564. Tess

I was once in a school cafeteria, having lunch with a small group of second-graders. The place was about as noisy as school cafterias usually are at lunchtime. At our table, we were asking each other riddles. I was politely pretending not to know the answers. We were having fun. Suddenly, the lunch monitor’s voice interrupted the noise (which was very similar to silence as long as you were used to it – especially when compared with the voice of the lunch monitor). “I’m not going to speak to you above this noise!” she yelled.
I was sitting next to a girl named Tess, who smiled a little and said, in a voice quiet enough to be heard by only me, “You just did.” I thoroughly enjoyed her little comment. It showed that she was listening and thinking. And I agreed with Tess. I know it’s hard to be a lunch monitor, trying to control an unruly situation. But really, the noisiest person in the room, by far, was the lunch monitor who was trying to get people to quiet down. I didn’t tell Tess that I appreciated her observation, but later I told my adult friends about it.
Tess knew me, and knew that I was probably not going to reprimand her for being “fresh.” But I think she also knew that there were adults who would do so if they heard her – especially the lunch monitor. That’s why she spoke so quietly. In school, it’s not a good idea for children to criticize what certain authority figures say. If they do, they risk being reprimanded, punished, and/or considered “trouble-makers.” Adults who have trouble dealing with children often blame the children, often when the children aren’t totally or even partially to blame.
I don’t like the word “fresh” when it’s used to mean “rude.” I think that’s because it’s only used in one direction – from adults to children. I’ve never heard a child call an adult “fresh.” Adults are often rude to children – often speak in words and tones that show no respect at all. But adults are more likely to get away with it.
I’ve sometimes been criticized for the way I let children talk to me. If I know a child, and I know the child means no harm, I allow him or her to criticize what I say and do. I value the criticism I get from children, as I value criticism from adults. I know some adults and some children criticize me in a way that puts me down, so I’m careful to evaluate what I hear; I deserve respect, and I’m fairly assertive about that nowadays.
Tess is in fourth grade now. She respects herself and expects adults and children to respect her. In return, she respects them. If she doesn’t think she’s getting the respect she deserves, she says so. She’s careful about that, as she was careful at that lunch table; she knows that adults have more power than she does, so she’s not “fresh” with them. But I wish that double standard didn’t exist.

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