. That was factual reporting.) Had I said anything that Mr. F, crazy as he was, would have construed as malicious towards my classmates? On the one hand, I knew I hadn't--I had always taken special care to make the villains of the stories entirely fictitious. But Mr. F had completely unseated me, made me doubt myself.

Moreover, I thought later, my mom was taking a big chance. It dawned on me only then that she had never once asked me if I had ever written anything bad about my classmates. Like I said, the word "unconditional" was not in my vocabulary then. But I already had a living definition.

(Also, I found out years later, my mom was in the habit of regularly reading through my assorted story books and folders at night when I was asleep, which must have taken a serious bite out of her evenings. By the time I started high school, I had written enough of these stories to paper the house.)

"I'm waiting," my mom said now to Mr. F. And I noted when she did that she was using the Mom Voice. Mr. F noticed this and he didn't like it. He squirmed for a long moment, torn between maintaining his smiling fa├žade and turn into the man I was already coming to think of as Crazy F. Finally, he grabbed the book and handed it back to my mom. "Well, I haven't really had time to go through--" he started. Which, by the way, couldn't have been true. He must have read enough to realize he'd been severely misinformed about the nature of my writing, and just couldn't admit it. Which left him only one other option: to feign disinterest and claim he hadn't really had a chance to read my little juvenile pootlings. Which was actually an even bigger mistake.

My mom knew it. And she pounced.

"So, let me get this straight: Based on the accusations of one of your students, you accused my son of writing lies about his classmates. You accused him of this in a loud and terrible voice, to the extent that I'm sure most everyone in the school must have heard you. And now, you ADMIT you haven't even bothered to prove your accusation?" My mom was seething now--there was no steam coming out of her ears or anything, but the temperature of the room had risen by about 20 degrees.

I waited for my mom to say it, to point out what was obvious even to me: that Mr. F had just done the very thing he'd falsely accused me of doing, the great big sausage-fingered hypocrite.

But she had too much class to point out the obvious. Instead, she simply said, "Mr. F, do you have any idea the ridiculous position in which you have just placed yourself?"

Mr. F was standing up now. Somehow he didn't seem so tall. "Mrs. M," he began, "I don't think there's any need to get so riled up about this--"

"I'm waiting," my mom said, once more. It seemed like a non sequitur, and it shut Mr. F right up. He looked at my mom quizzically.

"Waiting?" he said.

Mom threw her head to the left, to where I'd been standing like a statue for the past minute or two. "For your apology to MM."

And then began The Waiting in earnest

The thing about my mom was, she could Wait like nobody's business. Her Waiting was more like Weighting, like a damn dwarf star had just landed on your back. Her Waiting pressed you into the ground, made your eyeballs squeeze out of your head until you couldn't stand it anymore and you gave in and did or said whatever she wanted. If Waiting had been an Olympic event, my mom would have been Mark Spitz.

We must have stood there, the three of us, long enough for someone to sculpt a statue, for someone to paint a commemorative plate (The Waiting). My mom Waited and Waited and Waited.

Thing was, Mr. F, who was, after all, crazy, seemed strangely resistant to the Waiting.

I could sense that he must be feeling the crushing pressure--God knows I was ready to spring up and apologize to me. Whole minutes passed. Some students came in and collected books from their desks and left (not without first offering some quizzical looks). The janitor came in and mopped the floor in the back. Darkness began to fall.

At least, it did in my mind. With growing dismay, it was dawning on me that I was about to see my mother lose. That she was going to blink first, break the silence, let Mr. F get away with not apologizing for the shit he'd put her son to.

Mr. F continued to stare her down, mouth unmoving.

Finally, after an eternity, my mom shifted and turned. I could swear I saw a smirk on Mr. F's face as my mother turned to face me.

I couldn't look at her. I couldn't believe she'd lost.

And then, she winked at me...

I really love your Mom!
A cliffhanger on top of a cliffhanger... It never ends.

Ah, I love her so much. You were really blessed. Unconditional indeed.
Things always go well when you have a tough parent on your side.
Simply fantastic, MM. Boy, I can't stand teachers like that. And there are far too many, unfortunately. Thanks for another great story.
I've seen these things on TV. I have read about them in books. I have felt like you and waited for my Mom to come in and rescue me or at least give it to the teacher. Unfortunately, I was probably a troublemaker and never had a teacher yell at me out of the blue. This is an awesome tribute to your Mom!

Now, get to work on that book, I need more of these!!!
D'oh! You and your cliffhangers! I have a love/hate relationship with your cliffhangers! You always get me.

Great story so far, and good for your mom. I had a teacher who did something similar to me, and my parents punished me for being rude to her when I refused to listen and walked away down the hall.
Oh my, I love your mom! What a fighter!!!
Wonderful, and I anxiously await the denouement.
What a great mom. I can't wait to see what happened next...
Love your Mom. Unconditionally.

I am going to take this to heart as my children enter school and I have to deal with teachers both good and horribly, horribly bad.
I'm officially taking a page out of your mom's book to use if my daughter ever encounters a teacher like this.

Sadly, she probably will, too.

wow, what a great lady! I can totally imagine all this transpiring. can't wait to hear how it ENDED ended.
MM, I love this post. Your writing is so true and pure and crafted. The posts about your horrible interview were fun, but this...this is art.

The "digression" was wonderful, and there's no need to apologize for including it.

If there's a heaven, I'm sure your mom's up there, fiercely embarrassed--and pleased to know how much you think of her.

Can't wait to see how she defeats Mr. F (who I refer to inwardly as Mr. Fucktard).
My favorite line of this series . . . "I could sense that he must be feeling the crushing pressure--God knows I was ready to spring up and apologize to me."

Heh. You must have been mighty uncomfortable at this point. I love your mom.
When we see your ellipses, the waiting is the hardest part for us too. :-) Fellow Tom Petty fan, eh?
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