Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: STRESSED - Begins January 18 / Ends January 25 (01/18/18)
TITLE: Into the Brokenness
By Jan Ackerson
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I’m still sitting there an hour later, my coffee gone cold. There’s a sink full of dirty dishes and the dryer has a load that’s been sitting for days. Cam pulled out a shirt this morning, shaking it before putting it on. To his credit, he didn’t complain. He knows the stress of my evenings with Paige—why the work doesn’t get done during the day, while I recover.
Paige is a high-maintenance little girl. She contains her myriad worries as best she can at school, storing them in a mental box with a mechanism that releases at home, where she’s safe. The misspelled word on a spelling test, the slip of her scissors, the spilled milk—they all go into the box.
Once home, she unwinds for a few minutes in her quiet bedroom, with the blessed cat kneading her lap. On good days, that’s enough. Most days, though, the box erupts, and Paige needs my undivided attention for the entire evening. Play with me play with me play with me. Paige’s rules, or there will be tears, remonstrations, misery. Trying to figure out how to be Paige’s mother, then lying awake with a stone in my throat, make it all but impossible to work during the day. I have a mental box about to spring, too.
The phone rings—it’s Paige’s principal. “There’s been an incident,” she says, then hastens to add, “Paige is fine. No one’s hurt. But we’d like you to come in.”
At the school, I’m shown into Ms. Ferguson’s office. Two other little girls are there with their mothers. Paige sits in a too-large chair, her cheeks blazing. I take her hand.
Ms. Ferguson says, “You know we have a no-tolerance policy about bullying, including verbal bullying.”
My heart breaks for Paige—what did those girls say to her? “Is this about her hair? She saw the Kool-aid dye on YouTube, but we didn’t know it would be so…”
“Paige was not the victim here,” says Ms. Ferguson, and my heart stops beating. I take a closer look at the other girls; they’ve obviously both been crying. Oh, Paige. What have you done?
“She…she’s been very…I’m sorry, but maybe you could tell me what happened?” There are rumblings from the other mothers, and I shoot them a glare.
“Certainly. Naya, Maggie, do you want to say what happened?” The other girls shake their heads, so Ms. Ferguson continues.
“The girls have all told me the same story, so I’m reasonably sure I’ve got it correct. Naya and Maggie were in the hall by the music room, returning from recess. Neither of them will tell me who started the argument, but both admit there was name-calling. These are the words they admit to.” She passes a paper to the mothers, who look at it, then pass it back. I can read the words from where I sit. I’m shocked. What does this have to do with Paige?
Ms. Ferguson collects her thoughts, then turns to me. “As you know, Paige’s teacher allows her to use the restroom in that hallway, as the toilets in the one near her classroom flush too loudly. So Paige came upon the fight on her way to the restroom. She…” The principal stops, seeming to struggle with some strong emotion. In fact, she appears to be holding back laughter.
“Do you want to say what you did, Paige?”
My daughter shakes her head, and the purple tips of her hair flutter. Ms. Ferguson addresses the other mothers.
“Paige had a bottle of glitter in her backpack. She opened it and flung it at Naya and Maggie, and then she yelled at them.”
I look again at the other girls. Sure enough, there are glints of silver in their hair and on their tee-shirts.
“She yelled at them?” I look at Paige. “Honey, what did you yell?”
I can barely hear her whispered answer. “Be kind,” she says.
At Ms. Ferguson’s suggestion, I take Paige home for the day, stopping for ice cream first.
Sometimes I think the world is broken beyond fixing, and sometimes I just think I am. But I have hope, because of a worried little girl who flings glitter and shouts “Be kind!” into the brokenness.
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