THE SISTERS' SONG coming in January 2018 from Allen and Unwin. Sign up to be the first to know. x Louise
And don't come near my chickens again!

And don’t come near my chickens again!

Dear Miss,

You see me and run your fingers through your hair, trying to look nonchalant. I can see that you’re uncomfortable, possibly intimidated: I’m a good 20 years older than you, and my body is rigid, my mouth set. You know that I’ve complained about you and that I want my child out of your class. But, they can’t move her: it doesn’t fit with the timetable. Unfortunately. So, we’re stuck with each other for the year.

You start to tell me, All I did was… and you act out how you ‘gently’ took her head between your hands and ‘gently’ twisted it back around towards the front and pointed it down at her work.

You hurt her, I say.

I don’t see how I could have, you say, and you demonstrate again, using my head this time, how you ‘gently’ twisted my daughter’s.

How dare you? I want to yell at you. How dare you take my child’s head and twist it, and sit there telling me you did it gently. It. Hurt. Her. You. Hurt. Her.

Besides, she shouldn’t have been looking sideways in the classroom, you say.

Let me clear my throat and look at my hands before I speak. Do you know my daughter? I say.

Yes, you say, she is a very good student.

She is not just a good student, I say. She is a good girl. When she’s sick, she worries about the lessons she’s missing. If she was lost in a forest, she’d strip bark off a tree and use a rock to write so she could do her homework. If I raise my voice at her, her eyes fill because she’s mortified that she might have done something wrong. You don’t need to discipline her like that. She is a good girl.

I think you’re over-reacting, you say. She needs to learn resilience.

My heart races. I’m sick of hearing that fucking word. Resilience. I stare at you, my lips together. I don’t move because I’m afraid I’ll stand and lift the desk off the floor and throw it at you.

Let me tell you a thing or two about resilience, I want to say. Resilience is getting out of bed in the morning when you’ve lain awake half the night listening to your parents yelling. Resilience is dousing your swollen, red face in water to cool it, before jumping in the car and heading to school. Resilience is sitting in the car, being yelled at and yelling back, then climbing out at the other end, pasting a smile on your face and walking through the classroom door. Resilience is hiding the bruises and the scratches your mother gave you the night before. Resilience is hitch-hiking to a friend’s place to stay because you’ve been kicked out of home and wearing that friend’s uniform to school the next day even though it’s two sizes too small. Resilience is tuning out all of this, sitting at your desk and trying to cram your lessons into your brain. Resilience is your mother screaming at you and you screaming back until she’s hitting you and you’re lying in a foetal position on the floor begging her to stop and asking her to remember you have an exam the next day. Resilience is picking yourself up off the floor and walking into that exam and somehow not just passing, but doing well. Resilience is your sister being killed in the middle of your University exams, and returning after a week and finishing them. And passing. Resilience is spending the following year drunk, and failing, then taking time off during which you decide that you do want to make something of your life after all. Resilience is returning to Uni and repeating the year you failed when everyone in your original year is doing their Finals. Resilience is sucking up your pride and putting your head down and not just passing, but excelling. That’s resilience, Miss.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away, and this is about my daughter, not me. There are a few things you don’t know, Miss, and that I can’t tell you, but I carry them with me everywhere I go. You see, Miss, I vowed that I would never hit or hurt my children, so they would never have to go through what I did. And you’ve done to my child something I would never do.

But, I tell you none of this, and all you see is an overprotective mother with anger eking from every pore.

Eventually I say, ‘You see, Miss, I’ve never smacked or hit or physically hurt any of my children. And now, I’m really mad that you have. I’m sorry my daughter isn’t as resilient as you’d like her to be, so she can cope when you hurt her.’

I stand and you stand, we shake hands, and I walk out.

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