It was supposed to be a routine checkup on a typical Tuesday afternoon. It ended with me soul searching and contemplating my entire adult, professional life.
A little background for anyone that doesn’t know me: I eavesdrop. Even worse, I enter conversations that don’t concern me. It’s not cute. It’s rude. I need to learn to ‘stay in my lane’. I know this. I’m trying to do better, but I often find myself in the ‘wrong lane’ without even being aware of how I got there.
So Tuesday, I’m in the doctor’s waiting room and my nosy ears perk up upon hearing two ladies behind me discussing (I think) a ball game. One lady said, “Rules are in place for a reason. You can’t just go around breaking them all willy-nilly.”
Well I really like the word willy-nilly so what happened next was basically inevitable. I jumped over the double white lines right into their side of the road and said something that sounded like, “Oh, yuh huh! Yeah, you can.”
Luckily the two ladies had way more couth and class than I do and graciously allowed me to merge into their lane and elaborate.
I told them I’m an elementary teacher, and I can think of quite a few instances where rules needed to be more than just bent. Sometimes they need to be snapped in two.
I told them about a little girl I had in either my first or second year of teaching. The experienced teachers had already filled me in on her story- sweet kid, learning disability, and a terrible speech impediment. She tried hard to please an extremely strict grandmother who expected nothing less than straight A’s and gave school officials hell at the mention of special education. There was suspected abuse reported many times, but DHS found no cause for action.
It didn’t take me long to notice she was frequently absent on Thursdays. When I asked her about it she said, “Miss Muffin (she couldn’t say Mullins), Wednesday is grades day.”
It took a little prodding to figure out “it hurts to wear clothes and sit down sometimes on Thursdays.”
I told Classy Ladies A and B that from that day on, that little girl never took home any grade lower than an A minus, no matter what she earned.
Classy Lady B said, “I think you did that child a disservice. She was probably playing on your inexperience. If DHS said no abuse was happening in the home, you taught that kid it’s okay to manipulate people to get out of work. What if she’s living on welfare somewhere because you taught her she doesn’t have to work hard? What if she’s in prison because you taught her it was okay to lie and cheat?”
So I told them about little Bubba Joe who brought his grandfather’s pocket knife to show the other little redneck boys. The VWSD has a zero tolerance policy, but I wasn’t going to report a six-year-old kid from ‘way out Oak Ridge’ to the authorities. It was much easier to call his mom to come pick the pocketknife up and ask her to please lecture him about it.
Classy Lady B rebutted me with, “So you showed that kid that he doesn’t have to follow the rules because he won’t have consequences if he’s from a certain neighborhood.”
I told them about the year I let a child sleep a while when he got to school. I’d already figured out that he was exhausted because he lived in a house with a bunch of shady comings and goings all night long.
Classy Lady B said, “As an adult, there will be times he isn’t able to get enough rest. You taught him to expect his future employers to let him nap when he’s tired.”
Touché touché touché.
Classy Lady B’s name was called and Classy Lady A was called a couple of minutes later.
I spent the next couple of hours alone in that waiting room wondering if Classy Lady B was right.
Did I just spend the last twenty-six years preventing hundreds of kids from becoming successful adults? How many kids have I messed up over the years? Am I part of the problem with the state of society today? Did I teach them it’s okay to make excuses and there are no consequences for breaking the rules?
Just as my name was finally called, Classy Lady A was coming out. She ran up with tears in her eyes and ambushed me in a tight hug. I was so startled that it took a couple of seconds for her words to fully register.
“I loved my grandmother, but she was vicious. That year with you was one of the only times in my life that I didn’t have anxiety and panic attacks. I knew you would protect me. So don’t worry about how that little girl turned out. I’m doing quite well. Thank you for bending that rule for me, Miss Muffin.”
So back to the original question. Is there ever a time when it’s necessary to bend the rules?
Yuh huh. Yeah, there is.