Tonight at the school's chili supper Katie's principal greeted us warmly as if nothing had happened. She smiled and talked to us like everything was back on track. She's either really good at forgive-and-forget or she's got so many other disruptive students to deal with, if a week passes it's off her mind.
Last week when the principal called to tell me Katie was in her office, I reacted calmly. Which surprises me now that I think about it. I get uncharacteristically practical and focused when I'm called upon to tend to my child. I want as many facts as I can get so I can assess the situation and determine my course of action. The mama bear in me hears her kid's in trouble and she gets to work. OK, what are we going to do? How are we going to fix this?
"She's a good kid," the principal said to me over the phone. "I don't know what happened. It's like she just snapped."
"And it was just over another girl snatching a photo out of Katie's hands?" I asked, amazed my gentle child would do such a thing. Then I remembered that earlier in the month my sister-in-law had reported to us that our sweet little innocent Katie had broken her cousin's sword in a fit of anger.
"Yes, that's what Katie said. She said the girl snatched the photo from her hands before her turn was up, and that's when she remembers losing her temper."
Apparently Katie pushed a desk. An innocent girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Katie scratched her like a rabid cat. Katie was exiled to the Principal's office and broke down crying about how sorry she was.
When Katie's principal told me this on the phone all I could think of was, oh shit she's inherited my dramatic temper. We're screwed.
But the principal has more faith in us than we have in ourselves. Never once did the principal sound like she was scolding Katie, or me for that matter. She didn't talk to me condescendingly, like she knows more than I do what's best for my child. She talked to me like we're on a team and we're trying to help Katie do her best and find her way.
Will and I picked up Katie from the office. As soon as she saw us walk through the door, her eyes got big and teary.
"I'm so sorry," she said.
"We know," we said.
We talked about the situation off and on for several days afterward. Katie wrote a letter to her classmates and her teacher apologizing for her outburst and for scratching her friend. It took her a couple of days to build up the courage to give the letter to her teacher, but once Katie did, her teacher read it to the class.
"And then what happened?" I asked.
"Well, she finished reading the letter and then everyone in the room clapped and cheered and I got a SOAR ticket I can trade for, like, a frog eraser or something like that."
After talking it over, Katie mentioned that the girl who had snatched the photo from her hand is the same girl who, a couple of days before, accused Katie of cutting in line and Katie said she didn't but the girl said she did, and Katie didn't know how to resolve the conflict, so she turned and pouted and stomped off to the end of the line.
"You didn't tell me about that. Why didn't you tell me about it after school on the day it happened?" I asked Katie.
"I dunno. I forgot," Katie replied. She is only eight, after all. And really, even if they did have that tiff in the cafeteria, it's no reason for Katie to freak out. Katie seemed to understand this as we talked it over.
By the end of the week, as Will and I were walking Katie home from school, Katie said, "Guess what?"
We said, "What?"
Then Katie told us that her teacher told them a true story about how when she was a girl she got into a fight with her best friend and she ended up in the Principal's office, "And guess what they were fighting over?" Katie paused to finally take a breath. I've noticed as her vocabulary is building her sentences are getting longer.
"What were they fighting over?" Will and I asked.
"They were fighting over a stick! Can you believe that?!" Katie said, shaking her head and laughing. After a few minutes of no talking and just listening to the crunch of the icy leaves beneath our feet, Katie said, "It's turned out to be a good week. It started out bad. I lost my temper. I made a mistake. I got sent to the Principal's office for the first time ever. I wrote a letter and said I'm sorry to my teacher and my class and now everybody is my friend again, and you know what the best part of all is?"
"What's the best part of all?" Will and I asked.
"The best part is I'd always wondered what the Principal's office looked like, and now I know."
I laughed out loud.
"No, I'm serious," Katie said. "I always wondered if it was like Miss Trunchbull's scary office, or more like just a desk and chair and stuff like in your office, Mom. And now that I've been sent to the Principal's office, I know it's not scary. It's just a regular office and you just talk about what you did wrong and now everything is back on track!"
Back on track? I think Katie might make a decent principal when she grows up. She's got the jargon down, and also, now, the empathy.