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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Opportunities to learn right from wrong

Let me be the first to say that I don't know what the hell I'm doing as a parent.

Like everyone else who has children, I'm flying by the seat of my pants. I read as much as I can, use my experience as a teacher, and listen to my own feelings to guide me.

I am a firm believer in letting kids fail on the small scale so that they learn how to "police" themselves.
My kids are going to make stupid decisions. All kids, including their mother, make stupid decisions, especially as teenagers.
But I'm hoping that they learn to listen to the little voice inside their heads that says, "This isn't right," and get out of situations on their own because they've had practice in developing good sense.

I know there are all sorts of technologies out there that will monitor my kids online, but at this point in time, we do not use them.

We talk about what is and is not appropriate for kids online.
We talk about not giving any kind of personal information about themselves online.
We talk about child predators.
We pop in and check to see what our kids are doing online. The boys do all of their internet stuff in the living room where I can see them. N is up in her room most of the time, but gets occasional "mom interruptions" where I ask what she is watching.

The other night, while I was at my class, D told me that G was watching a YouTube video on the couch. All of a sudden, D heard "F*ck yah! F*ck yah!" and G scrambled to get out of the video. G said, "I didn't know it was going to do that."

Did he get out of it because he knew his dad would hear it and question him? Yes.
Would he have learned the lesson if we had everything inappropriate blocked? I'm not sure.

I distinctly remember doing things as a teenager and hearing my mother's voice inside my head telling me not to do something. In some cases, I ignored the voice, but it was there, and it tried it's best to get me to do the right thing.

The problem with having all sorts of technology do the monitoring is that it can give parents a false sense of security. "Technology is taking care of it, therefore I have nothing to worry about it."
Technology can and does fail.
Technology isn't going to teach children how to monitor themselves.
Experience does that.

This is part of the reason I don't censor my children's reading.
I mean, if they walked into the house with Fifty Shades of Grey I would draw a line, but I don't research what they read.
When I was a kid, I read Judy Blume's books all the time and loved them. I read about masturbation in Then Again Maybe I Won't. I read about menstruation in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." I read about teenage sex in Forever. And I would say now, as an adult, that isn't the worst way to learn about those things. Better than learning about them from other goofy teenagers.

With my GAD, it would be very easy for me to put a bubble around my children and protect them from everything, but I see what happens when parents do that. I see how unsuccessful it is when parents deny their kids opportunities to fail or shelter them too much.  I have known parents who read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath to their high schooler to censor out things that they deem inappropriate. (The parent who did this had a child who explored pornography, which tells me that sheltering them too much doesn't actually work.)

(There is a happy medium, though, because giving kids complete free reign isn't successful either. Children need guidance.)

As soon as you deny kids something, forbid them from something, that is exactly what they want to do or see or learn about unless they are unusually obedient kids. I say this as an adult who is hell-bent on doing whatever it is someone tells me I can't do, and I have a fully formed pre-frontal cortex that helps me be pretty darn rational.

So for now, we're doing our best to help our kids develop the skills to self-monitor so they don't have to have big-brother do it for them.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

My own tame version of #metoo

When #metoo began trending, I thought about whether I had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted.

I know that may sound silly--to have to think about it--but I doubt I'm the only woman who had to think back throughout her life experiences.

Of course, any kind of violent or serious sexual assault doesn't require a lot of thought, but the thing with sexual harassment is that it is insidious. It often appears harmless, and perhaps a woman wonders whether she is making a big deal about something that wasn't intended in an intimidating or uncomfortable way. I think there is a certain amount of disbelief that goes along with it, a certain wondering, "Did that just happen the way I think it happened?"

I thought back to when I was a preteen. I'm not 100% sure how old I was, but I think I was around 11...maybe 12.  My parents took me and my brother to Panama City Beach, FL, and I met a cute boy. I don't remember his name or what he looked like. I think he was around 13 or 14.

We met at the pool and sat beside it talking. When my parents called me back to the room, I remember him escorting me. When we got into the elevator, he pushed the emergency stop button on the wall. It came to a sharp standstill. I don't remember if there was an alarm. I remember feeling startled. I remember him quickly coming up to me, pressing himself up against me, and kissing me. I remember pushing him off and feeling overwhelmed.

I don't know if he pushed the emergency release button or I did. I remember walking off the elevator and feeling angry with this boy. I remember walking out of the elevator when the doors opened. I hadn't thought about this event in many years, but now that I've been remembering for a couple hours in order to write this blog post, I seem to recall him saying, "You don't know what you're missing."

As an adult, I don't look at this event as having any major lasting impact on my life. I don't think it scarred me. I wonder if maybe the boy was just as stupid as I was and thinking this was the way you were supposed to "make a move on a girl." It certainly wasn't a situation in which someone with power or authority over me used that power for nefarious purposes.

I never told my parents about this experience. I don't really remember a reason why I didn't tell them, but I wonder if I didn't tell them because I suspected they would keep me from going out again alone if they knew this had happened. I wondered if I would essentially be "punished" because of this boy being too fresh or whatever word you want to use to describe what he did.

As a mom, I'm spending an awful lot of time instructing my sons in what is appropriate and not appropriate with other people. Drilling it into their heads that when someone says no or stop, they mean absolutely, positively NO and STOP. Informing them that if they are giving you mixed signals, you probably need to be with someone who communicates better.

I think we've spent so much time warning girls that we haven't spent enough time helping our boys learn to navigate what is appropriate and how a girl might read stopping the elevator emergency button and pushing yourself against her. Our girls end up being punished, being denied experiences and opportunities, because we are so terrified of what boys may do to them.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

You only think you know people (and I don't just mean powerful celebrities who sexually harass)

I don't know any celebrities nor do I want to. There is something about celebrity that I find troubling.

I don't know if it is the power or the fame or the money or a combination of it all, but anything that invites sycophants is a problem.

In no way am I surprised, stunned or shocked by any of the allegations against any of the men in power or with celebrity who have been accused of pulling out their johnsons on various women on various occasions (or grabbing them by the pussies or anything else they've done). The only thing I keep thinking is that my 10-year-old son does shit like that, and at least he has the sense to only do it in our house where he gets yelled at by all of us to put his junk away.

I think what is most surprising to me is how many people are stunned, shocked or surprised by revelations about Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor and whomever else has been deemed "ok even though we actually don't know these people or anything about them." Why would anyone think these guys would be above the fray?

Because you like their on-stage personality?


All of these people are acting.

I once taught with someone who is now in prison for rape and sodomy of a middle school student he taught. On the one hand, I can understand the disbelief of colleagues of people accused of heinous crimes. That isn't the person I knew; it isn't the person they knew. I wouldn't have thought this person capable of such an act, but I tend to believe in the power of the legal system. I couldn't convict someone of a crime unless I was damned certain, without a reasonable doubt. Plus, in this case, after he took the stand, he later admitted to the rape and sodomy.

Just because I can't believe it, just because this person was above board with me doesn't mean this person was above board with everyone.

We really never truly know anyone as well as we think we do. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Papaw's house (how we left it, and how it looks now)

Yesterday I saw my cousin's post on FB about Papaw's house, which my MIL and her brother sold in the spring.

Papaw had lived in it for something like 50 years, and to say it was dated is an understatement. But it was Papaw's house and we loved it, even if the carpet contained 80% of the dust on the planet and there were grease stains in every corner of the kitchen.

G requested that my MIL take photos of the rooms before it sold so we could remember it forever, and while I often roll my eyes at his insistence on documenting everything including the most mundane, I am glad now that we have photos of what it looked like just 6 months ago.

My cousin's post showed the house after renovations. It is now on the market, and it looks amazing! I almost can't believe it is the same house.

I showed the kids, and even G, who wants things to stay exactly the way they are until the end of time, was happily surprised by how wonderful it looks.

As we come up on the one year anniversary of Papaw's death, I have been thinking about him a lot and feeling a little down, but seeing these photos made me smile and feel excited. I even asked D if we could sell our house and buy Papaw's, but we'd be losing many square inches of sanity space.

Life is all about loss and rebirth, and Papaw's house is a good example of how life carries on.


This is Papaw's living room and eating area as we left it. 


This is how it looks after renovations and staged for sale.



This is Papaw's bathroom as we left it.


And after renovations.

Papaw's attic BEFORE.



Papaw's attic NOW





Papaw had a sunporch right outside the eating area.


Now it is an all-season sunroom with a pass-through to the kitchen area. 


Papaw's kitchen


The new and improved kitchen 
(you can see the pass-through in this top photo to the sunroom).



Friday, November 17, 2017

1. Like a Millennial and 2. why teaching and fun are important

This is the second year that my neighbor and I are seeing Broadway shows together. 

She orders season tickets; every month or so we go out to dinner and afterward are entertained for two hours by people who have more talent in their pinky toes than I do in my entire body. 

At last's month night out, I was telling her about my mindf*ck resulting from my grad class, in which I feel/felt like "not a real educator" because I don't teach full-time in a district school. 

My friend, who has two 20-something children, promptly responded, "Pshaw." 

She then went on to tell me that I am actually far hipper than I realize because I am, essentially, a Gen Xer who is living a Millennial-like professional life. I'm not tied down to one gig and have a much more interesting life because of it. 

She reminded me that not every person gets to interview local "bigwigs" around town, the kind who have donated millions to various civic projects. (That piece will come out in 2018, and one of the "bigwigs" even told me I'm a "fun interviewer.) She reminded me that not everyone gets a byline. 

After her cheerleading session, I began to look at my odd professional career with pride. 

Not every English teacher has an actual almost 8-year portfolio of published writing pieces. Actually, I'd be willing to bet that most don't. That is something special I can bring to my students, even if I don't teach that many of them. (Here is a nice article about this.)

I had thought to myself, "I'm not a real teacher because I have small classes," but I had to remind myself that my college professor only has 11 students in my grad class. It isn't the size of the class that makes you a teacher. Just because I haven't taught thousands of students doesn't mean those I have taught haven't learned something valuable from me. 

I recently received a text from a mom of two of my former students, both of whom now attend the local university. She text was short and sweet and basically said, Ms. V's English class is harder than college English classes. 

I can hardly think of a better compliment. And I know that even though my class is challenging, my former students had fun. They looked forward to being there. 

It is very important to me to make English fun and interesting, to be funny and interesting to my students. Back in the day when I taught in the district, I think I brought fun and interest to the class. In moments when I think about going back to the district at some point, I wonder whether I would still be able to do that with all the testing and data-driven instruction that is done. 

In this class, as we've been designing lessons and thinking up plans, I have realized that I'm pretty good at that. I'm pretty good at thinking how to take a piece of text and make it teachable. 

For not being a "real professional," I'm not half-bad. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Be sure the person you're complaining to is not the person who is inconvenienced by the thing about which you're complaining

I could probably scroll through my blog and find links to all the crap I wrote about three years ago when N wanted to go to her middle school, but then I wouldn't be able to basically rehash it all right now as she applies to high school.

The high school, like the middle school, is not our resides, which means I'll be shlepping her for at least 3 years.
The high school promises amazing things like her middle school did (Note:  I'm not distracted by shiny things and sports teams).
A large portion of the people she knows and is friends with are applying there. (But so are a swath of the fakey people she complains about constantly....)

Let me back this train up to explain why she started complaining to me before I'd ever picked her up when she texted me her complaints.

Last week, she asked me if she could aide for a teacher, and I reluctantly agreed.

My general feeling about student aiding is as follows:
1. Kids do it to get out of classes they hate.
2. Teachers do it to have someone do grunt work that they don't have time to do--which I completely understand as I was once a teacher who had student aides.
3. As a parent, I feel much differently about kids aiding than I did as a teacher.

I had never allowed N to aid, so when she asked to do so for this 12-week period, I signed the paper last week.

On Thursday, she turned the form into the counselor.

On Friday, she went to class because she wasn't certain if the roster sheets showed her as being an aide.

On Monday, she went to the teacher (who happens to be a former colleague of mine) to aid.

On Monday afternoon, N gets into my car at the end of the day and bawls. BAWLS.
An SRT member came to her while aiding and told her the other teacher said she was cutting. She was embarrassed.
Then she found out that the principal said no one from that particular class can aid because like half the class wrote a note to the counselor begging them to get them out of this class.
N was pissed because "she followed the rules and directions and is being punished."
But I get why the principal made that decision. He can't have half the class bailing to aid (although it makes me wonder what sucks so bad about this class that so many kids want to jump ship).

So on Monday, she bawled....and then bitched.
Today she just bitched.

And all the while, I'm thinking to myself:

Sister, this is where your ass wanted to go, not where I wanted you to go. You can just go whistle Dixie and deal with that class because YOU made this choice, so live with it. And because I'm still resentful about driving your butt there every.stinking.day, I am probably not the person who is going to give you the sympathy you seek. 

And my daughter knows me....and I also might have said, "You know what I'm thinking?" to which she got to hear a slightly nicer version of the aforementioned statement.

But here is what I didn't say:

What in the holy hell makes you think I'm happy about going along with sending your butt to another school that you think is so spectacular when I may have to listen to you bitch about shit once you're there. Did you learn NOTHING from sixth grade when you and your BFF's relationship went caput and you've never had class together or even been on the same team? What makes you think you and your friends from middle school are going to stay friends in high school? What if you have classes with all the fakey ass kids you dislike? Am I going to have to listen to you bitch about it every day? I would have an easier time listening to you bitch about going to the high school you don't want to go to because I can listen to you once your ass gets off the danged school bus. 

Sometimes I think I'm nuts for not putting my foot down and saying, "We did this crap for middle school, but I'm not doing it again for high school."
But she is hell-bent on wanting to go to the high school she has selected, and she is all about doing what friends are doing. (If memory serves, I wanted to also do a lot of stupid shit because of my friends when I was a teen, too.)
And then I feel guilty for telling my boys: "You will go to THIS middle school and THIS high school and THAT is the end of the story so get used to it."

And then I remember that I am a mother so I'm going to have to listen to somebody bitch about something for the next....oh hell, until I'm dead.....because that is what mothers do.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

There is always more to the story (the fight, the cop and the taser)

Paul Harvey would always give his listeners "The rest of the story."

And in the situation at the local high school, it appears there are many components to the "rest of the story."

Reports are that surveillance video at the school shows administrators de-escalating the situation when the student resource officer escalated it. The investigations are ongoing, and I doubt the public at large will ever get the full and complete story because that requires lots of unpleasant information being made transparent.

Last night, D, N and I attended Open House at this school because it is our resides. Although N is applying to a different school, if she doesn't get accepted there, she will go to this nearest high school so I wanted her to be familiar with it.

What I learned from speaking with two individuals who work at the school is that the two students involved in the fracas had been at the high school for two weeks.

Why is that important?

Anyone who has worked in a public school understands that in some cases, a student transferring in from another school at an odd time of year, can mean trouble. Sometimes a student who is a behavior problem in one school moves on to another one before the sh*t hits the fan.

I remember a student who came into 6th grade during an odd time of year and immediately gave off signals of disrespect to me. I had done my best to welcome the girl, but I quickly picked up that something was off. I talked to the student about it and was very soon summoned for a conference with the principal and the mom (who had gone over my head to the principal). I was given a tongue-lashing by the mother about how her daughter treats people with respect.

Move ahead a couple months, and this child was getting in trouble CONSTANTLY. Her grades were terrible, and her behavior was terrible. The mother somehow faded into the background and didn't come in for conferences when the teachers requested them. The child had issues with every teacher on the team.

I felt vindicated that I had picked up on it from the first time this student sat in my class.

The second reason that the students had been in the school only two weeks is because teenagers are ALL. ABOUT. RELATIONSHIPS, and you cannot have a relationship after two weeks. Students frequently come into a school from another school that may not have the same culture or the same discipline. Students come from other schools and think they can play. It takes time to acclimate them to a school and for them to develop relationships with the staff in the building.

But it is not all about what may lie on the side of the students.
Teachers can have their fare share of unpleasantries.

Like yesterday when I subbed and heard a teacher screaming at a student, just really going off on this kid. And then I heard the kid crying and screaming back at the teacher. I don't know what happened, but based on what I heard, I suspect that the student had just pushed the teacher too far. The teacher had reached a point where she just wasn't able to take it anymore. Maybe the teacher tabbed the student out, and the student refused to go (this is a tactic to remove the individuals from each other's presence and give them a chance to chill). Or maybe the teacher, for reasons I am not privy to, was just at the end of her rope. Or maybe this teacher is just crazy (because there are some teachers who are just crappy for a variety of reasons).

The point is that I don't know all the angles to that situation, just like I don't know all the angles to the fight at our resides high school.

Even the "golden school" downtown that gets to select all the best and brightest has been in the middle of its own brouhaha about the principal saying inappropriate things to students. (Although I admit it makes me a little happy to know that the school that the public assumes is the be-all-and-end-all is not as shiny as it appears.)

If there is anything I know with certainty, it is the following:
1. Working with middle- and high schoolers is not for pussies.
2. Schools with the shittiest reputations have redeeming qualities.
3. Schools with the best reputations have their shitty aspects and are sometimes resting on undeserved laurels.
4. Parents and students are often fooled by bells & whistles.
5. Parents are sometimes not the best judges of their students.
6. Teachers sometimes act inappropriately (even yours truly, who told a kid I would "kick his ass" if he didn't do well on my test, although in my head I said "I'm gonna kick your butt." And I was joking, but I said it twice. I was also very pregnant.)