Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cautiously Optimistic

The principal at GJ's school sent me back a very thoughtful email. She offered some really valuable perspective and had some good suggestions, including letting GJ talk with the school counselor so that she knows she's being heard--by a grown up--at school.

GJ's report from her day yesterday was somewhat better, and some of her spunk has returned. She tackled her homework with gusto and even told me some HAPPY stories of things that happened in class that included MS. SECOND GRADE TEACHER.

So I'm going to stay on top of it, but for now things seem to be heading in the right direction.

Thanks to those of you who commented and offered advice. You know who you are...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Mama Bear Begins to Growl

First up, thanks for your comments and concern. I just sent this message to GJ's principal (identifiers redacted). We'll see what comes of it:


First off, congrats on ELEMENTARY SCHOOL's recent "Exemplary" rating. I know how hard all of the teachers and students worked to acheive this recognition.

Second, I wanted to let you know about some concerns I have about my daughter GJ's current classroom situation.

GJ has always loved going to school. She's never been one to protest getting up and heading to class. She's been blessed with caring and skilled teachers all the way from her pre-K and kindergarten experiences (at a private Montessori school) through her first year at YOUR SCHOOL in Ms. 1ST GRADE TEACHER's class. She handled last year's transition from the Montessori environment to public school quite well and was very excited to start 2nd grade.

The open house visit with Ms. 2ND GRADE TEACHER went well. She was warm and friendly and her classroom seemed bright and organized. The whole time we were there, former students were stopping by to say hi and get a hug. I was very pleased to see this and had high hopes. However, when GJ got home from her first day of school, she said she'd felt "rushed" and that Ms. 2ND GRADE TEACHER "yelled at them a lot." As I probed a bit deeper to figure out what exactly she was talking about, she said that Ms. 2ND GRADE TEACHER didn't give her "time to think" and that all of the yelling was about "Do this! Finish this up!" and that it "gave her a headache." I explained to her that different teachers have different styles and that Mrs. 2ND GRADE TEACHER's style may just take some getting used to and that, especially at the beginning of a new school year, it's important that the teacher establish their classroom schedule and routine, which may be why she's feeling rushed. She seemed to understand, but the evening ended with her having a bedtime meltdown--an extremely rare occurrence at our house. She was very upset--crying and saying she didn't want to get yelled at. And, for the first time ever, she expressed fear and anxiety about going to school.

I worried that yesterday morning would be a battle, but it wasn't. She went to school without protest, but all of the enthusiasm that had been there on the first day of school had disappeared. Yesterday evening, she said that Ms. 2ND GRADE TEACHER yelled at the class again and that, at one point, she'd walked by GJ's desk while she was working, accidentally hitting her in the back of the head and then not saying she was sorry, even though she knew she'd done it.

I am not an alarmist parent. Like most 7 year old girls, GJ can be a bit dramatic, but she's not a liar. I am very worried about how this school year--with this teacher--has started out. It's one thing if a teacher has a loud voice and is boisterous--it's another thing if s/he actually yells at the students. Yelling is simply unacceptable in a second grade learning environment. Seeing GJ's excitement about second grade so quickly extinguished by her classroom environment is very upsetting to me.

I know Mrs. 2ND GRADE TEACHER is a veteran teacher at ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Have other parents ever expressed worry about Mrs. 2ND GRADE TEACHER's approach before? If so, what were the repercussions? Do you have any advice for me and for GJ in this situation? Do you think you and I should meet--either with Mrs. 2ND GRADE TEACHER or one-on-one?

I appreciate your quick response to this email.

If you'd care to call me, my work number is XXX-XXXX and my cell phone is XXX-XXXX.

Thank you,
Pine Curtain Refugee

Monday, August 22, 2011

And Then Everything Turned Itself Inside Out

I never struggled academically in school. I got--and enjoyed--everything that was thrown at me. I thrived. That is, until 9th grade algebra. Something about the theoretical nature of it all--it's utter abstractness--didn't click in my brain. Plus, it just seemed so fucking pointless to me. Who GAVE a shit if X equaled Y? My teacher that year didn't really care about teaching so much as she cared about covering the "essential elements"--a new set of standards required by The State and repeated like a zombie mantra by teachers who were scared shitless of being judged against these new, arbitrary requirements. Their anxiety made its way into their teaching styles. And if they were already uninspiring teachers, they became even worse under the heightened paranoia that the Essential Elements brought with them as their presence became a part of our daily vernacular.

For the first time in my life, I was the slow one in class--the one who asked too many questions and held everybody else up. I became the one who needed extra attention and time--something the Essential Elements curriculum discouraged. I became the one who cried at night while trying to do my homework and had to try ten times harder than I'd ever done in my life just to squeak by with a B minus. I became the one that became not only fearful of math, but also quickly grew to HATE math. I hated how stupid it made me feel, and I had no interest--zero--in advancing in the subject. To this day, I am known as a dumbo when it comes to math. I laugh about it, but the memory of that horrible feeling of being left behind because of (what I perceived at the time as) my own denseness still stings.

Fast forward to the present day. GJ is so gifted in so many ways. She is kind, makes friends easily, and loves learning new things. I have been enormously blessed with how she's handled SO many things that other children and their parents struggle with. Bed time has almost always been easy. She's not overly picky with food. She has never been shy around new people or situations. Even with her transitions from her baby/toddler school to Montessori to public school, she'd handled everything with bravery and grace.

Until today.

The concept of second grade has been one she's been thrilled about since the last day of first grade--getting to be the bigger kid...knowing the ropes. Last week, we read the posted class list and looked up her new teacher in the yearbook, and GJ seemed excited about who she'd gotten. "I remember her!! I smiled at her a lot on the playground! She likes me!"

Open house last Friday seemed good as well. The teacher was warm and friendly to me--more so than I'd felt the first grade teacher had been upon our first meeting. Her classroom seemed bright and well-organized. Former students stopped by to say hello and grab a hug. Very promising.

Today when I took GJ to school and walked her to class, the excitement was still there. Second grade! Yay!! But then when I picked her up this afternoon, there'd been a change in her demeanor. I was all amped up, wanting to hear how great it had been to see her old friends and get acquainted with her new second grade life. But when I asked her how it had been, and she said quietly, "I felt really rushed, Mommy," it was as if someone had kicked me square in the the guts.

I tried to do all of those things and say all of the stuff you're supposed to say when your child is discouraged. She seemed helped by my seemingly wise counsel, and we went about our night.

At bedtime, we read together, and then it was time for lights out. We said our goodnights, and I went to my room to read. Then softly, from the other side of the house, I heard faint whimpers that quickly turned into epic sobs. When I went to check on her, she was crying so hard she couldn't catch her breath to tell me what was wrong. But I already knew.

When she was finally able to speak between sobs, the words, "I feel so RUSHED. I don't have time to THINK, Mommy," is what I heard. The tone of her voice dripped with stress and worry. "My teacher yells if we're not on time with everybody else." Granted, GJ has a flair for the dramatic, but there was nothing about what she was saying that felt put on or exaggerated. My heart felt like it was in a vice grip, and I wanted to punch something.

I pulled her into my lap and rocked her and told her that all teachers have different styles and that her new teacher might just take some getting used to. My logical brain believes this 100%, but my gut tells me it's bullshit. I advised her to give it a day or two--to be open to her new teacher and all of the change that a new school year brings--and that if she STILL feels this way at the end of the week, I'll schedule some time to speak with her teacher.

The last thing I want this bright, eager young child to feel is discouraged and left behind--not ever, but ESPECIALLY not in second freaking grade. I don't want her to be me in algebra. But maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe I'm projecting my own bullshit on to her unique situation.

By Friday, I should know...right?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Am 93% More Likely

To get behind the old lady writing a check and trying to use 49 coupons and a raincheck at the grocery store than behind someone who actually has shit to do and wants to get the FUCK outta there.

To lie awake with my mind racing after my 4:48am trip to the bathroom than actually fall back to sleep.

To yell "Come ON, Granpaw!" at you if you're going 32 mph in a 45 mph zone than to think, "It's so ADORABLE how slowly he's going!! Good for him!"

To fart than tinkle when laughing.

To choose potato chips over tortilla chips and cantaloupe over honeydew.

To take a nap when the opportunity presents itself rather than do something "productive" or "active."

To vote for a blind, brain-damaged chimpanzee covered in its own feces than any of the Republican "candidates" currently campaigning to be our country's next president.

To sing harmony than melody.

To tell you if you've got something stuck in your teeth or if your fly is open than let you walk around looking like a chump.

To buy something without trying it on and then have to return it when I get it home and it doesn't fit than try it on in the store.

To drink savignon blanc than chardonnay.

To read non-fiction than fiction.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Stepson is a Badass.

Not only is he one of the skaters featured in this video, he also helped film it. He is fearless and talented and kind and funny, and he's only 11 1/2 years old.

He is a badass, and I adore him.

Summer Skatepark Sessions from Greg Melish on Vimeo.

Friday, August 05, 2011

A terrifying glimpse into my brain.

Last night's dream contained the following elements:
  • Wardrobe:  Sweeney Todd, which I have not actually seen.
  • Water skiing
  • Severed toe (not mine)
  • Set: HBO's Carnivale, however we were actually in Miami
  • Melanie from "So You Think You Can Dance"
  • My friend Thelma Jane
  • Karaoke
What the HELL, people?! I'm blaming this extreme weirdness of this dream on a combo of the heat and the fact that I saw a not-quite-full-grown-but-bigger-than-a-baby possum on our front porch last night. And also that I'm nuts.

Monday, August 01, 2011

I remembered. I am haunted. I am hot.

I remembered on my way downstairs at work this morning that The Geej used to love playing on my bed when she was a baby. For some unknown reason, the memory just leaped into my brain, immediate and vivid. About 11 months old, she would gleefully throw her tiny body around on the bed for long stretches of time, knowing that either I or the soft mattress and pillows would catch her. Her huge open grin, with gums just beginning to sprout what is now a mouth full of teeth, showing how completely happy this little repeated act of abandon and trust made her. I believe that this is what a child's love for her parent is based upon: the unquestioning belief that you will always be there for them, no matter which way they throw themselves.


I am haunted by an eyeless cat I met this weekend. We didn't need to go to Petsmart, but we were shopping nearby, and The Geej wanted to go "see the animals." There are always adoption events on the weekends put on by various local animal rescue groups, and generally there are a fair number of cats, kittens, puppies and dogs you can interact with, and some you can even hold or pet. They had moved the canine adoption candidates inside the entryway of the store because of the heat. It was crowded and unfortunately, for the dogs and for us, it wasn't very easy to interact with or even see the puppies. We made our way inside, and halfway down the main aisle, there were tables with cages set up on them, and in the cages were cats and kittens ready to be adopted. Each cage had a laminated page attached to it that gave the cat's name and some information about it. The second cage held the eyeless cat. Full grown with a coat of long, cream-colored fur, she sat perched in her little fabric hammock that hung from the cage's four corners, quietly alert. She listened and sniffed. I could see the tiny corners of her pink nose moving as she took in every smell that passed her. The Geej looked at the cat and asked in slight alarm, "Where are her eyes?" I read the information page aloud to her: Ophelia. Born with a genetic eye defect. A stray. Part of a feral colony. Repeated infections. Unable to save the eyes. Recently removed. Don't feel sorry for her because she has adapted amazingly.

We stuck our fingers through the black wire openings, hoping Ophelia would smell something she liked and come closer to the cage walls so we could pet her. But she stayed put, interested but not quite sure enough to move from her safe spot. One of the women manning the adoption center said, "You can open the cage and pet her if you'd like." I carefully opened the latch and stuck my hand in, touching Ophelia's soft head and ears. The Geej concentrated on petting her side and back. Immediately, Ophelia began to purr and pushed her head into my hand, lunging into a half-roll upside down so that I could access her chin and neck. Her paws began to knead the air, a sign of comfort and bliss. I moved my hand away so The Geej could pet Ophelia's head too. She giggled with Ophelia's pushes into her small hands, saying, "She REALLY likes this, Mommy!" After a couple of minutes of communion with this blind cat, we closed the cage and stepped away to look at the other kittens and cats. She composed herself back in her hammock, listening and sniffing, her sewn-together eyelids on her beautiful face pointed in our direction.


I am hot. This summer has been horrible, and now it is August 1st, which means that we have at least two more months of this shit. I have moved on from being frustrated and sizzled into boredom by the relentless swelter, and now I am just hot and angry. There is no rain, few clouds, and everything is dead or dying. Tempers are short, and the nights offer no respite.

I think back to my last summer in Chicago. A famous Midwestern heatwave sat upon the city like a fat, sweaty old man. People were dropping dead. The city's electrical grid couldn't handle the demand. On my way home from my wonderfully air-conditioned office to my apartment that was only sort of air-conditioned by a couple of lame window units, I noticed that the traffic lights in our neighborhood weren't working. Rolling brown outs. No power anywhere for blocks. I walked into the apartment and was overwhelmed by the stillness and oppression of the heat. My dog lay on the floor, listless. I got his leash and took him on a short, slow walk, after which he drank a bowl-and-a-half of water in record time. I kept thinking to myself, "But I'm from TEXAS, goddamnit! I can handle this stupid heatwave." But the truth was, I couldn't. I was miserable and couldn't bear to be in the boiling house, but also couldn't risk leaving the dog there without care. I took his leash and went to sit on the front stoop of our brownstone, in the shade. Together with our neighbors, we waited for the sun to go down. When it did, the dog and I made our way back upstairs. The air temperature seemed to increase by ten degrees with each step up. After dragging ourselves inside, I had to light a few candles since we still didn't have electricity and had no idea when it might return. The coolest place in the apartment was the kitchen with its hardwood floors and windows at either end that offered a slight hope of a cross-breeze. I took off everything but my bra and underwear and went to lie in the middle of the kitchen floor, staring at the ceiling illuminated by a couple of flickering tea lights. Other than traffic noises through the open windows, the dog's incessant panting from five feet away was the only sound I could hear. I thought, "We are going to die tonight, me and this damn dog. We're going to become statistics." I wondered who the poor soul would be that would find me dead in my underwear on the kitchen floor next to my beautiful Siberian husky. I wondered if my death announcements would focus on the irony of a Texan dying in a heat Chicago. However, we survived.

That day and that night are STILL the hottest I can ever remember being, and that's saying something. The Chicago heatwave lasted what, a few days? A week? And then things went back to what was considered "normal" summer weather--warm days, pleasant nights, the occasional rain shower. I'm beginning to wonder if this intense monotony of extreme temperature coupled with drought is now what's considered "normal" summer weather here. And if so, will I be able to stand living here for the rest of my life?