Exit Stage Left Part Seven
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One More Meeting and Trying to Heal
On the same afternoon that I had taken him home, the safe-guarding officer wanted me drive him back to school so she could speak to him, about the ballet teacher’s conduct in class. I pointed out that another senior member of staff had already interviewed him last week, but she insisted that she also had the opportunity to do so.
This interview with our son was a travesty - have no other word for it, and for me it marks a major turning point in the story. The safe-guarding officer is waiting for us, so is his ballet teacher, and the member of staff who gave him his second tutorial. One greets us in reception, one is waiting at the bottom of the stairs, and the other is waiting at the top of the stairs. Our son has to walk past two of his persecutors on the way to the meeting. The safe-guarding officer has prepared ten questions. I am given these questions but no time to read them. The nature of the questions to a child are irresponsible, often putting him in the position of second-guessing what was in the mind of the adult: for example, ‘What do you think the teacher meant when he said I love you?’
I am completely ignored in the meeting, and any questions about why our son was being put through this again we dismissed with the wave of a hand, and an abrupt: ‘I am here to talk to him, not you.’
There was a member of the pastoral team taking a record, and whenever our son said anything that might be of use to the school, the safe-guarding officer shrieked at the woman writing: 'Write that down, write that down!' Despite all this, our son remained calm, and answered the often loaded questions as well as he can. He leaves with his integrity intact.
We are rushed out of the office as quickly as we were rushed in. Afterwards I felt dizzy with anxiety and anger. We are in and out of the school in ten minutes including the time it takes to parade past his persecutors. During the drive home, I know that something has changed inside me - a new calculating cold anger has hatched. I also know that it was very unlikely that he would be returning to the school. I have just witnessed behaviour I can only describe as abusive. I feel like screaming something guttural and primal. All trust between us and the school are now broken. In this moment in time there is no-one on earth I hate more than the school’s safe-guarding officer. Her behaviour disgusts me.
What follows now is a big space. The school need time to write their responses, and even though they keep saying that they want to get our son back to school as soon as possible, they are taking weeks to respond to our complaints. They are clearly consulting with their lawyers. We knew that we had to get him dancing again, especially as it looked like his formal schooling and training was now on an involuntary hiatus. His mother did some research. This is one of her many strengths. When given a project, she commits to it single-mindedly; and this project was simple: find the best ballet teachers available. One name kept coming up again and again. So his mum took him to one of her classes. I have many examples of this teacher’s almost psychic intuition, her heightened awareness and kindness, and on her first encounter with our son - a terrified creature shaking at the barre who has just spilled his bottle of water all over the floor - she takes him by the hand and leads him to a place where he can't hide at the back and where she is close to him. She is still one of his main ballet teachers. I will write more about their relationship on another occasion because theirs has become a beautiful story. The debt of gratitude I feel I owe this kind, wise and highly skilled teacher is immense.
However, just before this void of waiting and uncertainty began, our son told us two more things he wanted us to know about the school; events that had happened very recently. The first involved his ballet teacher, and a girl in his class. The teacher entered the class one day when he was teaching both boys and girls, looked at one of the girls and said, Oh [name of pupil], you're looking sexy today. This story spread throughout the year like a proverbial rash, and this child had the comment repeated to her by teenage boys on several occasions over the next few days. Our son understands the implications of this event, and the seriousness of the accusation; he is not making this up. Much later, another parent from the year repeats the story to me, exactly as our son has told it.
The second incident involves a different teacher. The students were asked to ‘twerk’ during one class. Some students found this to be excruciatingly painful. Our son was probably not alone in experiencing a double hit of pain: the first was from being asked to ‘shake his booty’ with the other children, and the second was his empathy for those who found it even more distressing than him. Apparently, the member of staff encouraged the twerking by joining in himself. This incident really did happen. I know it to be a fact, because in some written documentation, which I will describe at length in the next blog, they admit that it happened. In fact, they admit that the twerking occurred regularly with all year groups.
It is time to make a self-aware declaration. If you hadn't realised, we are a liberal, left-leaning family of almost comic proportions. The way we fulfil our expectations of the guardian-reading, left-voting, anti-patriarchal egalitarian stereotype is often amusing even to us: politics, gender issues, cultural appropriation are often debated at meal-times with force. The use of ‘black face’ in The Nutcracker makes me wince; the trend is now to tone it down - but the representation of the Chinese 'tea' dance by mainly white dancers presents a real issue to me. Some people find my view extreme. However, I cannot imagine in whose universe it is okay for a middle aged man to describe a fourteen year old girl as ‘sexy’, or for another middle aged man to ‘get down with the kids’ by joining them for a twerk. Do I think that these offences warrant the perpetrators losing their jobs? Yes. I do.
It takes me only twenty-four hours to make the decision: I write another letter of complaint.
In pulp fiction Harvey Keitel plays a character called The Wolf. He has repeated this role in an advert for car insurance. Basically when something terrible has happened, The Wolf come to the rescue and clean it up. In the ballet world there are teachers who fulfil the same function. I mentioned to someone the difficulties we are experiencing and he presses a scrap of paper into my hand with a name and number written on it. He simply tells me to ‘call her’, so I do. This teacher makes repairing broken ballet children her speciality. She is the Harvey Keitel of the ballet world - a Wolf of classical ballet, and she is kept extremely busy. She serves pupils of many ballet schools, and she is highly effective at what she does: sensible, pragmatic, experienced and generous. I have since met 'wolves' in other parts of the country. It seems that for every ballet school, there is at least one Wolf waiting to clear up the bloody mess.
It is a struggle, but get our son dancing again. He goes to class every day. We have found him two teachers whom he is responding to well, despite the fact that he comes across as a bit broken broken and very lost. This is unsurprising. He has been wrenched from his normal life, and severed from his friends; but at the same time he doesn't want to return to such a cruel environment. Anyway, there is the small matter of the ballet teacher’s counter-allegation which needs to be cleared up.
I then decide that in this long and vicious limbo that I am going to become his teacher for academic subjects. We read together - Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. It is exactly what is needed to transport him to another place, to think about other problems that people have to face: the struggles of immigration, the extremes of wealth and poverty, and surviving when the odds are stacked against you. We do a project on road movies - Little Miss Sunshine is his favourite; and we read Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck.. He continues to work his way through his maths book. At the moment this feels fine, although it is not sustainable. But I want him to return to school - whichever school - with an ability to think and write clearly, having not fallen behind on his maths, and with a appreciation of failure as an opportunity to learn. The exploration of Growth Mindset prompts much discussion between us, and he tells stories of what has been said to the children during ballet at his school. A growth mindset seems the opposite of what he has encountered in ballet class where failure is something to be feared and avoided at all costs - as if dancers are born fully formed and perfect. He still seems somewhat broken; heavy, reluctant and hesitant. It is like our child is made of Lego. We are putting him back together brick by brick.
But I still feel lucky: I am hoping and praying that we have got him out in time.
Next Time: We receive the documents we have been waiting for.