I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Danny Zuko, Part 2

This first boyfriend and first break-up were defining moments for me, and not just for the usual reasons. Enter Mr. D, the school guidance counselor.

Mr. D made it a point to be very involved in the students’ affairs. Once, when I took bean sprouts for lunch he grilled me about my body image until I was forced to confess that I took bean sprouts to keep up my eccentric image and not to lose weight (I also sometimes brought baby food). This level of engagement is surely laudable in a guidance counselor and I know some kids who credit him with saving their lives, but he was chummy to a fault.

Mr. D pulled me aside and asked me if I had broken up with M. I replied that we had broken up with each other. Undaunted, he explained that M had been seeing him about his parents’ divorce and was depressed to the point of doing something drastic. He then implored me to get back together with M, because another change might put him over the edge.

This sent me running off to find M, who assured me that his heart was not pounding on the floor. I told my parents, thinking to impress them with my responsibility, and was surprised to find that they zeroed in on Mr. D’s behavior instead.

Mr. D and the principal would often lunch in the cafeteria. With a middle schooler’s na├»ve trust that all grown-ups want to be better and will thank you for your criticism, I sat myself down with them. There in front of the whole lunch room and the principal, I laid out, rationally and dispassionately, everything I now understood was inappropriate about Mr. D’s breach of M’s confidence, the emotional blackmail, the inappropriate subject matter -- all of it. He thanked me for my input and apologized and as far as I was concerned, it was over.

This stands as the very first time I ever stood up to a grown-up. And just as I “imprinted” on M, creating a soft spot in my heart forever for swaggering boys with peach fuzz; so did I also “imprint” on my first run-in with authority. Even in my law practice now, there is still a vestigial middle school sensibility that says grown-ups are rational. They want to do better and will thank you for holding their feet to the fire.

This persists even though Mr. D gave me my first and only “D” letter grade. Because, mercifully, I was too oblivious to put those two events together until later in life.

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