Thursday, March 15, 2018

You ain't grown

This statement comes out of my mouth on the regular...with my children and when I substitute teach.

Now, I realize that children push boundaries. That is what they are supposed to do.
But as an adult, I know that my job is to hold the boundaries in place.
This does a number of things for the child.
It reminds her or him that I am consistent, that some things in the world are consistent.
It reminds them of the power of consistency.
It makes them feel secure and safe.
It helps them regulate themselves.

It is also a nice preview of what being an actual adult is like.
Adulthood is not about getting to do whatever the hell you want.
I do not usually ever get to do whatever the hell I want.
I get to do more things than I got to do as a child, like eat 3 cookies at once if I choose to and stay up later than I should.
I often wish I had someone regulating me better than I regulate myself.
To allow children to think that adulthood allows them absolute freedom is a cruel trick.

So when my own children buck me or when students buck me, I determine if it is an issue that I can ignore or if it is an issue that requires me to remind them that "they ain't grown."

Many, many, many issues do not reguire the big bazookas.
But sometimes, I have to open my mouth and allow my own mother to come on out and give my child a little what-for.

G frequently needs reminding that he ain't grown, but the other two usually don't.

Yesterday, however, N forgot.
She forgot that she doesn't have a job, doesn't contribute to the household or her phone bill.
She forgot that she doesn't have wheels to get her anywhere.
She forgot that she is 14 and most certainly ain't grown.
So I had to remind her.

She wasn't happy.
Providing structure and consistency is much, much, much, much harder than just letting a child do what she/he wants.
Walking away and allowing the structure to cave is easier than standing around, holding the danged thing up while the kid pushes against it over and over again.

But today, N was back to her old normally responsible self.
I had emailed her teacher last night. This is part of what I said:

Since she is providing me zero information, could you please let me know whether this work was from her absence, whether she is still able to turn it in, and if so, what the penalty is for late work?

Also, should I murder her? (Because that is what I feel like doing.) ;)

Her teacher emailed me this morning to let me know the issue had been resolved because N had returned to her normally responsible self and thanked me for being an awesome mom. She also thanked me for offering to kill N but said she preferred I didn't because she is fond of my daughter.

If this is what being an awesome mom is like, it really, totally blows.
But the alternative---a kid who does what she/he wants, with attitude, without respect, without limits-
blows much, much more.

I'm a terrible pray-er

I have written before that I feel wildly uncomfortable when people in the extremely early stages of emotion take it to social media.

And I am not a person who easily feels wildly uncomfortable, but there is just so much rawness in what they post. It doesn't really matter if the early emotion is joy or pain.

If the emotion is the early stage of love or a new job, it is off-the-chain ecstatic, and I am waiting for them to come back to planet Earth where the person they adore is human again and prone to frailty. Or the job gets real and they screw up or have a shit co-worker or get laid-off.

(I do give a pass to new parents, though.)

I feel exactly as I did when Tom Cruise lost his mind over Katie Holmes (after marriage one and two disintegrated): embarrassed and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

If the early stage emotion is fear or grief, it is equally uncomfortable, but the worst part is that I am asked to pray...

which makes me feel even more uncomfortable because I know what they want me to pray for.

Pray for a miracle.
Pray for a cure.
Pray for complete healing.
Sometimes it is unsaid, and sometimes it is an outright request.

Unfortunately, I am not the person who goes "ok" or "screw that" and then moves on with her life.
I am the person who stews over it and feels bad because I can't pray the way the person asks me and others to pray.

Asking me to pray for what they want, even though I totally understand it, even though I totally understand the rawness of their pain, maybe, possibly isn't the right thing to pray for.
I am entirely not God, and maybe a miracle or cure or complete healing isn't part of the program.
Who the heck am I to read God's mind? Or to tell God what to do?

I can pray for their comfort.
I can pray that they find some solace in this bad, hard, terrible-to-get-through experience.
I can pray that they are surrounded by love.
But I cannot in good conscience pray for what they want.

I feel affected their grief and responsible for their loss because I didn't pray for what they asked.
Perhaps my prayer is that the person is on my mind and heart for far, far longer than the other people who said, "Lift a prayer" and then got back to the business of whatever they do.

Monday, March 5, 2018

La-la-la, La-la-la, moving right along.....well shit

That is how life works.

There I am, just carrying on.
Busy, for sure.
Two weeks of nonstop subbing.
Now working on a few articles.
Girl Scout cookie time which is one of my many UNPAID full-time jobs.

But I got it.
Everything is busy, but under.control.

We knew M was going to have surgery, provided his eardrum was dry today.
No surprise there.
And it's a minor surgery.
But I was expecting maybe three weeks of recovery.

Not so much.
No sports or PE for three weeks.
Recess...probably not for awhile.
Ear packed for 6 weeks.
Doctor visits every two weeks.
Water restriction for 6 weeks to three months.

I had to come home and reschedule our Spring Break 3-day trip.
Going to a water park is not fun if you cannot get in the water at all.

None of this is life-threatening, life-altering.
The surgery will (hopefully) take and (hopefully) restore his full hearing.
It did for me when I was a kid.

But it marked the wall.
The place where I felt myself give out.
The spot where my shoulders felt heavy.
The realization that the skin on my head actually aches.
I'm tired.

The walking humanized intrusive thought who lives in our house--G--
said, "He'll survive."
But I'm not worried that he won't survive.
(More than just that little naggy worry that surgery comes with inherent risk.)
I didn't realize the recovery slog would be so.....sloggy.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The sub, the abortion talk, the fallout

On Tuesday afternoon, when I picked N up from school, she was fired up. She said her sub was arguing with her about abortion.

Now, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, so I know not to believe every.single.word that comes out of my children's mouths without probing. So I asked questions.

What I determined from her is that students asked the sub his opinion about abortion, and he engaged with them. N reported that his comment to her was, "If people are going to engage in those behaviors, they have to accept the consequences."

I was so busy Tuesday night that I didn't have time to stew over this conversation much besides saying to both her and myself that it seemed wildly inappropriate for a sub to engage in this discussion for a variety of reasons.

But Wednesday morning, when I woke up, I was immediately still bothered by this incident. It isn't part of the curriculum. I doubt that the regular teacher had this topic as part of his sub work. A sub is the last person who should engage students in controversial topics. As a sub myself, I would never engage students in this, even if they asked me to. Fully grown adults can't have civilized conversations about abortion, so why would anyone expect middle schoolers to be able to do so?

It also rubbed me the wrong way because it was a male sub speaking to my female student, a male sub in a position of authority over my female student. And the subtext behind his statement, "If people are going to engage in those behaviors, they have to accept the consequences" bothered me, and I discussed it with N.

What I heard is this statement: If WOMEN are going to HAVE SEX, then WOMEN have to accept the consequences even though MEN DO NOT.

I doubt very much that he was even aware that this was implied by his statement because female ears hear things differently from male ears.

This is when I informed N that even when women use highly effective birth control, as HER OWN MOTHER DID, they can become pregnant. Hello, littlest brother M.

Since it still rankled me on Wednesday morning, I emailed the principal and explained my reasons for being concerned.

Yesterday, I got an email apology from the sub. He was attempting to get the students to think critically about their arguments but realizes now that he probably should have paid more attention to the sensitivity of the topic. He was sincere and professional, and I appreciate his direct communication with me.

This abortion discussion coincides with my own recent subbing, in which I have been with many students who are terribly neglected. Many of them are, essentially, parenting themselves, and as a teacher friend of mine said, "Kids don't do a very good job at raising themselves."

Some of their parents are struggling just to survive---working jobs, with more kids than they should have as a single parent. Some of them are drug addicts. Some of them don't know anything about how to be a responsible parent.

If anyone, including my daughter, asked me whether I think abortion is right or good, I have to say no. I don't think it is, and I wish it wasn't a choice that women feel they have to make. In a perfect world, I wish every child was wanted, treasured, and able to be given a secure, economically stable life.

But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world where children are subjected to things that children should not be subjected to. Raising themselves. Drug-addled parents who shouldn't have the responsibility of caring for an inchworm. Parents who can barely read and are, therefore, unable to promote reading or learning or the importance of education. Extreme institutionalized poverty sandwiched between poor financial decisions.

And as much as I dislike abortion, I think it is a far, far worse sin to bring kids into the world that you then abuse or neglect, that you can't feed, that you don't guide.

And if there is anything that makes my head hurt, it is the people who are anti-abortion as well as anti-funding for health care (including birth control) and food and welfare and economic development in impoverished areas and living wages and education.

My friend told me about one boy who has been living at the Home of the Innocents for three years. The father gave up his parental rights (who knows where the mother is or if she is even alive). This child would have been in 3rd grade when this occurred, and he will live forever with the knowledge that his dad gave him up. He wasn't a baby who won't remember anything. Even if the father did this out of an abundance of love, care, and concern, from the child's perspective his dad gave him up, abandoned him. A child doesn't easily recover from that if he does at all.

Many of these neglected kids will become addicted themselves. The girls will become teen mothers. Many of the boys will end up in prison. They will become the parents of the next generation's neglected kids.

As much as I don't think abortion is good, I also don't think life at all costs and under all circumstances is good either.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

N is my 14-year-old baby girl

Dear N,

N is my baby girl, my baby girl, my baby girl.
N is my baby girl, my ba-by girl.

You know this song, the one I sang to you and your brothers (although with tweaked lyrics) when you were babies, the one we still occasionally sing when we're giving hugs.

My memories of you as an infant and little girl are increasingly fuzzy. It's not that I want to forget, but I am wrapped up in who you are now, and it is hard for me to remember who you were then.

I'm always proud of you, but I am increasingly proud of your activist pull, your desire to right the wrongs of society. The fact that you chose a woman's rights poster to design for your new art class and had actually made a list of possible topics to protest that included misogyny makes me ever so happy. You aren't about to allow anyone to tell you who you can be. You decide for yourself.

Not too long ago, you decided to no longer wear the thick black lens-less eyeglass frames that have been an accessory for you since fourth grade. While I was a little sad to see them go, I'm also happy that you no longer need or want them. While I loved that you were fierce enough to wear them regardless of what anyone said or thought, I often wondered if you hid behind them. I'm glad to see all of your face now.

The fact that you are 14 doesn't seem to freak me out as much as acknowledging that you will be in high school in August. THAT feels monumental, and it is. In a little over four years, you will be able to vote and heading to college, well on your way to adulthood.

I don't know what you will be when you are an adult, but I'm glad you are a thinking, feeling person, a person who does her own thing and thinks her own thoughts. A person who isn't interested in being like every other girl on the block.

After a lull, you are once again interested in reading which, of course, makes your bookworm mom happy. Reading is critical to developing your skills as a reader, writer, and thinker.

Your friends' moms tell me often how great your personality is, how you are quirky in the best possible ways. I'm glad you have a sense of humor and can both give and take jokes. Being able to find the funny in yourself is a gift.

You tell me often that you're glad I'm your mom. Even though I tell you that you're the weirdest teen on the planet when you say this, I'm glad you think I'm a good mom. I'm glad you aren't hell bent on proving yourself to yourself. You have a calm confidence that it took me until my twenties to develop. (Possibly my thirties.)

I hope 14 is a great year. I hope you get into the high school you want (even though it will be mean more driving for me and I might whine a lot about it). I hope you have a great Spring Break trip with your cousin.

I'm not usually sad that you are no longer my sweet baby girl because I was able to savor those years with you, and I'm super excited to see what kind of young woman you become.

I love you to the Upside Down and back (cause that's way edgier than the moon),


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Probably not everything I want to say about guns, rights, mental health, and parenting

but many of the thoughts I've had this week in the wake of the Parkland, FL shooting.

I. Rights and regulations

The older I've gotten, the more rights conscious I've become.

Right are a tricky bit of business.

When I see people who tend to be more liberal lash out against guns, I cannot help but remember how strongly they lash out when someone who is more conservative wants to restrict their reproductive rights. The way one person feels about the government poking its nose into what a woman does reproductively is the same way another person feels about the government poking its nose into what weapons they can or cannot purchase.

The difference, I think, is that the government in its current form is continually attempting (even if unsuccessful) to restrict and regulate reproduction, and the same is not done for gun-ownership. I frequently see news stories about legislatures in various states trying to pass laws to restrict abortion.

Just as gun-owners don't want the government dictating to them what they can and cannot go with guns, so to do millions of people not want the government dictating to them what they can and cannot do with their bodies.

But what about the babies, someone might argue? The fetuses? This might be the conservative response.
And the people who want some level of restriction on bump stocks and military grade assault weapons might respond, "But what about the innocent school children who are shot?"
In both cases, there is a common desire to protect the innocent.
In protecting the innocent, that may mean that BOTH SIDES must be willing to compromise in some measure.

This country is not very good at the middle ground.

If every person followed the tenets of natural law, there would be no need for man-made law. We have man-made laws because not every one does adhere to natural law. Natural law is the Declaration of Independence, that humans have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If every individual could pursue their own life, liberty and happiness without infringing on others' lives, liberties and happiness, that would be grand. The Constitution is the set of man-made laws that we created to help ensure the natural laws are upheld.

We restrict or regulate for things like pseudoephedrine (because a small slice of the population creates methamphetamines) or yard darts, but we do not regulate as much for guns.

My lifetime allergies make me sympathetic to gun-owners who don't want their rights infringed on....because I know what that infringement feels like when I have to buy my Alavert-D piecemeal at the pharmacy and turn over my driver's license to make my congestion go away. But as a person who is currently infringed on, I also lack sympathy that anyone can go to a gun-show and purchase military grade weapons without submitting their driver's license.

II. Parenting 

Without a doubt, parenting is different now, and I'm not entirely sure why.

When I was a kid, if my teacher said I did something wrong, my parents would absolutely take the side of the teacher, and my ass would have been grass. Even if they disagreed with the teacher, which they might express to the teacher, my parents would have (to me) been a united front with my teacher.

As the Larry Nasser trial has shown, accepting "authority" figures without question is not always good. It is not a terrible thing that parents are less willing to accept without question or critical thinking the authority figures in their children's lives. How many kids were abused by priests in the 1970s and 1980s because parents respected these "authority" figures beyond reproach?

But rather than taking a middle ground, parents have gone off the proverbial cliff. If a child does wrong, everyone but the child is held responsible. It is the teacher's fault, the administration's fault, the school board's fault, the district's fault.

My hope is that eventually the pendulum will swing back.

Of course, there are plenty of children whose lives are untimigated disasters because their parents lives are unmitigated disasters.

Even though I am a lowly substitute teacher, I see this all the time. One student who is in a class I have frequently subbed for is one of four children who are being raised by grandparents. From what I understand, her mother lost custody because of drugs. I do not know if a father is in the picture. This girl is a special needs student who is heading down a road that will go nowhere.

She is a sad, sad child, and I cannot help but feel for her (even though I am also fully aware that she can be/is manipulative). What I have noticed is that she works very hard, at least when I am there. She is by no means perfect, but she tries very hard. Unfortunately for her, her special needs (and I'm not certain what they are) make learning a difficult thing, but she does the work as best she can.

One week, when I subbed, I overheard her talking to a girl in class about when she turns 14 soon, she is gonna smoke pot. She mentioned that she hangs out with a guy who is 18. I don't need to tell you how messed up this is. I didn't say anything that day to the girl.

The next time I was there, though, I did say something to this girl. I commended her on how hard I see her working when I'm there, and I mentioned her conversation from the previous week. I told her that I know she is going to probably do whatever she wants, because I was 14 once too, and I remember how stubborn I was, but that I hoped she wouldn't do it because she is such a hard worker and has such potential.

This girl got tears in her eyes, so I let her hang out in the hall for a few while she composed herself. When she came back in the classroom, she came up to me and thanked me for saying what I said. I told her I never say things I don't mean, and that I hope she at least thinks about it.

I'm not this child's parent, and there is little I can do, but my hope is that what I said makes some difference for her. I don't expect that she is going to go down the "better" path, the path of less heartache, but for the moment, she knows someone sees her potential and cares, that someone doesn't want her to fall through the cracks.

She is one child of perhaps hundreds of thousands of children who are at-risk, through no fault of their own. And one teacher with 30 students in every class cannot be expected to "save" every child.

Unfortunately, there are some students, perhaps like the boy in Parkland, who are beyond saving.

III. Mental health and gender

I have a "mental illness," though I would say it is of the mild variety. I was self-aware enough to get help.

I have a child with a "mental illness," and I have done what I can to get him help.

I work very, very hard to instill empathy in my child, to help provide some protection that his mental illness will not ever become one that harms others (or himself).

I have seen a number of comments about mental health in the wake of the Parkland shooting, like the fact that females make up a large percentage of the incidence of mental illness, and yet it is boys who are the school shooters.

Why is this?
I wish I knew.

Boys are falling behind in many ways. Girls are outpacing them in college.
The push to help girls attain equality has, perhaps inadvertently, left boys behind.
As a mother of a girl, I'm glad females have more opportunities.
As a mother of two boys, I worry about their self-image and opportunities.
In the wake of helping boys become more sensitive and empathic, there has been a pendulum swing towards hyper-masculinity.  It seems like there is an either or. Either a boy is a sensitive-type or a masculine dude.
Again, our country isn't too great with the middle ground that a boy can be both.

IV. Schools, teachers, and police

If I wanted to be a sniper, I would have gone into the military or law enforcement.
No teacher goes into teaching because they want to wield a gun. They either love their subject and want to share it with others, or they love kids. Or both.
Given all the responsibilities of teachers, they do not need to be tasked with protecting children by carrying weapons.

There is no way in hell that asking teachers to carry weapons is a good idea, and I'm saying this on a purely logical level.

Things to consider--

1. When exactly are teachers supposed to get training for weaponry? Is this going to count as professional development or will they still have to do their normal professional development each year in their subject areas? Are schools going to pay for this additional training? How often does the training need to be reviewed? Is there licensing and associated fees? Who pays for those?

2. Will schools provide the weapons to teachers? Will schools pay the increased insurance for these teachers? If a teacher carries his/her own weapon, who carries the insurance? The school or the teacher or do both? Does the teacher get additional pay for acting as both teacher and security?

3. Do parents have the right to request that their children not be placed in a classroom with a teacher who carries a weapon? Do parents have the right to request that their children be placed in a classroom with a teacher who carries a weapon? How does this affect class size and scheduling?

4. If there are schools where no teachers have weapons, while some schools have an overabundance of teachers with weapons, do those teachers have to change schools? Will this be a stipulation in employment contracts?

5. Are schools going to provide weapon safes in the classrooms where these teachers are? Are these teachers the only ones with access to these safes? Does administration have access?

6. Given the budget cutbacks for most schools, where is the money going to come from to pay for these guns, insurance, safes, and training? Would the money be better spent in getting metal detectors for schools?

7. If a child were to inadvertently get a hold of a gun and hurt someone, is the teacher responsible or the school? How much liability insurance is needed? Given that there are limitations on what types of playground equipment schools have, I wonder if underwriters would even give insurance for this?

V. Conclusion?

It's complicated. I consider myself fairly intelligent, but I'm no expert on any of these things. These are just the thoughts that have been running through my head without any evidence or dialogue with others.

Monday, February 12, 2018

I like reading about how to save money, but....

I'm always drawn to those articles with titles like, "How to save an extra $500 this year!" and "Ways to be even more frugal than you already are."

I click on them, thinking that in one I will find THE MYSTERY TRICK to squeeze a little more blood from a penny.

But what I find is that these articles either suggest doing things I already do or they suggest things that are just, to me, a little ridiculous.

The articles that suggest the things I already do list things like "get books from the library instead of buying them," and "get rid of cable television." Generally, there is nothing these articles suggest that I'm not already doing.

The other articles suggest things that sound "easy" but are a pretty big time suck, in my opinion, like taking surveys every month to earn money. Or using ten trillion apps to save money.

The problem with some of these ideas is that they don't value time, and time is valuable. I use store apps for coupons and iBotta, but these require time to use. They require regular checking to ensure I've clicked the coupons I want and have scanned my receipts and submitted them.

Articles that suggest shopping at four different stores to save money on special items that those stores have on sale don't consider the time involved and the gas involved in driving to and from four different stores.

The articles that suggest that I can get my grocery budget down to $100 a month often require me to buy foods and items that I don't want. I might be able to find a coupon for a $1 bottle of lotion, but with my sensitive skin, I might not even be able to use the lotion, in which case I have spent $1 on nothing.

I don't buy Hamburger Helper or refrigerated biscuits or Poptarts because they are full of preservatives and calories. To buy them might "save me money," but I have to consider my eating values. I'd rather not buy them and spend a little more on veggies or fruits or whole-grain foods. To get $100 on foods I don't want isn't saving me $100.

Over time, I've learned that you sometimes have to spend more money on one thing to avoid spending money on another thing.

For example, last May, I developed plantar fasciitis. I went out and bought a pair of $90 fitness shoes to wear while I walk, and my intention is to purchase a new pair this May. My condition has improved, but I don't want it to come back, which may result in doctor visits and cortisone shots and specially made insoles. Spending $90 a year on new high-quality shoes can potentially keep me from spending a ton more if I re-injure myself.

I've also learned from experience that doing things yourself might not actually be cost-efficient. I tried to change the faucet fixtures in our powder room once. I got the old ones out and could not get the new ones in, so I called a plumber. It took the plumber AND his apprentice to fit the new fixture in. There is no way I could have actually done it myself, and I could have made things worse, which would have been MORE expensive, not less.

I'm sure, despite what I know about these articles, I will continue reading them. I'm a realist but I somehow can suspend my disbelief enough to think maybe there is a Holy Grail.