Educational Parenting Story
Original Characters from stories, High and Ol’ Diablo from the collection It Might Have Been and Other Stories.
In this Educational Parenting Story, an experienced teacher discovers that an honest perspective may change her in ways she little expected.
Grace knew all about parents, but she tried her darndest to love them anyway. Married, though childless (to her mother’s chagrin), after five years as principal of the local grade school and junior high, she felt like a mother to hundreds. She understood children’s emotional roller coasters all too well, having vivid memories of her own trials and tribulations. Few kid encounters discombobulated her tranquil spirits. Her childhood enemy, Libby Lawrence—who remarkably became a best friend and mentor—had taught her the magical keys to serenity: clear boundaries and an honest perspective.
Such wisdom she was forever sharing with the forlorn students who, for some stupid infraction, mindless cruelty, or petulant fit of revenge, sat on the wood frame chair set before her desk.
In her second year as principal, she’d even gone so far as to have a mural painted in primary colors on the cafeteria wall, depicting a brilliant sun shining on pine-clad mountains, a distant stream rushing toward lush fields, and a country home with a fenced garden. Family members worked and played while high-flying birds, scampering wildlife, and even a hive of busy bees managed their own affairs. She liked to call it “Intertwining Harmonies.” Healthy boundaries helped to keep the whole perspective accurate. Most kids didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, but they liked the mural well enough.
Most parents agreed with their kids.
The name should have clued her in. As was so often the case, people either lived up to their names or defied them. Rather like Eeyore of Whinny the Pooh fame, Joy seemed determined to scatter pessimistic gloom wherever she went. The first time she brought her five-year-old son to kindergarten, she held the child’s hand so tight that he squirmed away the first chance he got. Ran right for the he-man side of the room where the little boys were plowing trucks over Barbie dolls, sending the little girls into screaming fits.
Immediately Joy jumped into the fray and tried to save the dolls.
Not one girl offered to help, and the boys tumbled back astonished.
The teacher, a blithely competent woman with a passel of her own grown children merely tinkled a tiny bell and waved a storybook with kings, castles, and a terrifying dragon on the cover. The kids swarmed over, honed in on the thick carpet, and arranged themselves with minimal jostling.
It took every ounce of diplomatic persuasion to get Joy to leave her progeny with the teacher and the dragon.
“You don’t think he’ll have nightmares tonight…over all this?”
With a light touch, Grace steered Joy to the front door. “All of what?”
Joy halted before the steel double doors and crossed her arms, a petulant expression on her face. “He’s never been away from home before, separated from me. We’ve raised him with every care. Those other boys seemed a bit rough, and, though he knows what a dragon is, he’s always been assured that they aren’t real. How about if someone says that they are?”
Though she never remembered patronizing a child, Joy realized that her voice oozed superior knowledge as she responded. “Dragons are a part of life, Joy. That’s what true education helps us to discover, what real dragons look like.”
Anguish rose in Joy’s eyes, but she turned away before another word could be said.
Grace shook her head as she went back to her duties. Children could be excused much, being innocent in the ways of the world. But a mother? A woman well beyond her own childhood? At that point, ignorance became a sin not easily forgiven. Her heels clicked like rocks tapping over solid ground. Well, the mother wasn’t her concern; she would focus on the son.
Weeks and then months passed, with Joy’s concerns for her child punctuating every special event. She called with questions about their field trip to the city museum, asking for a detailed itinerary. In the back of the gymnasium, she stood through each school assembly, her arms crossed and her face set in watchful anxiety. She even volunteered in the kitchen for the lunchtime rush, undoubtedly not to be of service to the community but rather to keep her eyes plastered on her kid. It took every ounce of Grace’s patience to meet these intrusions in her well-run world with the diplomacy needed to not offend while keeping firm boundaries.
The final Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Grace headed to the school assembly with more than the usual pep in her step. She’s just discovered that she was expecting a baby, and her exuberance knew no bounds. The slight nausea she had felt in the morning was finally wearing off, allowing her happiness full expression as she greeted the eager faces before her. Her rousing speech, reminding everyone, from preschoolers to the antiquated librarian, that life itself was a gift to be treasured each day, eventually gave way to the junior high chorus and 4th-grade pageant that would end their day before the holiday break.
Only the sight of Joy standing by the door yanked Grace’s high-flying mood from the heavens. Without premeditated thought, her insides seething, Grace click-clacked her way to the back of the room and confronted the annoying little woman who couldn’t seem to find happiness in anything and was forever doubting Grace’s abilities.
She charged in for the kill. “What are you doing here?” She wagged a finger in the woman’s face. “You seem hell-bent on destroying what small faith your son might have in the larger world. I suggest that you peel your over-anxious hands off your son and let him grow up strong and healthy, so he can enjoy a bit of life before you damage him permanently.”
Suddenly the room was unnaturally quiet.
Grace glanced over her shoulder. There had been a lull in the program and her voice had risen higher than she had anticipated. A crowd of faces stared at her.
Her stomach clenching against a return of her nausea, Grace forced a confident smile and offered a “don’t-mind-me” wave. She offered redirection in a happy sing-song tone. “We’ve only got a few minutes left, so finish up before the buses arrive.”
Her fury returning full force, Grace slammed her glare on Joy who, with her wide staring eyes, now bore a strange resemblance to the run-over Barbie dolls. Before tears could gather, the little woman turned on her heel and was out the door.
Queasiness rising, Grace marched down the hall, convincing herself that it had been a confrontation long overdue. After a detour to the bathroom and then a quick check on the busses lined up at the front entrance, Grace soon found herself back at her office.
Her shock at seeing Joy standing before her desk almost demanded a return trip to the bathroom. A sudden memory of the first time she had entered this very same room, determined to right an old wrong, flashed in her mind. But she was a new woman now. A better, more informed human being with all the wisdom that healthy boundaries and an honest perspective could offer.
Still, something in her quaked when she met this strange woman’s solemn gaze. Taking a moment to gather her composure, she swept around the desk and slid onto her office chair, a solid professional structure. She looked up and waited. Honestly, what more can I say?
Her trembling hands clasped in a tight grip, Joy stood before the desk like a penitent child, though there was such an expression of deep sorrow on her face, that her whole body exuded something frightful, a terrifying, hidden truth.
Grace had no idea what to make of it. She’d seen many uncertain parents, woeful children, and other oddities in her life, but nothing to compare to this. What is wrong with this person?
Joy’s voice barely rose above a whisper. “I suppose it’s my fault. I should have explained the situation to you from the first. But, well, it’s why we moved here…to get away from it all.” Her gaze rose, and she leveled her dry-eyed stare at Grace. “Three years ago, my family and I went shopping at Kingfords in Salemond.”
That was enough.
Grace’s mind shattered, and her stomach revolted. Shame flooded her cheeks. Everyone in the country knew what happened at Kingford in Salemond three years ago. It would take decades to forget. Terrified of the answer she knew she must ask Grace clutched the edge of her desk. “Was any of your family…”
“My sister was killed outright, and my husband lost part of his right leg. He tried to be a hero…but the second explosion caught him.”
How did I not know this? Grace tugged at a tiny shred of her dignity, her voice dropping into a cavern. “You could have told me.”
“Why? Being cautious is not a crime. I never interfered, just asked questions and stayed involved. I’m naturally an anxious person…my mother died in a car accident when I was young. But you demand a level of trust few people can give these days.” Her gaze softened. “I was not questioning your professional abilities, Grace. I simply do not trust the world.” Her gaze turned inward, her eyes revealing a strength and determination Grace had never noticed before. “As you said, dragons are a part of life.” She straightened, suddenly taller. “I won’t let them to eat my son.”
Grace’s hand clasped her belly. In the greatest sympathetic understanding of her life, rising even higher than the mountaintop experience with Libby Lawrence, she felt true communion. Suddenly, dragons terrified her.
Rising to her feet, Grace came around the desk and placed her hand on Joy’s shoulder. “I owe you an apology. I just became a mother myself. Should have been more sensitive.” Expelling a regretful sigh, she gestured to the door. “Let’s go find your boy.”
Joy stepped forward with a glance directed at Grace. “We’ll help each other fight the dragons?”
A choking sensation stopped all words, but Grace managed to nod. She opened the door, thanking God that there were parents willing to lead the charge.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 18 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction inspirational books, check out
“heartfelt, down-to-earth stories filled with real-life experiences and emotions that you can almost feel like you are experiencing them as you read. She’s one of the best authors I’ve ever read.” ~Ron
“A delightful collection of short stories that draw you in, wanting more…This book of short stories evokes smiles, tears, and reflection. The author has a unique writing style that captures your attention from the first sentence…” ~Reedsy/Discovery, Gale Kaufman