My brother-in-law had a “big” birthday yesterday – the same as I’d had back in September.
At the party yesterday, which was held in a restaurant, we sat at a table with my youngest nephew, who’s now 14. He held court, dominating the table talk. Also at our table were my wife, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law.
At first, he offered insights into video games and PlayStation vs. X-Box, about which his grandparents looked totally confused, and bordered on too much even for us at times. Unsurprisingly, he began drifting into talking about his friends, then his teachers, his grades and his school generally. Then he came to school life – the “unsocial” side of it in particular.
He’s an excellent student, but we all know school can also be, well, school. We’ve all been through it in one form or another. Bullying came up, followed by his sharing some ugly examples of what happens occasionally in classes and in hallways.
Horrified, suddenly my 85 year old father-in-law spoke up: “Why, they [kids these days] are barbarians. In my day, the headmaster would take care of matters, and you didn’t misbehave again.”
“Teachers can’t hit students nowadays,” I reminded him.
“Is this what happens now? We never had that,” my mother-in-law jumped in. “It’s just terrible. Why do they allow it?”
“He just described my high school, too,” I laughed.
“Surely not?” my mother-in-law questioned, her voice displaying disbelief.
“I went to some of the most affluent state [public] schools on Long Island,” I said. “We had fights between students now and then. I once got pushed down a flight of stairs.”
“Why it’s simply shocking,” appalled, my father-in-law added.
With a grin coupled with that 14 year old boy, cool, know-it-all look, my nephew sat nodding throughout. I recall him saying at one point, “Yep, it can be pretty rough, Grandma.”
For some reason – maybe it was the wine – I decided to bring this up. “Once, when I was [his] age some bully was making fun of a girl in my class. When no one else said anything, I finally said, ‘Oh, why don’t you just shut up.’ He said to me, ‘Yeh, what you gonna do [if I don’t]?’ As we walked out into the hall after class, I tapped him on the shoulder, he turned around and I punched him in the face.”
“Why, you were a thug,” tongue in cheek, my mother-in-law observed.
“He was picking on a girl,” I reminded them. “He deserved it.”
I looked at my nephew, who was half-laughing. I also think he was enjoying hearing my [one] little story of my “tough” teenage years.
But I didn’t get a chance in the noisy function room to explain the background. It had happened during and right as we left a study hall. [My in-laws wouldn’t have understood what that was.] No teacher was in the room with us for a few minutes when the guy was “acting up” and picked on her for some reason. What really led to my punch was that a few moments after I’d told him to close his yap, he’d thrown a large spitball at her, which hit her in the back of the head and somehow landed on her desk. She didn’t have close friends in that study hall, and looked really hurt and upset.
I didn’t hit the jerk that hard anyway. (We were about the same size, and I weighed probably about 6 lbs then.) Right after, I threw my books to the floor, sure he’d swing back at me, and I was ready for him; but he didn’t get in a clean punch. I think he called me some four-letter name, too. There was some commotion and other kids looking on. And I could use a four-letter word, too.
I think a teacher must have appeared (but didn’t see what had happened), so that was the end of it. We separated. (Who wants detention?) My parents never found out either.
When I saw that guy again a day or two later, I remember he sat across the room and stayed away from me. And I stayed away from him.
But that girl sat right next to me this time….and passed me a note with her phone number:
I have to say that, even 35 years later, and much as I hate to admit it, uh, I don’t think I ever had a happier moment in school. 🙂