My Most Colorful Relative

Sometimes, teachers should consult with parents before they go off half-cocked and hand out homework assignments that are guaranteed to cause an emergency meeting of the Board of Education. While they assume they are handing out harmless exercises, those harmless exercises could wind up blowing up in the teacher’s face.

The school secretary phoned to tip us off that Lorrie would be sent home with a note about some inappropriate remarks she made during her 7th grade speech class. The class was taught by a teacher who was unfamiliar with our family. She was part of an outreach program to bring big city teachers into rural areas to provide a better, more rounded curriculum to our rural students.

Although I applaud the effort, I can see where a lack of familiarity can lay the foundation for a whole string of misunderstandings.

As usual, Lex and I immediately made an appointment for that afternoon. Lorrie was seething when we saw her in the principal’s office where we instructed the secretary to have our daughter wait for us. After consoling Lorrie, Lex and I headed on to the speech classroom to have a talk with her teacher.

The first thing that came to my mind when I entered the classroom is that the teacher could pass as a cheerleader and probably had been one during her school years. Another thing that struck me was that she seemed way too innocent to be teaching a bunch of hormonal preteens and it was likely she would ask to be reassigned to kindergarten the next year where the most challenging thing is keeping the children from slipping in their spilled finger paints. When we shut the door behind us, she turned to greet us. There was a flicker of incomprehension on her face when Lex and I both approached the front of the classroom.

“Good afternoon. I’m Mrs. Fenwick.  I’d like to speak to the mother in private, so if the one of you that isn’t Lorrie’s mother could wait in the office?”

Lex shot a look at me that amounted to “Batter up!” and we both planted ourselves in two of the front seat desks.

Since Lorrie looks more like Lex than she does me, she took the lead while I folded my hands together on the desktop and tried to look more innocent than I felt.  Lex nodded in my direction and said,  “Anything you have to say about my daughter, you can say in front of her mother, too.”

Profound confusion.  Yes, she was the proverbial deer who was mesmerized by the headlights of the 18 wheeler semi that was about to mow her down. It didn’t help that Lex’s smile could light up a runway.  As for me, I smiled graciously and asked, “Please tell us what the problem is.”

“Um…I…huh? Oh.” The dawn broke. “You are both her mothers? That’s very generous of you to have an open adoption, like that.  I guess when Lorrie said she was adopted, at least that much was true. Which one of you is the adoption mother?”

“We both are.”

“Oh,” she blundered, “I thought maybe one of you was her real mother. “ She stared off into space for a moment and then said, “Oh! You’re those people! I heard—”

Lex started to rise out of her chair and I quickly reached for her hand and tugged her back down.  My smile had turned into “if looks could kill.”

I broke the stalemate. “Now to the subject at hand, Lorrie doesn’t lie.  So if you have an issue with something she’s said, maybe we can help you.”

Lex cleared her throat when it became clear that Mrs. Fenwick was having a hard time figuring out where to start. “Maybe you could tell us what this is all about? What was going on?” Lex reached into her jacket pocket and tossed a folded paper on the teacher’s desk. “Why you sent this note?” Lex was doing an admirable job of holding her temper.  I wasn’t. Maybe it was Mrs. Fenwick’s inexperience. Maybe I just thought she needed to widen her horizons to allow a little light in, but the young teacher was seriously getting on my nerves. So I was more than agreeable to Lex continuing the interview.

“Okay, so nod if I have this right.  You gave the children a speech assignment.”

Mrs. Fenwick nodded and then found her voice. “I asked the students to write a short speech about their most colorful relative. “

“Oh, lord.”  Lex and I looked at each other at the same time and wondered if the woman was taking any heart medicine, because she’d best swallow some now.

“Tell me, did she talk about her uncle, the ex-felon, whose son we adopted?”

“What? No. Huh?” The teacher’s eyes widened.

“Her mother, here? Who I rescued from a rain swollen creek when her car went off the covered bridge on our ranch?”

“No, it’s…I’m sorry. She talked about her grandmother?”

“Which grandmother? She’s had three.”

The teacher glanced at Lorrie’s notebook paper and said, “Elizabeth.”

Lex let out a low whistle.  I brushed my bangs back away from my forehead and wondered which things Lorrie had chosen to share with her classmates.

Mrs. Fenwick cleared her throat and said, “According to Lorrie, her grandmother was crazy?”

“Crazy enough to get locked away in a prison for the criminally insane,” I offered.

At this, the teacher sat heavily on the edge of her desk. “What?”

My turn. “Well she did burn down our house.  And, she hired a hit man to kill Lex. Thankfully, she wasn’t successful that time. “

“Lex, remember when she got that financial guy to steal all our investments, hon?”

“I remember, Amanda. At least he did the right thing and put back as much of the money as he could before Elizabeth had him killed, too.”

“My God! Are you all Mafia? Hit men? Stealing investments? Arson? What kind of family are you?”

Lex just smiled like the Cheshire Cat.

“Never mind that.” I said, “What did our daughter have to say about it?”

“She said that her grandmother kidnapped her, and that you didn’t rest until you found her. And that you ran over her grandmother with your truck and killed her. Not that I meant to, but the outcome was the same.”

“All true.” Lex settled back in her seat while the teacher rose and went to stand behind her desk. “So then, why is Lorrie in trouble, exactly?” Lex asked.

“Well, um, for making up tall tales instead of doing the project honestly.”

It’s interesting to watch color actually drain out of someone’s face when they realize they are in it over their heads.

“Mrs. Fenwick,” I said, “Lorrie wasn’t lying.  All those things are true.  My mother went insane and brought about her own death. Everything Lorrie told you is true.”

Lex stood up and held out her hand to me. “Amanda, we’re done.  Mrs. Fenwick, I’m sorry you were unsettled by our daughter’s speech, but every word of it was true. We’re done here.”

I thought about it for a moment, and then decided Lex was right. Lorrie had chosen to share information about her most colorful relative at her teacher’s request. She had done the assignment.  That’s all we needed to share.

“If you didn’t like the content, maybe you should find out a little more about your students before you ask them to share personal information that might make you uncomfortable.”

“I, uh.  I’m sorry. I couldn’t imagine how any of the things she shared were true.”

“Well, now you know.” I smiled before adding, “Although, I have to admit that the things our family has experienced over the years are enough to fill books.”

“I’ll correct Lorrie’s grade and apologize to her tomorrow.”

Lex looked the woman right in the eye to make the seriousness of what she was about to say next evident to the teacher. “Lorrie is in the office waiting for us, so you might like to take care of that now, instead of letting her go all night thinking that her teacher is convinced she’s a liar. Especially when…”

The teacher had the good grace to accept responsibility. “Especially when I gave her the assignment.  I wish I’d saved that until after parent’s night and had met you first.”

“Well then, let’s start over. My name is Amanda Walters. This is my wife, Lex.  Lorrie is our oldest child and we all live on a working ranch, the Rocking W.”

Lex held the classroom door open for us to leave the classroom. “Feel free to ask us if you would like to know more.”

We accompanied Mrs. Fenwick to the office. Lorrie was seated by a window with a library book in hand and was staring out of the window with a glum expression.  The tears brimming her eyes broke our hearts.

To Mrs. Fenwick’s credit, she approached Lori and got down on one knee and apologized profusely for assuming Lorrie wasn’t telling the truth and asked if she could make it up to her. She assured Lorrie that she had completed the assignment and would get an ‘A’, after all.

The two of them continued to talk in subdued tones until they were both reaching for tissues and wiping their eyes.

Lex and I looked at each other and I whispered, “Okay, love, she’s off my shit list. How about yours?”

Lex nodded and then helped the young woman up off the floor. Lorrie left her spot by the window and went directly to Lex and gave her a huge hug.  “Thanks for believing me, Momma.”

“One thing we know about our Lorrie,” Lex grinned, “You don’t lie, although what you do say could give a person a heart attack.”

As she turned from Lex to hug me, Lorrie said, “But that’s my job, Momma. I’m a kid.”

I love my family.


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