By Ekta R. Garg
October 2, 2015
On Monday Nine got in the car with a little bit of frustration crossing her face.
“Guess what?” she asked, her tone of voice suggesting that I really didn’t want to guess. I asked anyway, since I knew she wanted me to.
“Today we had a substitute,” she said, “and no offense but she doesn’t like kids, she’s stubborn, and she can’t hear. I mean seriously, turn up your hearing aid.”
My immediate reaction was to snap at her for being disrespectful. But occasionally I like to use my journalism training to get answers from the children. That means gathering information before I offer an opinion.
“Was she wearing a hearing aid?” I asked, forcing my voice to stay neutral.
“Then I don’t think it’s right for you to make that comment,” I said. “You wouldn’t like it if someone said something like that about you.”
“We didn’t say it in front of her,” she said, a touch sullen.
“That doesn’t matter,” I said. “How would you feel if you found out someone was saying something not nice about you?”
She stayed quiet for a moment. Then she said, “I know you’ll probably say this is wrong, but it doesn’t really matter to me what other people think about me.”
Well. I guess I should be glad she doesn’t have a self-esteem problem. It’ll serve her well in middle school and beyond. But that didn’t address the immediate issue.
“That’s not the point,” I said. “You shouldn’t be disrespectful to people who are older than you.”
“Okay,” she conceded, still sullen.
In the fairness of my journalistic training—and of trying to acknowledge the entire situation—I went on.
“I know having a substitute can be hard,” I said. “I remember having substitutes, and it’s not easy. But it can be hard for a substitute to come into a classroom full of kids.”
“And that’s why they yell and scream?”
“Well, sometimes substitutes can get a little nervous when they come into the classroom, and in order to hide how nervous they are they yell.”
Nine stayed quiet for a minute as she processed this. She’s a smart kid. I know it’s important for me to instruct her in treating elders with respect, but I also want to confirm for her what she might be seeing already. If I can frame a situation for her in a little more objectivity, I think it would help make her more understanding and forgiving in the future when a similar situation arises.
Along with teaching her to be respectful, I know it’s also my responsibility to teach her to be compassionate.
I think at times like this my personal experience enhances my parenting skills. I didn’t share this story with Nine, but I remember when I was in the fifth grade and our class had a substitute. On that particular day a few of my classmates decided they wanted to give the sub a hard time. We had assigned seats back then, and the troublemakers switched seats and names. After a little while they went back to using their own names but stayed in the wrong seats. The poor sub got incredibly confused.
Somehow I got involved in the whole thing, although I don’t remember now how. But the sub saw a sympathetic soul in me, and my clearest memory of the matter (after shaking my head in disapproval at my classmates) is of standing in the hallway talking to the sub. She’d asked me to come out there with her, I guess to ask for help in sorting the situation out although I don’t remember the exact conversation. I do remember, though, that by the end of it she said, “Okay,” and steeled herself to go back in the room. But when she entered the room she looked a little less wary of all the kids.
In that moment I understood on some level that being a substitute is just as hard as having one.
I wanted Nine to understand it too, and I hope she does now. When she got back into the car on Tuesday after school, she told me with a huge sigh of relief that her regular teacher had returned. But she didn’t say anything else about the sub. I hope that next time Nine has a substitute she’ll remember what we talked about this week. If not, I have a story to share with her that might impress the lesson on her heart.
With this lesson, as most others in parenting, I’ll just have to keep reminding her of the right thing to do until it becomes second nature to her.