There were eight of them. I spied them from across the playground. Eight fourth grade boys who were making the most of their moment on the playstructure, cavorting about and slamming into one another as only fourth grade boys can do. They were doing that thing that fourth grade boys do. I was doing that thing that elementary school yard duty teachers do. I was walking across the yard to tell them to knock it off.
Why? It could be that I am simply an old curmudgeon who stopped having fun forty years or so ago and can't abide by the notion of anyone else having anything that resembles that fun now. That didn't seem completely accurate, but as I strode across the asphalt on the way to my young charges, I considered that possibility. Most of the time I am a bit of a pushover when it comes to consequences during recess. If I can get a full stop and a semblance of what following the rules is supposed to look like, I will turn them back to their own devices, with the admonition that being safe is the primary requisite for the play on my playground. And I am consistent. The rules are the rules, and the one that was set out some years ago after we had two broken bones in a six week period involving upper grade kids and our climbing apparatus said, "Only Kindergarten through Second Grade allowed on the playstructure." It took some getting used to, but over time it became a rite of passage: Once you were a big kid, you moved on from the playstructure to other pursuits. Like four square, or soccer or standing around in clusters of boys talking about Pokemon or girls talking about boys talking about Pokemon. You can always tell when we get a new kid in the upper grades from another school because they will the the one hanging all by him or herself on the monkey bars. It is the law of the jungle gym. These four young men were not in that category, and so I was trying to figure out my play as I made my way purposefully toward them.
These were the boys who often played some variation of super hero all star wrestling in various corners of the playground and I have to make at least one cautionary pass by to remind them that hitting and kicking even "just playing" tends to lead to real punching and eventual crying. It's a pretty well worn path. Now they had moved their escapades to the forbidden zone. "Hey," I barked as I grew nearer and called each one by name. Seven of them stopped in their tracks, figuring correctly that I had them dead to rights. The eighth skittered off, much to the dismay of his pals. I was just warming up my patented lecture on being safe, responsible and respectful over the lamentations of the boys who wanted to know why their buddy didn't have to get in trouble. That's when one of our volunteers came up to let me know that this same crew had already been asked to stop playing there, and yet here they were.
This skipped them up a category. I told them that ignoring and disrespecting another adult would not be acceptable, which is when number eight decided to return, full of excuses for his actions. I interrupted with their sentence: "Five minutes on the bench. If you hurry up and get set down I can start your time so you can still have some recess left." Off they scampered, grumbling but compliant. I used the next few moments to check out the rest of the yard. The standard activities and knots of boys and girls. Check. Boys sitting on benches. Check. And that's when the gift appeared.
The mother of boy number eight came out of the building just in time to catch her son sitting with his conspirators, looking as guilty as could be. When I walked up, she had already begun her own version of the lecture in ways that teachers never quite touch. The smirks that had been on the boys' faces were gone. Especially number eight. I stood and waited for mom to finish, which was a good seven minutes, but none of the offenders flinched in the direction of leaving the area. It was a moment when I was happy to have my authority usurped. There were no tears, but number eight came close. "You've got a couple minutes left to go to the bathroom and get some water," I intoned as mom stared them down. They got up slowly and found their way to the water fountain without a peep or a look back over their shoulder. They didn't want to catch mom glaring back.
I thanked mom for taking one for me, and I realized just how heady a cocktail motherly disappointment can be. If only we could bottle it and have it at our disposal for every recess. Of course, we wouldn't want to use it up, would we?