A Visit to the Vice Principal

It occurred to me, as I sat perspiring in the comfy chair and staring across the desk at Mr. Lyons, the 44 year old, not-terrible-looking vice principal at my son’s middle school, that no one should be given breast cancer until they are mature enough to discuss it, eye to eye, with a member of the opposite sex. There should be a “maturity” date stamped on me.   And since, I obviously hadn’t reached that level of grown-up-ness that we all strive for, than, I feel the cancer should just be taken away and given to another, older, more assured woman. It’s only fair, don’t you think?

The purpose of my visit to Mr. Lyons was two-fold.  I needed to retrieve an errant i-pod that was procured from my 14 year old during the previous day’s lunch. The vice principal told Calvin to have his mother puck it up in the office. According to the Parker Middle School Handbook this meant that it was not Calvin’s first offense and judging by Calvin’s response that Mr. Lyons is “gay” and an “idiot” it became obvious that his attitude hadn’t helped the situation. The second reason for my visit was that I needed to alert the school of my impending surgery and chemo and to tell them that life at home would be a little rocky for a stint.

So I decided to show up at the school after I went for a 6 mile run.  Mr. Lyons runs marathons and somehow I thought if he saw me all sweaty and sporty that he would think I was cool and by osmosis think Calvin was cool and therefore go easy on him.  [Later that day I counted that in the course of our 10 minute conversation, that I mentioned I had been running 6 times.  I think it helped.]

“Come on in, Mrs. Kolenik,” he said walking into to his small corner office behind the bustling lunch-time crowd at the front desk. I had to elbow my way through quite a few pre-pubescent kids who had forgotten their lunch money or needed to be signed out.

“Have a seat.”

“Oh thanks,” I said, “I’m all sweaty, though, since I just went running.”

“No problem. I suppose you are here for this,” he said opening the top drawer and pulling out Calvin’s i-pod.”

“Well, yes. I am sorry about that.  Cal said I needed to come get it which made me realize it wasn’t the first time this has happened.”

“Cal’s a good kid. Nine out of ten times he makes the right decisions….”

I wondered at this point about the conversations that Mr. Lyons had with parents that went the other way.  Did he ever say, “Nine times out of ten your son makes shitty decisions”? Or do vice principals always have to speak in positive glass-half-full terms:  “You know, Mrs. So-and-so, one out of ten times your son makes an excellent decision.”? In those cases I imagine the one good decision would have something to do with which lunch to buy that day.

I pulled myself back to the conversation…. Mr. Lyons was still speaking…

“…I told him to have you call me.  You didn’t have to come in.”

“Oh, well, see, I was out running [that’s 2, if you are counting], and I thought I would end my run here and grab the i-pod in person.  And, well, also, there was something else I needed to talk to you about.”

Shit, I thought. Shit, shit, shit. I can’t do this. Suddenly I was 14 again:

“You see, I kind of have this cancer thing going on, you know and I am having surgery on Friday and then I have to have chemo and well, it’s going to be a little crazy {nervous laugh} and well, it’s all so stupid and I just wanted you to know in case Calvin acts a little more obnoxious than usual and……”

I am not sure how long I went on before he finally stopped me.

“Are you going to Dana Farber,” he asked?

“Yes,” I said, an adult again, “I switched hospitals after I found out the cancer was a little more aggressive.”

“Like I said, Cal is a good kid.  This is info we need to have and I am so glad you told us. We can have the school psychiatrist speak to him and I will too.”

Mr. Lyons and I talked a little more about 14 year olds and not letting Calvin “get-out” of doing work and his own teenager at home and his job and I threw in the fact that I went running a few more times.  Just when I thought I had slid this through without ever having to mention my anatomy, he asked the question:

“So what kind of cancer is it?”

Shit.  You know, I thought, if I hadn’t mentioned it at the beginning why did he feel the need to ask me? Was he trying to embarrass me? What if I was Farah Fawcett?  What if it was anal cancer?  There were worse kinds to talk about than breast cancer. Right? I was sure at this point that there were hundreds of woman that could handle this better than me.  I tried to think of all the mature women I knew. They would have proudly stated it at the forefront, not tried to weasle their way out. They wouldn’t be ashamed. I tried desperately to pull up all the maturity I could muster. I am a 44 year old mother of three. I can do this. Just say the word. Go on.

“Breast,” I mumbled, standing to leave.

 I was looking down at the carpet. I was sure my face had turned crimson and I could not meet his gaze for fear that he was staring at my chest. At this point I truly was a 14 year old girl  in the principal’s office and all I wanted to do was run screaming from there. Just give me the detention, damn it and let me leave!

“Well good luck with everything,” he said reaching out to shake my hand. “We’ll be here for Cal, whatever he needs.”

See, he was a mature adult. He could handle the word ‘breast’ without turning into a drooling idiot.  It didn’t seem to faze him  at all. Although I am not so sure he would have been so cavalier if it had been his testicular cancer we were discussing. But it wasn’t.

“Thanks,” I said reaching over the desk to grab his hand. “ Oh, sorry about the sweaty hands. You know, it’s from the run.” {Nervous laugh}.

2 Responses to A Visit to the Vice Principal

  1. Laura Plunkett says:

    Hi Frannie, I am Julie (Jones) Brillard’s Sister, Laura. She told me about your blog and I remembered you from high school. I think you were a few years younger then I am. I love your writing and your blogs seem so real. Sorry about the cancer, that really sucks! I plan to continue you reading as they are uplifting and very funny. Thinking of You, Laura

  2. Tai says:

    your soul shines through in this Frannie. your natural humor. one of the warmest people I’ve ever known, with the gift of gab times a million. you’re a gem – one of a kind.

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