I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville wife and mother with a passion for family travel, (mostly) healthy cooking, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries with you, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark.
July 11, 2011
When my seven-year-old daughter got in the car after her first day of camp last week, she was uncharacteristically subdued.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Did you like it?”
“Did you make friends?”
“Yes,” she said. “I made two friends.”
We pulled up to her camp teacher, who was waiting to check off her name as we drove by. “Great job today, Punky!” he said enthusiastically.
“Thank you,” she said quietly. He began bouncing up and down, like a jack-in-the-box, obviously trying to coax a smile out of her.
“See you tomorrow, Punky!” he shouted. She said nothing, and simply gazed back at him solemnly.
“See ya,” I said, smiling apologetically. We drove away and I rolled up the window.
“Punky!” I said. “What on earth? Why weren’t you nicer to your teacher?”
“Because he was embarrassing me again,” she said. “And I really don’t like it!”
I sighed. Punky had never had a male teacher before. I guessed she was having a little trouble adjusting to his over-the-top style.
The next afternoon was much like the first. Punky seemed happy when she got in the car after camp, but she grimaced as we approached her teacher at the end of the drive.
“Can’t you just leave the window up?” she asked.
“No Punky, that would be rude,” I told her. Once again, her teacher mugged and acted goofy, trying to get a smile from my daughter. Once again, Punky stared at him impassively. I shrugged my shoulders, smiled sheepishly, and drove away.
That night before bed, we talked about it.
“Punky, I think your teacher acts a little crazy because he likes you,” I told her, “and he wants you to like him back.”
“But he just embarrasses me all the time,” Punky complained. “And when it happens, I get so angry inside.”
“How does he embarrass you?” I asked her.
“One time, I asked him a question and he put his forehead right up against mine and answered me with a very low voice,” she said.
“What did you do?”
“I scooted back away from him, as fast as I could,” she said. “And then he laughed. But I didn’t think it was funny.”
“Does he try to embarrass everyone?” I asked her.
“No,” she said. “Just me.”
I thought for a minute. As many of you know from reading this blog, Punky is one of those sensitive, old soul kind of kids who often says sensitive, old soul kids of things that make the adults around her laugh. This frustrates her because she hates being laughed at when she’s not trying to be funny. I sensed that this was the real problem she was having with her teacher. He was trying to draw her out, and probably had no idea that his efforts were making her retreat even further.
“Do you want me to talk to him?” I asked.
“Yes!” she said. “Oh, would you Mommy?”
“Of course I will,” I said.
And I meant it. But the thought of confronting this obviously well-meaning teacher kept me tossing and turning that night. Oh, how awkward this conversation was going to be! And seriously, Punky only had two days of camp left! And, and… sooooo awkward! And there was probably nothing to the way my daughter was feeling, and her teacher was probably really doing nothing wrong! And oh yeah! AWKWARD!
The next morning, as I drove Punky to camp, I asked her again, “Do you still want me to talk to your teacher?”
“Yes, Mommy,” she said. My heart sank.
We walked to her class and her teacher was standing outside. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” I asked him, after Punky had given me a soulful look and entered the classroom.
“Uh, my daughter is struggling a little this week,” she said. “I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong, but she says you’re embarrassing her.”
He looked shocked. Oh God.
“Embarrassing her?” he repeated.
“Well, you’re the first guy teacher she’s had, and I think it’s freaking her out a little,” I said. “She’s on the sensitive side, and when she thinks adults are teasing her or laughing at her, it upsets her.”
“Oh,” he said. “Listen, I am so sorry if I have hurt her feelings–”
“Oh no,” I said. “I’m not upset. But she asked me to talk to you about it. And I just thought you would both have a better experience if, maybe, you treated her with more seriousness.” I smiled, but my knees were shaking a little. “Okay?” I said.
“Okay, sure,” he said. “I’ll do it.”
I went to the car, prickling with embarrassment. And yet I knew I did the right thing. Because here’s the deal: I am my child’s advocate. I am her voice when she can’t find the words to state a problem on her own. And if I can’t find the courage to speak up on her behalf when she needs help, who will?
“And there’s another thing,” I told my husband later, when I was recounting what had happened on the phone. “Punky has never asked me to speak to a teacher before. What if she had a sense that something was wrong? I don’t think there’s anything strange about this guy, but I’m not around him all day, and she is. What if she picked up on something that I couldn’t know about? At seven, she wouldn’t necessarily even know how to tell me that. Worst case scenario, I’m making her an unlikely target. She becomes the girl whose mom speaks out, and that’s not a kid that anyone wants to mess with.”
We spend our children’s early childhoods assuring ourselves that we will never let harm come to our children. We will crusade. We will fight. We will argue. We will stand up for them.
But when that time comes, we find that it’s so much easier to say nothing. To let it slide. Because going against the grain is awkward and uncomfortable. It might make us the pariah of the PTO, or the one sitting alone in the corner at the neighborhood swimming pool. I know this because I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again. When one of my stepdaughters was 12, for example, an assistant male coach began sending inappropriate e-mails to some of the girls, and showing up at their school for lunch, and calling them on the phone when their parents weren’t home. Do you know what the parents did about it?
Speaking out was awkward. It was uncomfortable. I was a new stepmom at the time and trying not to overstep my boundaries, but I couldn’t help mentioning the incidents to some of the other moms, most of whom already knew what was going on. “Don’t you think we should do something?” I asked. “Don’t you think we should all band together and get this guy away from our girls?” “I don’t want to get involved,” was the answer I got over and over and over again. “I don’t want the head coach to be mad at me.”
I learned a very important lesson during that time: If you don’t stand up for your child, no one will.
That afternoon, Punky got in the car with a big smile on her face.
“How did it go?” I asked her.
“Great!” she bubbled. I smiled. This was the Punky I was used to seeing at the end of a day of camp.
“Did your teacher embarrass you?” I asked her.
“Nope!” she said, still grinning. “Not once! Thank you, Mommy, for talking to him.”
“No problem,” I said, settling back into my seat. I knew in that moment that any awkwardness I would ever endure on behalf of my children would totally be worth it.
I hope you know that, too.