On Monday morning, I reminded Kai that he was not to call his classmate, Michael, fat.
He’d had a pretty good run, announcing that he hadn’t used the “F” word each day of the previous week, but then on Friday, he’d slipped up.
“What is going to happen to you if I find out that you’ve called Michael fat?” I asked.
“You are going to take away the iPad for two weeks,” he replied.
It wasn’t four hours later that I got a text from Dalila.
When I picked him up at school, I asked him what had happened to him that day.
“I tripped over a rock,” he said.
“Oh?” I asked.
“Like 30 times,” he said.
“You tripped over a rock, and then tripped over the same rock 29 more times?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
I let that mystery slide into the ether, and changed my line of questioning.
“Did you get into any trouble?”
“Only because Sylas is a knob.”
“A knob?” I asked.
“A Mincecraft knob*,” he said. “You know, he likes to kill the bushes.”
Well I don’t know, and I don’t care about Sylas’ Minecraft skills or lack thereof.
“Did you call Michael fat today?”
His shoulders slumped, but he wasn’t going to give it up without a fight.
“No,” he said.
“I already know that you did. Twice.”
He actually leaned against me then and put his head on my shoulder, the picture of misery. We both knew what was coming, and neither one of us were happy about it. I put my arm around him and gave him a squeeze.
“Do you remember what I said this morning? That if you did it again there would be no iPad for two weeks?”
Kai uttered a low and anguished moan full of hoplessness and aching dread.
I got some details later from Dalila.
Kai had had a conflict with Sylas, who likes to tease Kai about whether there is such a thing as a pterodactyl, which there isn’t and which drives Kai nuts and which no doubt precipitated the Minecraft insult. This lead to some work in the peer mediation circle. Somehow the kids brought the subject around to Kai calling other kids names.
“Well,” Kai said, “Amelia is bossy and Michal is F-A-T,” he said, as though spelling it made it okay. Michael was right there.
Later, Michael gave a ukulele recital to the class during show-and-tell, strumming and singing a song. Apparently the song had a word in it like “cat” or “bat.”
“Rhymes with ‘fat,’” Kai said.
And now he has no iPad, computer or TV for two long weeks.
Later that evening, at Scott’s urging, I wrote an e-mail to Michael’s mother, apologizing and telling her that we were working on this with Kai.
She didn’t write me back.
This morning on the way to school, we saw a graffiti blaster truck working on a tagged building.
“What are they doing?” Ryan asked.
“They were taking off that paint,” I replied.
“That’s too bad,” Ryan said. “I think it’s pretty.”
"You do?" I asked.
It was a portrait of Satan.
“Who made it?” Ryan asked.
I sighed. “In Chicago, there are things called gangs, and those guys spray paint walls to mark their territory. They are bad people.”
“Bad like Kai?” Ryan asked.
“Oh, you guys. Kai’s not bad,” I said.
“I just get in trouble a lot,” Kai said.
“You sure do, honey,” I said.
You sure do.
*I think he meant "noob." Though "knob" does sound like a legitimate insult, doesn't it?