Carlos and Tamia, both kindergartners, sat on my playground bench this morning. I told them to plant their backsides there until I could clear up a couple of things. Carlos wriggled. His orange sneakers swung back and forth, inches above the ground. Tamia sat calm, hands folded in her lap. Winter sun hung low and bright over the treeless yard.
Perfect time, thought I, to straighten things out:
Carlos, how did those teeth marks get on Tamia’s arm?
Tamia held out Exhibit “A” and there, just above her right elbow, I could see a crescent shaped bite mark. No broken skin, but a set of red divots including a snaggle-toothed dent that appeared to match the fang that stuck out in the front of Carlos’ upper deck.
I did it on accident.
His brown eyes, two sizes larger than his skull wanted to hold, scanned skyward and made a sideways cut at the bite mark that Tamia had now shoved close to his face so that he might better recall. His eyes then locked in on mine:
Anything more you want to tell me, Carlos?
Yeah. The part about the monkey. It happens when I hang upside down on the bars. Today, she kept hanging right next to me. She kept bumping me. Then, the monkey came out — the biting kind. I had to bite her. That’s what a monkey does.
Can I have some water? Are you gonna call my mom?
I wrote down his words on a form in the box labeled ‘assailant’s statement’. Other boxes required the students’ names, first and last, their numbers, a list of witnesses, a description of the incident, time, date, and a report on the consequence that I might deliver.
So, let me see, Carlos. You turned into a monkey and bit Tamia. Anything else you’d like to say to Tamia?
I’m sorry Tamia.
Tamia held her elbow close to her face to inspect a final time. Then, she looked at him to size him up:
OK, Carlos. This time at least you didn’t lie.
With this exchange, both children appeared complete. They hopped off the bench, and darted toward the lunch room.
Equipped with Carlos’ monkey story, I considered phone calls I might need to make. Tamia’s grandmother had cornered me just two days prior regarding Carlos — ‘That little boy messes with my daughter. His mother comes up short. She’s a child herself. It’s up to you. In my day, we would whoop boys like that one. No questions asked. If you ever want to fill out that jacket you’re wearing, you’d do well to pay attention to what I’m saying.’
So, what should I write on my report for today? That I met a boy who could change into a monkey. Should I offer that as a plausible precursor to biting? That he made right by telling the truth? Would that do? The whole scene arrived front-loaded with antecedents and wrapped in circumstances. This stuff wouldn’t fly in a write-up.
I get to be between the as-is on the left and the as-desired on the right. So, for today, I refuse to play. Tamia has had her justice delivered in the form of Carlos’ honesty. And Carlos got to be a monkey that bites. I am shredding these forms and letting this one stand. I can explain and give it a neat wrap later, if anyone asks.