The Principal of the Thing

Although my kids have been out of high school for several years, I still remember the true thrill I experienced when our youngest graduated.  I was happy that he was finally through the public education system, delighted he was going to college and ecstatic that I no longer had to pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every single weekday morning since he refused from kindergarten on to eat cafeteria food. But I think what made me the happiest was the fact that we managed to get through all these years of elementary, junior and high school without ever once being called into any principal’s office.

My fear of getting reprimanded by a principal dates back to the weeks preceding my own graduation from high school. About ten days before the ceremony, my mother received a telephone call requesting her presence, as well as mine, in the principal’s office. ASAP.

“What did you do?” my mother asked, clearly surprised since I was such a dull child that much of the time she pretty much forgot I was still living at home.

I shrugged as I attempted to look not only innocent but also wrongly accused although I knew that there were several reasons things that might be behind the phone call, things like not turning in my European history homework ever, forging excuses to get out of gym class and failing to show up for field trips but none of those things seemed bad enough to warrant a trip to the principal’s office with my mother. “Maybe I won a scholarship,” I suggested.

My mother raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Did you apply for any scholarships?”

None that I could remember but it was still possible that perhaps one of my teachers had nominated me for one—one for average, semi-hardworking seniors who didn’t have a clue as to what they wanted to do with their lives other than lie around the house, drink Tab and watch The Love Boat every Saturday night. I would have been a definite shoe in.

On the big day, I met my mother at the principal’s office and we were ushered into his inner sanctum by his secretary. While we waited a little nervously for his arrival, my mother asked me one more time. “Are you positive you didn’t do anything?”

“Of course I am!” I replied indignantly.

Satisfied, Mom waited for the principal to come in with what had to be good news. It didn’t take long for her bubble to be burst.

“Were you aware of the fact that your daughter skips Art Appreciation class at least twice a week?” the principal greeted her.

Mom gaped at him and then shot me a dirty look. “Is that true?” she demanded.

It was a little late to try and declare my innocence. Turning traitor, I said, “Kate Lawrence cuts more than I do!” Although it was true, I felt slightly guilty to be not only a truant but also a rat.

The principal looked at me with thinly veiled contempt. “We aren’t talking about Kate Lawrence. We are talking about you. If you don’t attend every single session of Art Appreciation between now and graduation, you will not graduate.”

Much to my surprise, Mom came to my defense. “Why didn’t you ever call me about her brother?” she questioned. “He never bothered to COME to school and you people never called me a single time!” With that she got to her feet, yanked me to mine and we marched out of his office.

“Remember,” the principal called after us, “every single class or you won’t graduate.”

The thought of not graduating with my classmates just because I’d neglected to attend a boring art class a few times a week was mortifying. Mom and I walked to her car in silence. On the way home, she glanced over at me. “What were you doing when you skipped all those classes?”

Ardently wishing I could report I had been doing something exciting or at least a little interesting like hitchhiking to the nearby naval base, I confessed, “Kate Lawrence and I went to the cafeteria for Tabs and Little Debbie bars. I still don’t see why she didn’t get in trouble too.”

Mom shook her head. “Of all my children, I never imagined you’d be the one who got called into the principal’s office. You’re so…” I could see her searching for a word that was apt and yet not too hurtful. “Quiet,” she finally offered. It wasn’t much but it beat boring and neurotic.

So it’s clear why I was grateful that I was never called into the principal’s office for my own kids. As a matter of fact, I managed to not even talk to any of their principals thanks to many artful dodges into bathrooms or behind doors whenever I spotted one approaching. Hey, I may be quiet but that doesn’t make me any less practical. And why trouble trouble unless trouble troubles me?

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