Not just absolute, but ignorant

Anyone hearing the story probably had the same “you gotta be kidding” reaction. A 6-year-old boy in Delaware, excited about joining the Cub Scouts, brought to school a handy camping accessory, a combination utensil of knife, fork and spoon. But technically, he packed a weapon, taboo under the school’s zero-tolerance policy, so they suspended him.

Well-intentioned people created the policy, probably in response to a dangerous incident and backed by frightened parents, but they forgot we live in a complicated world. Before long came extenuating circumstances, our innocent Scout, revealing the policy to be an “absoligno,” a term combining “absolute,” as such rules are, and “ignorant,” which those responsible for enforcing such rules are free to be.

We’ve all stared bureaucratic intransigence in its blank face, with the person behind the counter parroting, “I’m sorry, but according to our policy . . . .”

Our recent brush with multiple absolignos lacked the drama of deadly weapons, but nevertheless left our own 6-year-old emotionally wounded.

Reece’s sixth birthday promised an exciting first for him, a party with kindergarten classmates. We sent him to school with invitations for his teacher to discreetly distribute to a half-dozen kids. That was when we encountered absoligno No. 1, which specified that we could invite the entire classroom of 25 kids but not a portion because feelings might be hurt. Apparently the childhood illusion that life’s blessings are always distributed equally won’t be challenged until middle school.

We resolved instead to call the kids’ parents personally. But according to absoligno No. 2, while the PTA can distribute a classroom roster with phone numbers (still on that organization’s to-do list), the school cannot. We speculated that a spate of kidnappings had been traced to illicit birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

We forced a smile and forged ahead, politely requesting the kids’ last names. The school obliged. We then pressed, “And please, a parent’s first name, for looking in the phone book?” No, not according to absoligno No. 3. We began blind calling “Is this the home of 6-year-old Travis Henderson?” but failed. After all, our phone book contains 57 Hendersons.

We shifted strategy, aiming to retrieve phone numbers from the kids themselves. At morning drop-off, my wife and I, with Reece spotting, watched children step off the school bus.

“That’s Joey,” he blurted, pointing. We pounced. “Joey, can you tell us your folks’ phone number?”

Joey thought intently, and then brightened. “Well, my mom and dad have a few phone numbers,” he said, animated and articulate, “but I do know my dad’s number.”

Now we’re getting someplace, I thought, pen poised over pad. Joey continued, “5 . . . yeah, that’s it, his number is 5.”

Reece interrupted our futile questioning, again pointing, “Hey, that’s Thomas, and his dad!”

I sprinted after the man. “Pardon me,” I shouted and caught up, breathless. “You . . . must be Thomas’ dad. I . . . .”

“No, just his bus driver,” he said. The remainder of our efforts proved just as fruitless.

Meanwhile, back in the school’s main office, the workday progressed, with inflexible rules doing their job, keeping our kids safe, and keeping the staff safely cocooned from the messiness of extenuating circumstances. Sheltered by policies as crisp as “three strikes, you’re out,” they need not bother with complexity and judgment.

Because cooler heads prevailed, the Delaware Cub Scout was forgiven. Their weapons policy will be re-examined.

As for Reece, there was no birthday celebration with his classmates. But once the tears dried, we decided to postpone his party until after Halloween. The delay gives my wife and me time to pitch our bona fides to the elementary school administration, or if that fails, ride the bus home with six little invitees to meet their parents. Rules permitting.

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