The Day My Mother Took On the Principal

The Day My Mother Took On the Principal

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

The Day My Mother Took On the Principal

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
~Winston Churchill

When I was growing up, I was ashamed of my mom. She dressed funny, talked differently and wasn’t like other moms in our neighborhood. She always wore an apron over a cotton housedress that was faded and sometimes patched. She spoke broken English with a German accent. While other mothers had perms and wore high heels when they dressed up, Mom wore her hair in braids around her head, and her dress shoes were sturdy black Oxfords. But I was proud of her when she stood up to a haughty principal who had accused my brother of damaging school property.

My nine-year-old brother had come home crying one day because he’d been blamed for carving names on a locker room bench.

“I didn’t do it, Mom,” he said, “but Mr. Johnson won’t believe me.”

My mom was furious. She took off her apron, put on a better dress and told me to come along. We didn’t have a car, so we walked the three blocks to school. The principal kept us waiting, which made her even angrier. When she finally got to see him, her voice was in high pitch. I stood behind her.

“My son is innocent,” she announced loudly. “I teach my kids right from wrong. I want to see the damage.”

“Now, Mrs. Mayer, please sit down,” Mr. Johnson said, forcing a smile. His face was flushed as he closed the door. He ignored my presence. “Let’s talk about this calmly.”

“You accuse my son of bad things and you want me to be calm?” My mother spat out the words, glaring at the man who provided her a chair.

“Several people say they saw your son do it,” the principal said, sitting down behind his desk, peering over his glasses. He shuffled some papers.

“What people? They are liars!”

“We found the knife in his desk,” Mr. Johnson folded his hands over his waist.

“Roland doesn’t own a knife. Somebody else put it there. He would never do such thing. You are crazy to believe he did this.”

Several teachers had gathered outside the principal’s office. They could hear my mother from the hall. They watched her storm out of the office. One of them stopped her.

“Mrs. Mayer, I’m Miss Sweeney,” the teacher said softly. “I don’t think Johnny was responsible for the damage,” she said. “I’ll try to find out who is.”

“Oh, thank you,” my mother said, squeezing the teacher’s hand. “Please help me.”

When we got home, my mother didn’t say a word. She started peeling potatoes with more than her usual precision. She heated some water on the stove. After a while, she called Roland and told him what she had done.

“Aw, Mom, you’re just going to make things worse,” he groaned. He dug his hands in his pockets. “Now all the kids’ll call me a Mama-baby.”

“They’re not going to punish you for something you didn’t do. Miss Sweeney’s going to find out who did it.”

“Well, I know who did it.”

“What? You know? How come you don’t say?” Mom didn’t understand the tattletale concept.

“Because if they knew I told, they’d beat me up.” Roland buried his head in his hands. I felt sorry for him, even though he sometimes aggravated me.

“What kind of a country is this that kids beat up kids? If your father were here, this would not happen.” She shook her head in disgust and checked the potatoes on the stove. My father had died when we were babies so we never really knew him. I only knew that the picture of him in my mother’s bedroom showed a tall, serious-looking man with a black mustache and a receding hairline.

The next day at school, the principal called Roland to his office. I agonized with him as he waited in the outer room. I hung around the hall where he couldn’t see me. He stared at the clock as it inched toward 3:15, his appointment time. I knew he was afraid he would be suspended and have to pay for the damage. He had no way to get the money and I dreaded what my mother might do. Finally, Mr. Johnson opened his door.

“Roland Mayer? Come in.” The principal looked at him sternly. Roland followed him into the office and stood in front of the large desk. Mr. Johnson left the door ajar.

“Sit down,” Mr. Johnson said, motioning to a chair. He leaned back in his chair, folded his hands on top of his potbelly and eyed my brother. “Your mother speaks her mind pretty strongly.”

“Yes, sir,” Roland said quietly.

“Well, you know we have witnesses.”

“I didn’t do it. The knife wasn’t mine and anyone who says I did it is lying.” Roland’s voice was steady, even though I’m sure his knees were shaking.

Mr. Johnson was silent for a long time. Then he heaved a deep sigh. “I’ll continue to investigate the incident,” he said. “You may go.”

The next day, Miss Sweeney spoke to her classes about the responsibility a person has to reveal what they know about any wrongdoing so that innocent people are not punished. There were whispers in the halls all day, but no one came forth. Then, the following morning a note appeared on the teacher’s desk with the names of two boys who had been seen with knives the day the benches were damaged. She gave Mr. Johnson the information and when the boys were confronted, loopholes in their stories convinced him of their guilt. The chagrined principal later apologized to my mother and brother. I was glad my mother stood up to Mr. Johnson, even with her lack of education and poor English.

Roland was embarrassed at all the attention he got from the teachers and kids the next few days. But things soon got back to normal and he was as aggravating as ever. The experience, however, gave me a new respect for my mother.

~Barbara Mayer

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