Friday, March 25, 2016

Getting Away With It

This evening, OB's tea ended up on the floor. No need to go into the details, but suffice it to say it was intentional and it wasn't really about the tea. Around an hour later, I served him another tea. It was an exact replica of the one that got destroyed earlier.

My pre-parenting 'ideal parent' self would never have sanctioned that. I would have called it 'letting them get away with it' or 'rewarding bad behaviour'.

These days, in the messy chaos that is actual parenting as opposed to 'ideal parenting', I'm often drawn back to an incident from my own childhood where I, to all intents and purposes, got away with it.

I was around 12 years old. It was a lunchtime at school and we were all hanging out in our form room. Those were more relaxed days when apparently it was considered absolutely fine for 30 kids to 'supervise' themselves for most of the lunch hour. A group of lads were throwing a half-deflated leather football around and, at some point between one laughing boy and another, it hit me full on in the face.

It did hurt, but what I think made me see red was the blurry vision of laughing faces that I saw once my eyes started to clear. I chased the boy with the loudest laugh and the pointing finger. I wasn't speedy. He made it out of the door in no time, and jeered at me mockingly from the other side of the classroom window. So I punched him in the face.



The huge, plate glass window shattered, spraying itself liberally over both of us, on the floor, on the desks. There was a lot of screaming and a little blood, and before I knew it, I was being swept along to the Head of Year's office on a tidal wave of twittering tween girl drama.


The Head of Year was a stern, blonde-haired lady who was universally called 'Wiggy'. I can't actually remember her real name. In all the confusion created by my squealing, drama-loving entourage, she initially believed that I was the victim of the window smashing rather than the perpetrator. Once the truth was revealed, and the small cut on my wrist was attended to, her sternest face appeared. She informed me that I would have to see the Headteacher. I would be told when he was ready for me. I would probably have to pay for the window. Then I was sent back to class.

I was relieved to find that the boy I hit had escaped injury from the flying glass, but the day passed interminably slowly. There was no call from the Head's office. I went home on the bus with a weight in the pit of my stomach that day, and waited for my parents to arrive home from work. My mum asked me if anything happened at school, and I remember pouring out the story breathlessly, ending with a rash statement: "I'll pay for it out of my pocket money!"

"Yes," said my mum. "You will."

And that was the end of the conversation.

It took a week for the summons from the Head's office to come. That was an appalling week. I fretted about the window. I wondered how much it could possibly cost to replace. I tried to imagine how I would get the money together out of my tiny weekly allowance.

On the fateful day, three of us stood before the Headteacher: me, the boy I hit, and the boy who threw the ball. We were all invited to tell our stories. I told the truth. There was no other realistic option. 29 witnesses had seen exactly what had happened.

Our Headteacher wore an academic gown over his suit. It was that kind of school. I had been at the school for over a year, and this was the first time I had seen inside his office. This was the first conversation I had ever had with him. He heard us out and then looked us up and down over the rims of his glasses.

Eventually he passed judgement. He felt that the two boys should share some of the blame, but that I bore the biggest responsibility for the broken window. I nodded. My cheeks were burning and I was no longer able to lift up my head to look him in the eye. The hammer was about to fall.

"The fine for breaking a window in school is £2. As the responsibility is shared, the boys can pay 50 pence each, and you will pay £1. Please give the money to your form tutor by the end of the week. You can go now."

I found myself outside the door without knowing how I got there. The boys were laughing, but I wasn't. I was so totally overcome by relief I could have cried. Later that day my form tutor said, "You look as though a weight has been lifted off your shoulders!".

Looking back on it as an adult, and a teacher, I'm pretty sure there was no set fine for breaking a school window. Nobody would consider payment of £1 to be an adequate consequence for deliberately smashing a huge window while attempting to punch another person in the face. It wasn't the fine that did for me - it was the torturous week of awaiting my fate.

So, yes, I suppose I got away with it. I paid the 'fine' out of my pocket money and the broken window was never mentioned again, at home or at school. And yet, surprisingly, I did not become a serial window breaker. Nor did I make a habit of punching people in the face. Sometimes we don't need a hefty consequence to bring home to us the reality of what we have done. Sometimes we are ashamed enough of ourselves without having others add to it.

And so, on this occasion, I made OB another tea. And after he had eaten that, I cracked open the trifle that was in the fridge ready for Easter Sunday, and we both had a massive bowlful.

1 comment:

  1. ABSOLUTLY loved this blog the way u a nadja smit write gives me so much hope for the ending of kids being labelled wrong thank u for wtitting🌸🌸🌸🌸

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