It was the end of a long day of school...or so I thought. Already 4:45, and everyone had left for home except for me and Valerie, our school secretary. I was putting the finishing touches on the slew of reports scattered about my desk. Valerie worked on her own projects behind the counter, right outside of my office. I had just called my wife to let her know that I was planning on leaving by five.
The front door swung open, and a thirty-something woman began bellowing at the top of her lungs, "What is wrong with this school? I want to see the principal!"
Valerie, ever so calm and professional, ignored the angry outburst and quietly asked, "May I help you?"
"You the principal?" hollered the woman as her husband and two boys stood timidly behind her.
"No, ma'am," Valerie sweetly replied. "I'm sorry, but the principal has left for the day."
Mama Bear looked to her right and spied me getting up from my seat. "Then who is he?" she shouted.
Saving dear Valerie, I reached out my hand and introduced myself. "I'm Mr. Ramsey. I'm the Assistant Principal."
The woman refused to shake my hand and yelled again, "What is wrong with this school? Does anybody know what the kids do at this place?"
"Won't you come in?" I offered, holding my hand out and motioning toward the entrance to my office. She stormed past me, and the three males followed quietly behind. Papa Bear shook my hand and glanced at me with a nervous smile. The two cubs followed him giggling and pushing one another.
I pulled in a few extra chairs from the lobby so that everyone could sit, and looked at Valerie, silently pleading for her prayers and good thoughts. She grinned as I closed my office door.
"Okay. Let's see what we can do here to make things right," I began. I had no idea what I was trying to make right or how I was going to proceed in righting it, but, as usual, I decided to let the parents speak, even if they did so angrily and loudly, in order to help them get whatever was burning in their souls to simmer somewhat. Mama Bear definitely obliged me at that and raised her voice a few decibels higher than she had been projecting in the lobby.
"Don't your teachers watch over the kids at this school?" she demanded. "Don't they know what is going on in their classrooms? How can they just sit around and let kids bully other kids?"
I knew my teachers were excellent, compassionate people who were dedicated in keeping all kids safe and engaged in their work. But now was not the time to bring this up, especially since I was trapped behind my desk and the family was blocking my only exit. So I let the woman continue to get everything off of her chest.
"I send my kids to school to learn, not so they can be harassed by other kids," she screamed, adding, once again, "What is wrong with this school?"
"You are right, ma'am," I interjected before she could yell again. "You and your husband are hard-working people who need to be confident that your kids are safe and respected here at school."
"Well...," she paused, as a little (but not all) of her steam dissipated, "...they're not!" Her voice began to rise again. "Look at Artie's arm!" she screeched. "Look at it! How could something like this happen in your school?"
Little Artie's arm was completely covered with doodles created with a black permanent marker. Before I could say anything, his mother was pulling the boy's shirt up. "And look at this!" she proclaimed, revealing another fine work of art displayed on the youngster's abdomen.
I turned from Mama to son and said, "Artie...right?" The boys nodded his head up and down as his mother stared at me, amazed that I knew her son. "You're in Mrs. Fitzpatrick's classroom, right? Fourth grade, right?" Artie nodded again.
"Who did this, Artie? Tell me what happened." The boy looked to his mother for permission and she granted it with a wave of her hand.
"Some kid. I forget his name. He was drawing and then drew all over me."
"Why?" I implored.
"I dunno. He just did." Artie squirmed in his seat waiting for my next question or his mother's next outburst.
"Did Mrs. Fitzpatrick see him do it?"
"Did you tell her?"
Artie hesitated a moment, stole a glance at his mother, and finally muttered, "Uh...no."
"Would you be able to identify the boy if you saw a picture of him," I asked.
"Uh...probably," he replied. Mama let out a loud sigh of disgust and impatience. Papa and Baby sat behind her silently.
"Tell you what, Artie," I said as I began pulling a photo album from my desk. "I'm going to let you look at some pictures with me. When you see the right kid, let me know."
I opened to the fourth grade section and proceeded to show Artie each of the four class photos. Slowly, carefully, meticulously, he pored over every page. Then he looked up at me and said, "I don't see him, Mr. Ramsey. He's not in there."
Mama threw her hands up in the air and let out another sigh of exasperation. "Now what?" she demanded. At least she had finally turned down the volume a notch or two.
"Did he give you any other information when he got home today, ma'am?" I asked aloud. To myself, I silently asked myself the same question she had asked me, "Now what?"
"He didn't say anything. He and Willy never tell me much about their school day."
"Willy's in second grade, right? Mrs. Dobson's class?"
"Yeah. You know him? He ever come to the office?"
"Well, no," I continued, grateful that the woman had stopped yelling at me. "I've seen him..well, both of your kids...in class during my morning walk-throughs and at lunch time in the cafeteria. Good boys."
Mama Bear relaxed a bit and then snickered. "You obviously don't know Willy! He is a wild and crazy monster the minute he walks in the door every afternoon!" Willy giggled. Papa pointed at his son and shushed him.
"Mr. Ramsey. I know Artie is not hurting, but look at him. He's a mess. I tried everything and that marker doesn't want to come off. He looks like a tattooed sailor in a nine-year-old's body!"
I turned to the older boy. "Artie, think hard. You only have ten or so boys in your class. You don't know his name? Can you tell me what he looks like?"
Artie looked at me, then to his mother and then back to me. "He was just a boy. A little shorter. Same color hair as me."
This time I sighed and thought quickly so that his parents would think that I had a plan, that I knew exactly what to do in a situation like this. I sighed again and then began. "Okay, Artie, this is what we are going to do. Tomorrow morning, you and I are going to go through all the fourth grade rooms and look for this kid. You will walk in with me, we'll walk around each room, and then we will go outside. Then you will tell me if you recognize the boy who did this to you."
"Okay," Artie whispered.
"When we finally identify this boy, I'm going to pull him up here to my office, call his parents and suspend him for a week."
Artie's mouth fell open as did his mother's. Slowly, both mouths closed. Mama reached out to shake my hand. "Thank you, Mr. Ramsey!" she rejoiced. "What a great plan!"
The family members rose from their seats and began to move toward the closed door. Artie stopped, snuck a look at Willy, and then began to stutter. "Uh, Mr. Ramsey...uh...the boy...uh..is going to..uh..be...uh...suspended?"
"I'm afraid so, Artie. I cannot allow such behavior to happen here at school."
Artie began to shake and continued, stuttering, "Uh, Mr. Ramsey...uh...the boy is not...uh...in my...uh...class." Both his mother and father gasped. Artie continued, "Uh...he's right here...uh...in this...uh...office!" With that, he pointed at his little brother. "Willy did it!" he cried.
Mama sank into her seat and held her head with both hands. Papa grabbed Baby by the arm and, for the first time in the forty minutes they had been in my office, spoke, "You had better start talking young man!"
Willy began to cry, but he obeyed his father and began to tell of his exploits. "We were together in the bathtub last night," he began.
His mother interrupted, "We save money that way," she explained. "Two boys, one tub full of water."
"I can totally relate," I consoled. "My parents had seven of us. Four girls took the first bath together. The three boys took the second. Saved a lot of money, but sure made a mess when we all started playing and splashing around."
"I hear you," Papa Bear agreed. He turned to Willy. "Continue."
"I found a cool marker on the bus and hid it in my backpack. Then I hid it in my towel until Mom left the bathroom. Then I took it out and started making designs on Artie's arm and tummy." Both parents stared at each other in disbelief.
"We tried to scrub it off," Willy continued, "but it wasn't like the markers at school in Mrs. Dobson's class. It wouldn't come off!" Willy began to cry.
Artie interrupted, "I put on my winter pajamas so you guys couldn't see the marks. Then today I wore that new shirt - the long-sleeved one that Grandma bought - so no one could see what Willy did. When I came home, I was switching into my T-shirt and shorts, and that's when you saw, Mom." Now Artie began to cry. "Oh, please, Mr. Ramsey, you aren't going to suspend Willy are you?"
Mama looked at Papa, Papa looked at me, and then we all looked at the two cubs. "No, Artie," I promised. "I am going to let your parents take it from here."
Both parents glared at the boys again. The family rose from their seats a second time. I moved toward the door and held it open for them. Papa shook my hand and dragged his sons into the lobby. Mama hung back for a second and reached out her hand. I shook it. "I am so sorry, Mr. Ramsey. I am so sorry. Thank you so much for all of your help. Thank you so much." She hurried to catch up with her family as they headed for their car.
Valerie was standing in front of her desk which, as usual, was spotless with all of her projects neatly filed away for the next day. She was holding her car keys in her hand. "I figured I'd better wait to see if you got out alive or if I was going to have to call 9-1-1."
I thanked her and chuckled.
"What did you do?" she asked incredulously. "I mean, they went in kicking and screaming and looking for blood, and they come out all happy as can be thanking you and talking to you like you were a long-lost friend."
I chuckled again. "I just let the lady get it all out of here system before I said anything. Then I said a silent prayer for some guidance and made it up as I went along!"
Valerie laughed. "Unbelievable," she replied.
"Okay," I proclaimed. "Day over. It's almost five-thirty, and we need to get out of this place. Hurry, Valerie! Before someone else walks through the door!"
Copyright, Tim Ramsey.