Thursday, 5 January 2012

truth will out

Snooks was in a bit of trouble yesterday. When I arrived to pick him up from school, I overheard the teacher telling another boy that pushing was not allowed and he should say sorry.

“But Snooks O’Hara started it,” he yelped. Oh dear.

When I stepped up for my turn the teacher smiled and winced as she handed Snooks over to me, clearly struggling with where to start.

She started with telling me that Snooks had hurt his bottom. He had hurt his bottom falling backwards. He had fallen backwards having been pushed by the boy I had just overheard. They had given him an ice pack for his bottom as he was upset (I was surprised by this bit of news – the rest I could have predicted – as Snooks rarely cries about physical injuries so either it had really hurt or he rumbled how to get sympathy when in a tight spot). The story they had been told, she emphasised, was that Snooks had started it.

Snooks, who had run to me happy and excited seconds earlier, transformed visibly into his sullen, young offender other self.

Dragging me away from the milling mums to behind the bins, he turned tearful.

“Just tell me what happened. I promise not to be cross,” I said.

“Never,” he replied, his mot du jour.

Things were going so well. It was day two of back to school and both days he had bounded in, keen to see the other children, excited at last to have someone under 40 to play with.

What could I do? I could not let it go. He would not speak in his own defence so I had no option but to accept the official line, although the backwards delivery of the facts by the teacher had definitely cast reasonable doubt in my mind on the testimony.

I stroked his bottom gently and acted stern. Pushing is not allowed, whoever starts it, I said. And by the way, if someone else ever does push you, you don’t push back. You go and tell the teacher.

In the past, misbehaviour at school reported by the teacher has earned a punishment – removal of a favourite toy for a set time. Snooks, I am sure, had not forgotten this, though mercifully it was quite a long time ago. But now I was not so sure. A number of people have told me to keep school and home misdemeanours separate. Dragging school convictions all the way home for sentencing seems a little long-winded for a three year old who barely remembers he has been to school by the time we get home. Plus, there was that reasonable doubt.

So instead I laid it on a bit thick about how to stay out of trouble by steering clear of anyone being naughty, and not retaliating.

“Also,” I added today, as Snooks stood next to me on his kitchen step, chopping mushrooms for tonight’s Hidden Vegetable Bolognese Sauce (will he put two and two together?), “it is very important to tell the truth. If someone is naughty to you, you should tell the teacher and they will deal with that person.”

“So it’s like the police chasing baddies?” he said, fresh from his Christmas viewing of Cars 2, which has opened up his world to the existence of “baddies” and “goodies” and life’s struggles between them.

“Mmm, a bit,” I said, half listening while letting him grate a carrot and my finger into the bubbling sauce.

“And do the goodies always win?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, more focussed now, spotting an important parenting moment hove into view as I sucked a finger and stirred. ‘Yes they do. The truth will always out, Snooks. Even if it takes a little while.”

“And so what if the policeman is not very good and does not catch any of the baddies?” he asked.

There have been times over the last three years when I have been convinced Snooks is invested with some kind of superpower which makes him both three and going on 53 at the same time. He has, a few times now, seemed to know or understand things that he could not possibly have been told by anyone. Usually I forget about them before I have time to write them down but this one had managed to lodge in my mind all morning. And so here it is.

His question comes the day after two men were sentenced for the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager stabbed to death in 1993 by a gang as he waited at a bus stop in south east London.

The facts are well known now across the world. The parents of the murdered boy had to fight a long hard battle for justice for their son because the police failed to investigate the crime properly at the time, and vital evidence was lost. The murderers got away with it. The Metropolitan Police were accused of institutional racism, which had allowed the crime to go unsolved. As a news reporter on the local newspaper, which covered the area at the time, I can wholly vouch for that accusation. I and a friend, who worked on the paper at the time, sent each other the same message yesterday as the two life sentences were handed out. “At last.”

“Most policemen do their best, and most people are good and eventually the goodies always win,” I told him.

“And when someone has been naughty, they can decide to stop doing that and be good, can’t they?” he asked.

Ok scrap the concert pianist, professional footballer, astrophysicist, poet laureate plans. He’s off to law school, if we can just keep him out of trouble long enough to get him there.

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