This happened years ago, way back in the mists of time. It was a school day like any other. I dropped the boys off, came home, had coffee. Started running my errands.
I was sitting in my therapist’s comfy little office mid-morning unburdening my soul when my cellphone rang. I wouldn’t have picked it up but it was the school’s number flashing on the screen and I was concerned that something had happened to one of the boys.
-Hi, um, I don’t know how to tell you this but your second grader is being sent home because he used profanity.
-My kid? Profanity? What did he say?
-I don’t have that information, but please come and pick up your son immediately. He has been suspended for 2 days.
My boys, at that time, attended a very black-hat yeshiva school, which had a zero tolerance for profanity, but bullying was acceptable if your parents paid full tuition. Don’t get me started – I still have PTSD from that place.
I was flummoxed. See, my kids were taught from the time they could speak that there was no need to use profanity, that there are enough other words in the English language that can be used in every situation. For my seven year old to be suspended for profanity – it boggled my mind.
I had the babysitter pick the child up from school. I was half an hour away and I knew my son would be sitting in the school office crying until I came to get him.
I finished up my therapy session – my therapist calmed me down, bless her heart, and helped me be in the right mindset to deal with my supposedly errant child.
I arrived home and ran upstairs to my son’s room. He was sitting on his bed in the furthermost corner, arms around his knees – looking so dejected. My heart just broke into a million pieces. I sat down next to him, put my arms around him, pulled him to me, and told him how much I love him. I held him for a while and when I sensed he was calm, I asked him to tell me what happened.
“I said a bad word”
“What bad word did you say?”
“I can’t tell you. The Rabbi said it was bad and I can’t ever say it!”
“Sweetie, in order for me to know how to deal with this situation I need to know what happened”
“But Ima…… “
A stern look from me.
Mumbling: “I said ‘penis’”
“No, really, that’s not profanity. What did you really say?”
He told me earnestly that that was indeed what he said, and there may have been an index finger involved in making a gesture with the word.
He had been talking at recess with a friend, and being 7 year old boys they were being rude and talking about farts and body parts, and all types of things that little boys are obsessed with. A rabbi had been walking by and heard him say the ‘P-word’ and hauled him into the Principal’s office.
I told my son emphatically that the word penis is not a bad word, that it is a body part just the same as elbow or knee, and that he needs to feel comfortable saying it whenever it is warranted, but that there are some people who use different words for it and take issue with the real word. I told him to stay home with the babysitter while I went up to the school to talk to the Principal. I was livid!! How dare he send my son home for saying “penis”?!!
I was so angry that I walked to the school, I saw way too much red to be able to drive.
I walked into the office, straight to the Principal, got up in his face and asked him angrily in front of all the staff “Rabbi – do you have a penis? If so, what do YOU call it?”
He quickly motioned me into his office, but not before I saw the secretaries with their mouths open in shock, one or two actually trying really hard not to show their mirth.
I explained to the rabbi that the word my son had said was not profanity or anything close to it. The better way to have handled the situation if he hadn’t want my son discussing penises in school, was to take him aside and explain that we don’t talk about certain body parts in school. Instead he humiliated my son, unnecessarily suspended him and made him feel awful.
The rabbi conceded that perhaps I did have a point, but still wanted the suspension to stand. I told the rabbi that I wasn’t leaving the office until he spoke to my son on the phone and told him that he was a good kid, and that he wasn’t suspended, and that he (the Principal) had made a mistake in sending him home.
It was a battle of wills. I was NOT having a suspension on my son’s school record – especially when it was so totally not warranted. Mama Bear won out. The Principal called my house, spoke to my son, apologized and told him that he is more than welcome to come straight back to school. I then told the rabbi that I was keeping my son out of school for the rest of the day to spoil him rotten so that he doesn’t feel as if he did something wrong.
On the way out I saw the secretaries smiling. One of my other sons caught me on the way out of school and asked me if it was true that his brother told the Principal to F*&^ off. That was the rumor that was already flying around the school. I told him that the rumor was false, and that he shouldn’t believe that of his brother. He was disappointed….
I got home and told my son we were going out for pizza and ice cream to celebrate. “What are we celebrating?” I explained that we were happy that he wasn’t suspended, and that we are celebrating that the word penis is not profanity.
In fact, the entire rest of that day every time the phone rang I answered it with “Penis, Penis and Penis. How may I direct your call?” drawing a giggle from the 2nd grader every time.
From that day on the Principal was a little afraid of me – and quite rightly so. Oh and he does have a penis. Apparently he calls it “Makom HaMila” (the place of circumcision).
(Note: Just in case you think I am a helicopter mom – I’m not. Within a month of this story one of the other boys was suspended for a minor infraction. He asked me to fix it for him like I did for his brother. I said no. This suspension was warranted. He did the crime, he had to do the time. Of course that got me accused of favouritism, but what can I do?)
This originally appeared on my blog In The Pink.
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