Everything had gone cold, still, and quiet except for the frantic beating of my heart.
My teacher had just served me The Yellow Slip.
Fourth grade me might as well have been given a death sentence.
Scary stories about permanent records had already started plaguing elementary schoolers, and I was convinced this slip would ruin my entire life. I was a criminal in the eyes of the powers that be that determined if I was good or not.
Even worse, I had to have a parent sign the slip and acknowledge my crime. I was deader than dead.
When my mom picked me up from school, I quietly sat in the car, dread twisting in my stomach. She barely got a greeting in before I burst into tears.
As she, bewildered, pulled to the side of the road to ask me what was wrong, I babbled through snot and tears:
“I-I got detention…”
Mournfully, I recounted the tale of my descent into depravity. Earlier that day, while my teacher was walking down the aisle to collect homework, I’d made the horrifying realization that there had been a back page. A row of cartoon clocks had been left without a time, and as a result, I would be serving it during lunch the following week.
Mom kept staring, as if expecting there to be more to the story. I stared back at her, awaiting a scolding.
“You got detention because you accidentally didn’t finish your homework.”
Her shoulders relaxed. She cackled. Her laughter slowed the current of tears trailing down my face.
“What a stupid reason!”
I hesitantly giggled with her, eventually smiling with relief. It was quite stupid, but I couldn’t see that without my mom’s help. Having her on my side certainly made me feel like I would be just fine.
The next (and last time) I had a dumb detention (laughing during silent lunch in middle school*), it didn’t feel like the end of the world, much less a mark on my character. I knew that sometimes decisions made by people and institutions of authority were whack, that I didn’t always have to agree with them, and that I could decide what that meant about myself (nothing).
As for that permanent record, I’m happy to report that no one has ever called me out on my two documented delinquencies. Even if they did, I would just laugh.
*I mostly remember wasting time in detention with my partner-in-laughing-crime, bored, until someone came in to let us go because we were participating in the Geography Bee. And we left, laughing, and the teacher was mad.