Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thank You and an Update

Again and again, I am reminded that the readers of this blog are the most compassionate and articulate and wonderful group of friends I have ever had.  Even when we disagree, the tone is always of mutual respect and kindness.  I consider you all among my greatest blessings. Thank you. You humble and uplift me.

I received a LOT of correspondence on my last blog post about Jane's school situation this new school year, both on the blog and in e-mail and every bit of it was so helpful. For one thing, I am conditioned to think that when I get really and truly angry, it is an out of proportion response.  Thank you for validating me.

For another, someone sent my blog to the Principal of Jane's school (she wouldn't say who, which is fine) on Tuesday and she immediately called both my husband and me and asked to meet with us. Initially, my heart sank and I felt...well, I felt like I'd been sent to the Principal's office! But then, you know, I remembered that I stood behind every word I had written.  That I had written the truth as I knew it and that it was my child's well-being at stake.

When we got there, the Principal had already called in the district psychologist and had spoken to the teacher.  I was not expecting her to be so proactive, nor was I expecting the level of concern and genuine regard for Jane's well-being.  I was impressed. I felt a lot better. I felt heard.

That being said, we are still exploring our options for Jane's school year.  We do feel that a change will have to be made but are discussing (ad nauseum) what form that change will take. We are actively looking at the array of private schools around us, as well as contemplating a teacher change. We think we will be able to make a decision by early next week.

As for Jane, she is definitely not feeling stress at the moment.  (Y'all can just imagine how closely we are monitoring THAT situation, right?) She started trumpet lessons yesterday and today is picture day.

Just now, as I was making her bed, I spied her new song in progress:
 It says:

I was prepared to show them, yeah
Was prepared to spray-ay-ay-ed my wings
So when I did, I took wing
And they, they gaped after me
So when I spread my wings
I showed them FEROCITY!!!

Gosh, I learn so much from that kid.

Monday, September 20, 2010


When Ana was tiny --REALLY tiny--like maybe not even a year old, I worked with her to identify her emotions by name.  One day, she was angry when I put her down for a nap and when I came back in to get her up several hours later she looked right at me and said, "ANGER." She was still mad!

I feel like maybe I should have some sort of flashing red sign right now that says that.


This morning, as I was going through Jane's backpack before school, I found this:

I've been on a slow burn ever since.

Today is the tenth day of school.

On the fourth day of school, Jane's teacher made her re-do work she'd already completed, saying there was no way she could have done it thoroughly enough. When Jane got home from school, she complained of a headache and a stomach ache.

On the fifth day of school, Jane came home early with a stomach ache and headache. I took her to the doctor who found nothing.

On the sixth day of school, Jane stayed home sick.

On the seventh day of school, my husband and I met with her teacher (I wore make-up and my pearls!) and spent an hour talking about how

A) our child responds better to positive reinforcement and will gladly walk through fire for you if she thinks you love her and she loves you back.  We talked about how our last year's teacher was wonderful at showing this and how well Jane performed for her. We showed her a stack of Jane's stories and drawings. We hoped that she would get a glimpse of the positive force that is Jane Cooper --because honestly, a positive Jane Cooper is a lot easier to have around that a negative one.

B) she does process very quickly so you can trust her when she says she's completed her work

C) to please stop yelling at her (we're from the South, there is a very different method of communication up here and we think people are yelling at us who are merely having a normal conversation so when people REALLY yell, it tends to make us me SOME OF US cry.)

D) we take education and educators very seriously and would like for this to be a very positive relationship.

And then on day Nine, the teacher wrote this:

Is it really so hard to be civil and respectful when communicating with a nine-year-old?

I understand the need for full headings in school, despite the fact that Jane is the only Jane in her class.  I understand the need for adherence to structure.

What I do not understand is how this teacher, who is pressed for time with 26 kids in her class, would choose to write a belittling and sarcastic note on a child's paper when a simple, "last name?" would have sufficed. I just don't understand how any educator could think that yelling and sarcasm will lead to a classroom full of happy, eager-to-learn children. What is really the goal here? To have them blindly follow rules without question or deviation, or to create an environment where kids can learn?

We have been blessed with many good, caring, respectful, motivated and inspired teachers over the course of our public school journey. These are people I honestly felt were working in concert with me to educate and love my kids --who saw their bright little faces and wanted them to have every possible resource to learn and succeed. Maybe if I hadn't had them for my kids, I wouldn't be so appalled and frustrated now. I've seen great, inspired teaching and I have seen the opposite. 

We're working on a different solution for Jane. I just hope she isn't bullied to the point of having her spirit broken first.

Say it with me now: "ANGER."

Friday, September 17, 2010

South Meets North?

Yesterday, Jane (9) had a play date with a little girl who came to our house.  They were engaged in completing their homework so I left them alone for about 20 minutes while I ran to pick up my older daughter, Ana (12), from school.

While driving back from Ana's school, I got a call from the little girl's mom who was noticeably upset that her daughter was home alone with Jane at my house.

I felt a little blindsided by her reaction and, naturally, feel terrible.  More because I feel like I was negligent in not telling this mother that I planned to leave her daughter alone for a few minutes than anything else.  We've been letting Jane stay alone periodically for about nine months now--just during short trips while I run to get Ana or dog food.  She's almost ten years old (Oct. 11), she knows all the rules about answering the door and what to do in an emergency.  I didn't even think about speaking to the other parents about this. That's the chief thing I feel badly about.

I asked my friend Tiff about this.  Tiff understands my Southern roots, but she's very much a Northerner so she explains things to me, especially when I have a blind side.  She said, "I think this must be a regional thing.  I remember a while back you saying something on your blog about unfounded worry about leaving Jane home alone and I was very surprised.  I never left any of my kids home alone until they were ten, and then it wasn't for more than half an hour and only when I was going somewhere in the neighborhood and could be home within five minutes if anything came up.  It wasn't until they got toward the outside end of eleven that I'd actually leave them home alone for a couple of hours, and if [my daughter] had a friend over and I went out I'd call the parents and make sure it was okay to leave them alone up through 7th grade.  When she was in 3rd-5th grade, I had other parents call me a few times to ask whether it was okay to leave her with her friend's older sibling who was 12 or 13, too.  I think maybe the norm is different from place to place based on...I don't know?  General sense of danger that comes from your atmosphere?  How sheltered kids in general are?  I read this before I left work and I've been thinking about it on and off since and I haven't been able to think of a single person around here that I can ever remember having left a child under ten home alone for more than maybe a five minute emergency dash to the pharmacy or something like that.  I've always gotten the impression from what you wrote that Texas is kind of a gentler, less aggressive environment where you can better count on your neighbor (or maybe even a stranger on the street) to be available if a child needs something and I wonder if that isn't the root of the difference."

I do think this might be another North meets South thing.  (Maybe.) It might also be kid-specific.  Jane is so smart and capable and we've drilled the protocol into her. Really, Jane is so trained that when I go get Ana, if she has chosen to stay home, I get at least one call from her asking for permission for something.  (Yesterday, she called to ask if she and her friend could have some gummi bears.)  Also, maybe it's location specific?  Our house is on the top of the hill that no one, not even the delivery people, wants to come up. We're in a neighborhood that actually has less crime than our neighborhood in Austin, and no violent crime or kidnappings or anything at all.

I wonder if this is one of those things where our fears don't necessarily coincide with reality? As you know if you'd read this blog for any length of time, I try very hard not to be the over-protective mom.  It's my natural tendency-- I still don't let Ana go to the mall by herself or with her friends even though I'm pretty sure when I was almost 13, *I* was allowed to go -- and I've worked to make sure Jane has the skills to handle this new independence.  (Having said that, I would NEVER leave her if she was afraid or uncertain--she'd just come along. It's my experience that younger siblings grow up a little faster than the oldest and are ready for more independence sooner. ) (Although, I'm pretty sure I started leaving Ana alone for short periods at about the same age, so maybe not.)

(I'll just work all this out in parenthetical phrases for a while, shall I?) (Sheesh.)

I'd like to know where you, my readers, stand on this issue.  If you are parents, when did you start leaving your kids at home for short periods? What do you think the chief risks are? Do you think this is a regional thing or a situational thing or a thing that should be decided on a child-by-child basis?  Obviously, my biggest culpabilty of all was not letting the mom know my plans --I should have called her before I left the house.  For that I am really, horribly sorry and will never make that mistake again.  But I don't think I'm going to stop leaving Jane alone for short periods of time occasionally because she's shown she can handle it and it fosters a sense of independence/confidence in her.

I started Googling this issue and came up, as usual, with people who were very virulently on one side or the other about it.  Nothing in parenting is every without strong, strong opinions and usually some nasty slings and arrows for people who make different choices. So, I'm very interested in what YOU think --just, you know, be nice about it.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Why I May Never Make A Good New Yorker

Remember in The Princess Bride* when the Six-Fingered Man says to Inigo Montoya, "Good heavens, are you still trying to win?  You have an over-developed sense of vengeance."?  (Here's the link if you want to see it, but be forewarned that outside of the context of the movie, it's a bit violent.)  I think that's my problem.  I have an over-developed sense of needing to be Right.

(You didn't click on that link, either, did you? You never click!  I go through the trouble of linking and then adding the html code so that it opens in a new tab and you never even click. Throw me a bone and click for once, would ya? Sheesh.)

When I was a kid, my family took a trip to Greece.  I was looking out of the window of the hotel room in Athens and I saw two cars try to turn in front of the other one.  Brakes screeched, the drivers rushed out of their cars and began shouting at each other.  Pretty soon a crowd gathered, everyone adding their opinion and gestures and it looked like things were about to get really ugly.  Then the two drivers laughed, threw their arms around each other, slapped each other on the back, got back into their cars and drove off.  The crowd dispersed.  No harm, no foul.

See, no one took anything PERSONALLY.

On Saturday, I was trying to pull out of traffic to get a parking place in front of a coffee shop.  Another car had pulled into the space directly ahead of mine.  The driver kept backing the car up until there was no room for me to maneuver into my space so I threw my signal on and tried to leave my space to get back out into traffic to park farther down.  (I hadn't had any coffee.)  Then the driver put her car into park, got out of her car and stood shouting at me on the sidewalk.  "I was BACKING UP!" she yelled, highly indignant.  "I was BACKING UP."

I guess she wanted MY space and I had really inconvenienced her by making her park one whole parking space farther away.

I had Ana (12) in the car so I didn't say anything, just waited until the coast was clear, pulled back out of my space and parked a few spaces farther down.

But MERCY, I was MAD.  I said incredibly cutting and clever things to her IN MY HEAD. She was right in front of us in the coffee shop and I said some really obscene things to the back of her (you know, IN MY HEAD.)  SHE, meanwhile, moved on and went about her business, poisoning the lives of everyone else she interacted with that day. (Seriously, I heard her say, "I was here FIRST" when the guy next to her tried to place his order before she did.  He looked like he shared my vocabulary IN HIS HEAD.)

I was still angry when I took Ana to piano and I think this was a contributing factor to my slamming my thumb in the car door. I was SO having it out with that woman IN MY HEAD.  I was using phrases like, "I'm sorry you had to walk an extra FIVE WHOLE FEET. Let me rush home because that's where I left the World's Tiniest Violin." and know, CLEVER things. (Some of them were clever.  No, really.)

I'm still crabby about it.

See, I think I have an over-developed sense of...taking things PERSONALLY. Five years from now, I will still be mad at this anonymous rude woman.  I'm still mad over things that happened when I was in the workforce before I had kids, TWELVE YEARS AGO or longer.  My second grade teacher hated me.  I'm still mad at her! I'm still mad and embarrassed by the anonymous note about my dog. (That's a link and apparently, I'm going to be mad for forty years if you don't click on it.)

I've talked to a few friends about how I hold on to things because, you know, I have this uncomfortable feeling that by doing so, the rude/angry/obnoxious people WIN.  Long after they've gone about their business, I'm still carrying around anger and wishing I wasn't.

One friend suggests that I do some sort of visualization where I leave the slight/memory/issue somewhere along the road.  (This friend says there are a lot of overpasses along the highway acting as repositories for stressful incidents/events.)  I've tried that but my need for some sort of justice for these rude and unfair people seems to trump any kind of visualization. I just can't let it go.

Another friend suggests that I won't ever be a New Yorker until, like the Greeks, I give voice to what I'm feeling at the time. I was talking to my daughter Ana about this and I told her that it always takes me a long time to think of things to say and she said the French call this, "the wit of the staircase" because it's the thing you think of to say after you've already left the room.  Yeah, I'm cracking up the staircase crowd.

(As an aside, would it actually surprise any of us if it turned out that Ana SPOKE French?)

Anyway, I'm open to suggestion.  How do you all let go of these meaningless, petty little annoyances instead of letting them ruin your day?  (In my case, my week, my month, my decade.) 

*Yes, I've been using this movie a lot lately in my writing and no,  I don't know what it means.

Thursday, September 02, 2010