Posted in Advice, Explaining the Strange Behavior, hair, Howling Sea Lane, Lancient History, Thor

Bad Hair and Carrots of Shame

I do things for this child…

Tonight, I found myself apportioning 10 raisins a piece for 21 children before questioning whether or not that was in fact the instruction given by Thor’s teacher, who had asked for 10 pieces of each of 10 snacks she had listed on a quest to have fun working with the kids on counting to a hundred.  Brain-tired, I shoved a handful of raisins in my mouth and mulled.  Or chewed.  Whichever.

There was a tradition in the Sophomore year of my high school, for upper-classes to take on girls as Little Sisters.  We, the younger ones, were doled out at random to the older girls.  One of the bonding exercises was for the Big Sister to dress the Little Sister up in hideous nerd gear and parade them around all day.  It just so happened that I was growing out what amounted to be Annie Lennox’s haircut as that day rolled around, and I had clipped my shaggy bangs back from my forehead with a baby clip.  This was prior to the 90s, when baby clips became fashionable, lest you think to yourself, “I’ll bet that looked cute.”

I was standing in the school bathroom with my Big Sister, who was so not into me.  She had two Little Sisters, and had known one of them–the cool one, whose mother didn’t make her wear her skirt at LITERAL TEA LENGTH–from birth, and was just not up to having a dorky hanger-on.  Another Big Sister walked into the bathroom, took one look at me–not even having put on a single bit of nerd gear yet, just me and my baby clip, bare face, and tea-length skirt–and cried, “Oomeegeeeesh!  Her hair is so NERDEEEEEEEE!  OMIGOOOOOOOOOOOD!  AWESOME!!  BWAHAHAHAH!!11!!!!1!!!”  Yes, I could hear the 1s within her exclamation points.

There was this moment when my eyes met my Big Sister’s in the reflection of the mirror, and what I saw was her total revulsion, disappointment, and embarrassment at having to deal with me at all.  We both knew I had shown up looking like that.  She already knew I looked like a dork.  I was just finding out.

It was one of those John Hughes moments, and should have been followed up with Jake Ryan calling to take me to the prom–that’s how meaningful it was.  It was also a defining moment for me.  I smiled at my Big Sister, turned to the other girl and grinned as widely as I could and I said, “I know!  Ohmigod!  I look like such a nerd!  Like, I need a pocket protector, or, like some horn-rimmed glasses!  She’s done it perfectly!”

My Big Sister was visibly relieved, and I think that’s what embarrassed me the most.  I ended up with a beat-up cowboy hat made of straw, and a half-hearted makeup job, and I spent the rest of the day trying not to cry.

The next day, I wore my baby clip again as inoculation against the way I had felt.  That was my way back then.  If something I really liked turned out badly, I tried it again a) just to see if maybe I had played it to the wrong audience and a change of “venue” might help the problem, b) to show the people who made me feel bad that I didn’t give a rat’s rump what they thought, c) to pick at the scab because I was a bit of a masochist.

Thanksgiving, this year, was the first time I had been able to attend one of Thor’s class parties.  It was a Thanksgiving Feast buffet.  I volunteered to bring carrots, enough to serve 5 classes of 1st Graders, plus teachers, plus any parents who were attending.  I thought I was the only person bringing carrots.  I had also been advised that serving dishes would be provided.  So, I showed up with 3 large bags of baby carrots, and a large bag of carrot chips–for variety.  Some other mothers had also provided carrots, so by the time I arrived, my offering was overkill.

I got busy with helping and didn’t pay any attention to my carrots, and didn’t even see them again until I was in the teachers’ breakroom washing the dishes we had used for the buffet.  Another mom–this gorgeous, Charlie’s Angels looking mom, who is incredibly nice, and helpful–came in with my carrots and offered them to the teachers since we’d had overflow.  The teachers–y’all–the teachers sneered.  I was shocked.

I stood there washing my dishes, trying not to make eye contact with Gorgeous Mom, who knew the origin of the veggies, and who had extracted herself from the teachers’ conversation immediately.  That conversation among four, elementary school teachers went like this:

“I can’t believe how lazy some people are.  You don’t have time to even put the food on a tray?”

“Right?!  I would never show up with something that was so obviously from the grocery store.  You can’t make something at home?  You’re that busy?  Huh.”

“Homemade is always the best.  You know some people will just take the stuff they buy at the grocery store and put it on a platter?  That’s so rude.  I wouldn’t even take that to a friend’s party.  What do people think of you if you do that?”

“That you’re lazy!  And you don’t care.  And look–she didn’t even take them out of the bags.”

It went on.  And on.  And on.

I stood there, washing and drying, listening to these women talk about how rude, and tacky, and lazy, and disgusting I was for having brought food to the school, which I had purchased at Kroger, and left in bags so that they could be used as needed and otherwise shared if there were leftovers.  I had purposefully bought more than I thought was absolutely necessary, and I had thought people might like some fresh veg.  Uh…rude, tacky, lazy, and disgusting.

I was fifteen again.  Standing in that bathroom, eyes locked on [redacted]’s, knowing I had fallen short.  Only, instead of being hurt, I was pissed the feck off.  Who were these harpies?  Seriously?  Rude, tacky, lazy, and disgusting?  No, honey.  Rude is me saying I’ll bring food and then backing out without telling you.  Tacky is only bringing enoug’h for my child’s class and no one else, knowing it is a feast for all the classes.  Lazy is not bothering at all because some other mother will do it.  Disgusting is me spitting on the carrots before sharing them with you.

I seriously considered telling them they were talking about me, but I chose not to.  I was so taken aback, and disbelieving that by the time I had decided what I wanted to say, Gorgeous Mom had steered their conversation to kinder, gentler topics.  It seemed a moot point.  Besides, I could have outed myself, then the likeliest thing would be that they would tell the rest of the teachers that Thor’s Mom was rude, tacky, lazy, disgusting, and uber-confrontational.  For the child’s reputation, I swallowed my bile.

Tonight, I started working on those raisins and had such performance anxiety, I cannot tell you.  My packets weren’t pretty enough.  The Saran Wrap press-n-seal was too sticky.  There was no uniformity.  No aesthetic.  I started to panic.  Would Thor’s teacher think I was rude, tacky, lazy, or disgusting?  Was I even doing it right in the first place?  I had 10 packs of 10 ready to go.  I needed 11 more.  Or was I just supposed to send in 210 raisins by themselves?  Did there have to be 10 even for each child, or should I send one of those big boxes of raisins and let the teacher distribute at will?  OH MY GOD!  BABY CLIPS AND CARROTS!

So, I ate them.

I’ll work on it again tomorrow, after getting some clarification from Thor’s teacher, and having lived down my goofy hair and party tray shame through exhibitionism.

The moral of the story is: Be careful when you mock.  You may be mocking the person standing to your left.


Posted in Advice

“Lane is not living up to her fullest potential…”

Jezebel’s site redesign makes it impossible to link to a particular story now, or at least makes it harder than I care to bother doing. For the background to this blog entry, you can go over to Jezebel and find three stories about teachers doing things to their students ranging from awful to reprehensible. I’ll let you guess which I think is which.

I seriously considered teaching. That is, when I was laid off, I fulfilled a long time dream and entered an alternate certification program, passed the test to certify to teach 4th–8th graders, and substitute taught while I was job hunting. My friend, Linda, and I were in the same certification program, and we were both dismayed at the number of people in the class who should probably never even be 100 yards from a child, much less 5 feet away, and in charge of molding their brains.

I know women and men who are wonderful teachers, like Deborah, one of our early WWK profilees. There were fantastic teachers in my education. Mrs. Farr in AP English my senior year, Dr. Chaisson, who taught me Classics for several semesters, Mrs. Barnes, my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Mendina, the World History teacher in 10th grade, who quite truly saved me from taking a very wrong turn. These were teachers who cared about their students as human beings, cared about their subjects as art forms, and understood that at least half of their jobs had to do with taking largely unformed lumps of student clay and teaching them to behave.

I am always surprised when teachers are surprised that children act like animals. I think they must not ever have met any children. I am also surprised when teachers are surprised that teenagers are rotten to their hormone driven little cores. We’ve all been teenagers. We’ve all been rotten. Some of you were likely a much sweeter version of rotten than I, but it is unavoidable. Kids are hard, hard work.

I said teenagers have cores. I’m not sure I mean that. My mental picture of students has a lot to do with external energy coming from a hollow that houses a red hot gas–like a star–like the sun. These children are full of power, energy, vitality, and are in a constant flux of molten particles. The only thing solid about them is their skin.

What teachers do is introduce cooling, solidifying elements into those gases, and eventually, enough elements are introduced that a core starts to form. By the time a child reaches his senior year, there should be enough of that core to produce some rational, reasonable sensibility–enough to propel him forward to higher learning (be it at the university level, or on the job training.) Children who are not introduced to enough elements never learn to reason, think for themselves, or produce for themselves.

See, not every child has a good parent, but every child in the US has at least twelve government-sanctioned years of opportunity to meet a good teacher (assuming their parents get them to school.) And one good teacher can provide the tools to overcome a lifetime of awful parenting.

Obviously, I did not become a teacher. Why not? The biggest reason is that the market is so competitive here, I had three school districts tell me they wouldn’t even look at me with an alternative certification, and I do not have the time or money to go back and get another BA. Secondarily, working as a sub it became clear quickly that I did not have the energy to do a good job at school, and then go home and do a good job as Thor’s mother. I could either give those kids what they needed, or give my kid what he needed. Sorry, Future Generations, Thor won out. But who knows what I’ll do in ten years?

I get angry when I see that teachers are mocking their students. I get angry when I see that teachers are writing off their students. I get angry when I see teachers who feel like humiliation and abuse are good teaching tools. And, I am heartbroken for the students who have to sit in those classes.

I’ve had good teachers, and I’ve had bad. I know what it is like to be made fun of by a teacher, be told that I would never amount to anything, and I have been in a classroom where peers had body parts taped to desks. I can tell you that I don’t remember anything of value from those women and men. What I remember is the abuse.

But from the teachers who accepted me as I was–a hollow little ball of hot gas–I learned amazing things, and I developed self-confidence, and learned to reason, and became solid enough that eventually I realized my value and my ability were not lessened or determined by the miserable, bitter teachers who had tried to convince me I was nothing. Still, who knows where I would be today if I hadn’t been subject to Mrs. S, Mrs. P, Coach H or Dr. M?

Teaching is a selfless job. Or, it should be. It is thankless for sure. It is hard, hard work. I feel about it like I feel about religious vocations: If you can think of anything else you might rather be, go be that other thing.

If you are a teacher, thank you for taking on the hard job. As a former student, I would ask you to do me this one favor. Before you interact with your class (or share information about your students), imagine it is you. How would you feel hearing those words, seeing that facial expression, reading those comments? If you would feel anything less than appreciated as a human being, please think again.