Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Pride, Humility, Change, Gratitude, Acceptance, Truth

Sunday, May 28th, 2017
This kid. Like most people, I post about the good stuff that happens with my kids. Like when he went to the county for the spelling bee. (That’s him with his certificate in the photo.) Or the funny stuff, like when out of nowhere, he asked me about very explicit sex stuff in front of the waiter at a restaurant a couple months ago. Stuff like that. The stuff that entertains and brings joy and laughter and that, for some kids, comes easy. Spelling comes pretty easy to my kid. So does his unabashed open and honest curiosity, and a willingness to talk about stuff people like to pretend don’t exist or at least those subjects that people are uncomfortable talking about. And I want him to be able to talk to me about stuff.
 
But this year is a little different. This year wasn’t all good. This year, he took on a pretty hard math class, and he struggled a little bit for the first time. He said things like, “I’m not good at math.” He also struggled with disorganization. He struggled with motivation. He didn’t turn all his homework in. He didn’t like ELA (that’s English to us old folks) any more. He still read constantly for pleasure, but he wasn’t enjoying school. At one point during progress reports, he had a failing grade in more than one class. (He may have gotten that from his mother, too, admittedly. Genetics are a bitch.) He had been scared to tell us he was struggling and things spiraled and we had no idea.
 
So, we told him he could always tell us anything. And then we buckled down. He lost some privileges and we set guidelines for what we expected out of him. We also, concerned about his motivation about school, suggested to him that he might want to consider applying to a theme school for the arts. We took him to the school to learn more about it. He learned about the academic requirements for getting in and staying in the school.
 
We saw a change in him. He was inspired by the students who talked about school and how much they liked it. He decided to apply. He worked on the application himself. He prepared for the music audition and put together writing samples, and sought out recommendations from teachers and counselors. He auditioned and got a spot, knowing that he could not go to the school if he didn’t get his grades back up.
 
And he did. He got his grades back up. Not all the way to all As and Bs all year, as he’s gotten in the past, but enough to keep him eligible. He worked hard at it.
 
So, it was odd to see him walk across the honors stage and just get the one award for the spelling bee. The one he didn’t have to work that hard to get, because it comes naturally to him. (Not that we weren’t immensely happy with that award too – we were.) But just the one – No Principal’s award, or Cougar of the Year (no laughing), or Scholar’s awards.  And it was actually the proudest I’ve ever been of him, knowing how much he worked this year, knowing that he finally struggled and faced some adversity and he rose to the occasion, even if they don’t give awards for that. Knowing that he wanted something and he worked for it.* (Side note: How many other kids faced adversity and came out the better for it and never got a certificate or accolades for it? Guess that’s a post for another time.)
 
I was proud of me, too. It’s been a rough year for me. The roughest one I have had yet in my life, by a mile. I suspect that I will have harder ones. I’m proud of the fact that even when preoccupied with all of the other work/life/health issues my family dealt with, that we as parents didn’t drop the ball on supporting the kids.
 

I’m proud of what I’ve learned about life and about myself. I’m learning to be okay with getting by, with being thankful for my two healthy children. They don’t need to be child prodigies, Einsteins, stars, best in class, fastest, brightest, anythingest. They just need to know that I will love and support them, no matter what. Heck. I’m an adult and I needed to hear that lately from people I love.

Difficulty can make one stronger, but I was already pretty strong. Difficulty actually brought me to my knees and humbled me and taught me about getting to the other side, and about acceptance. I’ve learned to be more open-minded, less judgmental, to see more than one side of things, to not make assumptions. I’ve learned that even really good, smart, decent, loving, respectful people make mistakes or become bogged down in things they cannot for the life of them figure out how they got into in the first place, and that they are often right there in the muck of it all with other good people, all of them and everyone around them unable to face, much less say, their truth. Instead they can’t figure out how to communicate, so they shut down and numb themselves with the thought that what they’re feeling is normal. I know now that you can bury a feeling with all you’ve got, but it will find a course out into the light.

I’ve realized that the most I can do is try to rectify wrongs and the things I’ve left unsaid, and if I can’t fix them, at least I can acknowledge them. I realize that some things just happen and there isn’t a discernible reason. That coincidence or fate or happenstance are all just words for change and change is inevitable. That some things cannot be prevented; That some things cannot be fixed. That sometimes all you can do is be honest with yourself and those around you, and then hope for the best. That sometimes what you get is not what you might have wanted, but that you might be amazed at and admire how people handle things and what they give back to you. That you end up respecting them more for hearing your truth, and telling you theirs.

I’ve learned that being honest is more valuable than acting out of fear. I’ve learned that fear is often just being scared of hurting those we love, or of losing their love or admiration. That sometimes you find yourself in a mess because you were trying not to hurt or lose others. But when you put honesty out, you will likely get it back tenfold, even if it is painful and scary to hear. And you will know how to proceed. You find a place where you realize that everything will be okay, except when it’s not, and you’ll get through that too, hopefully with some semblance of grace and peace. (And hopefully with more yoga and less wine.)

I’ve learned that all the facades and paths and channels and expectations we are given are just guidelines and that I have to make my own way, because there is no one right way to live, and that my way is truth. When I follow the truth in my head, heart, and gut, the gnawing, sick, churning and burning in my very bones will go quiet and I will know which direction to take.

Truth is, deep down I knew it all along: I just never had it tested in such a complete and totally tectonic plate-shifting way until now.

And so I sat in that gym today, watching my boy walk across the stage and afterwards, I hugged him and told him I loved him, and took his photo out in a sunny courtyard, and I felt a peace and gratitude that I have not felt in a long while. Sure, he’s the best speller. But more importantly, he’s good enough at all the other stuff. And I’m good enough too, even if I am not the most perfect daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, employee. I’m good enough if I actively seek my truth, and support those who seek their own truths, even if they are different than mine.

If you are reading this, and you need to hear it, know this: You are good enough, too.  Just follow your truth.
*Bold, because if he reads this, I want him to see that I was immensely proud of him today, and that he inspired this post, and that I want him to always follow his truth.

Wholesome and Old School Quality Family Time (NSFW)

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

So, tonight’s dinner discussion with my teenager and tween was so horrific, it gets it’s own NSFW blog post. (Mom, that means, “Not Safe for Work.” As in, don’t click on or read it on your work computer. So you’re fine.) For anyone with delicate sensibilities, or who thinks maybe their children are perfect and/or living in a bubble, you should stop here.

First of all, in my head, when I was driving to eat at our local restaurant/bar, I realized I was wearing the shirt I was lounging around in today. My Chunklet Trump Sucks shirt.

Maybe not the best shirt to wear in a very purple neighborhood. So, in my head, we might get looks because I had the word “dick” on my shirt. Some drunk redneck might want to discuss it. I have had this happen one time before and have a prepared rebuttal sure to make angry white men more angry.

But we got to dinner and the UNC/KY game was on (sorry Jason, congrats Dana), so it was unusually crowded and we got seated pretty quickly, but our food took awhile, so you know, that means Quality Family Time.

We discussed upcoming spring break plans, going to the beach, packing lists, games to take, R. going to Disney for his band trip, etc. It was super all-american and white bread. And then. Then, R. started pushing buttons.

Things like, “you don’t get to tell me whether I can take my phone to Disney or not, because Dad paid for it.”

[Needle scratches across record.]

Todd and I both work. Todd did indeed write the check and deliver it to the band teacher. But my head seriously exploded.

I said, “Buddy, you realize that your father and I both work long hours and what we make is both of ours. Daddy did not pay for your trip. Your father and I both paid for your trip.”

So, then I turn to Tiller, in a classic example of attempting to ignore bad behavior, while educating, and say,

“Tiller, did you now that in America, when a man and a woman do the same EXACT job, on average, the woman makes 75% of what the man makes?”

Tiller: “What?”

Me: “For every dollar a man makes, a woman, doing the same exact job, possibly as well, and likely, better, will make 75 cents for her work, while a man will make a dollar.”

And bless his heart, the boy child, he doubled down.

“Mom, why do you have to take everything so seriously? You’re so uptight. I was just joking, and you had to turn it into some kind of Feminist rant, like you always do.”

This was the point where I said, in the exorcist mom voice,

“Rollie, you need to leave the table now and go to the bathroom, because if you stay here, I will make a scene. When you come back, you better have dropped it, because you are treading on seriously thin ice.”

He goes to the bathroom, and Tiller and I discuss wage equality a bit more, and he comes back to the table. He seems to realize he has stepped over the line and is actually able to be quiet for about five minutes.

Then, i think he realizes by my stone cold stare and cold shoulder that I am actually very angry with him. So, he starts trying to make me laugh.

He begins by saying,

“I’m gonna go play something on the jukebox.”

Me: “Okay, no dubstep.”

Him: “Okay, I will play one of your favorites.”

Yeah, I’m not dumb, my guard is up.

He proceeds to play a song that he knows I loathe: Europe’s “The Final Countdown.”

Waiter comes by and smirks at me.

And I don’t let R. completely get to me. I point out that the song was not a terrible choice in light of the ending of the basketball game, but everyone probably thinks he’s a Tarheel now.

So, he again pushes the envelope, coming up with terrible-sounding music choices, that i didn’t recognize. And for every one, I said,

“Oh, that one is so good. I love that one.”

And he seemed to become frustrated, but at the same time, saw right through me.

And Tiller says,

“Can I play one?”

And I say,

“Honestly, if there is any song one might play in here that would baffle, astound, or annoy the clientele, it is most certainly from the Hamilton soundtrack. What song is most popular and recognizable from Hamilton, Tills?”

And she ponders it for a split second, then says,

“‘Alexander Hamilton,’ of course.”

And so that is how it came to be that my son ended up playing a track from Hamilton to a bar full of oblivious basketball fans in Tucker, Georgia. It must be noted that Tiller sang along, proudly, word for word.

And then, we were all laughing at the absurdity and seemingly getting along. But my teenager? He could not stop there. And so he drops the bomb.

Mom, what’s a ‘rim job?’

I am pretty sure I both turned red and spluttered. I don’t know that I have ever spluttered at any other time in my entire life. The waiter came by, took one look at my face, and asked if I’d like another glass of wine? (They are good people there, at Local 7 in Tucker.)

I compose myself and say,

“Where on earth did you hear that?”

R: “Why? What is it?”

Me: We’ll talk about it when we get home, okay?”
R: “Why? I want to know now.”

Me: “It’s like the blowjob discussion; You do not want to discuss this with your sister here, and I don’t think it’s polite dinner table discussion.”
R: [smirking] “That’s okay. It was in a movie Dad and I watched, and he already explained it to me.”
Me: [violent, bloody murder in my head, knowing I had been played, because he just knew it would get a reaction out of me.]

And then I did the only thing i could do. I laughed so hard I almost cried, because he absolutely had me on the ropes.

The waiter comes by to stand at the table:

“Check please,” I say.

R: “Also, what is a dildo?”

Waiter: “That last glass is on me.”

We finally get to the car and they are both jabbering and I say,

“Please, can we leave this conversation be until tomorrow? I really need a break and then I will be glad to answer any and all questions, just as I always do.”

And my sweet firstborn says,

R: “Okay. but I have one more question: What are anal beads?”

Me: “Where in the hell did you hear that!? I’m looking at your history on the computer tonight when we get home.”

And he actually seemed shocked that I might think he had googled it.

“Mom, I heard most of that in the locker room.”

Oh, well, that seems. . . wholesome and old school, I guess.
On another note, what songs would be the absolute worst to play in a bar full of people? Also, I am setting up a GoFundMe to cover my wine costs for the next five years.

I Voted For a Woman. For President. (And for The South & a lot of other things, too.)

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

I voted for a female for President today. Let me repeat that: I voted for a female for President today.

It is huge, absolutely huge, that I had the opportunity, with my daughter by my side, to vote for a woman for the highest office in the country and likely in the world. But that’s not why I voted for her.

There have been many times during this year that I wanted to write about my thoughts on the politics of this election. Every time I felt outrage or dismay, I would put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and dump it all out. But something kept me from clicking Publish. Partially, it was knowing I would probably change no minds. As the season dragged on an on, and the bar got lower and lower, I realized it was futile, because I had no idea the depths to which matters could possibly sink. I would have been writing something new every day and I am pretty sure I would have driven myself and everyone around me crazy.

Instead, I watched a bit, and read a lot. I watched friends and family tear each other apart online. There were times that I left discussions with my own parents in tears, anger, fear, or disbelief. People I loved called me a bigot and told me, publicly, that “I was not raised this way.” They way you are raised is important, and it is a powerful influence on a person. I know that I have tried hard to be true to the teachings that I received, but to weed out the ones that are outdated, deeply seated in fear, ignorance, and generations upon generations of resistance to change and a way of life that is no longer viable, realistic, kind or true.

The greatest gift (of many given to me by my parents) was the gift of education. My parents taught me to read. And once a girl can read, she learns to formulate her own ideas and think for herself. Yes, I read the Bible. I read the WHOLE bible. What a miraculous work of art it is. My parents gave me my bible. They gave my children bibles, with my blessing, despite the fact that I have left the church and will never return to Christianity. There is good in that book, despite it’s flaws, and those of its followers. And I took so many of those teachings deeply to heart. For hours during church, I ran the crocheted lace,  pink, blue, and white cross bookmark that came in my bible on confirmation day between my fingers and thought about Jesus Christ on the cross and what that meant for me, and how it could possibly save us.

But my parents also gave me The Little Engine that Could. And Go Dog, Go. (I took that one deeply to heart. I still love big dogs and little dogs and dogs of all shapes and colors, and dog parties.) And I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. As a child, that book probably affected me as much or more than anything I had read up until that point. That book is my first recollection of thinking about race, and of wondering what my part of the story was.

My grandmother later gave me her original copy of Gone With the Wind. I think that book is a rite of passage for a little white girl whose family on both sides have lived on Southern soil since before we were a United States of America. I wonder if Grandma thought it would make me privy to some great inheritance of what it means to be Southern, or if she saw Scarlett as a woman, flawed, but strong. Or most likely, knowing my bourbon-drinking, chain-smoking, card-playing, Charleston-dancing Grandma Vivian, she just thought that it was a rollicking good read. Maybe for her it was just a cultural phenomenon, like Star Wars or Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.

She, by the way, was born in 1907; Her mother, Ida did not at the time have the right to vote. My grandmother, as a child in Louisiana, witnessed a lynching. Her grandmother, as a child after The Battle of the Wilderness, wandered around Ellwood Manor looking for blackberries and came across a dead soldier. Both my paternal and maternal lines consist of both slave owners and confederate soldiers. My point here is that sometimes fiction is not just fiction. Sometimes, to a little girl growing up in Atlanta, it is a link to the past. Sometimes it is like reading a story about the people you know. Sometimes it is like reading about yourself; when other little girls the world over read that book, they probably thought, “what an interesting story.” When I read it, I was completely mesmerized and fascinated by the fact that it was set right here where I was born in 1972, and it was based on things that really happened here.

I will never know what my grandmother really took from that book, and boy do i wish I could have an evening to discuss that and much more with her. But what I took from reading that book, was yes, a strong female protagonist, and an example of skillful storytelling, but also my first real feelings of conflict over my families’ parts in the American history of slavery. It spurred in me an interest in the Civil War. Here was this story, based on “truth,” that discussed a battle that was fought on the very soil that I lived on today. It has become for me a lifelong interest in both family and local history and southeastern history. I started asking questions of the older folks in my family. I got a lot of answers about how we were an “old colonial family” and had grand plantations and lost everything in the war. I heard a lot about “state’s rights” and property and the like.

As I got older, though, I continued reading. I read Huckleberry Finn. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Red Badge of Courage. Beloved. Invisible Man. The Bluest Eye. The Color Purple. Their Eyes Were Watching God. I have so many more to read. So many more.

I started to figure out the right questions to ask. And i didn’t always get the right answers, or what i thought were true answers. Or I got whispered answers. When I got older, I knew to ply some of the older folks in the family with booze, and I would get more honest answers. That’s how I learned about my grandmother seeing a lynching. She had told my cousins about it when they were middle aged. She never told me a word about it.

It was the same way with reading about women. Scarlett was fascinating, because she was an agent in her own life. She was the actor, not the acted upon. (Yes, she was a white woman, a slave owner, and that is not to be excused, but she was a strong woman.) And again, i read books about strong women and interesting women. Catherine the Great. Amelia Earhart. Susan B. Anthony. Rosa Parks. The Awakening. “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Some of the books I wrote about above were crossovers – Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Color Purple come to mind. Powerful books about feminism and race.

Growing up, i was taught to be ladylike (complete fail, obviously). And i was taught to learn to take care of myself: Change a tire, charge a battery, change a spark plug, tar a roof, etc. I was taught to respect my elders. I was expected to get an education. A college education. Looking back, i think that expectation was so that I could support myself.

But I also heard, “One day, when you have kids of your own. . . ” and that was not even seen as an expectation. It was just seen as fact. When I said, “I’m not good at math,” no one said, “You just need to work harder, that’s ridiculous. You are intelligent.” I was built up by having someone tell me, “You are a great writer.” And I think I am a good writer. But I wonder what else I could have been good at, or who else I would have been, if someone had said, “Get an education because it means ‘freedom,” or “you can be anything you want to be.” Or, “women don’t have to get married or have children.”

Those are things I never heard. I also never heard anything except, “No sex before marriage.”

This is not a criticism of the adults in my life. I understand they came to be who they are through a long line of people with strong beliefs and less access to books and diversity of thought than the one I found in my true church (the one whose chapels are libraries and whose cathedrals are lakes, trees, mountains, forests, and rivers). And i am thankful that they gave me the path to find those books and the time to think those thoughts.

Writing this post, I am not sure exactly where I am going with it, except that I have been overcome with emotion all day. I didn’t wear a pantsuit for Hillary when I voted, because . . . well, I’m me. I don’t own one, and that is the sort of thing I hope to never have to wear again. I didn’t wear white for the suffragists who went before me, because . . .it’s after Labor Day. I don’t own “winter whites.” I don’t even have a white tee. My wardrobe is all black, and the darkness of wine, forest, purple, plaid. And then I saw The Bitter Southerner* posted this on Instagram:

bitter

(You can get your own at http://bittersoutherner.com/election-day-2016-a-better-south.)

I was flooded with all sorts of emotion. I am a Southern woman, a descendant of slave owners. I had relatives in the generation previous to me tell me that during the civil rights movement, they hated Martin Luther King, Jr. One of them said he was happy that he was shot. (Try to wrap your head around that one.) I have struggled with issues of race my whole life. I have struggled with religion, and the bible and the hypocrisy of the church. And I have often felt, as a woman, and especially a southern woman, that what was truly expected of me, above all else, is for me to be a reflection of my family, the people that came before me, and in particular, that I was to be a positive reflection on the men who came before me. I should “do them proud.” When it comes down to it, I think there is still a huge belief in the South that a woman is simply an extension of the men in her life. Her greatest achievement is making those men proud, being a good wife, and raising good Southern children. It is difficult to say that out loud, but it is the truth.

I am proud to be southern. I am proud of my husband and my children, and of the people that came before me, even if I disagree with them in many ways. I am proud that in many ways, I have bucked the norm. I would wager that I am the first in a very long line of my family’s generations to openly and publicly reject Christianity. If you think on the long history of Christianity, that is actually quite a feat. I reject racism. I strive towards making my world better for everyone, not just the people who are not like me. And I am probably the first mother in a line of many women in my family that is actively telling my daughter, “Get an education, because it give you the options to be anything you want to be.” I have already talked to my daughter about birth control and sex and that her body is hers alone. That she can do anything a man can do, and if she wants to do it first, she should step up. No need to let the man go first. That if she wants things, she needs to state that she wants them. And if she doesn’t want them, she needs to learn to say no to those things, too. That she needs to speak up when she sees wrongs. That what I hope for her is that she will be kind, happy, and herself. Whether that means being a wife or a mom, or a teacher, or a scientist, or an artist, or a soldier. That she can be any combination of those, all or none of those, or something completely different that my mind cannot even imagine, but that she will see in her own mind’s eye. And that when she achieves those things she wants in life, (while she is achieving them, even) she will help others achieve their dreams, too.

And that’s why, when I painted my nails blue, and wondered what to wear to the polls this morning, I didn’t pick blue for the Dems (I am decidedly an independent), or white for the suffragists, or a pantsuit for Hillary. I decided to wear my Bitter Southerner sweatshirt**. It reads, simply “SOUTH.” I was weepy, trying to explain to my son and daughter about how momentous this day feels. I felt compelled to put down in words what I was unable to speak without seeming like a crazy, choked up, overly emotional woman. I wanted them to know all the reasons that it meant so much to me to cast my ballot today. I wanted them to know the thoughts behind my welling eyes.

You have probably heard by now about the “secret” pantsuit group on Facebook. I think I was first added to it when there were less than 200,000 members. The idea of it was, “wear a pantsuit, in honor of Hillary, when you go to vote.” As of this morning when I looked, it has now grown to more than 2 million members. All of them are not women. There are men, too. But they are all there because they are voting for Hillary Clinton. They are diverse, and smart, and their stories, which i have been reading for over a week now, are compelling, moving, inspiring, and life-affirming. They are from all over the world and all different walks of life. And many of them are posting the reasons that they are voting for Hillary.

There are many of them that feel she is the perfect person for the job. (I tend to be more of the Mark Twain school of thought on politicians – Not really a huge fan of any of them.) There are many of them that are voting because she is not Donald Trump. So many different reasons, from being an immigrant to race, to feminism, to . . . you name it. Their varied reasons for it all were staggering to me. They were definitive, and they were tentative. Some of them were voting for her despite never having voted for a democrat in their life. Some of them were voting for her, despite the train wreck that healthcare in our country has created for their families and their small businesses. Some of them were voting for her despite their devout religious beliefs about abortion. They ran the breadth and depth of the human condition – They are both specific to their own experience and yet they apply to so many of us. So, millions of them have posted their reasons for voting for her.

I have been thinking of my own reasons. I wish I could ask my grandparents about their thoughts on politics. Because I wish the women who are not bothering to vote in this election knew what it was like to not have a voice. Because I hope that one day my children (and maybe my grandchildren) will read it and know that I was a thoughtful person in the midst of history, that I gnashed my teeth over this one, and wept for the future of my country.

Here are some of the reasons I am voting voted for her (there are probably many more, but these are the things I can think of right now, or have been on my mind, and especially the ones that I feel deep down in my gut.)

  • First and foremost, I am voting for her because I think she is the most qualified candidate. Period.
  • I am voting for all of the women that couldn’t vote for so long. For women who had no voice for thousands of years.
  • For everyone who didn’t fit the white, male, protestant mold and was therefore not allowed to vote.
  • For the grandmother who was just dropped off by her husband at a hospital and labored for twenty four hours with a breech baby
  • For the one that went to work to support her family when her husband was gambling it all away
  • For the little girl who had to wear the white tights and black patent leather mary janes and a dress with a crinoline containing a bell.
  • For the little girl who drew a picture at church and they told her they thought little girls in pictures should wear dresses, not pants
  • For the only two little girls on the boys’ baseball team
  • For every girl who was told “boys don’t like loud girls”
  • For every one who was told “children should be seen and not heard.”
  • For my first friend, who always made her Barbies kiss each other, instead of Barbie and Ken kissing, but hid it from everyone but me.
  • For every little gay kid who had to play along while we played “smear the queer.”
  • For Graham, and every other gay or lesbian or bi person i have known since.
  • For the friend whose grandfather wouldn’t stop touching her
  • Because that guy in the neighborhood always whistled at us when we rode by on our bikes
  • For the girl who was pushed into a walk-in freezer, with a hand against her neck, and fought the boy who put his hand down her pants
  • For every jerk who ever groped or thrust his hips at me on a bus or a train.
  • For the boy who took advantage of a very intoxicated just-turned-fourteen-years old girl on a trampoline
  • For every friend one of his who started calling my house the very next day
  • For every person to whom I’ve had to say using the “N” word is not okay, and especially not in front of my kids.
  • That includes the jerk from two weeks ago at the bar who thought it was okay to say about football players on tv, and also the guy two seats down from him that whistled at me as I walked by him on the way back from the bathroom. It was 4 pm in the afternoon. In 2016.
  • For every woman who has been spoken over or interrupted in a meeting
  • For the same women who spoke up, and were called Bitch.
  • For the little Iraqi girl that was in my son’s class. She was 8. She spoke no English. She didn’t need to – The horrors she had seen were apparent in her eyes.
  • For my children and their friends who want to know if some of them will be sent back to the country they came from if Trump is elected.
  • For the amazing people from all over the world that came to this country, love it, and are living right in my backyard and teaching me so much
  • For all the sweet little African American boys that I have been watching grow up and who are in my heart and my prayers as they become teens.
  • For their mothers, who are strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family.
  • For my friends who had access to birth control; for the ones who had access to safe and legal abortions.
  • For my friends who choose to live their lives in non-traditional ways and are becoming more and more open about it.
  • For the things that are important to all of us, and help us achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: Love, forgiveness, charity, inclusion, independent thought, education, religious freedom, equality, art, music.

The emotions I felt this morning were more than just a woman voting for a woman. The woman voting this morning was a product of so many years of inequality and hypocrisy and misogyny, of pain and frustration, and watching others suffer. And while I am a proud American, I am an even prouder Southerner. And proudest to be a Georgian, who has had the privilege of seeing gay marriage legalized, and our first African American president, and hopefully our first female president: Three things I never thought I would see in my lifetime, much less in so few years. Three things I had the honor of sharing and discussing with my children.

I voted for her because she is the most qualified candidate. I voted against him, because of the rest of the list. Considering the political climate and the pain and division this election has caused, It was the easiest and most satisfying vote*** of my life. There was no question in my mind. This morning, at the polls, I was a Bitter Southerner voting for a bitter Better South.

 

My hand and four sympathetic kid hands, all in blue polish. 

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Me and my girl. We just voted together. (Sporting our blue polish, our peach stickers, and me in my South sweatshirt.) Yes, I let her cast the ballot. #rebel – Photos by Rollie, who didn’t want to be in the photo because he is 13 and that’s “like, so dumb.” [sigh]

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Hopefully she will never forget this. Or ever think that I regret having her and her brother. (“The” button.)

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*  You need to read Bitter Southerner, especially if you are from a long line of southerners. I am jealous I didn’t think of it first. It is amazing, like reading stories written by your own family and friends, but the smart and enlightened, funny and interesting ones. If you are born here, you will enjoy it. If you have deep roots here, you will feel it in your bones.

** Okay. I have to admit it. About the sweatshirt. I also wore it because it finally got cold here in Atlanta today, and damn it, that thing is so broken-in and well-loved, it is super comfortable.

*** Also satisfying: Voting for two local candidates I really, really believe in: Good luck to Scott Holcomb and George Chidi.

Almost Thirteen: Caught Between What’s Right & Your Kid Not Hating You

Monday, August 15th, 2016

I took the kids to dinner tonight. (El Mat, our go-to Mexican place. We’re regulars; we actually get The Usual.) So, I was tired and a little stressed, but I always try to put down the phone and listen when the kids are talking about school. And tonight, for whatever reason, The Boy brought up a kid at school. We’ll call him, “M.”

The boy: “Remember when I told you about M last year? He was kind of a bad kid?”

I say yes, and the conversation flows and somehow we end up talking about kids in his class and one kid in particular. This kid, The Boy says, is kind of special. You can tell he doesn’t really know how to talk about a kid who’s different. I think the words he used were, “He’s, like, special needs?” And so we discussed how that could mean a lot of different things, both physical and mental, etc.

Well, long story shorty, he tells me about this kid in his math class. The Boy believes he is special because, “The teachers are really, really nice to him, and they give him special assignments.” That could mean anything, but obviously, this kid is different and that is apparent to the other kids in the class.

We discuss that maybe he’s on the spectrum somehow, and that it just means that his brain works differently, and maybe he processes things differently than other kids.

And then The Boy says, “Yeah, but some kids pick on him. They throw things at him. He doesn’t look people in the eye. I don’t know if it is how his brain is, or if it’s his thick glasses.”

Sigh.

So, I say, “You know that is completely and totally wrong, right? And that you need to be nice to that kid? In front of the other kids. They need to see you be nice to that kid.”

I’m not good at subtlety. Every freaking wrong I endured in middle school came rushing back and spewed out in two or three sentences uttered in complete and total seriousness to my son.

I could tell it made him uncomfortable. I remembered what it was like to be 12-almost-13 and know, deep down, that something was really wrong, but be afraid to speak up.

I asked him questions about which class it was, and who the kids were who were doing it. I made a mental note of the names. I texted the commune and confirmed what I already knew: That it was not okay to out these kids to a parent social group on Facebook. But, I thought: What if I just said to the group, “Hey, if your kids are on this team, and they are in this particular Math Class, please talk to them about bullying. My child has witnessed this happening.”

I sat on it, finished my margarita. I talked to my son on the way home. I told him that maybe we should say something. He begged me not to. I explained my plan, to just put it out without naming names. But he’s not stupid, my kid. He said, “But they will know you are my mom. They will know I am the one who said something about it to my mom.”

FUCK.

I told him I’d think about it, and I wasn’t going to do anything without talking to him, and I wouldn’t post anything. I told my husband. He said I should talk to the teacher first.

So, I decided I’d sit on it tonight. Let it rest in that place of patience where things sometimes work themselves out. Sometimes that place doesn’t achieve a damn thing, and the pain just sits, but at least in my old age, I know that there are some instances where patience and doing nothing actually contribute to solving everything.

And then I have a beer, talk to a friend, and then check Facebook. And what is the first thing that I see? This post about a thirteen year old who commits suicide after being mercilessly bullied. My son will be 13 in 12 days. I don’t really believe in religion, or God, but I do believe in Karma and in The Universe. And I often wonder, when I’m grappling with something, how The Universe can know to serve me up something so fitting?

 

This is long, but if you are a parent, I think you should watch it. I haven’t decided what to do yet about my son’s revelations, but I felt like I needed to share this parent’s grief. I need to do something. I can’t just put this one in the patient place.

And in the meantime, my son and I discussed the art of the withering stare. The one that says, “You, buddy, are a fucking jackass, and everyone in this room sees it.” Baby steps, I guess, in the Stand-up-for-what-you-believe-in classroom ethics lessons.

Note: This is fucking brutal as a parent

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/dad-s-boy-hanged-lashes-bullies-article-1.2749845

Curious what other parents would do in this situation. (My gut: I think I will probably contact the teacher first.)

Try Not to Suck

Monday, August 5th, 2013

So, on a personal note, and I am not speaking on behalf of any particular organization, but I do a lot of volunteering, and i have a full time job, and I worked almost the whole past weekend volunteering for my kids’ school. Like, I stayed home and revamped a website while my family went to Six Flags. You can tell me that I should learn to say no. But things don’t get done if everyone says no. You would have been posting on facebook all next week how “no one was prepared” and “they were understaffed” and “why don’t they have forms for this? Or better yet, why isn’t it all automated?” And “i can’t find x on the website.”

The people who do all this crap are not doing it for their health. They are doing it for your kids. The least you could do is take a couple of hours off work and help out.

Just sign up for a spot if you haven’t already. And next time, sign up the first time that they send out the request. Stop waiting til the last minute. Mostly, try not to suck.

Riding the Roller Coaster with Steve Martin

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

First of all, 15 hour days completely suck ass. Especially when you are completely worn out, fighting a cold that won’t die, and with the specter of strep throat haunting your future.

 

The last thing you want to do? Go to an elementary school talent show. You’d rather have that torture guy from Game of Thrones cut off a pinkie finger or two.

 

But to the talent show I went. Right after putting makeup on the girl, and slapping peanut butter on bread for the both kids, because you have nothing else to eat in the house because you had pantry moths and had to throw it all out.

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We got to the talent show. I saved myself a second row seat, made sure the girl went potty before it started, and took the boy to the backstage area.

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Went back and found my seat. Sat through the damn PTA meeting. And then it started.

 

Wow.

 

If you ever need to restore your faith in the youth of America, and in the parents that stand beside you in trying to improve things at your school, or even if you’re just having a crappy day and need a good laugh, OMG DO YOU NEED TO GO TO AN ELEMENTARY TALENT SHOW.

 

There were two emcees, both female, and one was dressed like Austin Powers. She was so not into the whole outfit and she told me she was only wearing it because her mother paid her ten bucks plus ice cream. She did the worst Austin Powers accent you ever heard. It was awesome. There were two best friends – one sang a . . I don’t know who did the song. It doesn’t matter, because the awesome part was her best friend getting up there with her and hula hooping the whole time her friend sang. There was a kid who did a bad ass Smooth Criminal dance. There were two acts playing guitar and singing Beatles songs. Kids singing The Beatles? It slayed me. There was a kid who did a comedy skit that bordered on offensive to little people, and I’m pretty sure he’s like the next Richard fucking Pryor. Little girls in frilly dresses played minuets on the piano; a boy played the James Bond theme song. Dressed as James Bond. There was a kid who called himself “Rollin’ Nolan,” who dressed in a disco getup, and roller-bladed on stage to the Bee Gees. There was a little 3rd grader who sang a Taylor Swift song, and almost made me cry. There were dancers galore. There were comedy troupes. There was one duo that sang some song I’ve never heard before, that sounded like some kind of Boys II Men/Rap mashup. I think one of them dropped the F-bomb. They were pretty good.

 

There was this little girl, who I think secretly wanted to perform, but yet she just signed up to help behind the scenes. Turns out only three kids signed up to do that. And then the organizers realized they needed someone to introduce the acts. And so they asked two of the kids to emcee. The little girl was one of them.

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And she was really excited. And she must have really practiced her lines, and standing on the little stool that made her tall enough to be seen over the podium, and adjusting the microphone to her height, and her speaking into the microphone at the perfect volume. She wore a sequined, psychaedelic 60’s dress and white Go-Go boots. She loved the boots the moment she tried them on. It might have been the boots that transformed a first grader into a young lady. A poised, talented, well-spoken young stage professional. She watched every performance in between her introductions, and clapped with the music, and mouthed the words to every acts songs. She was more in her element than I have ever seen her. Every time I looked at her, she looked so very happy, and it was like looking at someone grow up in the course of an hour. I was swollen with pride. I could not contain my smile or the tears that threatened to spill over onto my face every time I looked at her.

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And then the boy came on. The boy cannot sing. I knew he could not sing when he tried out. I thought for sure they would cut him. I secretly hoped they would cut him, because I didn’t think i could bear to watch my child fail so terribly at something. They did not cut anyone. There were probably three or four they could have cut, but they didn’t. He came on stage wearing a Hawaiian shirt with the collar popped, swim trunks, and flip flops. His sunglasses on his head. At home, he said he was “dressing for the weather in Istanbul.”

 

He looked scared. I felt sick.

 

The music started. And he smiled, and he began to sing.

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night

 

It was shaky. It was terrible. And I was so very in awe of my smart, unsmiling, ornery, stubborn, easy-to-anger boy, who had the nerve to get up in front of a cafeteria full of his peers and their parents, and sing that song. And people clapped along with the song, as they did for all of the performers, and it didn’t really matter that he was not in tune, and he was off key, and a little out of time.

 

And I laughed. People know it’s your kid up there, and so naturally they also look at you, to see you watch your own kid perform. And that laugh of mine somehow turned into crying, because I was so relieved that he was okay up there, and at one point during the song, he very coolly pulled his shades down over his eyes, while nodding his head and not missing a word, and then i was laughing and crying, and the only other time I remember having that exact feeling was when I was standing at an arbor in Auburn, Alabama with my husband and I was saying my vows and i was crying and laughing all at the same time.

 

You know that scene at the end of the movie Parenthood? The one where Steve Martin is sitting next to Mary Steenburgen in the crowd at the school play, and she’s knocked up, and he’s lost his job, and the whole family is there and Steve Martin is watching his weird, emotional kid freak out and knock over the sets on stage, and things are in slow motion and you start to hear the sound of a wooden roller coaster in the background, and Steve Martin is laughing and crying and watching the play and riding the roller coaster all at the same time?

 

That was me. I was riding the roller coaster and i was proud and scared and crying and laughing all at the same time. And isn’t that what life is all about?

 

I was Steve Martin tonight.

Elementary Electoral Fraud

Monday, November 5th, 2012

So, let’s say your kids’ school has a mock presidential election.  Let’s say that you are sitting at the kitchen table and you ask your child about the election. You don’t care who your kid voted for, because you’re more interested in them learning about the election process than about platforms and issues, because elementary school is maybe a little too early for them to be wrestling with issues that adults can’t even begin to work out.  Your child tells you that they had the election and who they voted for. And then they proceed to ask you who one of the candidates is. And you tell them about the candidate and then say, “why do you ask?” And your child says, “Because they told us we couldn’t vote for him. So why was he on there?”

What would you do?

Because I am about ready to go down to the school tomorrow and raise some hell. Which of course I’m not really going to do, because my school is also my polling place, and you can’t do that at a polling place. But I am going there to vote. And while I am there, if the teachers are working, I am seeking out the teachers who were present during my child’s voting experience, and I am going to ask them about it. Because, seriously. Is this not basically electoral fraud? (Not to mention really, really poor teaching, and just very, very dishonest.) Any other ideas about how to go about this? Other than taking my level-headed husband with me?

Here’s another question: Does it matter which candidate the teacher said this about? Answer honestly. Do you care more if they said it about one candidate than if they had said it about another?

Any other thoughts?

Why Parents Turn to Foundations for School Funding

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

eagletrekidentfinalThis is the shameless plug for money for my kid’s school. It is also a fundraiser for two organizations dear to my heart:

The Evansdale Education Foundation – I am a founding board member and OMG, I have put in so many hours on that board.
The Evansdale PTA – I am a committee chair on the PTA and they are just a great, hardworking group, with only the kids’ best interests at heart.

I won’t bore you with the details, because if you read my blog or follow me on FB, you probably know about the dysfunction in our county school board, about budget cuts, etc.

Actually, I will bore you with a few details, because I wonder if people not involved at the schools really understand why these foundations (501c3 organizations) are created by parents to make up for the lack of funding by their counties! The money that each and every person in the county pays (in the form of property taxes) to fund schools should be more than enough to make things work. When we are in an economic situation like the one that we are in now, our county school boards should have been saving for a rainy day. They didn’t. So, now, parents (and teachers) have to step up and fund much of it themselves. (Sit down with a teacher and ask how much of their school supplies are paid for by the county, and how much is paid for out of their own pockets.)

  • Teachers are making less and expected to do more, with less time. Rather than cut exorbitant administration costs, the county makes budget cuts on the teacher’s backs. We hear a lot about ineffective teachers, teachers who don’t care, etc., but in my experience, that is the exception, not the rule. My kids’ teachers have really, really cared. They have handled the crap they are given with grace and aplomb. I want to help them. And raising money to hire teachers and take more pressure off them so that they concentrate on teaching is one way to do that. Let’s just say that having 25 kindergarteners in one class can be too much. Or, if you look at the high school level, they have classes with upwards of 40 students. The county is very slow about alleviating crowding, too, when classes go over the max size. The kindergarten at our school is STILL waiting, a month into school, for an added teacher so that they can relieve overcrowding in the existing four classes.
  • Class sizes are OUT OF CONTROL. Our county raised maximum class sizes again this year. So, every class can have two more students than they did last year. Doesn’t sound that bad, but they raised class sizes last year, too. They just seem to keep going up.
  • Why cut costly administrators making $80,000 or more, and who never come into contact with a single student when you could just CUT PARAPROS? Parapros, or paraprofessionals, are the extra hands on in the classrooms. They help to reduce student/teacher ratios. They allow for differentiated instruction, and focused learning groups. They cost a drop in the bucket compared to administrators. The county cut a TON of them.
  • Did i mention the overcrowding? To alleviate overcrowding at a nearby school, some of their students were redistricted to our school. We were pretty much at capacity. Now we are at, last i checked, about 120% capacity.
  • Lots of those kids redistricted to our school don’t speak English as a first language. Some of their parents speak little to no English. What does the county do? Cuts translator positions. Brilliant.

You get the picture. There is more, but these are the issues that schools, parents, teachers, principals are dealing with all over the county. This is why my fellow parents and I created a foundation – to give us a padding when we have to pay for things ourselves. Should it be this way? No. The county should be a good steward for our money. But it’s not, and we are left to scramble to give our kids and the rest of the kids at the school, a great education.

Want to help? Please donate to our fundraiser. It’s easy and you can do it all online. It’s 100% tax deductible. Every dollar helps. And believe me, I realize that in these times, a dollar is a lot for some people. And when you’re done with that, think about following local education politics. We would not have to do this if more voters and taxpayers held our politicians’ feet to the fire on education funding issues and management of tax dollars.

Thanks for listening if you got this far. You’re a pal.

Emotions and Inequities

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I expected to get choked up at Honor’s Day. But not for this reason.

The elementary school holds Honors Day every semester, and the Principal gives out awards to all the kids (1st through 5th – no K.) They get awards like Citizenship Award, Academic Award, and Principal’s Honor Award. They get awards for finishing certain programs, like the reading program Accelerated Reader, Literary Guild (which introduces new genres to kids that they might not have read before,) and Math Facts in a Flash, which is a computer program that drills kids in math concepts. Each level gets progressively more advanced, until you reach level 50.

Remember a few weeks ago when I posted on Facebook that “I absolutely hate Lit Guild with every fiber of my being?” Basically, I had decided that rather than argue with my child about whether or not he was going to finish it (it’s optional), I would leave it up to him. If he finished, he would get the trophy, and if not, well, he would learn what it was like to watch all of his friends get the trophy, knowing that he didn’t work hard enough to get it. I decided that this was a good life lesson for him, and that me wanting him to get the trophy was really more about me, and my idea of how I wanted to present myself as a parent. (I guess that would be the kind of parent whose whose kids get Lit Guild trophies?) I decided that I was okay with it. My reasoning was that he was already reading well past the level of the lit guild books, that he enjoyed reading, and that he was reading what he wanted to read. He was reading for pleasure. Isn’t that what I always wanted for him anyway? Mission achieved; I didn’t need him to get a trophy to prove to me that I had done my job. He had learned the joy of reading, which is truly the gift that never stops giving. No one can ever take that away from him.

I sat a few rows back in the cafeteria today, and I watched him as his friends went up to receive their lit guild trophies. I watched his back, looking for some sign that he was sad or embarrassed that he didn’t get the trophy. I told myself that if he was upset, he would be learning a lesson. Instead, i saw my son cheer for his friends, clap at the appropriate time, and give a friend a high five as she went up to get her award. I was proud of his response.

The teachers proceeded to give the other awards to their classes. Each teacher stood at the podium, called out the student’s name, then called out the awards being given to that child. The child walks past the podium, receives the certificate(s), and shakes the principal’s hand. The audience claps for each child. It’s a pretty darn long process.

The first class completed their awards, and my son’s teacher stood at the podium, and began to speak about his class. He began by saying that it was one of the brightest classes he has ever taught. He spoke of their intelligence, their readiness to learn, the fact that they are all above grade-level when they came in the door, and that he never even taught from the curriculum or the book, because they all already knew the stuff. He said they challenged him, and kept him on his toes, and he acknowledged that much of that was due to the parental involvement in the class. He said that his class rarely came in and talked about what they watched on T.V. last night, but rather about the books they were reading and the things that they did outside.

I admit it – I felt proud and thankful that someone said aloud, in their own way, “you are doing a good job as parents.” Parents don’t get that kind of affirmation very often. It was a good moment. In the back of my mind, I thought, “Wow, I hope this doesn’t make the other parents in other classes feel bad.”

Pride goeth before a fall, or so they say.

The teacher started giving out awards. He read the names, he listed their awards, the kids walked across, got their awards, and shook the Principal’s hand. The kids smiled, and the parents clapped and their cameras flashed. But a couple of times, this teacher said a child’s name, and then he commented a bit more about that particular child. Things along the lines of (and I am paraphrasing, because i don’t have a tape recorder for a memory):

“This child reads all the time. He does nothing but read.”
“This child is doing 6th grade math problems. His success inspired the whole class to finish levels of the math program.”
“This kid is the most motivated kid I’ve ever seen. He reads books that look like ship anchors.”

There were four or five of them who were personally recognized for their exceptional characteristics. They were all boys. They are all good kids, with lovely parents, most of whom I consider friends, or at least really good acquaintances.

Not one of them was my son.

And I was sad, hurt, jealous, and angry. I was worried for my son and how this would make him feel. I clenched my fists, and I fought back tears. I clapped politely, even as the thoughts I was thinking were not at all polite. I am not proud of these reactions, but I am a very honest person, and I did experience them, and even if they were illogical, they were authentically and sincerely felt. I had a hard time sitting through the rest of the ceremony, as my son’s class finished and we moved on to the other three classes.

After the ceremony, I smiled at my child when he smiled at me. He evidently didn’t notice any discrepancies. I took his photo with the Principal and Assistant Principal. My son asked specifically to have his picture made with his teacher, whom he had told me just this morning, he was “going to miss.” And I must add here that his teacher was great – he inspired the kids and challenged them, and didn’t force them to go over and over things they had already learned. I knew in my head, when he stood up and gushed about the class, and the parents, and those particular kids, he was not doing it maliciously – He was doing it because he enjoyed teaching a class that was so ready to learn, and so challenging to him as a teacher. I took the photo of the two of them, and thanked the teacher, and I meant it when I said thank you. My kid learned from him, and he was inspired and enjoyed school this year, because he and his class were challenged.

I left school, though, and I felt very out of sorts, emotionally raw, almost irrationally angry, and ashamed for feeling the childish emotions I was feeling. I don’t feel shame very often. And I haven’t exactly pinpointed the root of my shame. Perhaps it was jealousy – something i almost NEVER feel. Perhaps it was shame that i worried what others might think of my parenting if my kid was not singled out as a superstar in his class. Perhaps it was doubt about my “let him experience failure” tactic when it came to these extra programs. Perhaps it was shame at the thought that maybe I was disappointed in my child for not living up to the standard set by this class? Because i am proud of my kid, so very proud, and I love my kids more than anything on earth. I would take a bullet for either of them without blinking an eye. I don’t think it is disappointment in my child. I think it might be disappointment in myself – did I let my child down by not being a Tiger Mom?

I spoke to a couple of parents as I left, and I think the teacher’s gushing did not go unnoticed, although others didn’t seem as affected by it as I did. My neighbor, who has two 2nd graders, neither of whom are in my son’s class, seemed to shrug it off, as if it were something to which she had long ago become accustomed. She pointed out that my child’s classroom is a bit of an anomaly. I agreed, and headed for my car, thinking of what she said as I walked and I tried to make sense of my flustered feelings.

And i realized, this must be what it feels like for many parents all the time. I remembered thinking as the teacher crowed about his class, “I wonder how this makes the other kids’ parents feel?” I am not sure how I managed to not ever feel it before, but it felt awful.

And this is where it all gets pretty complicated. . . .

Sidebar: I should take a moment (Lie! Many, many words to come on this!) to explain a bit about my son’s class makeup, and how it compares with the four other 2nd grade classes at our school. My son is in a magnet class. Specifically, he is in a Science and Foreign Language Magnet. This is a DeKalb County program at our school. It is the only one of its kind in the county. There are other magnet programs, but they are run differently, or have a different focus. Some are for “high achievers,” some are theme schools, like DeKalb School of the Arts. Slots in these classes and schools are all given out by lottery. Some have minimum requirements. For example, to remain in the magnet at my son’s school, one must maintain a B average. To qualify to put your name in the lottery drawing for Kittredge (the “high achiever” magnet) you must meet the following requirements:

>75th percentile Total Reading, ITBS
>75th percentile Total Math, ITBS
>85th percentile Complete Composite, ITBS
>3.0 GPA from the fall semester of the application year
Current resident of DeKalb County

You get the idea. Basically, it’s open to anyone who can meet these requirements, and then a precious few are chosen. They get, from my understanding, a more challenging curriculum, and they are no longer going to school with those children who could not meet the above requirements.

I digress, but my point is that there are only so many magnet and theme school spots in DeKalb County, and the application process, lottery drawing, and transportation involved are not for the faint of heart. The children that attend these programs are the product of parents who went above and beyond to get them there. They are also the product of luck. Sheer, dumb luck. The drawing of a number, out of a hopper. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch Waiting for Superman and then come back to finish reading.)

Now, my child would be attending this excellent elementary school anyway, because we live in the district. Even if there were no magnet at our school, he would attend the same school. The magnet program at our school is one magnet class, per grade (K-5th), made up of 50% students from the “Home” pool (our elementary district) and 50% “At Large” students (Dekalb county students who live in other elementary districts). There was much discussion among parents when my son was in pre-k (another program paid for by DeKalb) about whether or not to put our kids in the lottery drawing for a magnet spot in Kindergarten. Our kids were already in district, so we were not like the “at large” parents who were trying to escape failing schools by getting their kid in a magnet (any magnet!) at another, more successful, elementary school. Our kids would attend the school either way.

The main draw of the magnet class was that they would receive daily foreign language instruction in French. (Yes, I could write a whole other post about the choice to continue French instruction when Spanish or Chinese might be so much more beneficial.) Many parents were confused about the “science” portion of the magnet program – it simply means that we have a Science lab. Our Science curriculum is the same as that offered by all of Dekalb county.

According to DeKalb County Schools’ website: “The Evansdale Magnet Program is available to students in kindergarten through fifth grade who have an interest or aptitude in mathematics, science, or French.” The only difference in magnet classes is that they receive that extra hour of french language instruction a day, and the fact that the school has a dedicated Science lab. It is my understanding that no other DeKalb County elementary schools have a lab. Oh, and then there’s this little problem: This program is only available to those students lucky enough to win a spot through a lottery drawing.

Other discussions of whether or not we should put our kids in the magnet lottery revolved around “diversity.” To many, the fact that half the kids were from other parts of the county would make the class more diverse and exposing one’s children to more diversity is a “pro.” Unless it isn’t – Some parents, sadly, think of this as a “con.” This is all the more ludicrous, because those parents of “at large” children had to go to great lengths to apply and get their kids into the program, and then have a kid attending school in another area of the county. As I mentioned before, these parents are not passive bystanders in their children’s education – these parents went above and beyond to get their children into the program in the first place, and then continue to support their children in a school that might be many miles from home. That is a large commitment to a child’s education. These are good, caring parents with a strong interest in getting the best education for their child.

The joke is on the anti-diversity parents. And the parents whose kids just weren’t lucky enough to get a spot in the magnet program. Last year, during redistricting, our little school took in a lot more students. Our neighborhood demographics changed. Some of those new kids are on free-and-reduced lunch (a typical indicator of lower achievement), live in apartments, and have parents who speak little English. Class sizes swelled at our school this fall, and classes had to be added in some grades. Except Magnet classes – their class makeup is dictated by the lottery. When these new students came in, they were put in the regular classes, not the magnet classes. So, for instance, on the first day of Kindergarten my daughter, who is in a regular class (she was not drawn for a magnet spot) did not even have a teacher yet – she was in an “overflow” class with a substitute; The county had not even hired a teacher for them yet. She did finally get a teacher a few days later. This phenomenon is not a problem at the county level, or with the principal, etc, but simply a side effect of having kids show up on the first day of school who must be served, but for whom the school had no knowledge beforehand.) They added an extra class. Where did all the new students (the group which included the apartment kids, the ESOL kids, the free-and-reduced lunch? They went into the regular classes. The Kindergarten Magnet didn’t have to absorb any of them. The K magnet class kept it’s static student teacher ratio. This happened for other grades. For those grades whose class sizes went above the county mandate, new classes were created. (Again, I could write a whole post about the classes that were inherited by the last teachers to come on board. Let’s just say that there were obvious differences between those classes, and the earlier-formed regular classes, and again, more obvious differences between the regular classes and the still-untouched Magnet classes.) And the magnet classes, through it all, remained untouchable.

Remember? The Magnet classes are set. They have the most involved parents. The regular classes have the new students. And that last class put together to catch the overflow? It consists of predominately African American and Hispanic kids, lots of boys, and a few token white kids whose parents don’t happen to be active in the PTA or the school foundation. I wish I were kidding. I keep trying to tell myself that if i could look carefully, this is not the case – that it’s simply an error of perception, that i am just mistaken, and things really are done fairly. I have to admit that I have not viewed this phenomenon in grades other than my own kids’ grades (2nd and K) and that it may be so glaring because of that late-added class. I don’t know if it even exists in other grades, but I have not looked.

Disclaimer: I have not sat down with photographs and class lists containing the demographics. This really may just be my perception. Even if it isn’t, I’m not pointing fingers. I don’t know who, if anyone in particular, is responsible. Also, I am not saying there are not involved parents in the regular classes. There are, and there are a lot of them. But it is not so across-the-board as in the magnet classes. Oftentimes, there are a few involved parents pulling the weight for the whole class.

I mentioned that this is where it all gets pretty complicated. Because the core of my emotion in the moment of that presentation was a very personal reaction. It was about me, my perceived inadequacies as a parent, my disappointment that my kid is not always going to be the best or the smartest, and even if he is, he might not be recognized for it. It was about feeling that nagging feeling, deep down, that maybe I didn’t do my all for my kid, that maybe I failed him.

And while it’s a normal emotion, it’s absurd. I am a highly involved parent. We send our kid to school ready to learn. I co-chair a PTA committee, sit on the board of the school foundation, and always step up to volunteer whenever I can. And yet, I still felt inadequate this morning. Obviously, i need to get over myself. I should be thankful that i have such wonderful, smart, thriving, healthy children.

And the nagging takeaway for me is that this feeling of inadequacy speaks to a much bigger problem. A problem that has been jostling around in my head for a couple of years ago, and which has moved back to the forefront for me with the discussion of budget cuts and tax increases to cover the Dekalb County schools system budget shortfall. My child is benefiting from his lucky inclusion in this very special class. I felt inadequate because I didn’t schlep my kid around to find specific books and take tests and Tiger Mom him; What about the parents who feel like they have failed their kids by not finding them the same opportunities that my child has just by being in the same room every day with these other privileged kids. What would happen if the boys recognized today were spread out into four or five different classrooms, inspiring all of those classrooms to strive to higher scores in math? I’m not saying we should do away with things like Guided Math, and differentiated instruction or Discovery. I think we should have kids on similar levels in the same reading groups.

In the end, I think all the kids in my son’s class (and school for that matter) are going to be successful. They are going to do great in life. But how is it fair that we spend so much money on these special classes that give some kids the opportunity for a leg up, while others are denied that opportunity?

I did not intend this post to upset my fellow parents. I love your kids and was proud of their recognition. I love my kids’ teachers and the principal at our school. I love my own kid and I think he is exceptional in his own way, whether or not his teacher recognizes him personally for it. There were hundreds of parents in that cafeteria today that feel the same way about their own children. I am guessing there are hundreds of thousands of parents in DeKalb county that feel the same way about their children.

I guess I just felt like this was the kick i needed to speak up and write about something I’ve seen as an inequity for a long time. This program has the best of intentions, and some really good consequences for those involved, and even some for those not in the program. But in the end, it is patently unfair. In the end, maybe my shame stems from the fact that until now I haven’t spoken up about it.

I’m guessing that if you read this far, you are a parent. You might be a parent of one of these students, or you might be a parent at my kids’ school. You might think that i should keep my mouth shut, since the school benefits from this program. I’m sorry, I can’t. If i was on the board, i could not in good conscience keep these special programs open. Before we raise class sizes, we should cut programs like this one. Before we raise taxes, we should cut programs like this one. And before we do anything, the central office should be made a skeleton crew.

On my end, I’ll be getting some therapy for my own parenting issues. Or at least trying to see the forest for the trees. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Parenting is really, really hard.

Parents For DeKalb County Schools

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Well, add this to the litany of reasons that I haven’t been keeping up on the blog. Sad, because i wrote daily for years on here, but real life is getting in the way. One of the projects I’ve been working on is Parents for Dekalb County Schools. A very concerned parent created the group to try and improve the schools in my county. He is doing some awesome work, and trying very hard to reach out to parents in all parts of the county. This video is part of that outreach. We are really trying to find more parents like Bernadette out there to join us in making DeKalb schools great!

If you are reading this, and know a parent in DeKalb, please consider sharing this with them. Kids in DeKalb need all the help they can get. And if you do share it, maybe I’ll think about writing one of my ultra-embarrassing, self-deprecating blog posts. It’s been a while since I’ve done that to myself. I might even include middle school pictures.