When profanity shows up in your child’s schoolwork

I should have known something was up. There I sat across from three of Sarah’s teachers. Like any parent, I was worried. They hadn’t told me why I was coming in. They said they’d discuss it when I got there. It could mean only one thing: Sarah had done something flagrantly illegal, something mordant and hideous. They were calling me in to dismiss me from parenting forever, then putting her into a “home.” Probably with high walls and guards.

I swear there was a single, 40-watt bulb over the table and I barely could see their haggard veteran educator faces. They slid my daughter’s creative writing essay across the table. The room chilled.

I braced myself and looked across the table, expecting a grim visage set in grave concern. I was wrong.

They were smirking.

Teacher: Mr. Garling-ton, thank you for joining us.

Me: You make it sound like I had no choice.

Teacher: Take a look at your daughter’s essay and tell me what you see.

I looked down at the paper. I didn’t want to show weakness. But as soon as my eyes landed on the page, I saw a pattern emerge, as if my daughter was trying to send me a message.

There, wedged between actual seventh-grade vocab words, was a string of F words. A lot of F words.

She was a sending me a message all right.

I’m no snitch. I shrugged and said “So?” like I was channeling Clint Eastwood.

OK, actually I said, “Well, it’s creative.”

Apparently, this wasn’t the answer they were looking for. They laid into me, hammering me with explanations about form and context, about accepted commonalities. They even used the word colloquial. Colloquial.

I didn’t blink. Because they got nothing on me. I’m a frickin’ parent. I’m front line. I know teachers are tough, but when did they ever peel their kid’s underwear off the floor or clear a house for lice only to find out it was dandruff? I’ve been in the weeds, man.

I held my ground like a rock and …

… they started laughing.

“Mr. Garlington, we think the essay is a hoot. Seriously, it’s the funniest thing we’ve read in years. Sarah is wildly talented.”

“Oh, well thank-“

“But she’s gonna fail unless you have her change the F word so U and C are replaced by asterisks.”

“You’re just gonna let me walk out of here?”

“*&^%$# right we are.”

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