When I entered Little Man's school yesterday a teacher's voice stopped me in my tracks. She wasn't quite shouting but her voice was raised. Raised in unmistakable anger.
"You look at me. Look me in the eyes, say you are sorry and mean it. I said look at my eyes when you say it."
Her voice hurt me. Let's leave the words aside for a minute, just the tone of her voice knotted my stomach. My jaw clenched and my whole body braced for a blow. I've heard that tone voice before as a child myself and all these long years later it still hits me as hard as any physical slap. She was not talking to my Little Man and years of being judged and second guessed as the mom of a special needs child makes me reluctant to step into any adult child interaction I don't know the background and context of but here it is hours later and I can't get that interaction out of my head.
Perhaps it is because as much as I hate to admit it, I've heard that same tone come from my own mouth. It leaves me floundering in an ocean of shame when it happens and thankfully it is rare. But it should be never because that tone never taught me anything true or of value. It has no place in a child's life. It's the voice of hate. I do not mean to say that teacher, or I, hate any child. That voice comes out in me when I am so beyond tired, or frustrated, or afraid, that I hate the situation I am in, the way that I feel, sometimes even myself in that moment.
But a child doesn't know that. They only know what they hear and feel. That voice takes up residence in their heart and mind just waiting for its chance to leak out through their self-control and contaminate the next generation. I don't know how you purge that poison. I do know slowing down, taking my time, being more intentional and less reactive with my kids is what helps me keep it under control. But there are still those moments when stress has ground my nerves as raw as hamburger and I feel it bubbling up my throat. I've gotten better about giving myself a time out before it erupts but I think that will always be a struggle. I assume for the teacher I heard, she had reached that same place where her control and restraint simply wore too thin. Right now I'm wondering, was there some way I could have helped in that moment at school. Was there a way to helpfully intervene or was letting it pass really the only way to not make a bad moment worse.
If the emotion had not already been so high, I would have said something about her words at least. Not every child CAN " look you in the eye." And under emotional stress, a flat affect or even a smirking mask may be the best any child can produce. I don't know if the little boy involved in this incident has any neuro cognitive or developmental issues. He may very well not but I do know that exact scenario plays out for children who do have those issues all the time.
I think that is why it's still troubling me. It had nothing to do with Little Man today, but some day it will. Did I wimp out on an opportunity to educate? Can someone that worked up be reached in the heat of the moment? What should I have done? Is there something I should do now after the fact? I still don't know.
What would you do?