A Story about Cole
Hello, Mom? I’m in trouble and I need you to come pick me up.
As a mom, you know you might get this phone call one day, but it still surprises you that first time it happens.
Cole is my first child.
I have strong memories of his nights as a baby, long hours spent holding him, walking him around the house and trying to get him to sleep.
I vacillated between wondering what he might become and worrying about all the possible harm that could come to him.
When Cole was a baby I was sovereign over his days and nights, protector and dreamer. Storyteller and playmate. We spent long hours together reading the same books over and over again, and drawing the same shapes.
Then I blinked and he was heading off to school.
Before long he had finished his elementary years and was getting up early to walk to a bus stop for a new season.
Now he was almost twelve, and he was in trouble at school for the first time.
I drove to the school.
I was super nervous. I have history with this building.
I went into the office.
A secretary led me back to a waiting room outside a closed door.
Cole was sitting in the waiting room.
The secretary indicated that I should sit and wait with Cole.
Apparently we were now both waiting to see someone.
“Hi,” I whispered quietly to Cole, “How are ya?”
The door opened and a young boy came out of the office. Hanging his head, he walked out of the waiting area and left the office.
We were next.
A loud voice called us in.
Sitting behind a desk was a short, balding man. Before he ever uttered a word, his (permanent?) scowl gave me the feeling that I was the one in trouble.
Ten minutes later I exited the office in a heap of tears with Cole trailing after me. I had some sense of the punishment that was being assigned, four days in SAC (Student Assignment Class), an on campus suspension program that is as effective as its title is clever, but zero real knowledge of why my son was in trouble
Cole had hardly spoken in the office and I had only mustered nods.
It was not until I got home and collected myself that I began to notice how little dialogue had occurred back in the school office. Mr. Grumpy (as I will now refer to him in order to protect his identity in case he ever wants to give up the job of yelling at students all day long) had thoroughly intimidated and threatened us, apparently to prevent further incidents similar to the one I still had not heard anything about.
I was so frustrated with myself for falling apart and not maintaining enough composure to ask questions.
I remember that a Regina Specktor song from the soundtrack of Prince Caspian was playing in the car. “All you can do is try to know who your friends are when you head off to the war.”
This was a glimmer for me.
For much of our relationship, Cole and I have been locked into a battle that was me against him.
All of a sudden, by making me feel like I was in trouble with my son, Mr. Grumpy had actually done me a favor.
He had put Cole and me on the same side again. This was different from when Cole was a tiny baby and I was the barrier from the big scary world. Now he was out there facing all the scary. For the most part, he was going this journey on his own and I could only take part in whatever details he was willing to share with me, which was precious little. But now, I’d been drawn in, very much against Cole’s will, but still there I was, with a new glimpse of what life was like for him in middle school.
Slowly, Cole began to tell me the story of what had happened. He admitted to where he was at fault and explained the unseen events that led up to the incident that landed him in the office. The backstory.
“What didn’t you tell Mr. Grumpy all of that?”
Maybe because Mr. Grumpy didn’t ask. Who knows though because Cole is a lot of things, but a tattletale is not one of them.
I offered to go back to the school to plead his case. Maybe get his sentence reduced.
No. He did not want that.
“Just leave it alone. I’ll be fine Mom.”
So off he went to on campus suspension. To SAC. The first day he had absolutely nothing to do. Sleeping was not allowed. If you fell asleep, you got another day added to your sentence. His teachers were supposed to send him his work, but there was not anyone making certain this happened. So if you did not have any work to do, you just had to make something up. Or just sit there.
Against his will, I went along with him the next day to SAC, a cheerless, dark room in the basement of the school. The room was full of students who, in my own humble estimation, probably could not afford to be a week behind in school. I introduced myself to the lady who presided over the room and asked what the best way to go about making certain Cole would be able to do his coursework would be? She was very kind and told me that she had at first been suspicious of Cole because of how quiet he had been the day before, but now she realized that he was actually just well-behaved. She was used to breaking up fights and calling the police, and she later confessed to me how much she hated her job. She and I worked together to get Cole’s work delivered to him, as he was not allowed to ever leave SAC. For an eleven year old boy, it was a bit like prison.
The next day I brought trays of warm chocolate chip cookies to the kind lady in SAC. I also left some with Mr. Grumpy’s secretary, as well as several boxes of tissues and a note.
On the hunch that I am not the only unfortunate person you have ever made cry in your office, I thought you might could use some tissues on your desk.
Also, I made you some cookies, because I believe life is better when you add sweetness.
I wish I could say that Cole learned his lesson and never got in trouble again. I can’t.
I also wish I could say that I learned my lesson and that I now know that anytime I find myself on the opposite side of Cole, I am in the wrong place. Nope. We still battle on the daily over dirty dishes and laundry left everywhere.
But after his time in SAC, I told him how proud I was of him for accepting his punishment and enduring in gracefully.
Ultimately, I think we both learned that though I can do things to make life a little easier along the way, I can’t really protect Cole from the world. Life is not always fair. In light of this truth, I want Cole to make his own way with the belief that I am in his corner. Cheering. Even walking with him on the days he will let me.
And if nothing else, I will always show up with cookies.