I can't believe I'm still getting called to the principal's office after all these years!
As I walked into the too-familiar setting in my old elementary school, seeing the same, dusty plastic plants and hardware store wall calendars got my heart racing. My palms grew sweaty. It was silly. I'd done nothing wrong - I was a parent now, for goodness sake! But just being in the principal's domain brought back bad memories.
Undoubtedly, this trip to the office would be nothing as traumatic as the time my parents were called into school to witness the lecture after I'd filled the toilets in the boys' bathroom with Jell-O. And the incident in fifth grade where I was accused of pushing over Suzie Watkins on the playground, when in fact I'd done nothing of the sort... nothing could ever live up to that horror. But still, I was nervous.
It was foolish, but I felt I might bolt from my chair at any moment. Trying to distract myself, I grabbed the nearest magazine. I chuckled nervously at some writer's opinion on the season's newest television shows and wiped my damp hands on my trousers. But nothing worked as I waited for Mrs. Taylor, the principal's secretary, to wave me in.
"Mr. Weaver?" the elderly lady said at last, looking up at me from her computer. Or at least I thought she was looking at me, but apparently she was scanning the room for anyone who might like a meeting with the principal. "Mr. Jacob Weaver?" she repeated.
"Yes, here!" I said, half-standing and waving to get her attention. It had been quite a few years since Mrs. Taylor had last showed me into the principal's office. For a moment, I thought there might have been a spark of recognition in her rheumy brown eyes, but it quickly passed.
"You can go back now," she said, curtly turning back to her typing.
"Thanks." I moved past her desk and down the hallway.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Weaver," the principal stood to shake my hand as I entered his office. "Please, take a seat."
Thankfully, mean Mr. Hackford, my old grade school principal, was no longer in the district. That would have been too weird. It would also have been awkward for him, no doubt. How often does it happen that an educator in charge of disciplining someone as a student, later is also responsible for that student's child?
"What can I do for you?" I asked as I took my place in the uncomfortable, institutional chair opposite Jim Bickford, the principal. Even though the man behind the desk was different, I still felt on the defensive. "Is there a problem with Billy?"
"Problem?" the principal said, considering for a moment. "Not really a problem, per se. It's just that..."
"I know he can be a little wild," I blurted before I could stop myself. "I wish I could do something more about it, but I'm gone so often, and..."
"Please," the principal said, raising his hand... I sank back into the chair, chagrined to have rambled on so hurriedly. This really was like old times.
"He's not in trouble?" I eventually asked, breathing a sigh o relief as the principal shook his head. I was happy to know that Billy wasn't in trouble, but then why I had been called in to see Mr. Bickford?
"No," he chuckled. "It's nothing like that. Miss Palmer says Billy is actually quite the good little student. She just... you said you're gone quite often?"
"Yes," I nodded. My job was a real problem. I sold lawn furniture to area hardware stores, but it was a pretty rural area so the hours are lousy. It wouldn't mean much to Mr. Bickford, but I felt I had to explain. "I'm a regional sales rep," I said, "and I'm on the road three or four days each week."
"That would explain it then."
"It seems you were unavailable for the recent round of parent-teacher conferences," he said.
"Yes, I was down in Winnetka last Thursday. Sorry." Sometimes it wasn't easy being a single parent. "Ever since Billy's mother..."
Principal Bickford shook his head, cutting me off "Oh, it's not a problem, not a big one, at any rate. Believe me, I understand what you're going through. I do." I looked at him in surprise. "I had to raise my two boys from the ages of twelve and fifteen," he said. "Not quite what you're going through, certainly, but I do understand."
"What does this have to do with the parent-teacher conferences?" I asked, more confused by the minute.
"It's just that Miss Palmer was hoping to have a chance to talk to you."
"Miss Palmer?" I said uncertainly. "She is... ?"
"Your son's teacher," the principal smiled
How could I not know her name? "Ah, sorry," I said sheepishly. "Certainly, I'd love to meet with her. Did she have any thoughts on when we might meet?"
I looked around the cramped office, wondering if I had somehow missed the presence of a third person, this elusive Miss Palmer. Couldn't this have been taken care of by a simple phone call? "Did she want to hold our meeting today, or what?"
"Oh, no," the principal answered. "Not today. Well, actually, yes, that was the plan, but not anymore, no. Sorry for the confusion. Miss Palmer had hoped to sit in on our little chat and possibly hold your conference in one of the meeting rooms," he said. "Unfortunately she was called away at the last moment."
"Called away?" I asked.
"Miss Palmer's aunt took ill," Mr. Bickford lamented. "Apparently the woman raised Holly... Miss Palmer, from a very young age. She was quite broken up about it."
I nodded, not sure what would be appropriate to say.
"We did try to call you," the principal continued apologetically. "But obviously our message didn't get through."
"I came straight from work," I said, beginning to grow impatient. "I should really be heading back if this is all today's meeting was for." I took a long look at my watch.
"Certainly, certainly." Principal Bickford nodded. "We'll have to set up a meeting for you two some other time. I do apologize for the trouble," he added.
I waved off the apology, wanting to straighten out the matter as soon as possible. "Did... did Miss Palmer say when she was hoping to meet with me?" I stood, hoping to stave off a follow-up call from the principal or, I shuddered to think it, the curmudgeonly secretary, Mrs. Taylor.
He checked a piece of paper in front of him. "Miss Palmer didn't name a time specifically."
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm a bit confused, and I feel like I'm repeating myself. Why exactly does she want to meet with me?"
"As I said, it's nothing serious. Miss Palmer simply wanted to make sure she was able to give Billy's progress report to you in person, in case you had any questions you felt needed answering immediately."
"Oh. Is that really necessary?" I figured there would be another conference date set up for the next quarter, so what was the rush?
The principal eyed me as if I was now officially the world's worst parent. I was sure I'd made a mistake. But this all seemed like overkill if Billy was doing okay in school.
He kept his thoughts about my parenthood to himself and continued. "Miss Palmer looked at your son's records. She lives quite close to the two of you. She said it would be no problem to drop by your home, if that works for you? Are there any times I could give her when you're free?"
"Actually, I'm working out of my home office all this week," I said. "Let her know she can just call or stop by whenever she gets a moment."
"Wonderful," said the principal.
I breathed a sigh of relief, now that I'd managed to redeem myself somewhat in his eyes.
"I'll let her know you stopped in today." He glanced at the wall clock behind me and started to shuffle papers on his desk. Our meeting was obviously finished.
"Was there anything else?" I asked.
He shook his head. "No, that should be all. Thank you for coming." He grabbed my hand in a firm handshake as a way of dismissal. Luckily, my palms had stopped sweating.
"No problem," I said.
I rushed out of the office, glancing at my watch as I headed through the hallways and out into the parking lot. If I hurried I would be able to get a couple sales calls done before Billy was home from school. As I drove away, I wondered what kind of a teacher Miss Palmer was. I hoped she was nothing like my old kindergarten teacher. I didn't hold out too much hope, however. They were all the same: mean, grumpy, overweight and half-blind.
Does this make me look fat? I asked myself before I could block out the thought. I grinned, looking at my reflection in the mirror. Haven't gained a pound in six months. Fantastic! I turned sideways, avoiding the life-long temptation to suck in my gut. Never again, I thought. The weight hadn't been easy to lose, but I had done it and was determined to keep it off.
After years of teasing for being the "fat girl," I had finally managed to lose the extra forty pounds I'd been carrying around all through school and now thought of myself as a new woman. All you need now is a bit of self confidence, I thought. Get that and the guys will come running.
In truth, no guys had come running for years. I was fairly popular with the boys in my class back in high school, but that was before I was informed by one of my girlfriends that not all girls gave handjobs on the first date. After that important piece of information I changed my ways, and to my dismay, the boys stopped calling.
.... There is more of this story ...