Me: Hank! Dinner!
Pai: Amália Sofia, you sit with us at the table or you play with your toys quietly. This is our dinner time and just because you’ve eaten already doesn’t mean you get to interrupt us every 13 seconds because you want something not on the table or you want to leave. What is your choice?
Molly: What you eating?
Me: Soup and grilled cheese.
Molly: I no like it.
Pai: (Chef of the soup) Hey!
Me: (Chef of the grilled cheese) There is a better way to turn down a kind offer of nice food.
Molly: No, thank you. I no like it.
Me: (giggling to myself)
Pai: More for me then!
Hank: (dragging himself to the table)
Pai: How is the studying going?
Hank: (sigh) Good.
Me: You have been working very hard lately. Thank you for doing your best.
Hank: Once this test is over I am going to work harder to learn how to take criticism.
Me: Were you given a critique today at school?
Pai: (eyebrow raised)
Hank: It’s just, when we were studying for the test today in class my friend and I answered a question wrong and we were the only two that answered wrong, so my teacher called us, “palerma (idiot),” in front of the whole class.
Me: (suddenly seething with anger)
Pai: Palerma (idiot), that was the word she used? That isn’t criticism, Hank. That was an unfortunate choice of words.
Hank: She is always saying she has been teaching for 40 years and we need to listen to her and I do, but…
Me: (shelving my anger for the moment) Buddy, I agree with your papa. That was not criticism. You remember what your Grandpa Snitch said in his letter to you about criticism?
Hank: I remember the letter, but not the right words.
Me: He said, “ Good criticism is instructive and constructive and bad criticism is destructive – always!”
Pai: What was her mood? Was she having a bad day and took it out on you and your friend?
Hank: She was laughing.
Me: There are two types of people in this world: those who educate by lifting you up and those who educate by tearing you down, by bullying, by using what is called “tough love.” You’re papa and I believe that it is better to educate by lifting up a student, but in this world you won’t always meet people who agree with us.
Pai: It is unfortunate that was her choice.
Me: You’re lucky, Hank, because you have someone at your school you can go and speak to about this anonymously and with no consequence to you or the relationship you have with that teacher. At the parent teacher conference your Director de Turma (homeroom teacher) explained to us that if there was ever a moment when you or one of your classmates or one of us parents have a differing opinion or a disagreement or felt upset or were being hurt in some way by a teacher we could go to her, that she would listen and then address the issue for us. She encouraged us that was exactly what she was there for and always has time on Thursdays during lunch. If you choose, if you need to talk to someone about this other than us, she is always there and I know your Director de Turma is a teacher who chooses to educate by lifting up a student and not by tearing them down. Please go and speak to her if you need someone to talk to.
Hank: (pushing soup around his plate)
Pai: I am sure it was embarrassing for her to call you both that in front of the class.
Me: And I am sure she has no idea how hard you have been working to improve in her class, but I do, we do. You are doing your best and your best is enough. I have been telling you since the day you were born that, “no one ever called you dumb, not one day,” and no one had until now. I wouldn’t lie to you; I am far to busy and important to lie. I know you aren’t a palerma (idiot) and I hope you know you aren’t and won’t let that destructive criticism ruin all the hard work you have been doing.
Hank: (soup finished, heavy dark circles under his eyes) Is it okay of I just go to sleep? I read that the best thing to do after studying is to go to sleep and let your brain take all the information and put it into categories which will help you remember better.
Pai: That is true! I am impressed you know this and that is a great idea.
Hank: (getting up from the table)
Me: Love you, buddy.
Hank: (leaves room) Love you, too.
Pai: (once he’s out of ear shot, whispers) Deep breath, Hanford.
Me: (whisper screaming) I could give two shits about 40 years experience that fucking teacher in one flippant soul crushing moment undermined my entire parenting ethos for the past ten years! WHAT DO I ALWAYS SAY TO HIM?!
Pai: I know, but it was bound to happen someday, you know that.
Me: I am at desk flipping levels over this.
Pai: I have already begun composing the email to his Director de Turma (homeroom teacher) in my brain. Her office hours are on Thursday. We will be there.
Me: (whisper raging) You better take the lead on this one, S’Tôr (slang for Senhor Douctor (Mr. Doctor) which is the formal way to address a professor in Portugal), and ooze DOCTOR of cognitive science and brains and developmental psychological citations allllllll over this conversation or I swear on all that is good and holy that I will leave all manor of decorum at the door and Mama Bear that school to the ground.
Pai: I am glad I have you in my corner, but I am confident I can argue our case. Even if you sit saying nothing and only have that expression on your face it will be enough to communicate the seriousness of our side of the debate.
Me: (head in my hands) He has been working so hard! He already has to punch his lying, irrational thoughts in the face every day single day to do his best. HE DIDN’T NEED THIS!
Pai: I know.
Me: (emotional) He’s going to bed at 8:30pm (an hour early). His soul is crushed.
Pai: He is going to bed at 8:30pm because he is tired and needs to rest and because you taught him how to take care of himself.