Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Love and Logic

One of my favorite bloggers showed me the future. And it frightened me.

I wasn't able to sleep last night after reading her open letter to the parents of Casey; one of the students she's encountered in her role as substitute teacher in a Texas classroom.

The letter starts with a little background: The child, one of the smallest and youngest in the second grade class, had moved into the area from another state over the summer. He’s left behind everything he knows, has made no friends and is getting penalized daily for being unprepared.

One of the penalties for not being prepared: The child must sit on a wall and watch as other children play at recess.

It seems only the child (and this teacher) cares that it matters not whether it was the child being forgetful or the parents being lame when they didn’t investigate his bag for homework. The hurt and embarrassment of having to sit out recess stings either way.

The premise is unmistakable: This boy’s parents are fucking up.

They are perpetually late. They are disorganized. They’ve not taught their kid how to pronounce words. They don’t sit and eat dinner together. They have not made his education their priority, or even a distant second.

They make excuses rather than remedies. They send notes begging for leniency for their son, whose homework got misplaced under a bunch of crap that should have been sorted out by now. They didn’t think to correct their son’s pronunciation, probably because “fought” is so much cuter that “thought” in toddlerhood. Or maybe they thought a teacher would just sort all that stuff out.

I suppose it was this teacher's last line that hit me the hardest:

“Be the parents ... so we can get back to being his teachers.”

At that moment, I pictured Casey’s mom, and decided she probably looked a lot like me.

I felt the disorganization of being in unfamiliar territory. I felt the terror of the knowledge that the hours I work are not entirely conducive of conventional life. Dinner won’t ever happen until after 7 p.m. When will homework get done? I don’t even want to think about the commute.

Will I have to quit my job? If I do will we have enough money? How will we get health insurance if my job disappears? What if my husband gets hurt on the job? How will we save for college? None of the basics seems so basic anymore.

And then there’s making friends. I am the last person who can teach my child how to make friends.

I’ve lived in my town for nearly 10 years now. I’ve gone to community events. I’ve volunteered. I’ve invited people over for parties and dinners and cookouts. The friendships haven’t materialized.

It’s probably me. I suppose I’m the same person I was when I was in second grade: the same little girl who’d bend over backwards to have someone take notice. I’d give away any Barbie in my collection – Hell, you could have them all – if you’d just be my friend. No one wanted my Barbies then. It shouldn't suprise me they don't want my potato salad now.

It's true that we've lived here longer than we've even been parents, but we spend most of our time in other places. Our children have even gone to other towns for preschools and daycare. Come next September, when the reality of Kindergarten comes to pass, we will all feel as if we just moved from other place entirely.

But even in my own awkwardness, I don't think I'm alone.

I am not the only one who commutes or gets home after dark. No one else is at the park on weekday evenings. Playgroups don’t meet on weekends, they didn't even meet in the summer when I was last on maternity leave. Only laundry sees me eye to eye.

I think about how long it takes a person to settle in, and I realize it could be a lifetime. I suppose the neighborhood 'Welcome Wagons' have always been an idyllic convention of Hollywood. That's what churches are for, heathen.

We've all said it before: "Why are people so idiotic?"

We wonder with our pointy fingers, "Why can't they see that their children should take priority? It doesn't take much; just a little more attentiveness."

But wanting change doesn’t make it happen, just like wanting my husband to take the recycling to the curb won't actually get it there. Screaming and ranting generally don't produce desired results either. But figuring out what will work just isn't fair to me ... especially when I'll just end up taking it to the curb myself anyway.

There’s no such thing as an even playing field, no matter how much we’d like it to be. Love doesn't always mean logic.

There’s always going to be someone out there who doesn’t play by the rules, or who doesn’t realize the importance of the rules. There’s always going to be the people who do it all wrong, and whom clobbering over the head will only build up resistance not effect change.

I suppose what frightens me most is that there is that Casey really is the victim in all of this. He’ll find himself fighting two systems, at home and at school. Home where time is too short; and school where there are few accommodations for the basic failures: there’s too much to cover already.

I have no answers. I just hang my head and hope I can manage to avoid receiving this letter.


Whirlwind said...

While I agree that it does scream failure on the parents behalf, not everything is black and white.

My second grader, while an excellent student, has a few pronunciation issues, mainly her "th" sounds. I've had the speech pathologist evaluate her (she passed) and I work with her at home, yet she still says "fhree" for three. Last year, we had to work extra hard on spelling tests because of this. I can say, I have noticed some improvement recently, but her pronunciation still isn't perfect.

And yes, she sometimes forgets her work. Last year, I'd just go back and get it, however, I realized I was just enabling her.She needs to learn to be responsible for her things, which includes bringing her homework/library book/lunchbox to and from school. So this year, I don't go back once we're gone. And I can say, she's forgotten stuff much less than last year (it was at least a twice weekly occurance then). IN fact yesterday, while having lunch with her, I let her get an ice cream. The principle asked if she had her little change purse with her and then mentioned that she usually forgets it in the cafeteria. That or they always find her hat/coat/lunchbox/sweater and need to return it to her. Yup, that's my girl. She's always been a tad spacey when it comes to things like that. However, when she does forget her homework, I do communicate with her teacher and usually try to bring her to school early so that she can do it before school.

Reading the original post, I couldn't help but think that the school is a tad harsh as well. Has anyone even tried to communicate with the parents? Are they aware of the problems?

But like I said, it does sound like they are fucking up in some ways. Let's face it, moving is hard and if he's a shy kid, it's going to take time for him to fit in.

Oh and if you lived nearby, I'd be your friend. I'd be right there at the park with you at night, playing until the last rays of light disappeared!

Ali said...

thank you for linking to this. it hit home for me as well. while this particular case seems extreme, it does hurt me personally as a working mom. a mom who sometimes isn't home until 6pm. a mom with a first grader who pronounces "th" as "f". a mom whose children sometimes forget things. a mom who can't always make playdates happen, since i don't have the luxury of being able to drive during the day.

so, no, you aren't alone!

toyfoto said...

Whirlwind: I think that the parents are aware of the situation, but there has been no change.

There has been a war fought over these principals forever. Kids who's parents literally don't care and kids whose parents are too scatter-brained to get it right. Not to mention teachers whose hands are tied or school districts that are too rigid to make accomodations for the ONE kid who needs to be accomodated.

It does seem that only the kids whose parents aren't doing the work for them are getting penalised. But I really didn't want to go there.

I really don't want to start a war about who should do what. We all know how it SHOULD work and we can all see where it breaks down when it does. I just want to raise the question: can't there be other ways to deal with the problems?

down side up & right side in said...

Thank you for a thoughtful post. It really made me examine my preconceptions and wonder if maybe I don't make excuses myself too often.

apathy lounge said...

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Your bad feeling was NOT my intent at all. As I hastened to add in an additional comment, it appears that his parents decided against holding him back (or just not starting him in Kindergarten) because they wanted him to be with kids his own age. I have a nephew who was born in New York and whose parents decided to place him in Kindergarten at age 4 BECAUSE THEY COULD DO SO BY LAW. Even though the school told them that he was not anywhere close to being ready...they did it anyway. It was a disaster. (Complicated by his diagnosis of high-functioning autism and parents who spun his behavior issues and learning problems as "eccentricities", he is almost 9 now and not doing all that well). This kid was different. Both parents are at fault here. They want him in the 2nd grade, but his regular teacher feels he should have been retained. It's the parents' call until the end of this year when the grades tell the tale. My post was an attempt to illustrate how the parents don't seem to use the time they DO have with him to get organized and really support him in his school life. I'm only the sub and I've never even met the parents, so I'm piecing together a picture from the fragments I have. I don't know if they eat together or not. I'm not assuming anything other than the fact that if they DID, they seem not to utilize it as a way to catch up with him. That daily planner tells the tale for how the day went. They should be finding ways to help him remember, rather than just assuming the way the school handles it will straighten him out. And...he only misses 10 minutes of recess...5 if the planner was brought home but not signed by the parent. Not the whole recess. Still...I know how it looks because I know how it is. Please do not worry. If his parents were this worried, things probably wouldn't be where they are now.

toyfoto said...

Oh S. I know that you never intended anyone to feel bad about that letter. I know I'm not exactly like this woman, but I also know how quickly it becomes too late. figuratively and literally. How early we must get up, how perpetually late we are. How we can't seem to find clothes that match or comb or hair, or remember the fundraising kit, or that she needed sneakers today not boots ...

The choices seem so important and yet so arbitrary.

And that's just for preschool.

As a New Yorker I know about 4-year-olds in kindergarten. I've seen smart kids start early and struggle socially, too.
There is a sense of wanting your kid not to feel out of place at all ... not wanting them to be too old ... not to mention those trying to save the cost of daycare.

I think my daughter probably would have been fine if she went to school this year (she turns 5 in December) but I know that waiting won't hurt her; if anything it might give her more confidence. I'm not worried about that decision.

But I do think that post of yours is one of the most important things I've read.

Whirlwind said...

In Connecticut, it's the same here- if they are five by December 31, they can start kindergarten. And I truly believe it works for some kids.

Einey's birthday is December 25th so she squeaked in by a mere six days. We choose to send her when she was four and so far, it's proven to be the right choice for her. If it were either of my other two, I don't know if we would have done it.

Ali - First grade is where developmentally, the th should stop sounding like f. It wasn't until my daughter was 6.5 that they would even evaluate her and still, it was deemed dev. appropriate. Like I said earlier, it wasn't until the start of this school year (second grade) that I really noticed it starting to sound like th (although a few words still come out as a f sound).

Toyfoto - I see where your coming from. I had just wanted to point out that we don't have all the facts. It's a fine line we walk as parents. How much is too much/not enough? It's pretty difficult to keep things balanced.

Xdm said...

There is always so much to remember as parents. SO much more than when we were kids. Especially when you work, too. yesterday, "Momma, you forgot my milk ticket. I had to drink water." That morning I also forgot to label his lunchbox with that day's date and pulled a crayon out of another kid's hand and changed the 28 to 29. And then I sped off to work. When I get home I get about 2 hours with them on a good day and they are tired, melty, hungry and generally awful. I am trying to get dinner going, clean-up, get them bathed and jammied and make the lunch for the next day without forgetting the stupid fucking milk ticket or day label. Still. I'm not wagon training or eating my neighbor on a snowy over pass. There's that.

toyfoto said...

I'm glad you brought it up, Whirlwind. I was kinda making that same point by seeing myself in "Casey's" mom. I suppose the point I was also trying to make - but didn't successfully - was that leveling these accusations at parents, even if they are fair, won't do much good in effecting change. It will just keep some invisible wall between parents and teachers.

Something that I predict won't be helped by either the current economic climate or the level of fear and mistrust we have about everything from terrorism to furture success in life.

Whirlwind said...

I completely agree with your last comment- and is also why I am constantly in communication with my daughters' teachers. Especially now that the second grade teacher relies on the kids to pass messages onto us at home.

As I'.m typing this though, I realize that not everyone has access to their kids teachers. While I don't have email and phone number to them (although the second grade teacher asked if I wanted her cell phone number)I do see them everyday. And if I don't see them, I can go in and talk to them any day before school.

It does seem like the teacher is making the effort with the notebooks in the first place.

I think we can all see ourselves in "Casey's" mom. Its so easy to get wrapped up in different activities, school and work that before you know it, you have no time for yourselves. I hear parents complain about their kids not having enough time for homework because they have dance, gymnastics, piano and scouts. Yes and not or. Yet it doesn't occur to them to drop an activity.

Mrs. Chicken said...

I feel the same way you do, and I work in our home. I'm here all day, and dinner still gets on the table late.

The fact that you are examining these things makes you the antithesis of Casey's mom.

kblanz said...

Ditto what Mrs. Chicken said.

Smilla said...

I live in Sweden, and this is my first comment here.
I have to say, to me I was just alarmed that you would penalize a kid socially, w these 10 min sitting on a wall. I'm sorry but that seems like adding to the social problem for the kid, instead for punishing the parents. I just felt so bad for him. And that seems like a really wrong paedagogic solution.

Its not just the parents. Although i think they have lost focus on the real issue. Our most precious "fing" is TIME. We will all run out of it. Money will always be there, either in shorter or bigger aounts, but we get no more time.

There are investigations that show that homework, really isnt such a great thing for little kids. That they can get stress, that they learn no more, than if they are just taught in class, and then its also important to remember some parents are not strong, they might not be able to help with the kids homework. Those kids need help, not to be sitting on a wall.

Just my perspective.

toyfoto said...

I agree, Smilla. I also think a lot of punishments meted out by schools can be arbitrary and ineffective. I also think that a lot of kids with similar disadvantages really do end up having to fight the system. if their parents aren't there or aren't able to fight for them the chances for them to succeed diminish.