© Copyright 2002 by Natalie Greene
I've always taken my job as a
parent very seriously. I've read dozens
I sat smiling smugly as the kindergarten teacher explained the card system.
"If students keep their green card all day, that means they’ve done a super-duper job!" she explained. "However," the teacher continued, "the first time students get in trouble I’ll ask them to turn a yellow card. Then orange, then blue, and if they get to their red card, you parents will probably be hearing from me."
I looked around the room to see if I could spot the parents of the horrible monsters that would be turning their red cards on a regular basis. No one looked quite so worn and exhausted. Of course, I reasoned, those parents wouldn’t be concerned enough to attend an orientation, which is why their children will be spending recess "on the fence" for most of the school year.
Before the evening was over my husband and I had spoken to a few of the other parents. We laughed with the Ramsey's, a couple we knew from my daughters' preschool. We laughed about the card system and joked that if any of the Finney children were in Mrs. Doyle’s class, we knew where they would spend their recess time. We then introduced ourselves to Mrs. Doyle, my daughter’s teacher, letting her know, with an air of light heartedness, that our phone was in working order. If Nicole were ever a problem she should give us a call I explained. Again, a certain smugness had returned to my voice, for I knew that MY DAUGHTER would not be a problem.
"What happens if they turn a red card?" my mother asked me that evening when my husband and I had returned to pick up Nicole.
"I suppose they go straight to H... E... double L.," I quipped.
"We’ll never know, I’m sure!" my husband added.
Hopping off the school bus Nicole ran across the street smiling. "We learned about the rules on the school bus today," she began.
"Did you keep your green card today?" I asked.
"Yep!" she responded. I was sure that this would be her response and I smiled at her approvingly. "I’m so proud of you. What else did you learn at school today?" I asked.
"Josh told me you shouldn’t hold up your middle finger. He said that was bad."
"Really?" I tried to appear shocked, as if I had never heard such a thing. Kindergarten, I decided, was going to be a learning experience in more ways than one. "And who is Josh?" my annoyance beginning to show through my voice.
"How was school?" I asked as Nicole ran to me from the bus.
"I had to turn my yellow card." Nicole said, her face long.
It was only day two and this news was rather shocking. There must be an explanation for this I reasoned. "What happened?" I tried to appear calm.
"I was whispering with Josh at nap time," she replied.
Josh again. Who was this Josh boy? "Well, when Josh wants to talk to you, you just look at him and say ‘ssshhh,’" I replied putting my index finger against my mouth to illustrate. Nicole readily agreed that this would fix the problem, and I was sure that this was only a minor lapse from the perfect record my child would have in Kindergarten. It was only a yellow card after all. She had been led astray. Knowing better now, this would be a thing of the past.
"I lost..." Nicole began breathlessly as she ran off the bus, "I lost my green card again. I had to turn an orange card," she stressed the word orange and continued, "and I had to stand at the fence for five minutes during recess," she readily volunteered.
"What happened?" my inner panic seemed to seep through my voice accidentally, and I thought maybe Nicole could sense my lack of breath.
"I was whispering again at nap time."
"Josh again?" I asked.
"Yeah, how’d you know?" she asked quizzically.
"Just a guess," This Josh boy was corrupting my child and there was nothing I could do. How out of control I felt. "and, how did you lose the yellow card?"
This Nicole didn’t readily admit to. Instead, she paused briefly, as if think of the right way to tell me. "I barked in class."
"You barked in class?" I repeated.
"Yes." Nicole sullenly replied.
"What were the other students doing when you were barking? What was Josh doing?"
"Nothing?" I asked, rather shocked. I was certain that in some way, Josh again had to be responsible for my child’s misbehavior.
"Everyone was working on their papers."
"And you just barked?"
"Why did you bark?" I asked.
"I found a dog in my folder and so I barked." Nicole pulled the construction paper dog from her book bag and showed me that the class had been studying the letter D that day. Although this news was disturbing to me, I only asked Nicole to sit in her room for five minutes and think about why students shouldn’t bark out loud in the classroom. When the five minutes were up Nicole had decided that everyone barking would make too much noise. I was proud that she has solved the problem on her own. Thinking that she had learned a sufficient lesson, I allowed her to ride her bike until my husband came home from work.
That evening my husband and I had a serious debate about Nicole’s trouble. It was my opinion that she was adjusting. She was rather impulsive, but we couldn’t expect her to know on the third day of kindergarten that barking in class was not allowed. We would have to be patient while she learned what was and was not appropriate. My husband’s viewpoint differed slightly. He was demanding corporal punishment. She had to feel pain in order to learn. In my opinion, he was being over zealous about the situation. "My goodness, you’d think the world economy had suffered a blow! She barked! She won’t do it again," I reasoned. My husband did not reply, instead he scowled at me and went into the den to bury himself behind his laptop.
The next day Nicole had kept her green card all day. No whispering at rest time, no barking in class, and I was sure that the previous days were in fact an adjusting period. We were finally over the hump. Nicole’s behavior was improving and I was sure that she would, from now on, walk the straight and narrow. Then there was Friday.
"I had to spend ten minutes on the fence during recess today," Nicole began as she crossed the street.
"Ten minutes?" I asked.
"I lost my yellow card, AND my orange card, AND my blue card," she replied, eyes wide, with extra emphasis on the ANDS.
"What happened???" I asked trying not to show my panic. My child. My child! I couldn’t believe it was happening. Where had we gone wrong? All those years I thought I was doing it perfectly. All those books on discipline and self-esteem. All that smugness! And my child had gotten closer to the red card than perhaps any other student in her class. Not even Josh, I imagined had come that close. "What happened today?" I repeated, the pitch of my voice rising with each word I uttered.
Her response was the usual. She talked twice at rest time which had taken her to her orange card. Josh and another little boy were involved in the scandal and they too had lost both their yellow and orange cards.
"But blue?" I squeaked rather distraught, "How did you turn your blue card?" Again, Nicole’s reply was not immediate. Rather she thought for a long time on how to phrase her response.
"I put Josh in his locker."
"You did what?" I slowly turned and looked at her directly.
"I put Josh in his locker," she quickly retorted, "but he wanted me to. He asked me to." Her words were so rushed in her haste to explain that it was difficult to understand what she was saying.
"He asked you to," I slowly repeated. "And how long was Josh in his locker before anyone noticed him missing?" In my mind I could see Mrs. Doyle searching the halls, the classroom, the bathrooms, everywhere to find the missing Josh. Had they called in a search team, I wondered. Were blood hounds involved? The idea of a helicopter circling the school and men wearing SWAT uniforms, leading basset hounds through the halls of my daughter’s Kindergarten almost amused me.
"...just a minute," my daughter replied interrupting my scenario. "Mom," she insisted, "did you hear me? He was just in his locker a minute," she answered.
That evening Nicole spent her time coloring in her bedroom. It was my idea to ground her for the rest of the first quarter, but this time my husband intervened and said that this punishment was too harsh. We compromised with the evening which gave Nicole time to reflect on ‘Why we should not put other children in their lockers at school.’
"What’s wrong with her? Why is she acting this way?" I couldn’t decide quite what to do about Nicole. Was it serious? Was she a problem child? Had we spoiled and overindulged our daughter for five years? Were we now reaping what we had sewn? It was hard to decide. My husband offered little support and I was beside myself wondering if this would lead to holding up gas stations later in life.
What would I do if my lack of judgment during the first five years of my daughter’s life resulted in her wearing prison orange for the last fifty years of her life? What had gone wrong? Instantly I knew. I had over stimulated her during her infancy. When she, as a baby, would look away from me I should have taken that as a sign that she needed to regroup. Instead I carelessly continued to try and get her attention. "Look at MOMMY! Look at Mommy!" I remember saying to her as I maneuvered her small, helpless, head to look in my direction.
"My god, how could I? I over stimulated her as an infant, and now she’ll be sent to prison for some white collar crime when she’s thirty!" I explained to my husband that evening.
"Don’t you think you’re exaggerating?" he began, "It is kinda’ cute, and he did ask her to put him in his locker."
Before I knew what I was doing my mother’s own words were escaping from my mouth, "If Josh asked you to swim naked in a cesspool full of snapping turtles, would you do it?" My mother never liked the more cliche’ phrases, she always had to dress them up a bit.
"Okay..." was all my husband had to say as he finished rinsing the roast beef grease from the pan.
At the PTA meeting the next week I could sense the other mothers whispering to each other. I was sure, as I watched them fill their plates with cookies and brownies that they were pausing a bit, looking over at me, and whispering to one another. There she is. Yes she’s Nicole’s mother. What’s going to come of that child? What must her parents do? There can’t be any discipline in that home!
I wanted to throw myself upon the floor and scream, "I tried. We both tried! We read the books, we watched the tapes. It was bad breeding, I swear. Had I only known my husband’s gene pool was that askew this could have all been avoided. I swear, I didn’t know!" Instead, I remained seated and nibbled at my plate full of cookies, hoping that this meeting would soon dismiss.
When the meeting was finally over I causally made my way over to Mrs. Doyle. What I was going to say to this over worked and underpaid teacher that had the misfortune of dealing with my difficult daughter day after day, eluded me. However, I didn’t have to begin the conversation. Mrs. Doyle recognizing me immediately began the conversation.
"Mrs. Greene," she smiled, "I’m so glad you could attend the meeting this evening." I wondered if this statement had some hidden meaning. I panicked. The speaker had discussed homework, the upcoming book fair, and the new safe-schools act. Could any of this have been directed at me personally?
"I wanted to discuss Nicole’s behavior," I began before she had a chance to address the matter with me. I wanted to take responsibility for what had happened. I wanted to repent. I wanted Mrs. Doyle to know how sorry I was and how seriously we were taking this matter. I wanted her to know that I would do better and I would become a better parent.
"Oh, Nicole’s doing very well in Kindergarten. She had some problems adjusting at first, but many of the children did Mrs. Greene. Now Nicole’s my little helper."
"But," I began, a little out of breath, "she put Josh in his locker!!!"
"Well he did ask her to," Mrs. Doyle had also emphasized the word ask, just as my husband had two nights before. "Nicole’s a normal Kindergartner, Mrs. Greene. Really. She just needed some time to figure out what she wasn’t supposed to do."
Upon leaving the meeting that evening it seemed the other mothers had lost their interest in me. No one seemed to be huddled near the coat closet sending me sidelong glances and for that I was relieved. Maybe Mrs. Doyle was right. Maybe I had over reacted. Nicole was only five and she had, up to this point, been a pretty pleasant little girl. I sighed a weighted sigh as I grabbed my jacket, collected my purse, and left the Elementary gymnasium. In twenty minutes I would be tucking my angel into bed, reading her a bedtime story, and helping her with her prayers.
"Lord, help her to keep her green card tomorrow," would be my prayer for Nicole.
Natalie Greene is currently a
single mother of two bright little girls ages 3 and 9. She is thirty-five
years old and teaches jr. high English in a small Southwest Missouri town
where she has lived for twelve years.
(Messages are forwarded by The
So, when you write to an author, please type his/her name
in the subject line of the message.)