Friday, March 03, 2017

A Jewish kid with a rosary walks into a bar...

I get a lot of phone calls from my mother while she's in various business class lounges in airports around the world. The other day it was from Melbourne, as she was getting ready to board a plane that would finally bring her back stateside after a two-week jaunt confabbing about international adoption through various countries in southeast Asia and Oceania.

I was relaying to her the email I got from Zeke's teacher about the difficulties he's having in school. Not with the content or curriculum, but with behaving. He's been defiant, argumentative, occasionally destructive (not majorly, but doing stupid shit like breaking pencils and ripping up assignments when he's pissed off), doesn't always focus on his work and is lazy about finishing it, and it's affecting his grades.

It's obviously very upsetting to me on a number of levels - I hate that he's having a hard time, I hate that he's being a dick to his teacher, who is really good with him. I also find it utterly bewildering. As a child (and throughout my entire educational career, actually), my self-worth and self-identification were very much immersed in living up to the expectations that my parents and my teachers had for me. I was lauded for being smart and good, for the teacher's plaudits during parent-teacher conferences that "she's such a pleasure to have in class," and I basked in that praise like a flower rotating to catch the rays of the sun. The notion of angrily rejecting a teacher's demands, or of not working hard enough to get good grades, was anathema to me. I would have sooner drunk a bottle of Windex than disappoint anyone.

But my son. My dear sweet, bright, exuberant, difficult son. My son who is so much more emotionally fragile than his sister or I are, with his mood swings and overdeveloped sense of righteousness. Lately he seems immune to such concerns.

The latest incident involved a rosary that he was wearing around his neck. He would get fidgety in class and take it off and start swinging it around, annoying the shit out of everyone in the vicinity and disrupting the teacher's ability to maintain order and keep everyone focused on their work.

He was repeatedly asked to stop. He didn't stop. He was told that if he didn't stop, the rosary would be taken away. He refused to hand it over. He was told to either hand it over or miss recess. He opted to miss recess. He yelled at his classmates and broke pencils and ripped papers and at one point when they were outside, took off his shoes and threw them at the wall.

The teacher gave him space to cool off, and he did. She then told him that he needed to write a letter of apology reflecting on his behavior, identifying different choices he could have made, and expressing contrition. He refused to do it in school, so he was told he could do it at home.

That's what prompted the email to me - she wanted to tell me what happened, but also ask for my support in making sure the letter was written. I told her that of course I would make sure it got done.

"Another thing I couldn't figure out is why the hell he was wearing a rosary, given that he's Jewish," I told my mom.

"Where would he have gotten it?" she asked.

"No idea."

"So what are you going to do?"

I sighed. "Make sure he writes the letter. Talk to him about what's going on with him, figure out if there's something bigger that's upsetting him."

"Oh, my poor Zekey," she said. "I hate that he's going through this."

"Me too. But I'll tell you what, that behavior is absolutely unacceptable. Whatever he may be dealing with emotionally, he can't act that way in school. He and I are going to sit down and have a real 'come-to-Jesus.'"

"Absolutely. Particularly if he's wearing a rosary."

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