It’s not every day that you learn something new about your mother, especially when she’s been dead for nearly 30 years. But a story on the front page of my newspaper Sunday made me realize something important about my mom.
Vi Tevlin was a “recess consultant.”
We didn’t use the term at the time, but then again concepts such as “helicopter parents” didn’t exist, either. Those were simple times.
Apparently, recess consultants are in demand now. Edina is just one of the more recent school districts to hire recess consultants to monitor and manage play times at elementary schools.
Yes, it has come to this: People are being hired to teach our children how to play, and play nice.
My mom worked for the elementary school just down the block from our house, near the corner of Franklin Avenue. I think they called her a “teacher’s aide” or something, but her real job was basically as a bouncer for the school. You goofed off or sassed back in class, you didn’t worry about what the nuns would do.
You worried about Vi Tevlin.
One of her jobs was to stand on the steps to the playground, scanning the asphalt like a prison guard. She usually wore what they called a “house dress,” her arms folded, her eyes as keen as a hawk’s. Her hair was always “done up.” In those days, it would not have been unusual if she would occasionally slip around the corner to take a quick drag off her Chesterfield, an unfortunate habit she picked up watching Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet.”
When someone got out of hand, probably one of those Keating boys, she’d swoop in and “consult” with the perpetrator in no uncertain terms. Mom was an excellent consultant when it came to kids, who unwittingly sought her firm wisdom with regularity and without impunity.
That included me. Yes, I was unfortunate enough to go to the school where my mom handed out discipline, so of course she was more likely to showcase her excellent consulting skills on her own son. Her consulting skills included a fixed stare deep into children’s souls, and a voice deepened by all those Chesterfields. Occasionally, she would employ a Danish curse word. You couldn’t understand her, but you knew what she meant.
In our Sunday story, a representative from the playground consulting firm, Playworks Minnesota, and the school administrators agreed that they wanted to “create a quality playground experience.”
Vi Tevlin created a quality playground experience with the help of Mrs. Bauer who, like my mom, could wrangle a herd of children with a precise word and what I called “that look.” Together they worked like sheepherding dogs, silently keeping everything moving in the right direction.
Maybe I missed out, not having consultants like Playworks around to orchestrate — or maybe they use the word “curate” now — my playtime. They said the goal of their program was to make kids “incredibly successful adults. It’s about creating opportunity.”
In reflection, my recesses seemed to be pretty much all quality experiences. Whether recesses helped turn me into an incredibly successful adult is up for debate, but they did create opportunities.
Recess gave me the opportunity to occasionally stick it to the smart aleck, and it gave me the opportunity to occasionally throw the football to the last kid chosen so he could have some success, however minor.
I wasn’t consulted to do this; I did it on my own because I was learning how to be compassionate.
We didn’t get a “menu” of activities to chose from, like they do now. One kid, usually the most popular kid, simply picked up a football or a softball bat, and our next half-hour fell into place pretty seamlessly. Everyone was free to join, or not. One girl always curled up on the stairs and read a book. I’m guessing she became a pretty successful adult, though maybe not a very fit one.
All on my own, I learned there were some important truisms on the playground, and in the world.
You didn’t throw a fast pitch to Steve Olson.
You didn’t catch Jim Mevissen from behind.
And you didn’t mess with Vi Tevlin.