Friday, May 07, 2010

Bad Boys, Bad Boys

Alternately titled: A Really Long Story about being a Private School Mom

For the last few weeks, I have been volunteering at the kids' school a lot. Frankly, it is part of my plan to get out and meet some new people and make some new friends before my husband deploys. But I also, ummm, do it for the kids. Yeah. That's it.

One of the things I've been doing is walking my son's class (that's 20 boys) from his classroom to the pool locker room, turning all of their clothes inside right (underwear and sweaty socks included) once they leave the locker room for the pool, and then offering to help tie shoes and the like when they get changed back into their school clothes.

My least favorite part of this process is walking the boys all the way across campus to the aquatic center.

Before we switched to this school, people kept warning us that we might not want to. "They march their kids in silent lines through the hallways like a military school," they said.

Little did they know that just made it sound even more appealing to us, the strictest, meanest parents in the whole wide world. This is how I look at it. Teaching the children to be respectful of the hard work going on all around them is a good thing. (Imagine that.)

But, then we actually went there and we learned that, yes, the kids are expected to walk quietly in line through the hallways, but they rarely do. Or certainly they don't always do that when accompanied by someone other than their classroom teachers.

So, as I lead the boys through the lower school, at least half the time, they are chastised by a staff member for being rowdy.

After enduring this torture--I MEAN--happily volunteering every day for two weeks, I was getting a little tired of this yesterday. And the boys were getting even more rambunctious. So as we passed a gymnasium, one of the P.E. teachers called out to them, "Gentlemen! Stop swinging your bags. Walk quietly!"

She used a no nonsense, but not yelling voice.

But as soon as we rounded the corner, the boys started hitting each other with their swim bags, yelling and rough housing again.

I picked the worst culprit, stopped, and focused my no nonsense voice on him, the voice that makes my own kids tear up and run to do what they are told. "Stop it. Now. You are making me look bad to your teachers. You are being very disrespectful. Stop it now."

He and the rest of the kids stared at me for half a second (except for my own son who probably thought oh, crap! they've done it now) and continued acting exactly the same way. As I turned back to deal with this, I found that they were laughing at me.

Oh, snap. Nope. Not cool. I didn't yell. I used my same no nonsense "coach's" voice. "And if you think it is funny, you can go sit with your teacher."

This was a pretty real threat because their teacher doesn't take any crap.

Unfortunately, their regular P.E. teacher just happened by as all this went down. He's my newest fan because of an unrelated incident at carpool, so he quickly stood up for me. He took over the boys, we all walked to the locker room and as the boys got changed, the P.E. teacher and the swim coach drilled me on what happened.

Ugh. I was a tattle tale. I wasn't sure what to say so I told them the truth. But I tried to downplay it. The last thing I wanted was for the boys to get in trouble and take it out on my son!

But the teachers were having none of that. The boys got a lecture. They lost pool time. They had to apologize to me.

It was all mortifying!

I was horribly embarrassed.

After, on my way past the refectory, I ran into their teacher.

"Did you have a tough time with them today?" she asked me. "We had a rough morning."

Now I really like this teacher. She loves my son. She is incredibly supportive. I wasn't sure what to say, but I know she was headed into the refectory to eat lunch with the swim coach, so I didn't want to say nothing!

So I told her. And she told me her story. They had lost their recess that morning for acting the exact same way. She was especially disappointed with them that morning because they were acting that way with parent volunteers in the classroom. So she was not happy.

You know, I went home and thought about it. Yes, I felt awkward and horrible, but there is a lesson here. Or a couple in fact.

People are always telling me how polite, well-behaved and wonderful my kids are. I mean, they really do. Like, people go on and on. And I've always taken it with a grain of salt. I'm thankful and flattered, but how much better behaved than your average kids could they really be?

One of them pouts. One of them is irresponsible. They both have crappy handwriting.

But they are polite. And, maybe 95% of kids are not. Politeness shocks people now-a-days. It is sad but true.

At my son's last parent teacher conference, his teacher actually said to me, "In the fifteen years I have been teaching, I have never met a more polite child." When I expressed doubt (although pleased and a little embarrassed) she went on to assure me that she meant it. That she doesn't make those kinds of comments ever. That he truly had one of the best characters she had ever encountered.

She said he is the kind of role model she wants for her own kids.

Well, hell.

What do you say to that? Thank you doesn't seem to suffice.

But enough bragging. (ahem!) What I learned is that my expectations for children's behavior are all out of whack. I am just not used to dealing with children who don't say, "Yes, ma'am" and "Thank you, ma'am."

But that doesn't keep me from being disappointed in these boys. I know their parents care about them. I know their parents want them to be respectful. I know their parents are paying a crap load of money to send their kids to a school where the Honor Code and Community Commitment really do come first.

I think parents just don't know how to teach their children anymore. (Not you parents, of course! I really do think my blog friends are all really great parents.) They have no guidelines. No parenting role models. Their expectations are all out of whack too. What is acceptable behavior today is different than what was acceptable behavior even thirty years ago.

Grandparents often live far away. Parenting books are a mess. We all have the kids and we love them so much and we want them to be happy, and very proper behavior usually takes a far back seat to all of our hopes and dreams for our kids.

So, I am an anomaly. Oh, don't get me wrong. I am a massive failure at a lot of parenting. Massive! You only have to look at my kids to know I failed in one of the most important parts of parenting. But I taught them to behave and to treat each other with love, by god. And in my value system, that is the most important thing.

But I am still embarrassed.

When I picked the kids up, I apologized to my son for possibly embarrassing him. He couldn't care a less. He doesn't get embarrassed. I also told them, "I know I don't tell you this enough, but I am very proud of you and your behavior. I know it isn't always easy and I really do appreciate how polite you are."

"Don't worry, Mom," my son said. "You have nineteen apologies."

I did. When my son opened up his homework folder there were nineteen neatly written letters of apology inside.

And I cried. And cried.

Now I'm too embarrassed to ever volunteer again.

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