All Akimbo: Cafeteria conversations

By Kim Blakely

There are plenty of times when I stand in awe of the way a teacher or an aide settles conflict. And then there was this one time, toward the end of the school year, when I stood appalled.

I went to Mojo’s school during the last week of school to have lunch with him, and since his kindergarten class was already seated when I got there he just moved over to make room for me at his table.

We were chatting and he was munching and Moxie was mingling with his friends when we heard a commotion at the other end of the bench.

I heard one of the little boys (I’ll call him Eric) in his class saying loudly to anyone who would listen that another kid (I’ll call him Brad) had kissed him on the cheek.

In my head, I’m thinking, “So? What’s the big deal? Unless he’s still torturing you, wipe off your face and go back to eating your Jell-O cup.”

Just for the sake of background, Brad doesn’t speak much English and I’ve noticed several of the kids in his class making fun of him because he’s not like them. Point being, I don’t know if Eric was more upset that he’d been kissed by another boy or that he’d been kissed by that boy.

But I can tell you that the lunch aides made much ado about what I considered to be nothing. One of them rushed over and made a big show of telling Eric that under no circumstances is he to kiss another boy. That is “nasty,” she told him, and not appropriate under any circumstances.

The voice in my head: “I do not want to explain the birds and the bees to Mojo today just because some lady is being overly dramatic. Maybe he’s not even paying attention.”

Hmmmmm. I decided to play dumb for a minute.

“What happened?” I asked him.

Mojo’s eyes got really big, his face full of horror, and he said, “Brad kissed Eric.”

“Well,” I replied, “I’m sure there are worse things he could have done.”

This was not at all about my political or moral views – it had far more to do with the fact that these are kindergarteners still trying to figure out their ways in the world. And while most of them have a good grasp on the fact that it’s not OK to hit or hurt anyone else, there seems to be a big gray area when it comes to expressing their feelings toward one another.

Anyway, though I can’t say whether politics or morals played into the lunch ladies’ attitudes, I’m pretty sure the condemnation they spewed had more to do with their own opinions than about educating or even helping create peace.

Honestly, I don’t know enough about Brad’s culture to know if men kiss men on the cheek where he comes from or not, but let’s face it, there are plenty of customs where same-sex PDA’s don’t have the same connotations that they do here.

I’m also pretty sure that poor Brad, at least, had no idea that his physical display of affection would offend his buddy – or that it would get him yelled at by grown-ups.

I watched the terror on that tiny kid’s face as another lunch lady came over to the table in the back he had been exiled to after the whole debacle and said that he was going to the principal’s office for what he had done.

Thankfully, another aide came over after the first two completed their tirades and went on to something else. That jolly woman put her arm around Brad and told him that he didn’t need to share his kisses with anyone at school.

“Those kisses are special and you just need to save those kisses for the people who love you, like your mama and daddy,” she said. “Ok, honey?”

At least I got to leave the cafeteria on that note, with Brad looking relieved rather than beleaguered.

The whole thing only lasted about 10 minutes, start to finish, and probably didn’t warrant a ripple in anyone else’s day (well, except maybe Brad’s), but it left me feeling unsettled. I so want the grown-ups who spend time with my kid (and yours) during the day to be fair and rational and compassionate, and seeing that just emphasized that that’s not always the case.

When I picked up Mojo after school, I casually asked him if Brad and Eric had played together that day.

“Everyone plays together some,” he answered.

Eric and Brad apparently put the past behind them and moved on with a rousing game of superheroes and villains, according to Mojo’s account. Their roles change from day to day (probably from minute to minute. They’re 6-year-olds after all.) but during that recess, both were superheroes. Go figure.

Kim Blakely is mom to a 2-year-old  girl “Moxie” and 5-year-old boy “Mojo”. She’s also a freelance writer who works from home.  To read previous All Akimbo posts, click here!