It has been snowing nearly invisible snow all day. This morning, at a time when the snow was briefly visible, my daughter had a minor panic. She had just bundled herself up to step out into the cold, hoisted her school back-pack onto her back, and she paused. She slumped and expelled the air from her lungs.
“I have a whole list of things I was supposed to bring in by today!” she informed me. “I need them for a project.” Her tone teetered on the edge of whine. It’s the end of the semester. Finals loom next week, and the teachers have been piling on the projects. We have more schoolwork, anxiety, and drama than any sane household can handle.
“Do you need the stuff today?” I nervously glanced at the clock, anticipating the imminent arrival of the school bus. “Can you get it together tonight?”
“I’m the leader of the group. I have to have it. Can I text you a list from the bus, and you can bring it in?” She gave me a hopeful look. Her brother was disappearing out the door for the bus.
“I’ll try. Will I be able to find everything?”
“I’ll tell you where it is when I text. Thank you!” she shouted as she ducked out the door, though I hadn’t promised anything. The door shut loudly, blocking the cold and the sounds of her feet shuffling down the rough concrete of our front steps.
It wasn’t long before the text came. A play sword, a rubber knife, a white sheet. Clearly, a project for English—The Odyssey—the white sheet for a toga and the weapons for the dangers of the journey. However, the rubber knife looked somewhat real, and from a distance, it could be mistaken for a real weapon. While I had intended to send the items in with my oldest when I dropped him off, I made a mental note to go in to the office to ask about it. These days, one can never be too careful.
When we arrived at the high school, I held up the bag and pointed to my son. “He has to take this to his sister, but there is a rubber knife in here. I thought I should check to make sure it’s okay.” I pulled out the knife and held it up for the secretary to see.
“Oh!” She studied the item and scowled. “I don’t know,” she said, and I bent the “blade” with my fingertip so she could see it was not real. She deferred to another secretary, who went off to check.
Meanwhile, the assistant principal came out of his office. I held up the knife for his scrutiny. “Is this okay for a student to have?” I asked, again bending the blade.
He looked at it. “Is it for a project?” he asked, and I nodded. “Hmm…” he tipped his head and pursed his lips as he inspected the knife. He shook his head ever so slightly, and I could see him conjuring images of all the ways a student could get in trouble with this completely harmless “weapon.”
“Tell you what,” I said, intercepting his thought process. “I’ll leave it with you. When she needs it, she can come and get it.” I smiled a hopeful smile.
“Perfect!” he responded, and he took charge of the knife.
It was only as I was leaving the school that I realized how deeply our school culture has changed in recent years. Change is for the better sometimes, but not always.