Thursday, March 12, 2009

Note From My Teacher

I've been cleaning out my STUFF lately, trying to make a cleaner household, and I've been finding all sorts of things--such as an old note from my teacher, Mrs. Lalji, in 3rd grade on which I forged my mother's signature.

In my memory of the event, I had gotten a low score on a spelling test and the teacher got angry at several of the students and called us to the front of the class where she gave us all mimeographed notes for our parents to sign. Her anger scared me so much that I was too frightened to show the note to my parents.

When I was in the 3rd grade, my parents had first opened up their restaurant. I hardly saw them. I woke up and got myself ready for school and waited for the school bus downstairs alone. I returned to school to either go back to an empty apartment or to a neighbor's house. I was told to go to bed when my parents called me from work and they wouldn't return until well after midnight. Basically, stuff that people would call Child Protective Services for today. In those days, we were just called "latch-key kids." 

To put this in perspective, I was an extremely conscientious student. I hardly missed any homework assignments and mostly did well on exams. I wasn't a problem student. On top of that, we had just moved to this country about three years before, so I had learned the English language in about a year and by that time, was performing at the top of my class at school (which just goes to show you the brainiacs who attended THAT particular Catholic school in Queens...).

There were times when I would only see my parents on weekends, and even then, for a very short time before they had to go into Manhattan unless I went with them to the restaurant.

So, in my 3rd-grade brain, I thought it would be an easy enough thing to do to FORGE my mother's signature. She had a pretty easy handwriting to copy, unlike all the swirls and whorls in my father's signature. So I studied an old signature of my mother's--she had to sign every exam we got home and every homework assignment. I know, Catholic school is strange.

After a few tries, I felt that I had NAILED IT. So the next morning, I handed the note to my teacher, who, in her FURY, snatched the note out of my hand and marched me to the principal's office to call my parents. As I looked at the note trembling in her hand, I realized my rookie mistake. 

The note was about 5 inches by 4 inches and I had used a LARGE area and signed my mother's name in HUGE three-inch letters. This is why a 3rd grader should never be President of the United States. We're not very smart at that age.

I had an internal meltdown. My parents hardly got enough sleep and they were working so hard to make their restaurant a success. I was ashamed of myself and horrified that my parents were going to discover what I did. I was SUCH a disappointment and all their hard work was wasted, having a daughter like ME. 

I also, until this point, WORSHIPPED the ground Mrs. Lalji walked around on, my one true desire in the 3rd grade was to become a teacher just like her and she was my ultimate role model.

My parents were struggling financially and paying money they didn't really have to send me to this school, something they constantly made sure I understood. My father, who became a better parent later in life, was not someone who would shirk away from punishing me, so in my mind, I thought that this would surely enrage him to a point where my life would come to an early and abrupt end.

Mrs. Lalji got on the phone and told my mother what happened and to IMMEDIATELY get to the school.

My poor mother, my sleep-deprived immigrant mother who didn't have much of a grasp of the English language, rushed to the school and when I saw her enter the room, I had expected her to look angry.

Instead of anger, she seemed worried, as if I had been hurt and not a signature forging excuse of a human being. 

Mrs. Lalji explained what had happened and, at this point, steam was literally coming out of her ears. She was so furious that she was shaking.

My mother immediately took me in her arms and held me. She turned to Mrs. Lalji, and in her limited English, told her that she would sign the note. She kept telling my teacher that it was okay. She kept saying, "It's okay. It's okay." 

And then she turned to me to say that I shouldn't have worried so much. That if I had trouble in school, I should tell her and not keep it inside. 

It was one of the times in my life that my parents have surprised me, have shown me that they understood the situation and understood me in a way that I didn't think they ever did.

Mrs. Lalji was quaking, she was so mad. And I realized that this teacher, who I looked up to unlike anyone I had ever encountered in my life, had wanted my mother to be angry with me, to punish me, and she was disappointed and furious when that didn't happen.

Anyway, I found this note while I was cleaning up and this goes to prove to Peter that I save EVERYTHING. And what I discovered was that this note was for a missed social studies homework assignment. 

It wasn't even for a low grade on an exam! The note was for a missed homework assignment in the THIRD GRADE.  

But I guess when you're eight years old and your home life is turned upside down and you're balancing a lot of things in your head and figuring out the world and you are new at dealing with Americans, much less mean Catholic school teachers who don't take the time to be their better selves, you do stupid stuff because you're just trying to HANG ON.

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