Category Archives: World View Wednesdays

The Good, the Bad, and Problem Solved

The good news: There is only one more week in this semester. After that, I can make gingerbread men, string popcorn and be an all-around good little holiday housemother!

The bad news: There is only one more week in this semester. And I haven’t even started compiling that chapter that’s due this Friday, and upon which my presentation next Friday should be based. Not to mention study for the final in Jack’s class. Shudder.

Ah! The light at the end of the tunnel. But getting there might kill me.

More good news: I finally made the time to start running again this week, after a two-month hiatus.

More bad news: Going from zero mpw (miles per week) to thirty-five mpw was a really, really dumb idea.

Even more good news: I have had three entire weeks to take my kids to their backlog of dental and doctor appointments (etc.), conduct research and interviews, host two holiday dinners, and refinish my molding and paint my back door.

Even more bad news: I have had three entire weeks free because there hasn’t been a single sub job open up.  It’s a proven fact: time and money are mutually exclusive.

I thought I pretty much had the younger set not only convinced that Santa Claus has been laid off this year, but that this was a good thing, because Christmas isn’t really about presents, and they already have everything they need, anyway.

Yada, yada, yada.

My ten-year-old came in from school today with a big grin on his face, however.

“Look what I got, Mom!”

He showed me a fortune-cookie strip that read: “Your positive attitude will solve your present problem.”

He is now convinced that our PRESENT problem has been officially taken care of.

Ha! Gotta love ’em.

Hey, it made me smile enough to hack back into this blog again after such a long absence and passwords forgotten.

Here’s to positive thinking!


Suspended

Where is that kid? I kept asking myself. I needed to leave to class by five, and he usually gets off the bus a little after four. Dinner was nearly ready, and I still hadn’t seen him.

His brothers were pretty sure he’d gotten off the bus, but he wasn’t answering when anyone called his name. And let me tell you I can make some noise when I need to.

Finally I went looking for him.

Opened his bedroom door to see him kneeling by his bed sobbing.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but sometimes I can read an entire story on my child’s face in a fraction of a second. I knew before he even reached into his pocket that he’d gotten in trouble at school.

How would I know that? This kid has never had so much as a tardy slip or a forgotten homework assignment in more than five years of public schooling.

But I knew. And my gut reaction was that I should put my arms around him, even before looking at the contract sheet he held out and assure him that whatever the paper said, it would be okay–that I knew he was a good kid, and that I’d be on his side, no matter what.

I wish I had. But I was so surprised–not one of my children has ever been in trouble at school before, and he is the last kid I’d expect to cause trouble–that my eyes flew right to the page.

And then the  story came out.

Picture this: A group of ten-year-old boys, back at school after summer break, bragging on the playground about what they did over vacation. The topic of fireworks comes up and some kid says he lit off firecrackers and another kid calls him a liar and says firecrackers are illegal, you can’t buy them here, and my kid pipes up and says, “Yes you can. My uncle gave me some.”

“Nuh-uh, they’re illegal.”

“No they aren’t; I still have them.” (Note the logic here: “I couldn’t possibly have something that’s illegal; the safe, orderly world I know would never permit something like that to happen.”)

And suddenly everyone is interested in this conversation. Because now Kid X (and you all know Kid X–he’s the kid that comes up with the spectacular ideas for tricks to play during assemblies) is bugging my kid to prove it–in fact to hand some over, so Kid X can see if they are real.

My son says no way. After all, if Kid X wants them, they must be pretty cool to have.

But then Kid X offers him $5.

And obviously my kid doesn’t really know what to do with firecrackers, because he’s had them for nearly three months and never lit them off. But he knows what to do with $5. He knows that money is a precious commodity that Mom never has enough, and so she can’t shell out for Popcorn Friday or sign up for book orders like everyone else. So he agrees.

And then suddenly, the school is ablaze with rumors. Kid X, who had a lighter confiscated just the day before, has firecrackers. And he bought them from that Lybbert kid.

Mr. Garza, the school counselor hears about it, and brings the boys in. My kid hands over the $5 and explains the transaction. He’s totally bewildered by all the attention. What’s the big deal? But then people are talking expulsion but the principal is out of town, so we don’t really know what will happen, so go home and stew about this all weekend, and we’ll hand down a sentence on Monday morning.

And now I’m sitting on his bed, and he has been sobbing his heart out for more than 45 minutes because he doesn’t know how he can possibly break the news to his mother that he is going to prison. I assure him that it’s okay, everybody makes mistakes, I know he’s a good kid, etc, etc–the things I should have said before even reading the paper.

I also tell him that yes, he might get suspended or expelled, but that’s okay too–because even if we don’t know about a law, we still have to face consequences. It doesn’t make us bad, just human.

This is the same response I get from the counselor on Monday morning. “He’s a good kid–in fact, I thought he must be a new student,” he says. “I’ve never even seen him before, that’s how good he is. Similarly, his classroom teacher is stunned that anyone is talking suspension. Floored that anyone could think that this kid made anything more than a naive mistake.

But the principal has to stick by the rules. I respect that. And so I sit there in her office while she lectures my son and asks him if he’s sorry. He just sort of sits there with a deer-in-the-headlights, terrified-out-of-his-skin expression on his face.

Of course, just because I can read that expression doesn’t mean she can. I think she took his silence as some variety of defiance, honestly. Because then she launched into preemptive mode–just in case he ever thinks about selling “alcohol, drugs or weapons” again at school. (Her words, not mine.) She does not look at me except for one sidelong, flitting glance when she asks if I have any questions, which I don’t.

Because I’m trying to make sense of the “alcohol, drugs, or weapons” comment still. Because a kid that doesn’t even know how to light a firecracker is probably planning on building a homemade bomb or toting a sawed off shotgun in next, right?

Yeah.

I sign the paper saying I understand that he has been suspended and then we go out to the car.

But as I drive away, almost fighting back tears that I don’t really understand and so I can’t possibly be on the brink of spilling them, I finally get my wits about me enough to have a question, although it’s too late to ask it of Mrs. Principal:

In what way is suspension a punishment? What kid wouldn’t welcome a prolonged, excused absence from school? As my sister-in-law observed, “Don’t tell my kids, or they’ll take fireworks to school, too!”

And now I have all sorts of questions:

Do we suspend children because they are a danger to their peers? That’s legitimate in some cases I suppose, but I hardly think my son falls into that category and I hardly think putting him in it is in any way beneficial.

Do we suspend children because it shames them? Because they will be so mortified about falling into the “suspended kid” category that they never want to show their face at school again? Because I can cite you mountains of research that demonstrates shame to be the least effective and most counterproductive approach to discipline in existence.

My son was one of these students. He liked the vacation well enough, but dreaded anyone finding out why he was absent. So then I had to bolster his ego and treat the suspension like a bit of a joke so that he wouldn’t refuse to ever show his face in public again. I know kids who’d slit their wrists over this kind of trauma.

I also know kids who’d be surprised at all the attention and bad-boy status their new reputation garnered and proceed to become the very “bad” kid they’ve been labelled as being. Why not? Being good never got them anywhere. Counselor and Principal never even knew they existed before, right?

And what of the kid who really is borderline dangerous/disturbed/needing serious discipline, but who has no parent in the home to supervise a suspension? You’re going to excuse that student from school and turn him loose on his own? A school sanctioned drop-out, as it were? How productive is that scenario? Why didn’t the principal ask what alternate plans are in place for a suspended student? How did she know that I wasn’t leaving him alone at home with mountains of firecrackers to play with? Not her business, surely, but really? We just kick kids out of school, and it’s not our problem what happens to them or because of them once the door closes on their heels?

What kind of system is that?


Braiding Grass

I realized, last night, that I have probably never seen a baseball game. I mean, I’ve played t-ball or something of that sort in elementary school. Somebody was holding a bat, and there was a red-stitched ball and maybe some orange cones representing places you were supposed to run or throw the ball to, should anything ever actually happen.  Mostly I think we braided grass in the outfield.

But as a cheering fan–I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. Probably the closest I’ve ever come was on a commuter train in Ontario, Canada the day the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series. When the conductor announced the win, the entire train of bored urbanites erupted. It didn’t matter where your stop was, or even if the train was fully stopped–everyone poured off the train, into the streets–you didn’t even have to move your legs. You just tried to keep your head higher than your feet and rode the human wave of jubilation wherever it took you. Every citizen in the entire city must have been on those streets in that moment. I’ve never seen so many people, or so many flags.

Or enormous, red-shirted, dancing blue-jays. After the initial, mad crush began to loosen and the masses of humanity began to seep back into wherever they had erupted from, I had my picture taken with one of the dancing, tattered jays.

Which is fortunate, else this morning I wouldn’t have known to Google “1993 blue jays” in search of that curious term “World Series” so I could write this post.

I know; it’s bad. I am probably the worst person to invite to your first baseball game. Even if I am your mother. Not that anyone else really seemed to know what was going on, either. There was this moment, when the batter actually made contact with the ball and sent it soaring… over the pitcher’s head… and into the second baseman’s glove.

And everyone sort of froze.

Then our coach was yelling, “Throw it home! Throw it home!” and the other coach was yelling, “Back to base! Back to base!” and the poor kid with the ball in his glove was just staring at it and finally I think he threw it to somebody else who was just as bewildered as himself, and by some miracle, we got the third out we were waiting for.

The final score was five to zero, and not in our favor, but they got cool hats and long red socks and so everything was okay.

The thing is, I watch these kids spend all this time practicing the mysterious arts of sport, and it seems a little bit… I don’t know–I love the fact that they are out there, moving, learning new skills and ideas of discipline and respect–I just wonder if it’s not all as much of a distraction from real life as it is a preparation for it. There is a fine, and artificial line we have drawn there, living as we do in a country where we can afford to sit on the grass and watch our children chase after a bit of leather and string. We have to manufacture challenges to occupy their free time, because they do not have to get up with the sun and scavenge for food until it goes down. We have to invent elaborate rules for team play because working together is no longer essential for their physical survival.

I’m not complaining. I just find it strange.

What if all that energy on the streets of Toronto, or on the ball fields all over this nation could be harnessed into something greater? What if those kids were out hoeing beans and weeding potato fields for a food bank four and five hours a week instead of swinging bats, and instead of going door to door begging for cash selling candy bars, they were going door to door delivering food to the needy?

Where would we be?


You Know It’s True

If you give a kid 528+ square feet  to play in:

Chances are, they’ll set up shop as close to the busiest part of that room as is humanly possible:


More From Zora

From How it Feels To Be Colored Me (1928):

In the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held–so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place–who knows?


Lint Dropper

There is a woman in my town who I probably only run into once a year or so–and I haven’t known her  long, so I could probably count on my fingers the number of times I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with her.

I do, however, associate with people who know her well, and so her name and/or projects she is working on frequently come across my radar.

What bothers me is how much she bothers me.

Because I like to think of myself as this broadminded, non-judgmental, forgiving type and the only thing she has ever done to me is, well… pretty much nothing. Yeah, I could point out a few insensitive comments here and there, but if you took those comments and set them down beside other offenses I have long ago completely forgiven significantly more villainous people it would be like comparing, I don’t know: this bit of fluff I just picked off my sweater to a woolly mammoth, fully reincarnated.

And yet I cannot like her. I cannot even hear her name without some inner uhhhg-meter buzzing off the charts.

It’s ridiculous. Because If I had to, I could get up in a public meeting and give her a glowing introduction; she is a fine specimen of motherhood, civic service, all-around girl scout extraordinaire.

Is it jealousy?

Uh… nope. Just did a soul-searching inventory, and I wouldn’t trade places with her for anything.

So what is it that makes my lip involuntarily curl when I hear her name? What is it that makes me excuse myself from any conversation that involves her or from commenting on anything she has ever had a hand in? For a long time I’ve been perplexed by this question because I’m not accustomed to loathing people and yet I cannot shake this one.

But I think it just came to me–as I was wandering around, trying to understand why I hate a lint-dropper as though she were a mammoth. I think it’s the same feeling I have toward certain other individuals in my life whose effect on me really isn’t up for examination because I never associate with them and so pretty much forget they exist.

People who cannot, but attempt, to disguise their antipathy toward me: my social class, my life choices or whatever it is about me that makes their uhhhg-meter buzz of the charts.

(How dare everyone not adore me? I mean really.)

Are those the  people we find the hardest to love? The ones who make us feel somewhat less than human?

And is it okay to co-exist like that–just accept that there are people you will never see eye to eye with? Are we under any sort of obligation to actually love those enemies or can we just avoid them? Hmmm?

Ha! And how many of you, reading this, are suddenly seized by a dread that I might be talking about you?

Relax: I guarantee that if you’re reading this, you’re not her; she would never stoop to reading the banality of commoners such as us.


Gnomes, Jock Straps and Mason Jars

I’ve always considered myself the anti-soccer mom.

But then I looked up the term “soccer mom” just to be sure I could truthfully claim I have  my keister firmly wedged into the opposite position. According to Wikipedia, that wretched woman is defined as:  “the overburdened middle income working mother who ferries her kids from soccer practice to scouts to school.” It also points out that she usually drives a minivan.

Huh.

Five years ago I could have been smugly confident. Yes, I took my kids to scouts. But the bus took them to school, and because I was neither working nor middle income, I couldn’t afford the copious amounts of gas–let alone registration fees, shin guards, balls, helmets, uniforms, jock straps (yeah, that was on my shopping list yesterday… why aren’t we taught that in Mothering 101, right up there with how to knot a necktie and pick out fresh produce?) etc, that inherent to those activities. And I definitely couldn’t afford a minivan.

You could have safely hurled the epithet den mother my way, but not soccer mom.

Last night I spent two and a half hours in my car and never got farther than six miles away from my house. (Trying to conserve gas, you know–and when one practice ends forty minutes before the next begins, it’s hardly worth the fifteen minute trip home.)

Oh, and I was driving a minivan.

And doing my taxes and my homework in the front seat. In between stops at the soccer fields (two), the baseball diamond, the sporting goods store (for a $43 scout shirt), and the city council meeting I didn’t attend, but sent my son to. Citizenship merit badge or some such thing.

What?

I am that soccer mom.

Ew.

I have proof:

Although this was taken a couple weeks ago in the dead of winter when all the intelligent powers-that-be scheduled the first games of the season. Not only was I a quilt wielding, van driving, snack toting soccer mom, I was a redneck soccer mom: all I could find to transport my hot drink was a mason jar, and the lid was somewhat rusty.

I found that I didn’t really care because my hands were warm.

That’s the thing about blowing past 35 and seeing 40 up ahead: You no longer care what the valley girls think. And when your daughter tells you your hat makes you look like a gnome, you just tie it tighter. You drive the minivan and you ask the sales clerk how to size a jockstrap and you wear ugly shoes because they fit.

But you never become the stereotype because you realize that woman doesn’t exist; every other woman on the sidelines is just like you: under the extant trappings of necessity, she is seventeen, too, and somewhat bemused to hear herself answering to the title “mother”.