Bad news bearers

Of all the modern afflictions that plague today's parents -- sleeplessness, sass, televised violence, fast food, Eminem -- nothing's worse than the dreaded Call From School.

You parents know these calls -- when you answer the ringing phone and a disembodied voice on the other end identifies itself as being from your child's school. Is anything more instantly stomach-wrenching?

It's never good news. School officials don't call the parents to say little Johnny made the honor roll or that little Ruthie is an introspective, respectful scholar. No, they only call in cases of emergency or dire misbehavior.

Sad to say, but experienced parents know that the absolute best news that can come from such a call is that the child is slightly ill. Throwing up, or headachy, or running a mild fever. When it's the school nurse on the phone, we parents immediately assume broken limbs or random gunshots. When the nurse says little Johnny merely yarked all over his teacher, it comes as something of a relief.

Yes, the child's illness disrupts our workday and might even require a quick trip to the doctor, but at least there's nothing life-threatening. More importantly, calls from the nurse concern something that's completely out of the parents' control -- a virus, a germ, a freak accident on the seesaw.

We don't want our children to be sick, but we'll take that any day over the calls that report discipline problems. With bad behavior, there's always the implication that the parents are to blame.

Where did little Johnny learn such language? Why doesn't he do his homework? Why does he keep picking fights? Why does little Ruthie suffer temper tantrums? Why does she dress like a tramp? Is everything all right at home?

Teachers, counselors and administrators have the kids' best interests at heart, and most of them have more patience and understanding than your average saint. When things go wrong, there comes a point when they must simply throw up their hands and lob the problem back to the parents.

But the ever-present implication that the kids are not being reared properly only serves to dump a big shovelful of guilt on the parents.

(Granted, some parents need that wake-up call. There are certainly some homes where everything is not all right.)

But most of us parents are doing the best we can. We monitor the homework production and we turn off the TV and we try to get our wild-eyed children to eat something other than processed sugar. We lecture and scold and threaten.

For seven hours a day, however, the kids are out of our hands. They're in the wilds of school, being stalked by bullies and pressured by peers and exposed to bad influences. When the kids inevitably act up in response, it's not the bullies or the bad influences who get the Call From School.

The call goes to us guilt-ridden, worried parents. And we're expected to do something to fix the problem.

The only solution is for parents to use caller ID to avoid these calls. Kidding! The real answer to misbehavior is for the parents to march right down to the school playground and push little Johnny off the seesaw.

Then, when the Call From School comes, it'll be from the nurse. And the parents can act surprised and say, "Is everything all right at school?"

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