Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Event: In a Dark Place, Struggling to Focus on the Light

Like many mothers, mine encouraged me to keep my lips zipped when I didn't have anything pleasant to say.

Please accept the foregoing as my explanation for dropping off of the blog radar - and, to some extent, off of the Pinterest radar, and the Facebook radar.  Although I am attempting to keep up with the "30 Days of Thankful" concept, because some small part of me is still aware of the fact that I have things to be thankful for.  A roof over my head - not my roof, but a roof nonetheless.  And a family that is putting up with one of its members shouting one minute and bursting into tears the next.

Seriously - I burst into tears in the shower this morning, and the crying jag lasted for awhile.  Trust me when I tell you that crying in the shower is not the norm for me.  I'm a "git 'er dun" kind of gal.  I get angry, and then I get composed, and then I plow through the problem at hand.  But I'm, almost, too tired to plow.  And rapidly approaching the stage of actually, as opposed to almost

Again, not something that I'm used to admitting to myself.

I really do like to give people, and organizations, the benefit of the doubt.  It was that spirit that got me past a major molehill with one of C's teachers the first week of school.  The first DAY of school, actually.  At the time we were knee-deep in the mess that was our relocation (and literally knee-deep in moving boxes), the result being that I was rapidly approaching "too tired to plow" status back then as well.  Imagine my delight when the spouse informed me that he had gotten a call home from said teacher, ON THE FIRST DAY, advising of a disciplinary infraction and inquiring as to whether we thought our child was cut out for the accelerated track.

I was, by turns, completely devastated, and terribly angry - at my child, at the teacher, and at the world.  I considered a number of responses.  I tested out several of them to the air around me.  And then I started going through the various syllabi and classroom conduct codes that teachers sent home with C, and I learned that it was this teacher's across-the-board policy to call home after a first infraction.  No exceptions. 

I tried to put myself in the teacher's place - which, as it turned out, was not terribly hard for me to do, given that both of my parents were teachers.  Calling home wasn't a bad policy - it put the parents on notice and, perhaps, allied them to your cause, and it also gave you the opportunity to get a feel for the home situation and the parents themselves.  If the parents were supportive of you as the teacher, that would give you cause to suspect that the child was being raised properly and probably wasn't completely irredeemable, and that might shape the way that you view the child going forward.

So I took a deep breath.  And I composed an e-mail.  I began by telling the teacher how delighted we were that C got his first choice of a magnet program, and then was placed into the fastest of the fast tracks within that program.  I told him that we had stressed to C that participation in the accelerated track (allowing him to place out of four or five high school-level classes) was a privilege that he was truly lucky to have.  I explained my parents' own struggles to secure similar advanced placement options for me when I was a bored middle schooler dying to move on, already.

I also advised him that, as the child of two teachers, I (1) wanted to do as much as I could to support him (the teacher) but (2) understood that the first week of school was incredibly stressful.  We took his call home seriously, and I wanted to make it a priority to discuss with him his expectations of our son, but I also respected that he might want to schedule that discussion for a later time, so I was available at his convenience.  I opined that, perhaps, the first week of school was equally stressful on our brand-new-to-middle-school son, who had let it slip that evening that he filled out the blank for his nickname on a first-day questionnaire with "Fish Out of Water."  (He explained it away as a reference to him being a swimmer and diver on hiatus from competition, but I didn't believe him.)  I described C as a good kid whose typical disruptions skewed more towards the "attempting to teach the class" end of the spectrum.  When feeling more like himself, I warned that C was far more likely to get overexcited and blurt out answers than to cut up or act out; however, I reassured his teacher that we recognized that even well-meaning forms of disruption are exactly that - disruptions, not conducive to the learning process - so we had made it our goal to teach our bright child, as early as possible, how to self-edit his comments and overall behavior, irrespective of how innocent his motivation might be.

In closing,  I warned the teacher of our impending move, and I opined that the stress of dealing with that reality had to be wearing on C as well.  Because it was certainly wearing on me.  I disclosed the fact that the insurance company was attempting to put our boys on a sofa bed for the duration of our displacement (most definitely not conducive to the learning process) but assured him that there was no way in Hades that I was going to let that happen.

In the interim, I asked him to be patient, and to be kind.

And here's what happened next:  C's teacher determined that I was one of the good ones.  That, or he felt sorry for me.  Or perhaps some combination of the two.  First thing in the AM on Day Two, he sent me a response, thanking me for my e-mail and also for appreciating the demands on his time during that first week.  He said that he looked forward to meeting with me the following week, and he advised me of available time slots.  He also offered to include one of the other fast-track teachers who had the same planning period, if I wanted to kill two birds with one stone.  And he said that he agreed with me that C's first-day outburst was probably just a result of nerved.  He acknowledged, and said that he appreciated, the fact that C sought him out at the end of the day to apologize for being a disruption.

Later that day, a third e-mail was added to the string - the teacher again, saying, "I just wanted you to know that C had a wonderful day today."

Since then, we have become e-mail buddies, and I look forward to seeing him at Whiz Quiz meets and other events.  He is always there, supporting his students.  At one point last month, I did have to get on him for permitting my absent-minded 11 year-old to retake a take-home test that had failed to make it into the backpack.  How's that for a reversal?  Me taking him to task for being too easy on my child?  (His defense:  "C breezed through it in five minutes, so I knew that he'd done the work before."  My response:  "You're WAY nicer than we are.  When he called home earlier in the day and asked us to conduct a hard-target search of his room, we told him that he needed to take his lumps, and perhaps he would remember next time to put things where they needed to be.  Please feel free to use that one on him the next time, and remind him that his mother endorsed the message.")
Fast forward to this evening.  C had a nasty abrasion on his forearm, the result of a fall on the basketball court.  C advised that my favorite teacher had witnessed the fall, rushed to help him up, offered to carry his stuff into the main building and gave him leave to go to the nurse to have the scrape cleaned and bandaged.

My response:  "I knew I liked him."

Except, for a few hours on the first day of school, I didn't know if I would like him.  I was concerned that he and I would be at odds for an entire year - a continuation of an unpleasant experience that we had with a male teacher of C's the previous year.

But I plowed through, and I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and I am so very glad that I did.  In that moment, talking to my child in the kitchen at the end of a thoroughly unpleasant day, I was reminded that I do have things, and people, for which to be thankful.  For a brief moment, my faith in humanity was restored.

And then, somewhat inexplicably, I got angry.  Angry at people, and organizations, to whom I give the benefit of the doubt, and who take that trust and stomp on it.  My good experience with C's teacher painted in sharp relief the bad experiences that I have had, and am continuing to have, with others.

Mostly, I got angry with myself, for trusting so freely.  But if I hadn't trusted C's teacher, where would we be today?  C is thriving in middle school.  How many parents can say that?  If I had started things off on a negative note, can we say for sure that he would be having the same experience?

So I will continue to put myself out there, with the expectation that most people will rise to the occasion.  Everyone makes mistakes, first impressions can be deceiving, and all of that.   But if the other party doesn't rise to the occasion - and particularly in situations where their failure to step up puts my family and property in jeopardy of actual, physical harm - welll, I reserve the right to feel betrayed.  And to cry in the shower.  Or while I'm blogging.  Because I know that they are capable of doing better.

My fatal flaw very well may be that I am too hopeful.  And, on balance, I'm okay with that.  Even if the fallout of that fatal flaw is situational hopelessness. 

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