Of all the phone calls I have ever received from a school on behalf of any of my three daughters (and there have been plenty), this was one I never saw coming. I was sitting at my desk at work when my cell phone rang, and the caller ID panel showed a number I recognized as belonging to one of the girls’ schools. (I can’t remember which number belongs with which school. If that makes me a bad mother, so be it.) It was the guidance counselor from K’s school, where she is in 6th grade. The conversation went something like this:
Guidance Counselor: Hi, Mrs. A___. I just had K in my office and I wanted to touch base with you to see if I could offer her any further counseling. Is everything going OK at home? I understand that today is the anniversary of her brother’s death from leukemia.
Me: (stunned speechless, which doesn’t happen very often) Ummm….
GC: Her teacher sent her to see me because apparently K was feeling pretty sad about the anniversary and everything…
Me: (putting on my cool, calm and collected Mama voice) Thank you so much for calling. There must be some misunderstanding though. K has two sisters and has never had a brother, unless I’m blocking it from my memory for some reason. Occasionally she gets things mixed up in her head – books, news items, other kids’ stories – and maybe the teacher didn’t understand what she meant, or maybe K wasn’t clear…
GC: (now she’s the one confused) Well, I just wanted to find out if I needed to do any further grief counseling with K, or if I could help you in any other way.
Me: (ready to get to the bottom of this) Is she there with you now? Can I speak to her?
GC: No, I sent her on back to class. She seemed to be fine.
Me: Oh, she’s fine right now. She may need to speak to you once I get finished with her though!
I was a little sad to learn in one short phone call that I had a son but had never met him because he passed away last year. The counselor did provide me enough details to let me know that he was 16 when he died and a student at the local high school. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was ready to drive straight to the school and pull my child out of class to find out what in the world she was thinking when she was marched off to the counselor’s office. I’m ashamed to admit that my first instinct was to assume she was fibbing for attention. I was a little embarrassed, to put it mildly, and that embarrassment made me angry. I resisted the temptation to add to the image the counselor must already have of our family by charging into the school like my hair was on fire, but boy, was I going to be ready for my girl when she got home from school.
After school, little sister needed to be dropped off at gymnastics practice, so I took K to the local buy-a-tub-of-yogurt-and-add-toppings-that-totally-negate-any-nutritional-value establishment planning to have a civil conversation about the incident. I wasn’t going to yell or accuse. I was going to gently probe to see if there was some rational explanation for my child telling a bold-faced lie to the teacher AND the guidance counselor. So naturally I couldn’t hold it in until we actually got to where we were going. The conversation went something like this:
Me: So did anything interesting happen at school today?
K: No, just a normal day.
Me: Really? Because something interesting happened to me at work. I got this strange phone call from the school counselor telling me that you were all sad about your brother, who had died of leukemia.
K: Ooooooh. That.
Me: Yeah. Want to tell me what that was all about?
And she proceeded to tell me a story that almost (almost!) made me get over the embarrassment. It turns out that K has a friend in another class who was upset on the playground because of HER brother’s death, which happened about a year ago, and was due to leukemia. K was feeling pretty sad for her friend and when the teacher got concerned and asked her why, her explanation was misunderstood, and it all went downhill from there. Maybe it isn’t all that common for an 11-12 year old to identify that strongly with a friend’s grief, but isn’t that what the Bible tells us we should do: Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn? And my softhearted girl is so very good at that kind of sympathy.
Now, she didn’t get off scot-free. We did discuss that there were ample chances to straighten out the misunderstanding but she didn’t do so because she was (surprise, surprise) embarrassed!
This is not the first and surely won’t be the last time this child is misunderstood. But maybe we’ve both learned a little bit about getting the facts straight before the situation gets out of hand.