Friday, January 23, 2015

A Little Privacy, Please, But Only a Little

The second grader was scratching, scratching, scratching at his leg, so hard and long that he broke through skin and drew blood. Alarmed by the blood on his hand, he stood up, found a teacher, and asked for a band-aid.

I guided him over to the sink area and pulled the first-aid kit out of one of the cabinets. I grabbed a band-aid and was just starting to tear its wrapper when I noticed that the boy was pulling down his pants to grant me access to the cut.

"Let's not do that here," I murmured, before the rest of the class saw his underwear and teased him in the take-no-prisoners fashion pervasive among seven-year-olds.

I steered him to a supply area across the hall, where I applied the band-aid.

A staff member was already there searching for plastic cups. "A little privacy was warranted," I confided, and she nodded, understanding right away, as anyone who works with young children would.

Then she said, "It's good that I am here so I can serve as back-up if there were ever to be a problem." She looked at me meaningfully.

And I froze. Not because she spoke out of turn, but because she reminded me this is what we have come to. This is what the world looks like in 2015.

I patted the boy's shoulder. "Let's go back to the classroom. We're all done here."

"Thank you for helping me, Mrs. P.," he smiled.

Would you understand if I told you that for the rest of the day I wanted to cry?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Do You Know What Your Teen Is Tweeting? You Should.

When my children were in second grade, they learned about the United States through the lens of patriotism. They studied symbols of patriotism, like the Statue of Liberty and the Bald Eagle. At the end of the unit on patriotism, they performed in a play, which teachers dubbed a "patriotic performance." Red, white, and blue was everywhere. Some of the children wore Uncle Sam hats. They sang songs that included "America the Beautiful" and "You're a Grand Old Flag." One of the kids was dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

I cried. My husband did not.

On the way home from the play, my husband started mock-complaining that the history of the United States, troubled as it has been, was being whitewashed for these children. I retorted, "You have to build things up before you tear them down." I meant that. If someone is going to argue against a thing, I believe that he or she should first have learned all the arguments in favor of that thing. Otherwise the counterargument comes across as ill-informed and mean-spirited, not to mention empty.


This morning it was brutally cold here in our town. The temperature dipped to 4 degrees F, and the "real feel" temperature that takes into account wind chill was negative 17 degrees F. Our school district's policy is to close school (or delay school) when the real feel temperature reaches negative 20 degrees F or when the actual temperature is negative 5 degrees F.

It did not get quite that cold this morning, although it was mighty close.

At around 6:30am, the superintendent of our school district tweeted the following:

Operating on regular schedule today. Buses running on time. I wish it wasn't so cold too. #dresswarm

Snow days and two-hour delays are fun. Yes, even for teachers. It is the unexpected gift of free time that feels so wonderful. I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I was wishing for the gift of an hour or two to sip my coffee and surf the internet. So the superintendent's tweet left me disappointed, though in a very small way. My children were similarly disappointed. One of them had done less homework last night than he should have because he was positive there would be a delay this morning that he could use to finish his work. Well, he got burned. That's a life lesson, I thought (but chose not to verbalize - it being in the 'best left unsaid' category).

After the superintendent tweeted what he did, replies started streaming in. These were replies from students. They were not anonymous tweets. I recognized some of the students' names; hey, this is a small town. I have an 8th grader and an 11th grader, and I also work at an elementary school. I know a lot of local kids.

Here are some of the responses the superintendent received (I have changed 'u' to 'you' and modified texting shortcuts to make them more readable, but otherwise these tweets are unchanged from the original.) The first is specifically in response to the superintendent's comment, "I wish it wasn't so cold too."

Well, easy to say for someone who doesn't have to wait for a bus in negative 14 degree weather.

You have put so many students in harm's way this week, all in the name of an early summer break. Why don't you just retire? [It snowed earlier in the week, and a two-hour delay was called instead of a closing.]

You are a 100% failure for making seven-year-old kids wait for their buses in 3 degree weather. I hope you're aware of that.

Why don't you wait for the buses too, then cross the street 5 times a day. [The high school is split between two buildings on either side of one street.]

Wish you didn't hate children so much.

Here's a sarcastic one: The weather is warming up as you can clearly see [photo of the current temperature, still bitterly low]. #youmustbeblind #letthekidssuffer

I would be warm if I was at home in my pajamas watching TV. #letthekidssuffer

It was so cold this morning I had to pick my dog up outside because his feet were too cold to walk. Tell me again why I'm here.

And finally:

With all due respect, what makes you think that you are so much wiser than all other districts who have already delayed?

[Note to student: Prefacing your opinion with the phrase 'with all due respect' is a dead giveaway that you are about to be disrespectful.]


Twitter, some believe, is a great equalizer. You can tweet a celebrity, a politician, or some other Very Important Person, and he or she might actually tweet back. If you care about that sort of thing.

Our superintendent values hearing from students, and so his twitter account is open, and he often responds to kids who tweet him. He seems to enjoy these interactions.

But he did not respond to any of the above tweets, and rightly so.

These kids were being inappropriately disrespectful and worse. They should be ashamed of themselves. I grew increasingly shocked as I read tweet after tweet, a few from kids I know and like.

If my own children had written such things, they would be in serious trouble. I am not sure what I'd dole out as punishment, but at the least I'd make them write letters of apology to the superintendent for such appalling rudeness.

The superintendent is tasked with making difficult decisions; weather-related decisions are doubtless among the most difficult of these. He (or she) is in something of a no-win situation, at least where weather is concerned. There will always be people who believe he should have closed or delayed school when he did not; and there will always be people who believe that he should not have closed or delayed school when he did. I would not want his job.

I am grateful that my own kids are not on Twitter. I wonder if the parents of some of these students know that they are not only on Twitter but tweeting nastiness in their own names.

Of course Twitter allows for ugliness. Social media in general allows for ugliness. And some (all?) teens haven't fully learned how to regulate their emotions. The "in the moment" aspect of Twitter is its virtue and its pitfall, and that has to be especially true for its younger users.

Parents, do the work of teaching your kids to build people (things, events) up before they tear people (things, events) down. Model empathy. Do not let them loose on social media. Supervise them. These kids will regret what they tweeted this morning, I guarantee it. But they may not know for months, or even years, why they should regret their words.

That is sad, and it counts, in today's lingo, as a spectacular fail - whether a parenting or cultural fail, I don't know. Nonetheless, a fail. #fail

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Just Another Year, If You Please

2015 is here. All new years are blank slates, which is what makes them so exciting for the young, and so terrifying for the old. Oh, God, what will happen? trills the twenty-year-old, for whom nothing much has happened: all is potential, glorious potential, and thrilling for it. Oh, God, what will happen? frets the fifty-year-old, who knows that for every unexpected joy there is unexpected heartache, and while on paper the two ought to balance out, they never really do.

My hopes are meekly uttered: "More of the same, please." I wish for ordinary days, ordinary nights. No telephone calls at three o'clock in the morning. It sounds sad, at least to the twenty-year-old, but in fact it is closer to sad's opposite.

You see, I've reached the age where how it is is how I want it to be. The actual is satisfying - if not fully so, then certainly close enough. The rhythm of my days matches the rhythm of my heart and equally the rhythm of those old strivings.

I don't need to wish for a life, because I have already made one, however imperfect it may be.

Contentment does not signify the death of hopes and dreams. It is instead a time when those hopes and dreams (realized and unrealized) have been folded into the person you've become and can't help but inform the ordinary days that you dare to covet, but only in a whisper and with the hard-won knowledge that this, too, or perhaps this especially, can be snatched away in one indifferent moment.

As Marianne Moore, in her poem What Are Years?, writes:

So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.