When It’s Time to Walk Away

One of my dad’s favorite stories to tell is about my youngest sister Terra. I thought of the story today in response to Teacher Tom’s blog on Obedience.

My dad tells of how one day my mom got a phone call from the principal of my sister’s school when she was in Kindergarten. We lived about 3 blocks from the school (and this was 40 years ago), and the principal was calling my mom (supposedly president of the Parent Teacher Association) to inform her that my sister had decided to leave school and walk home. My mom of course asked, “What happened?” and the principal informed my mom that Terra didn’t want to do what the teacher told her to do. Rather than get into an argument with her teacher, or hang around for further discussion, Terra simply got up and left the class room to walk home.

This brief memory reminded me of a conversation I had with my very serious, studious, daughter when we began to prepare her for kindergarten several years ago. I remember telling her that “no matter what” if she ever needed me to come to the school, she could always ask the teacher or her principal to call me and I would come right away. I remember the way my daughter looked at me, with a sort of awe and wonder that she had that power. I then hastily reminded her “that it needed to be important” but that I would come “no matter what” that something important was. I told her it could be something that she didn’t feel comfortable doing. I told her it could be that she needed me there for a specific situation with her teacher, or just to talk with me. I told her I would always, always come if she needed me to drive over and pick her up from school. She nodded her little head in sober understanding and we never spoke of it again. My daughter is now in third grade, and she has only called me once: It was the day I forgot her field trip money. Luckily, the school nurse is a personal friend, and my daughter was loaned the $3 for the field trip as soon as we hung up.

So last year when my son began Kindergarten at his ‘new school’ I had the same conversation with him. I explained to my little 5 year old that his dad, or I, would always be able to come get him if he needed us for any reason. He asked, again with that same incredulity, “Really?”. My answer was an unwavering yes. I have often wondered if other parents share this with their kids before they send them off at the beginning of the school year. Maybe my tradition was sparked by my parents who always made it clear that while we were to respect our teachers, we were always to do what we felt was right. (And that they would support us in that.) Maybe seems a bit much to lay on a small child, but I have always believed that we all know ‘right from wrong’ deep inside us from an early age. Why would I let a teacher have more weight than my child’s own inner voice?

When I read Teacher Tom’s blog I was reminded that sometimes it is hard for little people (that’s what we call our kids) to stand up to bigger people in authority like teachers. However, I don’t want my little people to feel like their voice counts less, or like they have to do anything they are uncomfortable with just because a teacher tells them too. As you can imagine, we get into some sticky conversations around our house as a result of talking about different scenarios with our little people…and sometimes it is a bit tiring to have those conversations. However, I would much prefer to have those conversations with my little people when the risks are smaller and hypothetical. My real dread, is when it is time to have those conversations and they are no longer theoretical, or low-risk. My prayer is that all the conversations between now and then will provide some sort of framework for them to work from. I know I can’t be there all the time. My hope is that our kids will never feel like they have to face big decisions without a loving, caring, sounding board. And if the teachers would prefer more obedient kids, I am willing to let my kids blame it on their old mom until they feel like they can stand up for themselves.