The drive to school is about five minutes, and this is the time my daughters, Hadley and Harper, decide to ask the tough questions: How are babies made and born? What and where is Heaven and can I bring my Barbies with me when I go? Have you ever gotten in trouble at school?
The morning I am asked about getting in trouble, I tell my girls about Aaron Wallop. A kid who lived up to his name, he was a full torso larger than all of us first graders and wider than two of us put together. He liked to tackle people on the playground even though none of us were playing anything remotely close to football.
“One day, during recess,” I tell the girls, “Aaron tackled my friend Christine and she was crying. I was trying to think of something to do to make her feel better, and I said, ‘We should kick Aaron in the butt!’”
Hadley and Harper gasped. “You said, ‘butt,’ Mama?” Hadley asked in a tone similar to that of someone asking whether one actually robbed a bank or threw a baseball and broke a window.
“Butt’s a bad word,” Harper tells me.
“That’s what Christine said!” To this day I don’t know why nobody was alarmed that I’d suggested kicking someone, but instead, they were more concerned with the body part I hoped to injure. Had I said, “Let’s kick Aaron in the elbow,” I think this story would’ve turned out differently.
“What happened after you said, ‘butt,’ Mama?” Hadley asks.
“Christine told on me, and I had to go inside from recess and write a note to my parents telling them what I’d done.”
Silence in the car. I look at the rearview mirror and both my girls are staring back at me, disappointed and afraid for me. I guess I should’ve thought this story through before I started to tell it.
“What’d you write to your mom and dad?” Hadley asks.
I remember writing the letter because I had to use that thin brown paper kids use when they’re learning how to write. I hated that paper. The lines forced me to make my letters larger then I wanted, and the paper tore easily when I had to use the eraser. People shouldn’t have to learn how hard it is to erase mistakes at such a young age.
“I wrote, ‘Dear Mom and Dad, today in school I said, ‘butt.’ Love, Callie.”
“What did your mom do when she saw the note?”
“I never gave it to her. I hid it in a paper bag puppet and when I got home I flushed the note down the toilet.”
“You flushed it down the potty?” Hadley was aghast.
“How’s Grandma gonna know you said, ‘butt?’” Harper asked.
I think I intended on showing my mom the note. Though, I also remember folding it so it fit in the paper bag puppet, and putting the rest of my papers in my backpack. I don’t remember making the decision to flush the note down the toilet until I saw my mom running down the front steps to greet me. She was smiling and yelled, “Hi Pumpkin Pie!” and I started to run, my backpack jiggling side to side. When we met she scooped me up into a hug.
I couldn’t have articulated this at six, but what I felt wrapped in my mom’s hug was that this incident didn’t fit in between my mom and I. It was done and I had my punishment – I had to leave recess and write on paper that didn’t allow for mistakes when one was searching for the right words. I remember deciding as my mom held me and carried me up the stairs, that she didn’t need to know about this.
I lifted my paper bag puppet close to my mom’s face to show her what I made. I could feel the note in the mouth of my puppet. The heat from my hand probably melted the words.
“What’d you make?” She asked, putting me down once we’d gotten into the house.
“A puppet, but I have to go to the bathroom so I’ll be right back.” I walked towards the bathroom, my puppet still on my hand.
I stood in front of the toilet, took the note out from the puppet, threw it in, and flushed. I washed my hands, walked into the kitchen and sat down to my favorite snack: cucumbers with salt, cheese and crackers.
The door of the car slides open and the girls unbuckle their seat belts, grab their backpacks and step out.
“Have a good day, ladies,” I tell them.
“I think you should tell Grandma about saying ‘butt,’ Mama,” Harper tells me as she’s getting out of the car.
The older students – the 4th and 5th graders – conduct pick-up and drop off at school. The little girl who is holding the door for the girls hears what Harper says and her eyes get big.
“My mom said “butt” when she was a kid and never told her mom,” Hadley fills the child in as she jumps out of the car. The girl looks at me as she slides the door closed. I shrug my shoulders and half smile sheepishly. Surely a 4th grader could understand.
This morning, it feels like October is supposed to feel: crisp and chilly and with a hint that some deeper cold is on its way. At breakfast, Hadley made a birthday card for one of her classmates and she carries it now in her mittened hand as she skips towards school. She drops the card and bends down to pick it up, but can’t get a grip on it because of the thick mittens she wears.
I want to roll down my window and tell Hadley that if she takes her mittens off, she’ll be able to pick up the card. But I can’t. Other parents need to drop their children off and continue on with their day. Buses head up the hill to school to drop more students off while other kids run alongside, making their way to the front doors. I am sad that there is no time to help Hadley.
I glance in my rearview mirror as I drive away and see Harper, who has caught up to Hadley. She throws off her backpack so it slams on the sidewalk, probably smooshing her lunch, rips off her mittens and gets the card.
Before Hadley takes it back, Harper folds the card, then slides it in Hadley’s mitten so it’s safe until Hadley decides to give the note away.