When I was dancing and someone would try to attack me, it wouldn’t bother me–but if I was in my plain clothes and someone talked down to me, I would be devastated. It’s all about the heels.
by Dahlia Devine, as told to her sister, Chanelle Gallant
“That’s where my mommy works!” My 8-year-old son was on the school bus and blurted that out as we passed one of the clubs where I was dancing. His teacher overheard him and called me in for a meeting the next day. She told me “these things” shouldn’t be discussed and that she didn’t want the parents to know about it. I was angry as all hell. I didn’t think my work was a bad thing and never made it out to be a bad thing to my son either. I was a young mom paying my bills! And it was better than social assistance. Even though I was mad, I was taken by surprise and and didn’t know what to say. Being a young mom, I used my body not my words to fight back.
The next day when I picked him up, I made sure that I was dressed skankilicious: I had full stage makeup and hair, I wore my blue crop top superman shirt, hoop earrings, short shorts and 6 inch clear platform stage heels. Basically: Fuck You. You’re not going to put me down.
I saw the teacher and the principal. As I walked by the principal, she asked me to come into her office and told my son to wait in the hall. She told me I wasn’t dressed appropriately to pick up my child. She tried to make me feel like a bag of shit. In her condescending tone, this woman in her buttoned up shirt who drove a really nice convertible beemer, told me that I needed to respect myself when I came into the school. She told me that other parents wouldn’t appreciate it. I felt like I had the power because I was in my stage clothes so I told her that I didn’t realize there was a rule against what I wore to school. I said I’m sorry that you don’t like what I’m wearing–but this is who I am. She was pissed and told me that we would have to discuss it another time. I had won. When I was dancing and someone would try to attack me, it wouldn’t bother me–but if I was in my plain clothes and someone talked down to me, I would be devastated. It’s all about the heels. Even to this day that’s what I’ve learned from dancing. If I have to go into something that’s very serious, I wear my power heels to feel strong.
Things were quiet for about six or seven months, I stopped dancing for a short bit and started waitressing in the daytime and once in a while dancing at night if I could find a sitter. My son started acting up at school–maybe because of the change in my schedule. He started to get out of control. They demanded a meeting and invited a social worker, a teacher, the principal, a member of the school board–and me. It was a firing squad. The principal wanted to demolish me and put me in my place. They told me that I was too young to understand, that I needed help, that late nights were obviously taking a toll on my son (even though I didn’t work nights). They said “we see where your son gets his attitude from.” I thought “Ha. No, you haven’t met his grandmother yet.” I cried my eyes out the whole time and left in the middle of the meeting after not getting one word in. I was so upset, I called the school board to try to get help but it was no use. It was a David and Goliath situation.
Next thing I know there’s a knock on my door and it’s child services. The school had called them on me, claiming that I hadn’t bathed my son in a month. I asked the social worker why the school hadn’t called me first. Sheryl, the tall blond worker in her early 30s said “that would be normal protocol so I’m not sure.” I realized they really were out to get me. Sheryl asked if he had been bathed. I said of course! I introduced her to my son and I told her that for the last three days he’d been refusing to take a bath but that I wasn’t going to keep him home from school. She looked around the house, my fridge, my cupboards, his room. I showed her that the house was clean, I had clean laundry and food. She did mention that I had a bottle of wine in my fridge. It could have gone badly like with a lot of social workers but I got her to be on my side. Then I told her about the meeting and asked her if she could help me. She said yes absolutely and that she thought I was being treated unfair.
So she showed up with me at the next school meeting a month later with all the same people–except this time I wasn’t alone. I introduced her. The school members were wide eyed for sure. I was waiting for their reaction and it was such a good one. She said she was going to be my advocate and told them that she would have to be present for all meetings with me. When they would start to come down on me she would kick ass and say things like “Is this for the greater good for her son?” and “excuse me, you need to stop talking and let her respond”. After that meeting, they started to listen to me.
For the next two years, she helped me at every meeting until she got pregnant and left her job to stay at home. Children’s services assigned me a new social worker but he was quiet and sided a lot with the school and that’s not what I needed–I needed a fighter. So I stopped asking him to come to our meetings. But it was okay because by then I had learned to fight back myself. I found a really great school that taught in a hands-on way in small classes and my son did a lot better.
Dahlia Devine is a determined and strong willed leader for her son, her daughter-in-law, and granddaughter Willow.