At the gym this morning I spent 40 long minutes on the elliptical machine. I had some definite aggression, anger, frustration, stress to work through so I grabbed onto those handles and I went to work. The music from my Ipod further helped to pump me up. I soon was lost in the zone. My mind started to wander and my blood stopped boiling. I took a few deep cleansing breaths.
I thought about strategies I have learned through the years for dealing with anger and negativity. I recalled a memory from when I was teaching first grade. It was the end of a rather long school year and I had planned a field trip to our local airport since we were studying transportation. After our tour of the airport we were going to the restaurant with the golden arches for lunch.
One afternoon I was sitting at 'circle' time with my class and we were discussing the upcoming trip. I handed each child a permission slip and a letter explaining all of the particulars of the trip for their parents. I explained to the students that I needed to know before the trip what their choice for lunch was: hamburger happy meal or chicken nugget happy meal. I also informed them that we would all be drinking milk - no soda. Since we had recently finished a nutrition unit I didn't see this to be an issue. Wrong. Billy Bob stands up and shouts, "That is a stupid rule. I am drinking soda. My mother says I can drink soda anytime I want." He was probably correct. His mother probably allowed him to drink soda anytime he wanted. Just as she allowed him to bring a knife to school. Just as she allowed him to draw very graphic, often disturbing pictures of the human anatomy - girls and boys - anytime he wanted, just as she allowed him to decide if he needed to meet with our school guidance counselor...he usually refused...the list goes on. This was the child who had whacked me in the head with his metal lunchbox. This was the child who, at show and tell time, shared pictures of his mom on her vacation. How cute - except she was nude. It had been a very long year and when Billy Bob stood up and shouted at me that he would drink soda I made a decision. The only way Billy Bob was going on this field trip was if one of his parents came with us. I had no support paraprofessional in my room and I decided that it would not be wise for me to take all of this responsibility for this child. I was confident that the administration would support my decision.
I called mom that evening and explained my decision. She went back and forth for a while but I stood my ground. She finally saw things my way and told me that she thought it might be good if Billy Bob's father be the parent to accompany us on this adventure. I had no issue with that. As a matter of fact I felt that it would be a positive for Billy Bob to have his dad there. Sure enough, for the next few days Billy Bob floated around the classroom so excited that his dad was going on the field trip with him. His father was frequently not in the picture and the few times I had conversations with him I felt that he was always trying to 'sell' me, never truly listening to the serious concerns I had about his son.
Finally the big day arrived. I was relieved to see that Billy Bob's behavior was golden. He was SO proud that his dad was sitting next to him on the bus. I was glad that I had stood my ground.
We met our tour guide and she explained the rules. We were actually going to walk out onto the tarmac to see some of the smaller planes up close and personal. She stressed the importance of staying within the ropes. I did a quick head count. Where was Billy Bob's dad? Oh, there he was, over in the corner talking on his cell phone. Great. Where was Billy Bob? Oh, there he was. Over at the soda vending machine, kicking it and pushing all of the buttons. I got Billy Bob away from the machine and convinced him to get in line so we could go see the plane. I went over to his father and motioned, frantically, that I needed him to get in line with his son - now.
We walked out onto the tarmac and I was on alert that everyone stayed behind the ropes. The last thing I needed was for one of my little guys to get hit by an airplane. There was a lot of activity - planes landing, taking off, propellers propelling, a little boy running recklessly towards a moving plane...WHAT! Sure enough, there was Billy Bob running out of control, on the wrong side of the ropes. I took off after him, trying hard not to panic. I finally caught up to him and corralled him. With his hand firmly in mine, I marched to his father who had his cell phone stuck in his ear.
I put my Irish temper on the back burner and acted as the professional educator that I was. "Mr. Billy Bob, it means the world to your son to have you here as a chaperone. I need you to focus on him for the rest of this trip. It might be wise to shut your cell phone off so you can focus on Billy Bob. We need to insure that he is safe."
I then turned my attention to the rest of my class. We went back into the airport and continued our tour. Billy Bob and dad were lagging behind but it appeared that the cell phone was put away. We prepared to get on the bus so we could drive to the golden arches. I did a head count and realized that I was missing two people. Of course, it was Billy Bob Jr. and Billy Bob Sr. ~ incredible. I went back into the terminal to search for them. My head was starting to throb. When I found them, my blood began to bubble as it reached the boiling point. I reached the vending machine just as Billy Bob Sr. put the last of his coins in.
"What are you doing?" I asked, not so calm.
"Well, um, you see, I have to leave. My friend is coming here to meet me. I have business to take care of and I need to get going. So I told Billy Bob he could have a soda if he promised to behave."
"You have got to be kidding me. This is not fair to Billy Bob, it isn't fair to me and it certainly isn't the plan that I set up with your wife. Plus, he is not having that soda while on a field trip with me."
"Aw, c'mon, "....and he continued to schmooze me, sweet talk me, sell me.
I took his son's hand and said "Come on, Billy Bob let's go have lunch with the rest of your classmates."
We walked away from his father.
"Wait, Mrs. Kelley, you forgot this." I turned to shoot him the evil eye. He stood there, holding the can of soda. I resisted the temptation to tell him where to stick it.
Billy Bob and I got on the bus together. He held my hand for the rest of the day and never again mentioned the can of soda.
When we got back to the school we were met by the school's guidance counselor. He was anxious to hear about how our day had gone. With no kids in sight I started to vent. I started to cry. My heart ached for my young student. I now had a much better understanding for why he behaved the way he did. I told the guidance counselor that I wanted to meet up with this poor excuse of a man -alone -one on one.
The guidance counselor then left, telling me he knew exactly what I needed. Hmm...as far as I knew alcohol wasn't allowed on school property. I was curious as to what he had up his sleeve.
He soon came back with a bucket, a large piece of white paper, and a roll of toilet paper. Great, now I was going to probably be a guinea pig to some new therapy treatment he had just read about. He filled the bucket up with water as he told me to draw a life size picture of Billy Bob's dad on the large piece of white paper. I did as directed and he then hung my drawing up on the wall.
"Now, take a wad of the toilet paper, soak it in the water and then throw it hard at the picture of Billy Bob's father. As you throw it, yell out why you are angry at him."
Now the students had all left for the day so let me tell you, I let things fly. Wad after wad of toilet paper stuck to my paper drawing. I laughed as one wad hit him right between the eyes. I screamed about how he repeatedly hurt his little boy. I yelled about how he thought a can of soda could make it okay. I used the whole roll of toilet paper and by the end I was emotionally wiped out.
So if the elliptical machine, treadmill or stairmaster don't remove the stress from your body, grab a roll of toilet paper and start throwing - hard.