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Parenting 103

This week was a ridiculously stressful one. On Monday morning, a student falsely accused me of causing him bodily injury. His scratches and scrapes were self-inflicted, but it was clearly an attempt to cause trouble for me, one of the aides responsible for his educational experience at school.

It had to be investigated, naturally. I would want an investigation done for my daughter, should she ever make the same accusation. Fortunately, the whole incident was investigated and resolved quickly, and both the parent and my school administration believed what I and two witnesses related to them. However, I still had two sleepless nights and was fairly zombie-like for the early part of the week.

“Every single person you will ever meet has the same questions, ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?'” – Oprah Winfrey, 5/25/11

I thought about this quote a lot this week. Obviously, this student was screaming out to be seen and heard. That much is clear. One doesn’t self-injure and tell whopping lies on top of that injury without needing some serious attention. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t look at my own way of relating to this student and figure out what I can change for the next school year, should he still be attending the school where I work. I have to ask, “DO I see him? DO I hear him? DOES what he say matter to me?” I think perhaps the answer to these questions is “no”.

He’s an extraordinarily oppositional little man. He rarely does what he is asked, rarely follows classroom rules (raise your hand, face forward), and is frequently antagonistic to the other students. In short, he’s a pain in the butt. However, I think, as the school year wore on, I saw less and less of the boy inside and more and more of the pain-in-the-butt-shell. I think that’s partly because he withdrew more and more as the year went on (as he chafed at the rules and had teachers tell him over and over that he was bad or wrong), and partly because his shell got thicker and more prominent as the year went on until that’s almost all we saw. Occasional glimpses of the intelligent boy inside showed through cracks in his shell, but those instances were few and far between.

Why did he choose me to accuse? There are lots of reasons floating through my mind, but none of them have legs to stand on their own. The only real answer is in that little boy’s mind and he’s not talking. I doubt I’ll ever know.

The thing that blows my mind about this whole incident is that there were NO consequences for his behavior. None. No detentions were given, no apology letters are forthcoming, no one explained to him that what he did was wrong. It was all conveniently swept under the rug and ignored. At what point in our history as a civilized race did we decide that wrongdoing carries no consequence? Since when do misbehaving children get coddled? When did adults in positions of power become all lily-livered and wishy-washy? When (and more importantly WHY) did adults lose their ability to point out to children the difference between right and wrong, the meaning of respect and civility? Are we unwittingly doing this to our children because we “love” them too much? Much more frighteningly: Are we doing this on purpose because it’s easier for us as parents to overlook bad behavior? After all, isn’t the pursuit of our dreams more important?

I am not my daughter’s best friend; I am her mother. She is also one of my favorite people in this entire world, and I like spending time with her more than just about anything else. She is smart, funny, caring, considerate, strong, and responsible, to name a few things about her that I appreciate. However, she also has some personality traits that still need work. I won’t describe them here, because that would be disrespectful to her. I don’t want to be that kind of mother. However, it is my job as a parent to recognize those things, help HER see and acknowledge them as deficits, and help her work on them/through them. I would do her a grave disservice to her by allowing her to think she was perfect and never made mistakes.

I believe this is our responsibility as parents and as educators. It is NOT the sole responsibility of either group. We all have to make a safe place for our children to recognize, accept, and work on their shortcomings. At home, this means setting boundaries and rules and enforcing them all the time, so when our children go to school, they are more successful. This also means teaching right and wrong. There IS a right and there IS a wrong, and it is NOT attached to any particular faith. Manners are important. Very few children have chores to do at home, because parents don’t feel like teaching that, in a family, everyone contributes. I’m as guilty of this as the next mom. We as parents MUST teach our children that the world will not be handed to them on a platter. That’s not realistic; Life doesn’t work like that. It requires great perseverance and effort to achieve our goals. If we’ve raised lazy, rude, amoral children, then our society is truly, unequivocally and irrevocably screwed.

Back to my errant student. I pledge that, from this moment on I will make every attempt to see, hear and listen to him. I owe him that much. I hope now that he’ll do his part as well.

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P.S. Before I get notes that start with “yeah, but…”, know that I am blogging about kids that do NOT have issues that require medication and/or therapy. If your child requires medication and refuses to take it, or needs therapy and refuses to go, that should be addressed by professionals trained to deal with that, not me.

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Children are a funny thing. One day they are born, and are squalling, messy, limp masses of humanity. Within a few years they are opinionated balls of humanity and move from there to I-know-it-all chunks of humanity and eventually (God willing and the crick don’t rise) mature into productive members of society. Along the way, there are milestones to aim for and potential pitfalls to avoid. And occasionally they step into the sun and do something so brilliant the sun shines in your eyes and you cry.

Today my daughter was officially named valedictorian of her graduating class of nearly 150 students. Today was a day the sun shone in my eyes and I cried.

I found out the “official” news this morning before the students got to school. There was a notice hanging up outside the high school guidance office that said “Congratulations to the class of 2011” and then listed the top 10 students. Damn if Louise wasn’t right at the top! I was tickled pink but went about my business, telling a few of the teachers who Louise had while in Middle School. They were all thrilled but, somehow, not surprised.

Then came the Moment. The moment when, walking in an empty hallway during 2nd period, the magnitude of her accomplishment occurred to me. I was overwhelmed with gratitude at the teachers who brought her to this point, and I felt the tears coming. Now I should say that I am a HUGE mush – one of those people who cry at commercials. I let a few fall, but knew I had to get them back under control before I got back to the classroom. Since the hallways are “patrolled” by cameras during the school day, I didn’t want anyone to see me cry. So I kept walking as though everything was fine. I wiped my eyes just after I passed a camera, and took a deep breath before I got back to my classroom. Paused, entered, kept my eyes averted and blew my nose. I am, after all, getting over a cold.

I would like to place Louise’s academic success squarely in the hands of those who educated her. Aristotle said, “Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well.” So I honor the following educators who were Louise’s teachers through the years. (Louise and I sat side by side to come up with this list. Anyone who was missed, please accept my apologies.)

Kindergarten – Mrs. Virginia Neville – who taught her the value of education and instilled in her a love of learning.

First Grade – Ms. Kara O’Hearn (now Granger) – from who Louise learned how interesting and huge the world was.

Second Grade – Ms. Ruta Ronis – who taught her to love reading, and exposed her to the world of literature.

Third Grade – I am astonished to say that neither Louise nor I can remember her teacher’s name. I know she had the corner classroom and had an Irish name and absconded with my USGS earthquake map when she retired. I think 3rd grade wasn’t a big learning year…

Fourth Grade – Mrs. Herzog – who was the Earth Mother and was a brilliant persuader. Mrs. Zmudowski, you made Louise cry buckets every night with your criticism. I would not like to thank you, but let you know that she eventually learned her times tables and is now going to college for physics. I think in some small way you helped her understand the importance of math. For that I am grateful. For your methods, no. Not at all.

Fifth Grade – Mrs. Austin-Kieves and Mrs. Herzog – Mrs. A-K taught Louise that she had to work her butt off to achieve excellence. She switched to Mrs. Herzog at mid-year to be able to work on a local history mural project with her father and Mrs. Herzog’s class.

Sixth Grade – Mrs. Cleaveland, Mr. Horn, Mrs. Wright, Mrs. Freebern, Ms. Gray, Ms. Campbell, Mr. Spence

Seventh Grade – Mrs. Turner, Mr. Knittel, Mrs. Tillotson, Ms. Dunham, Mr. DiBartolo

Eighth Grade – Mr. Pool, Mr. Esposito, Mr. Zangerle, Mrs. Gordineer,┬áMs. Ostrander

High School – Mr. Wright, Mr. Hill, Mr. Lawson, Mrs. O’Hearn, Mr. O’Hearn, Mrs. Brajuha, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Costello, Mrs. Kermani, Mrs. Colacchio, Ms. Kreiger, Mrs. Penik, Ms. Alteri, Mr. Stockslager, Mr. Orcutt, Mr. Kozlowski, Mr. O’Connor. I would also offer an incredibly special THANK YOU to the Simonetty family, who helped Louise study calculus at Harvard University in the summer of 2010. Your contribution was invaluable!!!!

To these amazing men and women I would like to say Thank You! You made a difference in the life of this kid named Louise. When you see her name in the papers for winning the Nobel Prize for Physics, know that you are part of the prize. Educators matter. Really matter. As Einstein said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” You have done that.

And for that, Rick and I thank you and Louise thanks you.

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