Taking Things Too Far
He trembled while he tried to explain himself, tears streaming down his face. It was hot on his forehead, and his cheeks were flushed red.
Something terrible was going on. A tear filled the teacher’s eyes. Her memory recalls reprimanding him for what he did to that girl.
She never imagined his parents would go this far.
It Wasn’t Right
However, science teacher Ms. Amanda Shaw did not realize that the boy’s parents were punishing him more than they intended. Clearly, there was more going on here than meets the eye.
It was at one of her parent-teacher conferences that year that she met the woman. It was still something about the mother that rubbed her the wrong way.
However, when she saw Cole curled up in that toilet stall crying, she realized that she had underestimated the situation.
When Amanda arrived at her local middle school that morning, she expected the day to go just as she expected.
Having rained overnight, the streets were soaked with rainwater on this cold morning.
Amanda took a few minutes to say hello to her fellow teachers before reviewing her lesson plan. She had no idea what she was about to discover.
What She Was Meant To Do
Amanda hadn’t always dreamed of teaching in a small North Carolina school.
As a child, she dreamed of becoming a zoologist somewhere in the humid tropics, digging up long-lost secrets of the natural world.
However, a friend convinced her to become a teacher. For one year, she promised herself she’d try it, then move on. It was unimaginable to her that she had already found what she was meant to do with her life.
During her walk to class, Amanda heard sobs coming from the boy’s washroom. It was empty in the hallway, since the students had already left for class.
She knocked on the door as she clutched her teaching props to her chest.
As she approached the washrooms, she assumed that a routine meltdown was taking place. She would be surprised beyond words.
Upon waiting a few seconds, Amanda opened the door and announced that she was coming in. One sink in the washroom had a navy blue backpack next to it.
From one of the bathroom stalls, sobs could be heard.
Pained and desperate, the sound resembled that of an injured buck trapped in a hunter’s trap. Taking a step forward, Amanda furrowed her brows.
Her voice was soothing as she called, “Hello.”. She asked, “Is everything okay in there?” When no answer came, she considered asking one of the male teachers for assistance.
There may have been embarrassment on the part of whoever was inside, given that she was a woman.
“Is there anything I can do to help you?” she asked. However, there was no response. While hurriedly returning to the stall, she placed the teaching materials next to the backpack. Even if it were the last thing she did, she would attempt to unravel this mystery.
He’s Not In Trouble
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher has always been helping kids. Amanda felt right at home in this environment.
Her next question was whether the boy would mind sharing his name after she assured him he was in no trouble.
It might seem impossible to know every student’s name in a school with 500 students. Amanda, however, knew every student by name. As you can imagine, she was surprised to hear the boy’s name behind closed doors.
He whimpered, “Cole.”. Her throat was almost dry as she whispered, “Cole Lieberman?”. This was unimaginable to her. It was no secret that Cole was one of the most feared kids in school.
Amanda had sent him to detention how many times? Does he recall how many times administrators sent him home for bullying, playing pranks, and backtalking teachers? He had a tough personality.
The last thing Amanda expected was for him to cry in the bathroom stall at the end of first period. It was clear that something wasn’t right.
Unable To Go To Class
Cole, what’s the matter?” she asked. She knew the seven-year-old’s history with the administration might cause him to hide information if she brought in more authorities. “What’s wrong?” she asked again.
As Cole sobbed, he said, “I can’t go to class.”. “They’ll laugh at me,” he said. “Who will laugh at you?” Amanda asked.
It seemed like a typical bullying case to her, but it was much more complicated than that.
“The other kids,” Cole answered. It was clear that he was upset, given the sobbing and sniffling. “Why do you think they’ll laugh at you?” a curious Amanda asked.
But then she remembered what had happened the previous day and stood up.
She ate back a curse, recalling what Cole did and the administration’s retaliation for his actions.
The day before had been a normal one for Amanda, who, after her morning classes, was in the staffroom enjoying a quick snack.
But she heard a commotion in the hallway, prompting her and another teacher to investigate.
She found Cole, alongside some of his friends, laughing over a little girl named Linda. Amanda was quick to help her to her feet as the other teacher reprimanded the boys. But that was only the beginning.
Where It Started
Amanda walked Linda into the staffroom and asked what was happening. She learned that Linda’s mom had been battling cancer and had just undergone chemotherapy.
Since she hadn’t seen her daughter in months, the ailing mom drove her to school that morning.
Linda was more than happy that her mom was strong enough to take her to school. She didn’t know Cole and his friends were watching closely.
Little Linda’s Account
Cole spent the entire day making fun of Linda’s situation, calling her mom names because she’d shaved her head. He insisted that Linda was going down that same path.
Amanda had to stifle several winces as she heard Linda’s account. She had to excuse herself afterward to go and compose herself.
She was close to breaking down as the little girl spoke. Cole and his friends wouldn’t get away with this.
Amanda called Cole’s mom, alongside the other boys’ parents, and told them everything. She explained Linda’s situation and how hard her family had it.
What Cole and his friends had done wasn’t fair.
Amanda only hoped that the parents would talk to their kids. She had no idea she’d find Cole crying inside the boys’ washrooms. But this was only the beginning.
He’s Still A Kid
Amanda pinched the bridge of her nose as she wondered about the best course of action.
She realized that in her pursuit to make Cole pay for what he’d done to Linda, she’d forgotten that he was also still a kid.
This realization had her crouching back down as the anger that had cropped up inside her slowly ebbed. She would help fix what was happening.
Please, Let Me Help
“I’m going to need you to open the door, Cole,” she began, hoping the boy would trust her enough to let her help.
“I want to assist, but I can only do that if you let me.”
A solemn quietness took over the washrooms before the door clicked open. Amanda stepped back at what she saw.
Oh my word, she almost said but quickly ate back the words.
The boy’s head, which had been covered by thick blonde curls the day before, was reduced to patchy bald spots.
His tears doubled as the door swung to a halt. He rushed out and hugged Amanda, crying as he held on tightly. What was happening?
The first thing Amanda did was reassure Cole that everything was alright. She convinced him to accompany her back to the staffroom, telling him no one was there at that time of day.
Even though Cole was renowned for being the school bully, that morning, it was clear that he was a victim.
But this ran deeper than an unfair haircut.
Amanda waited for Cole to settle down before finally asking the needed questions.
She’d already called in a favor from another science teacher, asking them to take over her morning classes.
Cole’s apprehensiveness and endless tears quickly revealed to her that more was going on here. She pulled a chair before him and commenced the questioning.
The Extent Of His Revelation
Amanda asked Cole to start from the beginning. The boy recalled the previous day’s events, apologizing for everything he and his friends said to little Linda.
But that was the extent of his revelation.
Amanda still needed to get to the root of his distress. She continued asking questions, prodding as carefully as possible. But one thing was becoming apparent.
Whatever upset Cole was more than the expected ridicule he’d get from his friends. Amanda sat back, deciding that instead of just quizzing him on what happened, she would also work on negating the consequences of his haircut.
She’d offer Cole a day off so he could go home and regroup.
He’d get a chance to visit a barber and have time to rebuild his confidence. But that would only be the first part of the fix.
The Second Part Of Her Plan
Amanda would also have to shadow him the next day to ensure that kids didn’t make fun of him. It was clear that he was remorseful for hurting Linda.
Two wrongs never make a right. So, Amanda would protect him as best as possible.
She shared her conclusions with Cole, hoping that a day away from school would at least dry his tears. Amanda wasn’t ready for his response.
Cole began trembling, the fear in his eyes almost boring a hole through Amanda.
He couldn’t even cry, only shook where he sat, his irises darting all over the staffroom.
“What is it?” Amanda asked, alarmed. The boy’s eyes were wide, his limbs shaking. Had she struck something that she wasn’t supposed to?
“Are you okay, Cole?” she asked. He was hyperventilating, frantically trying to hold back from crying. Amanda hurriedly knelt before him.
Did she unknowingly trigger a past trauma in him?
In her experience, kids stored such harrowing memories behind thick mental walls. Breaking those walls could result in unmitigated disaster.
Amanda retraced her words, realizing Cole’s reaction started after she mentioned he would be getting the day off from school.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “You won’t go home. How about we call a barber here instead?”
His breath steadied, his tears finally falling down his cheeks in peaceful streams. Things were becoming more apparent now.
He Can’t Go Gome
Cole stood before Amanda in tears, trembling as he tried to best explain his situation. His cheeks were tinged red, the same as the whites of his tear-filled eyes.
He told Amanda that he couldn’t go back home before school was over.
Hoping not to upset him again, Amanda beat around the bush while asking why. She was beginning to see a pattern here.
The Parents-Teachers Meeting
She remembered how strict Cole’s mom had been when they met for the parents-teachers meeting.
Cole also shared that he couldn’t afford to make his mom angry again.
If Amanda was concerned before, now her body was charged with worry. What was happening in Cole’s home that he’d be this upset? What did his mom do?
Getting To The Root Of It
Amanda needed to report this matter to the principal. Afterward, she’d have a needed conversation with Cole’s mom.
Lucky for her and Cole, the principal, Mr. Digory, knew how to work a set of clippers and trimmers.
He helped restore sanity around the boy’s hair before sending him back to Amanda and calling in his mom. It wouldn’t be long before the truth came pouring out.
Amanda watched as Cole’s mom pulled into the school’s parking lot. She was a tall, well-built woman with thick blonde curls and a walk that meant business.
She hurried into the principal’s office, disappearing for what seemed like an eternity.
But it was only a short time before the secretary came for Amanda. “They’re asking for you,” she said.
Where’s My Son
Amanda found the woman staring into Mr. Digory’s eyes.
She turned to the science teacher, “Where’s my son?” “In class, Mrs. Lieberman,” Amanda answered calmly.
“I found him crying his eyes out in the washrooms. When I offered him a chance to go home and get a haircut, I could taste the terror pouring out of him. Why is he afraid of going home?”
Cole’s mom’s lips curled into a dangerous smirk. “After his incident yesterday,” the woman began. “I decided to teach him some lessons on accountability. I added a few bucks to his monthly rent and internet bill – effective this month. I also took his tablet and gave him a hairdo.”
She explained how her son used 30% of his monthly allowance to pay rent and settle his room’s electricity and internet bills. Amanda stood flabbergasted.
What had she gotten herself into?
“Excuse me, what?” Mr. Digory asked, verbalizing what Amanda was thinking. “He’s just a child. Children are meant to be children, to enjoy the world and live without the constant worry of paying bills.”
He whistled out a breath before leaning into his seat.
With a sigh, he removed his glasses and said, “This… this is the most unorthodox thing I have ever heard of, Mrs. Lieberman.” Little did he know that Mrs. Lieberman had anticipated all this.
“I know how it sounds,” she said, her face softening somewhat.
But there was still an air of superiority around her, a potent aura that kept Amanda on edge.
“Kids are meant to be kids. I agree with that. But they can only be so when they have us, their parents, and teachers to guide them. What happens when, God forbid, we die? What happens when they find themselves all alone?” she asked.
The Design Is Very Human
“All this looks scary on paper, I know. But the results, Mr. Digory, are amazing.”
She relaxed in her seat the same way the principal leaned into his chair earlier.
“Cole gets a monthly allowance of hundred dollars. He only pays thirty percent of that, fifteen toward his room’s rent, ten toward his internet usage, and five to his electricity bill. It’s very humane.”
Is It Right?
When she noticed Amanda stood wide-eyed, she chuckled and added, “The money goes straight to his college fund, Ms. Shaw.”
“And do you think any of this is right?” Amanda bit out, her hands folded above her chest.
She remembered how scared Cole was and had to take a step back before she did something rash.
“It’s right. Yes,” Cole’s mom said.
“My son knows responsibility. He knows that nothing comes for free and that things cost money.”
“He is careful with his spending because he understands the importance of being mindful of money. My son will grow up to be responsible and hardworking. He’ll be good for society,” She leaned forward, “Tell me, Ms. Shaw. Do you think any of that is right?”
Is It Good Or Bad?
Amanda bit her lip, weighing Mrs. Lieberman’s words. She put her emotions aside, daring to look at all this objectively.
To her, there was something fundamentally wrong with all this. But could she deny the results?
She’d known Cole since he was in elementary school. Although he had his little vices, he was a very organized boy. So, was Mrs. Lieberman’s treatment of him good or bad?
His Older Brothers
“Cole might gain good experience from this,” Amanda admitted. “But he fears you, Mrs. Lieberman. He’s scared of coming home because you might do something to him. As a mom, you don’t want that kind of relationship with your kid. It’s overbearing.”
Mrs. Lieberman chuckled, pinching the bridge of her nose. Under her breath, she said, “If you think this is overbearing, you should see the rules I have for Cole’s older brothers.”
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.