Flipside: Comic relief

"The situation is bordering on grave," the teacher says, looking up from the report card she has removed from the top of the pile.

ruthie blum USE! 298.88 (photo credit: )
ruthie blum USE! 298.88
(photo credit: )
"The situation is bordering on grave," the teacher says, looking up from the report card she has removed from the top of the pile. I shift in my seat, waiting for the warning, followed by the reprimand that eventually culminates in claims of unmet potential. This time, I decide, I'm going to take it like a man. No tears, no muss, no fuss. Or at least emulate one of my female friends, who survives such confrontations by counting calories. "If you don't shape up," the teacher continues, "there will be consequences." Having trouble remembering my own name, let alone the fat content of the comfort food I am sure to swallow whole when I get home, I allow my eyes to wander to the blackboard behind the figure of authority who holds my child's future - and self-esteem - in her hands. Soon-to-be-erased squiggles of math and chemistry problems, alongside jumbles of conjugated Hebrew verbs and biblical passages, create a disconcerting backdrop to the unfortunately familiar scene. An encore I would happily be chalking up to deja vu, if I weren't hyper-aware of its actually happening. Yet again. As is the teacher's next statement: "You can do better." But I am not listening, due to a momentary lapse in which I allow relief to replace dread. Thank God - I think - that I graduated 30 years ago. There's no way in hell I'd be able to absorb this material today, let alone be tested on it. No wonder my teenagers are trying to daydream their way through matriculation. No wonder their older siblings finally relaxed when they entered the IDF and began training to go into Gaza. "It's all a question of priorities, and of applying yourself to them," the teacher asserts, oblivious to my lips moving in sync with hers. I know the script so well, I could be her understudy. "By our next meeting, I expect to see results," she says, gearing up to wind down to her finale. Normally, this would be the point at which I would be taking out my check-book to pay for the upcoming class trip. Then I would make a less-than-grand exit, a surly kid - and renewed sense of despair - in tow. But, unbeknownst to me, the Almighty Playwright altered the ending. He, too, apparently, has had it with history's repeating itself (though, given what transpires, it's not clear whose history, exactly, he imagines he's rewriting). Suddenly, inexplicably, I am overcome by a fit of a different nature from the one such scenarios usually evoke. At the height of the teacher's ultra-serious soliloquy, I feel an attack of the giggles coming on. "CHILD, CHILD, do my eyes deceive me?" I can still hear Mr. Casey, the headmaster of my junior high, bellowing at the sight of me slinking into his office, after having been sent there by one distraught teacher or another. In retrospect, I can understand his and the rest of the faculty's frustration. It's not as though I hadn't been firmly forewarned about the fate that would befall me if I were to continue constituting "a disruption to the classroom." This "disruption" mostly took the form of uncontrollable laughter. It was triggered by anything from algebra equations to Shakespeare sonnets, though heightened to the point of hysteria during sex-education lessons. There was nothing as funny to me in those days as reproduction. Now that I am a mother, I can finally grasp why. What I am far less able to fathom is my profound lack of self-preservation where school was - and is - concerned. The term "death wish" comes to mind in this context. A real hoot. When minor things like grades and graduation aren't at stake, that is. Particularly those of my son - slumped next to me at this painful parent-teacher conference - who is clearly counting on me to protect him. I am supposed to be the grown-up here, after all. Not an eerie incarnation of the girl I was eons before giving birth to him. The girl about to be sent to the principal's office to be punished for inappropriate behavior. Then as now, however, it was as involuntary on my part as it was a source of irritation to my elders. Indeed, the more Mr. Casey glared - the more he threatened me with detention and suspension - the greater my guffaws grew. "We are not amused," he would say, glowering to convey his gloom and my doom. To his dismay, I had the opposite effect on my classmates, whom I invariably infected with my howls at the hilarity of it all. This earned me the additional distinction of "instigator." In fact, if memory serves, that was the period when I was first introduced to the concept of "incitement." I wore my title of honor with outward panache, perceived by the general public as pride. Little did they know the sad truth: that I happily would have traded the trouble-maker status which made me popular among my peers for any amount of adult approval. AS A chuckle creeps its way into my throat, I am at a loss. The prospect of the past's coming back to haunt me is cause enough for concern. That the ghosts are about to conduct a class reunion at an especially inopportune moment for one of my children is reason for panic. "We are not amused," I tell my gut in my best Mr. Casey voice - an impersonation for which I was always more likely to win an Academy Award than an academic one. But to no avail. I am physically incapable of inhibiting the chortle that is choking its way out. The teacher's stern expression and extended index finger are the final catalyst for the crack-up. Maternal emergency mode blessedly taking charge, I bury my face and cough. This not only puts my shaking shoulders into perspective, but chases the demons away. "Cheer up," the teacher says compassionately, as she bids us farewell. "It's not a tragedy." ruthie@jpost.com