“Okay, so we are going to discuss your misbehavior in school.”
The language arts teacher sat down in a cushiony black office chair in front of a long rectangular wooden table that stood stone still in the middle of seven other cushiony chairs ready for the principal, other teachers and parents to plop down and talk about important matters.
Ryan sat down opposite the language arts teacher and besides her parents. She had never disobeyed authority—she sat down with her parents to check every math problem, she opened her backpack to prove herself right when she told them that she had her homework, lunch and other school materials packed and ready for the next day and she had set her alarm clock every day for 6:00 am to be ready early for the school bus. Every. Single. Day. Her life was ready, prepared and routine.
Except for today. March 28, 2003.
This day was the day that Ryan was discovered at one of her friends’ houses, hanging out instead of working on her homework she said she’d get done in the morning before getting on the bus. Soon, she was discovered hanging out in downtown Denver at a classmate’s apartment rooftops and then again with her best friend climbing the Rocky Mountains. It’s not like I was always rebellious, the nine year old protested in the Meeting Room, to the language arts teacher.
“I have almost all A’s and B’s. It’s not like I’m failing.”
Ryan sat up straight so people walking by the room would see her straightened white hair. She wished that the teacher would see her polite posture, not some kid who didn’t go to school Friday because she was at the Rocky Mountains. Some kid who rebelled against authority on Monday and then against for the rest of the week. Some kid who needed to come into the Meeting Room at Patrick D. Bushes Elementary School at 8:00 am on a Saturday in Denver, Colorado.
But Ms. MK—short for Mallory Kalen—wasn’t going to have it. She knew that Ryan was an exceptional kid—she was the only one who thought more about the questions and answered with deep, inspirational answers for the teachers to ponder and thus share with the rest of the class. So going to the Rocky Mountains and hanging with her friends at the apartment and then showing up here on a Saturday to try to excuse herself away from getting detention for the next two weeks and the inability to go to her friends’ sleepovers, birthday parties and houses for the those weeks. She will be taken everywhere and not left home alone, nor will she have internet access or be able to use a cellphone except to call her parents from the secretary or principal or vice principal or her relatives’ offices and houses. Other than those times, she was not allowed to use her friends’ cell phones. She was cut off from any electronic device until the two weeks were up. excluded from friend social groups until those two weeks were up. and even then, Ryan would have to tell her parents and any other authority present and distant by phone about her doings, goings and happenings. Until she proved herself a good girl again.
“But I am a girl who obeys and does what’s right!” Ryan protested again, but her parents cut her off.
“Ryan, you went to the Rocky Mountains when you were supposed to be in school. You went to your friend’s house because you were discovered at one of your friends’ houses, hanging out instead of working on your homework you said you’d get done in the morning before getting on the bus. The next day, you was discovered hanging out in downtown Denver at a classmate’s apartment rooftops and then again with Mya, climbing the Rocky Mountains.”
Her father was looking at her as though to use his knowledge of her disobedience to convince her of her wrongfulness at protesting. He raised his eyebrows and jutted his neck out. Ryan was looking at him and then slid her eyes down to the desk guiltily.
“Yes, Dad.” Ryan looked back at her expectant father again. “I was. But I won’t anymore. I promise.” She nodded sincerely.
“Let’s hope so.” Ryan’s mom was sitting between her husband to her left and her daughter on the right. She glared at Ryan, and received a response when the girl looked back at Ms. MK. She leaned back, wanting to be really small and hoped the passersby stopped looking in the meeting room and glaring at her. Not that they knew exactly why or how Ryan killed her chances of being that nice girl who did her homework and listened to the teachers—but they knew that Ryan hadn’t been such a good girl lately. Ryan was a little popular in school, so a lot of people knew her. but now, they knew her to be the girl who broke the commandments of obedience and perfect school attendance.
“Let’s hope so, Ry!” her mother stole her attention, and Ryan looked over apologetically at Mrs. Streaks. “Let’s hope we don’t have to do this again. I was supposed to be at my friend’s tea party this morning, and instead I had to cancel it and reschedule it for tomorrow afternoon.” Her voice rose in anger and frustration. “And then I had to cancel my time up in New York watching a Broadway show with a couple of my co-workers, so we have to plan that again!”
Mr. Streaks put a hand on Mrs. Streaks’ stiff shoulders. “She’ll just have to Miss Mya’s birthday party hike in the Rocky Mountains as well as the sleepover on those mountains next Saturday. Then she’ll realize that she is not going to get away with this disobedience and then go on adventures with her friends …”
Her father went on and on, but Ryan had widened her terrified eyes and leaned back, shock registered all over her almost white face. Ryan then let out a horrified scream of “No!” and jumped out of her chair and then suddenly was able to get out of the door as soon as she could, if she were in a “Ryan!”
Something hard and rough grabbed her shoulder, but she yanked it away. Then something yelled out rough and difficult to run away from.
“Ryan, you leave, and you won’t go to Mya’s birthday party in the next three weeks!”
That put an end to Ryan’s thoughts of escaping her ugly morning. She suddenly swerved around and walked back, listening to her slapping of her sneakers on the hard tiled bluish-grey and silver lined hallway floor instead of this conference meeting. When she returned to the room, Ryan sat down and sighed, knowing she’d have to not only stay here for another couple of hours, but also suffer for the next two weeks of just homework doing and staying in her room and doing more work than necessary and not being allowed to stay up late on the weekends.
Well, her parents and language arts teacher hadn’t discussed that yet, but they’re going to. No doubt about it.
So Ryan, processing the way things were going, sat down obediently, not allowing herself to be the victim anymore. She was going to do her best to do everything the teacher told her to do and then some. If she had to do the work at school, she would. If she had to research a topic she may not like, she would. But Ryan would make it up. She could prove herself a worthy child who did what she was supposed to. Even if it meant no friends’ houses or late night weekend stay ups.
“Are we clear on that?” Ms. MK turned to Ryan. “Do you understand that you are not allowed to stay up late on the weekends, nor allowed to just take the homework home; you must do more work than you are required, and you can do extra credit, but you must fill in all the bonus points and the extra credit that the teacher suggests.”
“Yes.” Ryan nodded politely. “Yes, Ms. MK. I do.” She sat up straight, pulled herself up to the table and folded her arms on the table so she showed she was listening to her teacher.
“Good.” Ms. MK didn’t acknowledge Ryan’s behavior, but Ryan didn’t want that stuff to matter. instead, she was going to prove her parents and her teacher wrong about the fact that she was a disobedient girl who was going to possibly miss that birthday party. She didn’t want to miss it, and wouldn’t for the world. So she was going to do her best to get out of this world of mandatory and start stepping into the world of sweetness that was better than candy. So she messed up. But Ryan could redeem herself. She knew better than to be a rebel. So she would prove herself a princess.
And she did.
Throughout the whole time Ms. MK went from Ryan’s parents to her, Ryan did exactly as Ms. MK had asked—listen, look at her and sit up respectfully and give full attention so Ms. MK and Mr. and Mrs. Streaks knew that Ryan wasn’t playing games. instead, she was being a polite, responsible child without any fuss or whining or toddler temper tantrums. Not that a nine year old would do that—but Ryan had been known by her teacher as well as her parents that she had “thrown” temper tantrums by complaining, whining, griping and acting out against her usual respectful, responsible attitude over the last times she had done a number on her usually nice behavior.
Finally, Ryan spoke up.
“I pledge to do my best to work harder than anyone, to be kinder to everyone and to finally earn that respect, politeness, hardworking, obedient, timely, dedicated, perseverant attitude I have had since I was born. Well …“ She rolled her eyes playfully. “Since I was in preschool. You know, not everyone can be born an adult!”
“Yes!” Her parents chuckled and Ms. MK smiled widely. But their nods were stilted a little, and Ryan knew that they didn’t agree wholeheartedly. However, she wasn’t down about it or desperately wanting to change their minds or wishing with all her heart that she was not the target of anger as a result of her disobedience. But as Ryan listened to the parents and her teacher talk, she felt like she was being punished for some crime that she had not been let go of because she kept doing it. It wasn’t like she was disobedient forever. She just made a couple of mistakes, and that was that. It wasn’t like she was defiant, always ignoring her parents and snubbing off teachers.
She was pretty much perfect. She just wasn’t perfect. And that was the truth.
“You know, Mom and Dad. I’m not perfect. I just made some mistakes.”
“Yeah, well, you cut school. We’re paying for this education, and you did pretty damaging things while you were at it. So no birthday party if you don’t learn your lesson.” Mrs. Streaks said sternly, looking at Ryan full in the face. “There was no excuse to cut school.”
Ryan nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” Then she turned to her teacher and looked down.
“Well, it looks like we have made our decision.” Ms. MK, to Ryan, sounded like she was getting up out of her chair after pushing out from the table. When Ryan looked up, she was right. Then when she saw her parents get up out of their chairs, she then said firmly, making everyone stop in their places, “Hold on! I know a couple of people who are extremely disrespectful to their parents! They had no regard for older people, especially the ones raising them, and they don’t get punished. They’re the ones going to birthday parties, back-to-school nights and other functions and even receive money at the end of their school year for getting all A’s, and some of it is from cheating. So even if they do something wrong, they’re not punished for it, and if they are, they don’t learn. They’re people who guilt their parents into defending them!”
Ryan looked hard from her parents who turned around and faced her and Ms. MK who did the same. All three of them looked at one another, surprise and disbelief written on their faces. Ryan did everything she could to continue telling her parents and teacher that she wasn’t the only one disobedient and if she was, she only did that once in her life. she was only 9 years old. A fourth grader at Bushes Elementary School.
“I’m only a nine-year-old fourth grader. So I went hiking and missed school. So I tripped over a computer plug line. So I accidentally managed to collide with Soccer and Mikey in the cafeteria. I’m not a bad kid. I just did one thing that I shouldn’t have done.”
“Well, that thing is not allowed.” Mrs. Streaks grabbed Ryan’s hand and was going to take her out of the Meeting Room when she bent down and looked authoritatively at her daughter. “You don’t talk back to adults like that. You know the rules.”
And Mrs. Streaks turned, thanked Ms. MK for meeting with Ryan’s parents and then was going to walk away as Mr. Streaks assumedly shook hands with Ms. MK, telling her that Ryan was going to return to her nice, kind self in two weeks. But after a couple of steps in the direction of the door of the room, Ryan yanked her hand out of her mother’s tight grasp and, when her mother whirled around with impatience spelled out on her face, Ryan didn’t back down.
“Because I know I’m right. I’ve seen in the hallways. In the cafeteria. Even in Ms. MK’s class.” Ryan turned to her, and the teacher nodded.
“Yes, she’s right, Sally and Eric.” Ms. MK looked at them now, and her parents looked back at her. “I’ve seen pretty rude children in this school, and it’s not fair that I need to see one precious, obedient, perseverant, kind, respectful child get punished for accidentally doing something that she didn’t even do on purpose. Sure, she went to the Rocky Mountains, but she did that because she was sick of being bullied by Mickey and Soccer. She climbed up the Rocky Mountains and did her classwork by way of phone. One of her classmates called her on one of her friends’ older siblings’ phones, and the friend helped her get the work done. She then did her homework, and handed everything in to receive high marks on her classwork and very high marks on her homework. She,” and all three adults looked back at Ryan, who was beaming with pride for her own confidence in sticking up for herself, “is a great student. She came extra early to the principal and my office and every other teacher’s desk to explain what had happened. They all exempted her from class, and received all the work. she then called Mikey and Soccer’s parents each by way of my phone, and told them what had happened. Each received detention and expulsion from this school. They’re attending another school in the fall.”
Satisfied, Ryan beamed a smile that caused her parents to suddenly rush to her and hug her fiercely. After they let go, Ryan told them that she was with her friends, helping her get those bullies under control and that those times were after school hours. She received help from her friends on homework and classwork, and she received extra help with any extra credit. So now her grades had gone up. Ryan told this all to her parents, and instead of the two weeks of punishment, Ryan received two weeks of sleepovers, friends and calling them to check up on them and talk to them about whatever she wanted to discuss.
“You can even invite Mya to the skating competition you are having this coming weekend!” Mrs. Streaks smiled brightly, Ryan jumping up and down and shouting fireworks of excitement. “Yeah!”
All the adults laughed, and Ryan couldn’t remember a time when she had smiled more or harder. She felt like this moment—and the whole time she was being accused of doing wrong when there were reasons behind the matter—was a dream. But it wasn’t. It was time to point out the wrong and decide to do something about it.
And Ryan did—to the joy of her parents and language arts teacher and the excitement of herself.