It had been a long time since I’d arrived at preschool at the end of the day to find the white piece of paper taped to my child’s cubby—the Incident Report, rather like a preschool police report, setting out pertinent facts, describing the punishment meted out, carefully keeping the name of the other party to the Incident anonymous, except that all it takes is a glance at the other cubbies to spot the perpetrator, identified by an identical folded white paper affixed to cubby with a smidge of scotch tape.
As always, I approached the notice with amusement and interest. I hadn’t received any panicked phone calls during the day, so I could rest assured significant amounts of blood had not been spilled. I found myself rather looking forward to receiving a little insight into the potentially injurious ways Lily plays with her friends.
What I wasn’t prepared for was discovering that my daughter had, with deliberation and intent, bitten another child.
To my great pride, I essentially ignored the whole thing.
It is probably clear by now to anyone who’s spent any time reading these pieces, that I am not the sort of person who ignores notes sent home to parents. I have a healthy respect for authority, except when I don’t, and a Good Girl need to instill in my children the concept that you do what the teachers tell you to do, even if it doesn’t always make perfect sense, even if, say, there is way too much useless homework for a first grader and it is making him lose his joy of learning, which has nothing to do with Lily biting another kid but is plainly on my mind a lot these days.
Furthermore, I’m a pro at the Incident Report. Jake received at least one every week for the majority of his time in preschool, occasionally two in a single day. Some involved biting. Many involved various objects hurled with great force. One involved a play structure. But in none—not a single one of what I am certain is a record-setting number of Incident Reports—was Jake the perpetrator.
There was the time his two-year-old friend hit him with a plastic bucket so hard he needed stitches above his eye. The double-biting incident in which the same child bit him twice in an hour. The many and varied uses of boo-boo balls to ease collisions between Jake’s face and another child’s body part/toy/encouragement to run into a stationary object. My personal favorite was the one in which the only perpetrator was the play structure itself, which Jake managed to taunt into assaulting him.
Lily has received a few herself. But, like her brother, she was always on the receiving end of bites and scratches and the occasional punch. Hers didn’t accumulate with nearly the velocity of her brother’s, likely because: a) she is not a boy; b) she is slightly more coordinated than Jake was at her age; and c) she’s a lot tougher than he is.
But here, in pre-K, in perhaps the last Incident Report the Asheville JCC will ever send me, was notice that Lily was a Perpetrator. Worse, a Biter. Because, really, is there any preschool kid you dislike more than The Biter?
The only thing is, the incident described in the Incident Report didn’t actually make Lily out to be a Biter. It explained, instead, that she was kissing her friend and decided to give said friend “a silly kiss.” Under “Further Action Taken,” the teacher had written that she discussed with Lily the not-difficult-to-grasp concept that we never bite our friends, even if we are just being silly.
This seemed to me to be the type of incident that doesn’t really call for an Incident Report. No malice appeared to be involved. Nothing about blood or the application of boo boo balls. Not, to my all too experienced where Incident Reports are concerned eyes, something that really merited a note to the parents.
Still, it seemed like my duty to discuss it with Lily. So I waved the Incident Report at her as if it were a funny book about princesses, nothing to be frightened of. “Did you bite someone?” I asked, carefully modulating my tone to the spectrum somewhere between laughter and seriousness.
Lily’s face crinkled up like a piece of aluminum foil someone has violently balled up. “MmmmMMM!” she said, her all purpose leave me the f– alone sound.
We were still standing in her classroom, perhaps too close to the scene of the crime, so I let it go. But I did decide that, rather than signing the Report where Parent’s Signature is required and leaving it for the teachers, I simply had to bring this one home so Mike could read it for himself.
On the short drive home, safely away from the crime scene, I tried again. “So, Lily, what happened with the biting thing today?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Lily said in her you may think I’m only four but I’m really fifteen voice.
“Okay,” I said. “But we will need to talk about it later.” Because when your kid bites another kid, even if it was really just a silly kiss, you’re supposed to talk about it, right?
I showed the Incident Report to Mike when we got home. “You’ve got to see this,” I said by way of introduction.
“That’s funny,” he agreed. “Did you talk to her?”
“She doesn’t want to talk about it,” I said.
Sure enough, when Mike brought it up at dinner, Lily emphatically reiterated that this was not a proper subject of conversation.
“Okay,” I said. “But maybe you can talk to Daddy about it at bed time tonight.”
She didn’t. And we didn’t. And, in fact, I seem to have lost the Incident Report entirely. No parent’s signature, no copy filed away in whatever Naughty or Nice book the preschool teachers keep. And, two weeks later, no one’s even asked me about it. I don’t even know who exactly got bitten.
This lax attitude is not the sort of thing I would expect from myself, and it’s not what I intend to teach my children. But I’ve lost exactly zero sleep over it. And, as I’ve reflected on the joy that can be found in throwing away (however unintentionally) an official document, I’ve come to revel in it.
There’s something to be said for seeing past the bare outlines of reality—this must have merited an Incident Report because one was issued—to the actual reality—this did not merit anything more than a chuckle and a verbal reprimand.
In Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, B.K.S. Iyengar discusses (among the other Yoga Sutras) Yoga Sutra 1.4: At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness. This is, he explains, “a sign that the thinking faculty has manifested itself in place of the soul.”
In daily life … we are very much aware of the upper surface of the lens [through which we perceive the world]. … Worked upon by the desires and fears of turbulent worldly life, it becomes cloudy, opaque, even dirty and scarred, and prevents the soul’s light from shining through it.
So maybe letting the Incident Report assume too much meaning will only cloud my perception. Maybe, not only is it okay for me to recognize Lily’s Incident Report as not much of an incident to report at all, it’s healthy for me to do so. Rather than accept what the official report dictated—Lily Is a Biter—I can recognize that, frankly, she’s not. She made a mistake. She’s incredibly embarrassed about it. She hasn’t done it since, except that time last week when she bit me on the cheek, but she was pretty embarrassed then and hasn’t done it since. Okay, she kicked me in the face last night, but that was totally an accident.
My point is that there’s a difference between my daughter engaging in behavior that merits a reprimand and my daughter being a person who would intentionally assault—however age-appropriately—another child. I can tell her firmly that it’s never okay to hurt another person. That’s not, to me, a fact subject to perception, and she’s too young to have to deal with the messiness of philosophical questions about self-defense. So any assault on another person deserves a reprimand, to be sure.
What I recognized, however, when I laughed at the Incident Report and then threw it away, was that Lily was not actually assaulting another child. Someone else may have perceived it that way, decided it merited an Incident Report. But that doesn’t mean I have to perceive it the same way.
This is sticky territory, when to cede authority to teachers and school officials and when to jealously guard it as a parent. I’m blessed to have it pretty easy, since, biting aside, my children are not the type to have trouble with authority.
But it will be a rich journey, I can already tell, trying to guide them through the clashes between their reality and the perceptions of reality that are thrown at them. When do you tell your child to have respect for authority and when do you tell her that she’s right and they’re wrong and she shouldn’t change a thing?
Lily’s only four years old, so it’s pretty easy now. But if I know my daughter, there’s a whole lot of her versus authority in her future, and most of the time she’s going to be right. For now, though, it’s enough that she’s taught me, merely by having the gumption to bite a friend in the cheek, that it’s okay for Mommy to buck authority now and then too.