Naomi is absolutely brilliant at figuring out ways to get out of schoolwork. It is fascinating to listen to the new and very novel excuses she comes up with. Wednesday before Fall break she was on full tilt with her latest tactics.
Naomi began the day by visiting with me before school started to explain why she didn’t have her assignment ready for Science class.
“I didn’t do the plant worksheet last night because I didn’t have my paper when I got home,” Naomi announced.
“Did you leave the worksheet in your locker?”
“I don’t know. I guess.”
“Why didn’t you go on the teacher’s web page and print it off again?” I asked.
“My mom said I couldn’t play on the computer anymore, and I had to do my homework.”
“But Naomi,” I countered, “Did you tell your mother you needed to print off a worksheet for school?”
“No. She wouldn’t have let me even if I asked.”
“Now Naomi, I don’t believe that. You should have told your mom that you needed to print off a worksheet for school. Or you should have asked your mom to print it off for you.”
“Oh, she wouldn’t have done that for me,” Naomi immediately countered.
“Why do you think your mom wouldn’t print off some schoolwork for you?”
“Because I’m a middle child,” Naomi answered sadly. “Middle children get ignored, and I’m a middle child.”
This is new, I thought. And so cleaver.
“Naomi,” I explained, “Your teacher is not going to accept that as an excuse. You’re going to have to do that worksheet in study skills class today, and it will be late when you hand it in.”
“All right,” Naomi conceded, “But it’s not my fault that I’m a middle child.”
I thought I had had my Naomi-getting-out-of-work contact for the day, but she was still on a roll when she came to Math Class. As I was passing out the day’s warm-ups, Naomi made an announcement.
“I feel really bad for my Uncle Joe.”
A few heads turned to look at Naomi, which pleased her.
“Why do you feel sorry for him?” I asked.
“He’s getting his middle finger cut off.”
Everyone was watching Naomi now.
“He’s getting his finger cut off,” I exclaimed, “Why?”
“He hurt it a couple weeks ago, and now it’s infected. So he has to get it cut off.”
All chattering had ceased, and the room was totally silent. The spotlight was on her, and Naomi reveled in her new prominence.
“That’s terrible,” I said. “He must be really sad about that.”
“Well, I think he should just get his whole hand cut off,” Naomi declared.
“Why would he do that?”
“Well, if he’s going to get his middle finger cut off, he might as well just have his whole hand cut off.”
“Naomi. That’s ridiculous,” I scolded. “He needs his hand. He can do a lot of things with his hand even if he doesn’t have his middle finger.”
“No he can’t,” Naomi countered. “He might as well get his whole hand cut off.”
“I know something he couldn’t do without his middle finger,” Roberto yelled excitedly.
Roberto’s announcement shifted Naomi’s dramatic story to a classic middle school comedy. Two boys started laughing, and the rest of the girls began to smile.
“What couldn’t he do?” Naomi demanded.
Even the girls began snickering.
“Naomi, they’re talking about a very bad gesture you should never do,” I offered.
“What’s a gesture?” Naomi was truly puzzled.
Oh good grief! The wheels had totally fallen off the wagon now.
“A gesture is something you do with your hand or arm,” I explained. “If I wave at you when I see you coming to school, that’s a friendly gesture.” I was waving at Naomi hoping this would divert her thought process. But no luck.
“What do you do with your middle finger?”
Everyone was laughing now. They all waited for my lesson on the obscene gesture. And I was not going there.
“Naomi, it’s something none of your parents want you to do.”
Just then I had my “Ah Ha” moment. I figured out how to get rid of the problem – toss it to someone else! Naomi had brought this whole subject up because she shared some family business. Family business should be handled by her family.
You’re a chicken, I scolded myself. Yes, I am, I answered.
“Naomi, your parents – really none of your parents – would want us talking about this in class. If you want to know about what Roberto said, you need to ask your mom or dad. And Roberto, you are not to talk about that kind of stuff in class ever again. It’s inappropriate.”
“Inappropriate” is the classic teacher catch-all word. It covers everything from “I don’t feel like talking about this now” to “I’m so angry I could break something.”
I had delivered my last words slowly and firmly, and my go-to “inappropriate” had shut down the conversation – almost.
“I can’t ask my parents,” Naomi sadly moaned. “They won’t tell me.”
“Naomi, I think if you explain to them what you told us in class and what you heard, they’ll tell you what you need to know to understand what was said,” and hopefully don’t call the school complaining about me, I thought.
“No they won’t,” Naomi wailed again. “They won’t tell me anything. I’m a middle child.”