Monday, September 23, 2013

Not accounted for

I had a distinct and healthy fear when I was a teenager (and before and after) that if I did something bad, something bad would happen in return. I wish I could say that I was sophisticated and wise enough, at that point in time, to understand the workings of karma. I was not. I lived in the moment as most youngsters do. I did, however, understand the workings of consequences. That was made plain before I was old enough to walk. If I hit my brother, I would go to my room and lose a favorite toy. If I sassed a teacher, I'd be made to sit in the corner of the classroom, or, on rare occasion, take residence on the bench of shame outside the principal's office while they phoned my mother.

As was the case with most of my peers, I'd rather face the principal than my parents.

And it's not as if my folks were violent, unpredictable people. Spankings were economically doled out for those times when I simply didn't listen to the 3 or so verbal warnings prior to my offense. As I got older, the consequences of my actions remained relevant. Caught smoking or drinking...there goes your social life for at least a month or more. Or worse, expulsion from school, or even worse, getting kicked off the team, whatever team it was. The knowledge that I wouldn't be pitching for a softball season, or allowed to go out with my friends, or to get a ride to work kept me pretty much in line. Sure, I still did the stupid shit that kids do, but the risk was so high -- in my mind at least -- that it had to be worth it. And eventually I did get in trouble, and for the most part accepted the consequences of being and idiot.

I got caught, I paid my dues splitting wood and in social exile. I didn't get caught, I spent months worrying that eventually I would. Basic stuff.

Not so basic, it would seem, in this era of enablement that has completely paralyzed our country. Recently, a local story caught my eye and my ire. Apparently, nearly 300 high school students broke into the home of former NFL player Brian Holloway. Holloway was at his primary residence in Florida. This residence is in New York state. Anyway, long story short, the little shits trashed his house, pissed all over the floor, broke stuff, and basically had a drunken free-for-all. And, of course, they posted their criminal antics in real time on Facebook and Twitter. Good going, dip shits.

Holloway did NOT press charges. Instead, he put a call out to the teens and their parents to help him clean up the damage and do some community service work. Guess what, one kid showed up. One out of 300. And some of the parents are threatening to SUE Holloway, ya know, the victim, for identifying the kids online. (Actually, I think he just identified the schools they go to, based on, ya know, their tweets.) I don't know who to slap first, the parents or the kids...You figure that's nearly 600 parents who did not respond to an opportunity for their kids to learn a lesson and NOT be arrested. I'd be all over that with several hundred 'thank yous' on my lips for Holloway. My kid would be scrubbing his goddamn floor with a toothbrush.

Where have we gone to, folks? Where is the dignity in doing what is right and accepting responsibility for what you did wrong? And you're going to unleash your child on the world, send him/her off to college not knowing that there are consequences for everything. That Mommy and Daddy will not be there to save your ass when you get yourself into hot water.

I have been a high school teacher. And I watched as over the years, the parents of my students became increasingly enabling. One parent, who was a guidance counselor at another school, called me and told me that she hated me because her son was failing a film class. A film class! You know, where you watch movies and take notes and just be chill and learn stuff. I told her I'd called, sent notes home, so why is she surprised?

"I never got those notes," she stammered. I knew she was lying. Immediately. But still, at the end of the day, I was "strongly encouraged" to allow her son, a sports player, an honors student, blah blah blah, to make up the work so he could pass. At the end of the session, he "passed" the class by one point.

"Thanks, Ms. D." He handed me his nearly empty notebook.
"Don't thank me," I said, not even making eye contact. "Thank your mother."

He turned a million shades of red. "You'd do the same for your son."
Then I made eye contact.
"That's where you're wrong, man. I wouldn't. I'd watch him squirm and fret and fail the class out of sheer laziness. Lesson learned. That's my job. To make sure the lessons sink in. But I'm not worried about my son. He's not the baby here."

He moved to say more, I just put up my hand. "Enough. I'm not getting paid to make you feel better about yourself. Good luck in the real world."

I don't know whatever happened to that kid. I think he dropped out of college, lives with his parents, still borrows money. Probably like a majority of other teens who never learned the right lessons. We have a whole generation of pansies coming through the ranks right now. Kids in their 20s who can't hold a job, still have their mothers call in sick for them, have never paid for rent or groceries. They have nothing to be proud of. Least of all themselves. They never learned those lessons. They never learned that when your ass is on fire, you're the only one who can douse the flame. Or make it bigger. Your choice. It's your choice every single time.

My kids know I've got their back. They also know, beyond doubt, that I will not be the one who swoops in and rescues them from themselves. You don't clean your room, you don't go to the sleepover. You don't do your homework, you don't go to football practice. Simple as that.

It scares me to know that those 300 kids may have avoided life's most valuable lesson. And that one day, they will be walking the same streets with my kids.

Nobody ever said parenting is easy. It's not. But it's simple. Do the right thing. Every time. And your kids will follow.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Taxing the taxed

I meet the start of the school year with increasing dread. While I'm delighted, and I mean totally effing delirious, that the kids are off to those hallowed halls again, and I can have a moment's peace, I basically sit in wait for the forms to come home and the great march towards poverty to begin. And it always does. Not a week goes by where I am not spending $80-$400 on kid-related stuff.

Your kids are spoiled you are thinking. I know that's what you're thinking.

I wish. I wish it were that simple. Let's begin, shall with, with the "supply" list that comes home every friggin' summer, and gets longer and longer as they get older. Glue sticks, gel pens, flairs, ball point pens, paper, erasers, pencils (yes, goddamn pencils), a scientific calculator, 18 composition books, 15 three-ring binders, scissors, index's unreal. First, we raid last year's pencil boxes...then off to Staples with the lists. It is a trip that requires a black coffee in a milk-jug sized to-go cup. At the door of the store, the kids each grab a basket. The sales clerk is about to tell me that there is no food or drink allowed in the store, but I stare him down. My face says, I'm bringing this coffee in. And if you don't let me, I'm leaving these kids here. They've just had an ice cream cone.

And then I unleash the hounds into the aisles. It takes about 40 minutes (minus the time it takes to rip my son away from the tablet/laptop display where he is playing games, his basket still empty save for one lonely pink eraser. We check things off the list. I begin to do the math as the baskets fill up. I add in my head so that I won't have an actual heart attack at the checkout, or worse, exclaim some mortifying expletive that I cannot take back.

Compass, check. Rulers, check....$223...Check?

I wait until we get in the car to have a fit. Now, I've worked as a teacher for many years. Many years. And whenever I ran out of paper, or pencils, or needed scissors or tape, I went down to the supply room on Wednesday mornings with my modest list and was given exactly what I needed, which in turn was handed over to my students. Little blue journals, pencils...nothing fancy, but the basics. And I seem to recall when I was in school that these things were supplied to us. My mother bought us each a Trapper Keeper (design of our choice) and off we went.

Why the hell am I purchasing pencils for my kids? F***ing pencils?! What school doesn't supply pencils for Chrissakes? And after all this money is dumped into the school experience, then the paperwork starts coming home. Form after form that needs signing. Does your child speak English? Well, why don't you ask her. Will you be able to volunteer to be a classroom aid? I thought they paid people to do that, as per, you know, the law. Here are the fundraising packets...can you please start selling this wrapping paper and cookie dough immediately...oh and these magazines. And volunteer for the spaghetti dinner that is in two days. Oh, and you gotta make the spaghetti, too. Buy it, out of pocket, make it, then serve it...

This week, I got an email that nearly sent me off a ledge. It was innocent enough. From the band director, whom I respect deeply. Kids are marching in the parade, they're gonna need to show up in uniform to meet the bus, etc, etc...scroll down..."if you haven't already purchased a uniform for your child" they need a white tuxedo shirt (to the tune of at least $40), special band shoes (I wrote the check for $22 last week), black slacks (at least $30) and a black bow tie (what, like $10?).

When I played in the marching band, we all got measured and were given uniforms to wear for the year. Oh, and the school provided me with my sousaphone. The uniforms were itchy, mustard yellow, and some had sweat stains, but whatever, they were FREE. Because it is a public school and things should, you know, for the most part be FREE. Like pencils and shit. Oh, and I also shelled out another $15 for a soccer jersey. Even though, of course, they already have jerseys for both home and away games, but they want different ones 'cause "these are old."

I used to wear my aunt's dresses to school. Those were old. I looked like a friggin' pilgrim for almost all of second grade.

My question is twofold: 1) Why are we being made to pay for such basic stuff that has long been supplied by the school? and 2) Why don't these coaches and teachers and band instructors and PTO peeps sit down and tally up what it is they are demanding of us every year? They would probably pass out. Shit, I'd pass out. That's why I don't keep the receipts.

Yes, I know what you kidless conservatives will say....just don't buy it for them. The kids will survive.

Do you know what being "that kid" does to a child. They crave normalcy at every turn. They just want to be like everybody else. You're setting them up for many uncomfortable moments that they will need to unravel in therapy (which you will be paying for).

The other day, my friend B sent me a text. To put this into some kind of context, her son is an avid Boy Scout, and football player. She's been there throughout, to all the fundraisers and spaghetti dinners, etc...ON the very same day that I will be carting my daughter (and her very expensive rental alto sax) to and from a parade, she will be manning the Scout booth with her son. But she doesn't wash her hands of her duty after that.


Apparently there is a new rule this year that every parent must volunteer for at least two Scouts events every year. A rule.

Do you know what this is doing to parents who want to be involved to the extent that they are able? This massive heft of expectation and money and time? It's making us less enthusiastic about, well, everything. If I didn't have to shell out hundreds of dollars on stuff the school used to supply, I'd certainly have a little more free time to say, serve spaghetti. But as it stands, now I need to work several more hours to make up for the money I just blew on fucking pencils. Pencils, people.

The cookie walk is coming up for the holidays...that's the one where you spend at least 30 buck on ingredients (or store bought cookies because they want at least 3 dozen) and then buy them back from the school.

Looks like we're gonna be eating a lot of spaghetti this year.