Thursday, February 20, 2014

On a Roll

“The problem, Mrs. A, is that your children, to put it bluntly, are lazy.”

I blurted this out recently, stunning a mother and her two children into silence (a major coup, as they are incredible chatterboxes -loud, boorish windbags, quite frankly).

“And disrespectful,” I added, even though that really wasn’t the topic at hand.  I had a captive audience, so I figured I might as well go for it.

For those of you who don’t know, I spend a few hours a week tutoring children.  I’ve worked with Mrs. A’s children (a girl, aged 17 and a boy, aged 10) for a couple of years now.  They’re a nice enough family, although my time with them proves to be a bit much on occassion.  I don’t mind the tutoring aspect of it (when it actually occurs), but dealing with these children and their ingrained sense of entitlement wearies me, to say the least.  Plus, they consider themselves cute and funny.  They’re not.

The conversation began when Mrs. A informed me in a rather harsh tone that her daughter’s grades have been slipping over the last few months.  The girl is quite capable of understanding and applying advanced concepts, but knowing her as well as I do, I could easily figure out what’s been going on.  She’s simply an unmotivated teen who spends a great deal of time lamenting about the stupidity of school and teachers.

I’d left my ‘nice way of putting things’ hat at home, and ended up unleashing like I’ve never unleashed before when dealing with parents and their children.  Once upon a time, Mrs. Newman proceeded with caution in these scenarios, but that Mrs. Newman, like Elvis, has left the building.  I no longer have the energy to put up with foolishness and have taken the ‘call it as I see it’ practice to a new level.  You want me to give them homework, Mrs. A?  Sure thing, although we’ve tried it before and they didn’t do it, remember?  At this, the boy burst into tears and ran to the bathroom.  He’s pulled this stunt before:  when he’s tired, when he’s hungry, when he doesn’t have a pencil, so I paid his little outburst no notice.  I felt this ‘just us gals’ moment with Mrs. A and her daughter was meant to be.

‘My dear,’ I began, looking the daughter straight in the eye, ‘there is absolutely no reason for your grades to slip.  You’re not working as you should in school.  You have no respect for education.’

‘THAT’S RIGHT!’  yelled Mrs. A, who suddenly realized that I might actually know what I’m talking about.  I believe her original intent was to blame me for her kid’s poor grades.

‘And, ‘I continued, ‘if you complain as much in class as you do during our sessions together, of course your teacher will think you’re not up for the job.”  At this, the daughter began to cry, but at least had the decency to sit there and listen.


‘Quite frankly, Mrs. A, I feel as if my coming here is a waste of my time and your money.  Which reminds me-’

“Oh, yes,’ said Mrs. A in a much calmer tone, ‘I still owe you for the month.’

‘Actually, you owe me for last month as well.’

‘Um....I didn’t make it to the ATM.’ Big-eyed and flustered, she spoke in a soft voice now, one that I’d never heard her use before.  Mrs. A likes to yell, in case you haven’t figured that out, and she’ll yell at anyone:  me, her children, her husband, her in-laws, the neighbors, stray cats, and poor, unsuspecting UPS delivery men.

‘That’s okay.  I’ll take a check this time.’  I smiled, and even though I desperately wanted to go home, I’d be darned if I'd leave without some sort of compensation.  She obliged and grabbed her purse.  Awkward silence enveloped the room as she wrote the check.  Normally, I’d say something in order to break the tension, but since I was the cause of the tension, I figured I’d just let it ride.   

‘If I may be so bold as to mention this, you must know, too,  that  both of your children are easily distracted and will find any excuse to not focus on their work.’  I could have shared many examples had she asked for one, but the one I had in mind concerned her mother-in-law, who bangs pots and pans around in the kitchen during our tutoring sessions, preparing meals for her grandchildren that go uneaten because they only want the fake fast food from around the corner.  Based on the smell coming from the kitchen, I can’t say that I blame them.  I wanted to tell her, too, that her house was too dark and stuffy, and her bathroom sink could do with a good scrubbing.  ‘I go home every Monday night reeking of cumin and frustration,’ I wanted to say, but I didn’t, for fear of sounding impolite.

As she handed me the check, she asked if I had any additional days during the week in order to work with her children.  ‘You’re honest with them.  They listen to you.  They don’t listen to me,’ she said.   These kids don’t listen to anyone, but I couldn't help but feel touched by the sentiment just the same.

 ‘I can fit them in on Wednesday afternoon,’ I told her.

‘Oh, no, that won’t work.  How about Sunday?’

‘I (pretend to) go to church on Sunday,’ I replied, ‘but if something else opens up later in the week, I’ll let you know.

We hugged, the three of us, and I as left I could hear the boy still boo-hooing in the bathroom. Quite a show, indeed! I don’t feel as if boys shouldn’t cry, but I sincerely believe they should get a handle on it at some point, or at least learn to sob silently behind closed doors.  That’s my method and it’s served me well for years.

As I drove home that night, I thought about Mrs. A. She’s loud.  She’s gruff.  I do like her, though.  Given her disposition, she’s probably not accustomed to people being completely honest with her.  I’m happy I gave it to her straight, and I think she respects me for it.  Most people simply want the truth.  I’m not one of those people, but that shouldn’t stop me from telling it from time to time.