By K. Hecht, P. Berman & A. Hosack
Why is my teacher being so mean? She can’t make me do it. Mom, please don’t make me.
Davy was dragging his book bag on the sidewalk as he trudged home. He had enjoyed school today until the end. That terrible last few minutes when the teacher said, “Father’s Day is coming up soon. Everyone is to draw a picture of their dad at home and bring it in to class to share tomorrow.” Davy couldn’t help himself, he just bounced out of his chair and yelled, “I don’t want to.” At any other moment he would have ended up in the time-out chair for yelling and being disruptive: he was saved by the time – his teacher had to get everyone lined up for the bus home.
Claire was waiting for Davy at the doorway. She could tell something was wrong as he walked off the bus, he didn’t jump down the last step and look at her to see if she was watching. Claire wanted to rush to him and find out what had happened. But she had promised Davy weeks ago to let him be a big boy and not embarrass him in front of the other kids still on the bus. She didn’t want to undermine his self-confidence. She forced herself to just smile and watch, in case he looked up. Each step seemed to take so much effort as he slowly made it to the door. She reached out to hug him, but he just walked past her into the house.
“Davy, my Davy, why aren’t you coming for a back-home hug? (1-minute pause while Davy just looked down at the floor). You are making me feel sad,” Claire said softly looking at his head, bowed down to his chest. These words broke him out of his lethargy. He didn’t want to make his mom feel sad. He looked up and said, “Mommy, don’t make me do my homework. Please don’t make me.” “My Davy, something is wrong, come sit on my lap in the kitchen and tell me all about it.”
In the kitchen was the wonderful smell of chocolate chip cookies. His mom always let him have one with milk to hold him over for dinner. The good smell gave him hope – maybe his mom wouldn’t make him do it. Maybe things could be alright. “Mommy, my teacher said I have to draw a picture of …(1-minute pause, Claire had begun to sweat as she worried about what was going wrong) The teacher says I have to draw a picture of that mean daddy because it is Daddy’s day soon and we have to celebrate it.” Davy looked up at her with tears in his eyes, “please don’t make me mommy please!”
Claire gave Davy a big hug and stroked his hair. “So, this is what is making my Davy sad. He doesn’t want to think about that Daddy who was mean to us. (1-minute silence) I can understand that Davy.” Claire didn’t know what to do so she just kept hugging him. After a while, she said, “Do you remember how much fun we had celebrating Mommy’s Day?”
Davy struggled off her lap and said, “but that was different. You are a good mommy. I love you. I hate that mean daddy.” Claire understood how traumatized Davy still felt about that last day with Larry. Why did she still struggle not to defend Larry? Why did she still have these stupid thoughts that somehow Larry would become a good father? She had to stop daydreaming. She had to help Davy with what was really happening right now. Should she tell him it would be alright? Should she let him not do the assignment?
Father’s Day is coming. Davy is going to hear more and more about it. He needs a way to face it.
Finally, a good idea came to her. She could help him face Father’s Day and give him a good way to feel about having someone to be his father. “Davy, why don’t you draw Mr. Carson for Daddy’s day. We could have so much fun celebrating daddy’s day with Mr. Carson.” Davy smiled a huge happy smile but then he said, “will my teacher get mad because he isn’t really my daddy?” (1-minute-silence)
Claire thought for a minute and then said, “Davy, a daddy is someone who helps you learn important things like how to tie your shoes and how to add numbers up. Remember how Mr. Carson helped you with all those things. And, he made you a post office. (1-minute silence) Mr. Carson does all the important daddy things.” Davy sighed happily, “he does. He does do all the daddy things and he is great at it! (I-minute pause) Even when he tells me no.”
“You are right Davy. Sometimes Daddy’s do have to say no like when you wanted to jump down from the stone fence in the back yard, and he knew it was too dangerous.” Davy rushed to the cabinet in the kitchen that had his drawing supplies and got his crayons out. Then, he rushed through the house shouting, “Mr. Carson, come quick, I have to draw you for daddy’s day.”
Families come in many different combinations of people. What is critical for Davy’s development, is not having a great biological father, but having at least one person who helps him learn how to have a loving and secure relationship with other people, someone who helps him learn how to control his feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Someone who helps him learn developmentally appropriate things. Davy has a right to be proud of having Mr. Carson to do the daddy things with.
Do you know of other kids who get assignments in school that aren’t sensitive to the type of family they have?
Is there any personal advocacy step you can think of that might help a school near you be more sensitive to these issues?