Some people know instinctively how to lacerate someone, using an insidious, calculating approach.
I met such a person years ago who introduced me to this particularly cruel strategy. In my situation, she concocted a fallacy using my son, his birth and my health to diminish and silence me.
Explaining the serpent’s tongue
Whether born from life experiences or character deficiencies, certain people indulge in jealousy, resentment, insecurity and disdain, any or all of which inspire them to action when responding to a person and situation whom they find threatening.
Over time, they quietly study the weaknesses in that person, subtle or overt cracks in his or her character and resolve. They also note the person’s strengths, a source of further grievances against that individual, as they reinforce their own adequacies.
From these observations, they parse out the person’s flaws and twist any perceived ones into hurtful possibilities, all in the effort to contrive a reality that undermines and impairs the individual.
They would never resort to flamboyant or garish confrontations. Their ruthlessness may draw indignation and repulsion from others.
No, they prefer a quiet setting with no distractions where they can execute their premeditated strikes without skeptical witnesses.
Their words cut with a cruel and deft precision, leaving scars that remind us of that moment when we were vulnerable, inferior, nothing and they, powerful, superior, essential.
Advocating a new classroom for Joseph
Oh, how I wish I was stronger when I met her, but I was so beaten down by my son’s father and his demands, ongoing legal challenges over the custody agreement, and long hours working as an editor at a startup newspaper.
Ms. Sue, the woman who hurt me so profoundly and deliberately, worked at the child care center where my son, Joseph, had been enrolled for nearly two years. She and Ms. Esther were the team teachers in his assigned room.
At the age of 4, Joseph was an energetic little boy who enjoyed playing and laughing with his little friends and exploring the world. Sometimes, he found it difficult to concentrate, but I wasn’t entirely surprised.
Of the 20 or so children in his class, three were girls, so you can only imagine the class management challenges his teachers confronted, especially during instruction.
A few times, I stuck around after dropping off Joseph and observed his classroom from a vantage point recommended by his teachers so I could watch and not be noticed by the children.
And what I saw worried me.
The children seemed out of control at times, and the teachers provided very little effective discipline. They allowed the children to entertain themselves without much supervision unless they were receiving one-on-one instruction with a teacher.
I understood that the women were professional teachers and child care providers, but the unusually high concentration of boys in that class should have necessitated another teacher or even another class.
Because the classroom environment appeared so crazy, I was concerned about Joseph receiving the instruction he needed in reading, writing and math to be prepared for kindergarten. The center’s curriculum and its staff of credentialed teachers had been major enticements when I was searching for a new day care center for Joseph.
The other class of 4-year-olds — there were only two classes for that age group in the child care center — was the complete opposite of Joseph’s. The number of girls and boys was more evenly split, and the teachers were managing them quite well and providing instruction.
I wanted my son in this more orderly classroom, so I took my concerns to the center’s director and requested that Joseph be moved.
For some reason, the director refused to move Joseph, insisting that his class was sufficient for his social, emotional and intellectual needs, but she did speak with the teachers about my issues with their classroom management and instruction.
In hindsight, if I had known that my son would not be moved to the other classroom, I would have taken a different approach to the situation.
Unfortunately, my effort triggered the unconscionable conversation I had with Ms. Sue.
Being blindsided by her distortions and lies
Before my meeting with the child care center director, I had a fair relationship with Ms. Sue but a better one with Ms. Esther. Occasionally, I would speak with Ms. Esther about being a single parent, my son’s difficult birth and my hard pregnancy, and my son’s challenges, particularly with paying attention in this rowdy classroom.
I had no idea those candid conversations would become fodder for Ms. Sue’s eventual offensive. Perhaps, she overheard our chats or Ms. Esther shared my information and insights with her in an effort to better instruct and manage Joseph.
After the director’s decision, I asked to meet with Ms. Sue, the senior teacher, and discuss Joseph’s behavior and instruction.
She agreed to do so and set a time and date.
When I arrived, she guided me into a room with several, small, spare chairs and tables that children had used in other classrooms. The space was not well lit but quiet. The hum of the air conditioner above me drowned out any noises from the hallway and made the room feel cozy despite the clutter.
The atmosphere may have seemed disarming, but Ms. Sue certainly was not.
With a table between us, Ms. Sue offered me a chair on one side, and she took the one opposite me. She had determined the battlefront — literally and figuratively.
I can’t remember who initiated the conversation or even how it began, but I can never forget her verbal attacks that were spoken in a calm, quiet, somewhat condescending tone:
Maybe, your son is the way he is because of you.
You had a difficult pregnancy, right? Did you drink or smoke or do anything? That can cause problems with your baby.
And if you had problems during childbirth, he might have gotten hurt. He may have mental problems because of that.
You should get him tested for attention issues. He may need to be on drugs.
It’s sad but you may have caused all of his problems.
I was shocked. I could not speak. Her accusations were contemptible.
She blindsided me with those malicious insinuations merely to shift the full brunt of his failings upon me. Because his shortcomings were rooted in her patently false musings, how could she be responsible for anything? How could her classroom management and instruction be at fault?
He was a mess because of me.
He would always be a mess because of me.
I knew my pregnancy had been life-threatening because of the preeclampsia, but the doctor saved my son and me when he performed an emergency Caesarean section.
And I didn’t smoke any cigarettes, drink alcohol or consume legal or illegal drugs.
But her cruel accusations cut me to the quick because of course, I would feel guilt and shame.
Her one-two punch was further accomplished when I refrained from further complaints. She silenced me.
In spite of Ms. Sue’s loathsomeness, Joseph was prepared for kindergarten through the instruction Ms. Esther provided and the socialization he enjoyed with his many little friends. Fortunately, Ms. Sue kept a comfortable emotional distance from my son and me for the remainder of the year.
Reflecting on that conversation now I realize that she taught me that it is best to be wise as a serpent and without falsity as a dove, a lesson that has served to protect me and encourage me to be cautious with my heart.
On Thursdays, I share a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent.
Starting the summer of 2021, my son, Joseph, is writing a monthly column titled In My Son’s Words where he describes his experiences as a teenager and as a child of a single parent.
Twice a month, instead of a personal post, I put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.