Posted by: Kate | December 19, 2011

Comprising One’s Principals

It has been a few months since the last principal-related post – and, yeah, I know, it was full-on radio silence, sorry, sorry – and I thought it was worth sharing the three follow-up experiences I’ve had with Principal Mannish.

The first happened way back in October, at Salem’s Halloween parade… which, of course, was scheduled for October 6th. (Why? Because we’re Salem. We hanged a bunch of innocent people several hundred years ago and now we can’t escape our own legacy, plus we kind of enjoy having things like tourism and income, so we are inundated in a mini-Mardi-Gras kind of way from early October until the 31st.) We’d never attended Salem’s parade before, because the elementary schools ask families to get costumes along a specific theme, which just torques me: you’re already asking for me to get a costume together almost a month before Halloween, and then you want to try and dictate what kind of costume I inflict upon my children? How about…. no.

But being a big bad middle schooler, Emily had the opportunity to march in her first-ever marching band, and since her mother is a former band geek with full and complete understanding that the old American Pie humor a la, “This one time, at band camp…” is not in the least bit fictional, the poor kid didn’t stand a chance. “Yes, that’s great, I hear you, you’re nervous at the idea of trying to walk and play at the same time. Uh huh. Stay late for the practice, I’ll see you later!” Jacob came down with bronchitis that very afternoon, and Willem was working late, so I ended up going to the parade by myself, and thus was the only one in my family to actually lay eyes upon Principal M’s chosen costume. Now, before I upload this photo, let me point out that the theme, for non-band members, was supposed to be “helping professions.” When I first saw her wearing scrubs and pushing I wheelchair, I thought, “OK, fair enough.”

Then I was able to make out that which was actually in the wheelchair:

Note: I deliberately chose a less-identifying photo, which makes the sign on the skeleton difficult to read. It read, in part, “Dr. M——-, Cause of Death, Too Many Detentions.

I’m trying, truly I am, to figure out the problem here. Why, exactly, might it be a problem that the principal of the middle school is supposed to be dressed up as a helping professional but is pushing around a long-dead corpse, thereby casting aspersions on her own capacity to actually help… or be professional? Nah, clearly she’s just hilarious and I’m oversensitive. Glad we got that sorted out.

Fast-forward two months, to early December’s parent-teacher conferences. We were asked to go in and meet Emily’s teachers, and thus we were granted the delightful opportunity to find out just how obnoxious she is attempting to make her mother sound to her science teacher. (“My mom said that no one has ever seen a black hole, so how can we really be sure they exist.” …forgetting to mention that her mom attended an engineering school in college, and is therefore more likely to be yanking the 11-year-old’s chain than actually expressing doubt at the existence of said black holes. Awesome.)

Mid-way through the first conference, with Emily’s history/English teacher, things were going pretty well. The teacher is a young guy and it’s his first year in Salem, so he was obviously a bit uptight and a smidge anxious, but it was going well. Suddenly, unceremoniously, the door opened and in plodded Principal Mannish. She didn’t bother to introduce herself, and in fact didn’t even look at us until after she had seated herself right down at the table with us… and then her normally-ruddy complexion (no, I did not imply that her reddened cheeks and nose hint at alcoholism, thankyouverymuch) suddenly paled at the realization of precisely whose conference she had just crashed. My husband waited several long, painful, awkward seconds, and then, once it became clear that she hadn’t thought this through and now felt stuck in place despite sending off painfully loud signals that she wanted nothing more than to escape the room, he introduced himself. She avoided eye contact with us both, and never even acknowledged my presence… unless you count her tangible discomfort. After our first meeting, I’d spent some time on the phone with her direct supervisor, as well as with the assistant principal who is actually supposed to be interacting with parents, and so I was quite aware that she had overstepped her boundaries and had been specifically ordered to stay far, far away from both me and Emily.

Her discomfiture was so great that I almost felt bad for her.


But not quite.

Getting up and simply walking out of the room after the interview, after shaking the teacher’s hand and thanking him and then blindly – and blithely – ignoring Herself, probably brought me more pleasure than is socially correct to admit. Ah, well. You’ll all still love me even though I knowingly shrugged her off, right? …That’s what I thought.

Then, the third time when Ms. Mannish and I shared a few errant air molecules happened late this morning. Emily’s class had spent the past mmmth-ity weeks preparing skits and handouts and speeches, all encouraging the audience to attend their non-Earth Milky Way location’s resort vacation. They had been working on these projects for weeks, so Isaac and I headed down – despite the fact that Willem took the car today. It’s a half-mile there, so that meant I only put in perhaps a mile and a half to get there, halfway home, turn back to rescue the baby’s dropped bear, and finally home again.

Was it worth the trip? On the basis of projects, alone… no. I’d been aware of what Emily was working on already, so there were no surprises there. On the basis of Emily’s happiness at our presence… yes. Maybe. Mostly, anyway; we show up to pretty much anything we’re asked to attend, so I know we could’ve stayed home and survived the guilt. But Isaac had a blast and I’m going to be tired and sore by the end of the day anyway: might as well be tired and sore because I walked to my kid’s school and made her smile, rather than because I spent yet another day sedentary and meh.

And then there was the extra, added bonus: On the basis of Principal Mannish’s behavior… yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Worth every step.

Isaac and I were on our way out, after the science presentations, and I was beginning to cope with the possibility that I might make it all the way through a visit to the school without a sighting of Her Principalness. No reason to fear: as we left the classroom, we were greeted with a very loud noise in the hallway; it turns out that the upper grades’ band classes were doing a sort of traveling Christmas show for the other students in the school today, and they were parked outside the main office, playing what I eventually discerned to be In Excelsis Deo, or thereabouts. What they lacked for in tonality and musicality, they more than made up for in volume. (But then, show me a public school band in which this is not the case… especially when the concert is impromptu and performed while standing in a hallway. They did just fine, if I was able to figure out the song at all.)

When the band was done, there was a moment, a split second, where the crowd paused before applauding (to make sure the song was really all the way over??). And in that split second, Principal Mannish turned to the woman standing next to her and said, clear as a bell, “Well, that sucked.” I was standing at least 50 feet away from her, and I’m hard of hearing, and I heard it with the kind of clarity that Bose engineers can only dream of… chances are, the band director – not to mention the band members, themselves – heard her, too, seeing as how they were mere inches away from her administrative face.

The entire brass section literally slumped down, en masse, as though choreographed… but I saw their faces, this was not a pre-planned droop.

If it hadn’t hurt the feelings of children who, by all appearances, had been completely in the moment and happy just milliseconds before, I’d have to laugh. You just can’t make this stuff up, you know? But because people got hurt, I have to settle for a pained grimace and a self-righteous head-shaking.

There are some principals worth compromising. Assuming the compromise includes an airtight box and a deep-ocean drop-off, anyway.


  1. She sounds like a piece of work. Now I have to go read the earlier posts about your previous encounters.

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