While she was hugging me after escaping from Jack, a teacher came over and very casually mentioned that Silvia was moving to a new class on Wednesday. Still gathering up her blanket and things, I was a little confused. The teacher wasn’t her regular one, just someone I’d seen around a couple times.
“Why?”, I asked. Silvia was draped over my lap with Jack pulling her hair.
“Oh, we’re just putting the slow kids over here together,” she said blandly.
I’m pretty sure my expression said what my mouth was too shocked to say, because she quickly followed up with (as if it made it better), “It’s nothing really, she’s just slow and the normal kids need to do their work without having to wait for her, that’s all.”
I grabbed my kids, stood up and asked where the director was. The teacher looked confused and tried to send me in another direction, but I cut her off and walked out. I left three messages for the preschool director to call me ASAP.
That’s right, friends and neighbors. She called my child slow and said she wasn’t “normal”. She said it right in front of Silvia. Because, you know, kids don’t ever hear things grown-ups talk about. They’re not little sponges with ginormous ears, after all. That would just be silly.
The day went downhill at that point, from my head going through various atomic explosions to my eyes fighting back furious, burning tears. Just as I thought I’d managed to get a handle on it and was preparing my biting comments for the upcoming “Oh no you DIDN’T!” phone call, I overheard a terrible thing.
Silvia, playing with two dolls on the floor. One doll said, “Why can’t I go play over there?”. The other doll responded, “Sorry, you can’t play with the normal kids”. Then she had them happily running off to do something else as if nothing had just happened. As if my whole heart hadn’t just broken all over the place in a big mess on the floor.
Kurt and I talked, we tried to think of some other meaning, some way in which it could be explained. I slept on it, or tried to. Mostly I tossed and turned and thought up long choicely-worded things to say to the director when I finally got a hold of her.
This morning, I sat down and typed up a letter outlining what had happened. I was neither accusatory or aggressive, I just stuck to the facts. Your teacher casually called my child slow, said she couldn’t keep up with the “normal” kids. Teacher said this in front of my 4-year-old daughter. My 4-year-old daughter has now assimilated these words into her vocabulary and understanding as applicable to herself. This is totally fucked up. We are never coming back. You all are evil and nasty and I will tell God about you and you will forever suffer for passing judgement on my child. She is so far above you in intelligence that you are but slime creatures with no sentience within her view.
Okay, maybe not those last things.
Unfortunately, righteous indignation has a tendency to fade in the face of real people expressing real shock, apology and remorse. I met with the preschool director and lead teacher today and they were, as they have always been, exceptionally nice women. The director’s eyes were red and her voice shaky as if she had been crying. They couldn’t stop apologizing. They assured me that, regardless of whatever that
“We NEVER speak that way or classify our kids. They’re just little kids, they’re all different and we love them and Silvia is a wonderful child and we can’t say enough how incredibly sorry we are.”
I told them the story about the dolls. They understood. They are mothers, too, after all.
How can you remain a fireball of maternal defensive outrage in the face of that? It’s not the school’s fault. It’s a good school. They just have
But I am still not taking Silvia back there. There is no way I will let her think, even at the fairly oblivious age of four, that I condone or agree with someone (and an authority figure at that) calling her names, telling her she’s less than normal. I won’t send her back to a place where she’ll see everyday someone who thinks she is somehow not as good as everyone else.
The worst part of this whole thing was that I found myself making explanations for why the comments were so untrue. Silvia is shy in new situations, she doesn’t like to engage with the group immediately, we just went through a huge transition, she misses her family and her home, she needs time to find her new comfort zone. She likes to do things her own way in her own time and there’s never any success with her if you try to MAKE her do something. And so on and so on.
I closed that Pandora's Box before it ever fully opened. She needs no excuse. There is nothing WRONG with my child. If there was, I'd be her champion to my last breath, but there isn’t. She is thoughtful and beautiful and creative and precocious and, most of all, 100% normal. No
I mean, everyone knows basic etiquette, right? It’s not nice to call people names.