Zillow be damned!

UnknownYou know how you just know certain things about your kids? Like, your daughter may be delightfully quirky, but she simply wasn’t born with the grace to end up as an Olympic figure skater? Or your son might be the next Jay Leno, but chances aren’t good that he’ll win a Nobel economics prize? We all make certain assumptions about our children based on the reality of who they are and their strengths and weaknesses. Take my eldest, Levi, for example. He’s unusually bright, brimming with kindness and one of the funniest 13 year old boys I’ve ever encountered. Barring some unexpected psychotic break in his early twenties, (God forbid a million times), I feel fairly confident claiming that he is not and never will be a stalker, terrorist or mass murderer. But we live in unthinkable times where kids aren’t allowed to keep score in flag football leagues, lockers have been outlawed at most middle schools and bringing a PB&J sandwich to school can get a kid expelled for attempted homicide.

So when the fill-in vice principal at my son’s middle school called me today, I was a bit taken aback. He gently introduced himself and I immediately went into panic mode. “Is everything alright? Is Levi okay?” I asked with a tone of terror in my voice. Clearly he hadn’t spoken to enough parents in his early tenure to know that one must always begin the unexpected parental phone call with the obligatory, “Hello Mrs. Gettleman, this is Mr. X from your son’s school and EVERYONE IS JUST FINE.”

Turns out he was calling because of my son’s inquisitive mind and untraditional interest in real estate. Apparently, Levi and his classmates were sharing home addresses on googlemaps and Levi, imbued with curiosity, checked out their living quarters on Zillow.com. I cannot tell you why my son is fascinated by Zillow. Perhaps it has something to do with his unusual interest in HGTV and the myriad of home-buying programs they air. While it doesn’t float my boat, he loves watching “Love it or List it,” “House Hunters International,” and he’s entered to win the 2014 “HGTV Dream Home” at least a thousand times this year. I’ll admit it’s not typical, but I’d hardly call it risky teen behavior.

But of course, what one sane parent sees as idiosyncratic and amusing, another parent might judge as dangerous and threatening to their offspring. So I sat, slack-jawed, as I listened to this man’s explanation that a parent had called with deep concern about my son’s “inappropriate” behavior. After I determined that this was not a crank call or a set-up for an upcoming episode of Punk’d, I spoke rather tentatively. “Um…have you met my son Levi? I can assure you he’s not stalking anyone or posing a risk to other students.”

“Well, I did get a chance to talk to him,” he said, “And I too determined that he is a really sweet kid who just didn’t realize that looking up other people’s addresses on Zillow is a breach of privacy.” A breach of privacy? Really? Like every geographic, economic and political piece of information about each of us isn’t part of today’s public internet database? You’ve got to be kidding me. My kid’s in hot water because he Zillowed another kid’s house?

Maybe I’ve lost all sense of reality. Maybe I really don’t understand how dangerous the world has become. Maybe finding out that a 7th grader knew our address, square footage and Zillow Home Value Index would actually freak me out enough to call the principal and complain. Or maybe…maybe…I’m a little less neurotic than the average parent today. Now that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

Middle school mayhem

Image

Throw away every kind, thoughtful or genteel thing you’ve ever learned. Do not offer your hand upon introducing yourself. Never hold the door open for anyone — especially not for a girl. No, strike that, boy or girl, same story. And whatever you do, never, ever admit to liking, respecting or even tolerating your parents.

This is a page out of our middle school preparatory training manual. My 12 year old son, Levi, starts middle school at a new school in four days. It’s his first foray into the public school system and he doesn’t know a single soul. So we’re all a little nervous about how he’ll like it and whether or not he’ll fit in easily, etc…

For those of you who don’t know Levi, he’s not your ordinary 12 year old boy. He’s delightfully chivalrous,  amazingly mature, deeply thoughtful and incredibly sensitive. Having these traits has necessitated some serious middle school tutoring.

My best friend in LA told me a horror story about her eldest son holding the door open for other students the first few weeks of his middle school experience. He was “dork” labelled and alienated for three quarters of the year. Luckily he found his niche and figured out that kindness and consideration were not attributes a middle schooler ought to display.

Another friend of ours was horrified upon meeting my son that he had warmly extended his hand, smiled broadly and happily introduced himself using his first and last name. “He’s not gonna do that in middle school?” My pal asked anxiously.

“No,” I stammered. “Of course not. He can be just as unfriendly and ill-mannered as any other child.” I grabbed Levi and fled the scene.

Once we were safely ensconced in the car, I clarified to him that going to middle school was a lot like going to a foreign country. It’s important to observe the culture and learn the language so you don’t inadvertently find yourself in the middle of an uncomfortable international fiasco. No standing out. No drawing attention to yourself. “Middle school is like a water color painting,” I advised, “Best done in muted shades that blend together easily.” What can I say? It was the best I could come up with on short notice.

“But I thought I was always supposed to be myself?” My son curiously inquired. “You’ve always told me to let my unique personality out and if people don’t like me it’s their problem, not mine.”

“Yes. Yes, I did,” I conceded. “But that hasn’t worked out all that well for us thus far. And all bets are off in middle school. Fitting in, laying low and not rocking any boats — that is our new M.O. By the way,” I added, “Do not, under any circumstance, admit to liking your parents or enjoying our company. That is a number one middle school faux pas.”

“I don’t think I’m going to like middle school, mom,” he said with the resignation of a soldier being sent to the front line.

“That’s okay,” I told him. “In fact, that’s perfect. Because no one likes middle school. Good job, buddy. Way to fit in.”

Backpack ban. For real?

No drinks. No boomerangs, No backpacks. No...circus ringmaster jackets?

No drinks. No boomerangs, No backpacks. No…circus ringmaster jackets?

My 12 year old son, Levi, will be starting middle school in August at a brand new public school. We’re all excited and nervous and trying to figure out how life operates in this totally unknown environment. Up till now, he’s been highly sheltered by our local private Jewish day school.

There’s a steep learning curve here and I admit it is causing us some anxiety. LIke the other day, for instance, he was perusing the district web site and confronted me in a panic.

“Mom,” he voiced fearfully, “It says on the website that kids are prohibited from carrying backpacks on campus.”

“Levi,” I responded with a doubtful glance, “That’s ridiculous. I’m sure you didn’t read it accurately. I mean, how are you supposed to carry your stuff to school? Picnic basket?”

He assured me that what he had seen had been real and urged me to call the district office to confirm it. His anxiety was growing and I figured that calling the office was the perfect way to allay his concerns. “Hello,” I started to the kindly woman who answered the phone, “I’m a parent of a new student who will be coming to your school in the fall and my son saw something on your website about backpacks not being allowed on campus. I know that sounds rather crazy. So I just wanted to check and make sure that he misunderstood whatever he thought he read.”

“Um…I’m not really sure what to tell you,” said the voice on the other end of the phone. “Can you hold for a moment?” Then she disappeared for like three minutes and I waited, wondering if she was using the same trick my insurance company uses every time I call to check on a benefit. I like to call it the “indefinite hold tactic.” It’s when certain organizations systematically put you on hold forever, knowing you’ll eventually get so frustrated you’ll hang up and decide it’s easier to just pay whatever remaining balance they insist you still have, even though you’ve already paid them three times already. But I digress.

Finally she returned, “The backpack rule is a campus by campus decision and I’m afraid no one at the district can give you the backpack requirements for an individual school. You’ll have to wait till the school reopens for the school year to call and inquire about it.”

“But…I mean…Are you saying there may be some rule against students carrying backpacks?” I’m stammering at this point because this sounds as silly to me as if she told me that number 2 pencils were being outlawed.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to call the school after July 22nd,” she curtly ended the conversation.

Baffled by this, I started to do some research and found that yes, backpacks have been items-non-grata at schools across the country for over a decade. Huh?

I found articles as far back as 2003 explaining the dangers of backpacks containing concealed weapons, drug paraphernalia, even bombs. The answer to some lunatic potentially stuffing a bomb into a backpack? No more backpacks. Maybe it’s me, but that sounds like the most inane answer to school violence and drug abuse that I have ever heard.

But that wasn’t all I discovered. There were other equally lame reasons for prohibiting the dreaded back carriers. The Academy of Orthopedic surgeons had come out with some declaration a few years back about the risks of long-term back and neck injuries and posture problems from kids hauling around overweight backpacks.

Other schools had outlawed backpacks because, and I’m not making this up, they proved to be dangerous threats to teacher safety both inside the classroom and in the corridors of learning. Apparently, teachers find themselves tripping over backpack straps on a regular basis during the school day. They also complain that they have been severely injured in the hallways by backpack-clad youngsters racing from one class to the next.

OK, now I am deeply sensitive to teachers’ needs. Teachers deserve all the credit, gratitude and respect we can give. Their jobs are important and critical to our society. However, this is a little bit silly, don’t you think? I mean, are they sashaying down the aisles between desks while reviewing the Spanish American War? Tap dancing around the classroom as they pose thought-provoking questions about Odysseus? Kids can’t carry backpacks because teachers are tripping over them en masse? Maybe we need to have an in-service day focused on cautious strolling protocol.

And one more question: in what, pray tell, are our children supposed to carry their personal items, notebooks and other school supplies? Hefty trash bags? One girl somewhere out East faced this very dilemma and started carting her load around in a plastic, yellow sand castle pail. Come on! We have got to get a grip. Yes, someone hid a pressure cooker in a backpack and murdered innocent victims. That’s deplorable and hideous. But banning backpacks wouldn’t have stopped the Boston bombings. Believe me, they would have found another way to hurt people. That’s what evil people do. They figure out ways to destroy and ruin good, unsuspecting people’s lives. We need to address evil, not the outward accoutrements of it.

We didn’t ban underwear after the underwear bomber tried to blow up an airplane. We can’t outlaw every single item that some sick, twisted cretan uses to accomplish some heinous activity. We just can’t. It would be like…like…like…trying to eliminate peanuts from every elementary school in the country. Oh wait, we have done that.

Parenting and perfectionism; mutually exclusive?

The Perfectionist's Guide to Results (Lo)

I remember the moment I first became a perfectionist. It was a cold winter evening around 6 p.m. My father had just returned from work and was taking his first real breath of the day behind his faux granite bar with the padded tangerine vinyl facade. I sat across from him on one of the matching vinyl bar stools in my Lanz of Salzburg nightgown, my long locks pulled tightly into a neat ponytail. I am 9 or 10 and have just received my mid term grades. I can’t wait to show them to my father. We had a rule that we had to wait at least 10 minutes from the moment he walked into the house before we bombarded him with all of the critically important information we had gleaned throughout the day. My 10 minutes were finally up.

“Dad,” I eagerly started, “Wanna see my report card?”

“Of course,” he smiled with the warmth that assured me of his sincerity.

I showed him my prized tally of grades that reflected how hard I had worked all semester. “Almost all ‘As’,” I boasted. “Just two ‘Bs’ in social studies and shop. And that’s just because I was scared to use that circular saw.”

My father perused the report card closely, his expression as neutral as a high stakes poker player. “Well,” he said gently, “If that’s the best you can do…”

I remember the sinking feeling in my chest. I felt unsteady, as if someone had pulled the carpet out from beneath me. I nearly toppled off the barstool. My best? Well, of course that’s not my best. I can do better! I can! I am smart and worthy of your love. I will never disappoint you again! Never!

I actually said nothing out loud. But the horror of all my self doubts screamed so loud inside my head that I couldn’t hear anything my father might have said to lessen the sting of his comment. “If that’s the best you an do…”

I never got another B in school. I drove myself like an animal. I could not accept anything lower than an A from that moment forward. Throughout middle school, high school, even college, I never forgot the stabbing pain of my father’s disappointment at my better than average academic performance. I had let him down and it would never happen again.

Clearly this sits at the core of many of my “issues” to this day. I cannot tolerate letting people down. I will go to ridiculous lengths to finish projects, follow through on obligations, and complete even the most insignificant tasks with the fierce dedication and commitment of a soldier whose mission it is to save the world from the forces of evil. It’s really a sickness.

I have also achieved many amazing things in my life and past careers. I cannot blame my father without also acknowledging that he lit a fire inside me that enabled me to fight relentlessly and never accept mediocrity. A gift? A curse? I’m really not sure. Perhaps a little of both.

Which brings me to today. My kind, smart, funny, creative 12 year old son, Levi, got his 6th grade final report card. “Mom,” he asked the moment he entered the car, “Do you think that 2 “Bs” are bad? I mean, if everything else is an “A”?” I struggled to answer. Clearly there is a right and a wrong response to this question that will set my son up for either a lifetime of failure and disappointment or years of stellar achievement and accomplishment. I am dumbstruck. What to say?

“What were the “Bs” in?” I ask non-judgmentally.
“Hebrew and Social Studies,” he answers. “And my social studies teacher was the hardest teacher at the school.”

“I certainly don’t think that’s bad,” I stammer, “I would have liked to have seen all “As” of course. But it could have been worse. Are you happy with these grades?”

“Well, I really wanted to get all “As”,” he shared, “But I think I’m pretty okay with how I did.”

“Great,” I tried to smile genuinely, “As long as you’re satisfied with yourself. That’s all anyone can ever ask of you.”

But this particular issue about grades seems even more potent for me. What is a parent supposed to say? Truthfully, I was disappointed that he didn’t get all “As”. But I’m pretty sure that’s because I have a skewed view of reality that doesn’t allow for me to make mistakes. So how can I overcome my own issues in order to accept my son for who he is, even if sometimes who he is isn’t perfect.

I have to tell you, I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering which of my many maternal missteps will poison my children’s developing psyches. I have truly developed this type of worrisome brooding into an art form. Whether its a careless public comment about an unzipped zipper or an insensitive wrist slap as one of my boys reaches for their fifth brownie at Thanksgiving dinner, I am certain that I am, or will be, the reason my children end up deeply disturbed, depressed, or at least depicted in numerous chapters of the DSM-VII (or whatever number it is by the time they’re in therapy.)

By accepting our kids as they are, are we encouraging them somehow to be less than they are capable of becoming? Does that even make sense? I want my son to be happy and well adjusted. I also want him to work hard and achieve because he has the capacity to accomplish great things in his life. How do you instill work ethic, determination, and tenacity while also allowing for imperfection, error and the occasional foul-up?

This is hard, parenting. I want to do it right so badly. But I don’t even know what right looks like most of the time. Anybody have the answer to this one?

Bingo dammit!

imgres“B-37,” one of the moms in my son Eli’s third grade class called out.

“Bingo!” Yelled Samantha. I enjoyed watching the victorious young lady’s glee as she celebrated her triumph.

“N-11,” the mom loudly announced over the myriad pronouncements of joy and despair by the remaining players.

“Perhaps she doesn’t know how to play this game,” I thought to myself.

“G-7,” she continued calling.

“Bingo!” Yelled Taylor. There were more “ahs” and “darns” from the ensemble.

“O-63,” she went on.

She must be on auto-pilot, I worried. Maybe being the Valentine Bingo caller was too taxing an enterprise for her. I decided to leave my post at the bagel and cream cheese station to see if I might be of assistance to her.

Quietly I whispered, “Someone’s already won.”

“N-11,” she proclaimed as if she hadn’t even heard me.

“There’s already a winner,” I spoke out with conviction.

She looked at me askance. “Everyone has to win,” she stated matter-of-factly. “We can’t stop until every child gets Bingo and wins a prize.”

At first, I thought she was joking. I mean I’m well aware of eternal T-Ball ties and even-Steven itty-bitty basketball games. But even in 3rd grade Bingo we aren’t allowed to have winners and losers?

I returned to my bagel station dejected and disillusioned. This is what’s wrong with the world today. We insist on perpetuating a ridiculous myth of equality when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

In Bingo, someone wins. This also implies the converse. Someone, (usually several someones), lose. It’s a game! That’s the whole point. One person gets the lucky numbers first. That’s why it’s fun. It’s not skill. It’s not personal will or sheer determination that dictate the outcome here. It’s a silly game of luck. Why are we shielding our youth from this reality?

No Junior, you will not always win. Life is about losing some times. It’s about learning resiliency, bouncing back, accepting defeat and fighting to win the next time around.

Instead we are raising lazy, pathetic people who expect prizes for failure and unlimited chances to win. That’s not how life works. Why are we doing this?

Later that night when we were sitting around the table I asked Eli, a fiercely competitive child, if he noticed anything unusual about Bingo. “It was really fun,” he concluded. “But what do you mean by unusual?”

“Well, who won?” I inquired.

“Nobody,” he answered plainly.

“But I kept hearing kids yell ‘Bingo’,” I asserted. amazed that he had missed something so obvious.

“But we were playing ‘Black-Out’ Bingo, mom” he clarified, “You know, where you have to fill in the whole card before you win?”

“Ah ha,” I smiled. “So nobody really won? That’s interesting.”

“Why mom?” he questioned, “Tell me why you’re asking.”

“Just curious,” I replied, unsure if I should reveal the truth or not. Maybe it’s better this way, with him believing in the illusive golden ring that remains always a bit out of reach.
“But everyone got a prize,” I just couldn’t leave it alone.

“Yeah mom,” he laughed to himself, “Everyone always gets a prize. That’s just how they do it these days. But don’t worry, I know that nobody really won. They just don’t want to hurt the kids’ feelings. I think it may have to do with law suits or something.”

I shook my head and giggled. “Yeah,” I said, “You’re probably right.”

So while most kids walked away feeling like winners, my competitive junkie filled in the blanks a little differently. I guess competition really is in the eye of the beholder.

Lockdown

imgres-6My 12 year old son, Levi, has anxiety issues. This isn’t a secret. So to those of you who might suggest that I’m exposing some kind of family skeleton, I want you to know that I always check with my family first before airing our dirty laundry in public. As long as they’re okay with it, I figure it’s fair game for public consumption.

That being said, the other day at school his math teacher sent him to his homeroom classroom to make copies for her during class. He happily complied and set off to do so. Apparently, only seconds after leaving the classroom, word got out about a ponytailed, pistol carrying stranger at a school a few blocks away. Our school went into immediate lockdown. I’m not talking “drill.” I’m talking serious, “we’re in a different kind of world after Newtown” lock down. So while Levi haplessly skipped across campus, everyone else bolted their doors, pinned up paper to cover the windows and huddled in bathrooms, closets and corners.

Levi thought it was more than strange when the door to his classroom was locked. Even more odd were the darkened windows that left no view to the inside of the room. He looked around and noted that no one else was anywhere within sight. Hmmm? He remained calm and clear-headed though and knocked softly on the door. Luckily, his teacher slyly squinted through a side gap in the papered window. Then, like an episode of “The Munsters,” the classroom door opened a crack and a hand emerged, grabbed my son, and dragged him into the room. It wasn’t until after he was safe that he felt the anxiety of the situation catching up to him. But to his amazing credit, he held it together and was able to talk himself down and maintain control of his emotions.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me. But I find the irony of this inane confluence of events staggeringly comical. I mean how is it possible that my kid, the one with severe anxiety issues, ends up on the wrong side of a lock-down, only days after the most gut-wrenching massacre in our nation’s history? I guess it’s okay to find humor in the irony since no one was hurt and nothing bad really transpired. I can’t even contemplate the real devastation that could have occurred had a copy-cat ventured onto ours or a nearby campus. Maybe the humor is simply survivor’s guilt or some kind of defense mechanism to protect myself from the overwhelming pain etched into our souls by last week’s horrific destruction.

Sometimes it’s just too painful to contemplate the very real risks we endure every day as we try to live our lives, watch over our families, and protect our precious children. And so to all who suffered a loss in Connecticut, our hearts ache over your pain. The nation grieves along with you and sends love, strength and healing to you.

May you all be blessed with a sense of peace and may God bring comfort to those in mourning who must now learn to accept the unfairness of life as they struggle to live without the earthly presence of someone so deeply cherished.

His first dance

nina-leen-young-boy-and-girl-taking-dancing-lessons

“Whose problem is it?” My husband, the pediatrician, patronizingly posits.

“Look, I know it’s his problem,” I say, already on edge from his tone of voice, “I read all the ‘Love and Logic’ books too. But sometimes a parent needs to step in and avert an impending disaster.”

“You need to let him fail, Debra,” He councils.

“But this is such a bad idea!” I assert. “He’ll be totally humiliated and then…well, he’ll be scarred for like ever!”

“If you take this on as your issue,” he warns, “You are robbing him of an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.”

At that point I wanted to slug him. Instead I furiously stormed out of the kitchen and rushed into his office where I began to systematically rip the pages out of each and every “Love and Logic” book I could find. All the while yelling at him, “I hate this ‘Love and Logic’ crap! This whole notion of natural consequences sucks. If it’s all about letting your kids fail, then what do they need parents for in the first place? Let’s just step back a bit further and really let him make his own choices…”

After I vented, I took a deep breath and looked seriously at my spouse. “How can you set our son up for this kind of devastation? Don’t you care about his feelings at all?”

“Debra,” he voiced in a genuinely warm tone, “I don’t want him to suffer any more than you do. But you told him it might be better to ask the girl to the dance in private instead of doing it in front of the entire sixth grade class. Didn’t you?”

I nodded sheepishly.

He continued, “And he decided he wanted it to be big and bold and dramatic. We have to let him do it his way.”

That’s when I realized I hate being a parent. I never should’ve gone down this path. It’s painful and frustrating and there’s virtually no positive reinforcement. My kind, sensitive, thoughtful 12-year-old boy is about to ask a girl to his first dance ever in front of his entire class and I can’t convince him to change course. And spousal support? Ha! My husband behaves as if he’s Switzerland during World War II.

The following day was grueling. I didn’t mention the dance invitation that morning en route to school. It was none of my business. Not my problem. If my adoring little boy got his heart stomped on by some brazen hussy, it was simply going to be a natural consequence that would teach him to be more cautious in exposing his sentiments in the future. Surely that lesson will serve him well in the long run.

I picked him up promptly at 3:15. “How was school?” I nonchalantly queried.
“Oh, it was okay,” he contended with the neutrality of a poker professional, cards close to his vest.

“Anything out of the ordinary occur?” I tried not to sound as pathetically desperate to know the story as I obviously was.

“No. Not really,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Just your average day.”

I bit my tongue, literally, to keep myself from uttering another word. Suddenly he chirped with excitement, “Oh, mom, I almost forgot. I asked Jessica (not her real name) to the dance this afternoon.”

“Oh you did?” I casually inquired. “So…how’d it go?”

“It was amazing! I played this One Direction song at the end of Spanish called ‘That’s what makes you beautiful,’ and I told her I wasn’t Nile, but I’d still like to take her to the dance if she’d go with me. The whole class was cheering and saying, ‘Say yes. Say yes.’ It was such a cool feeling to have everyone wanting me to succeed. And she did say yes, which made it even more cool.”

OK, I did not see that coming. My whole body heaved a heavy sigh of relief. Thank heavens that catastrophe was averted. We pulled into the driveway and I saw a series of texts had come in from my husband. “So?” “What happened?” “Did she say yes?” “Is he okay?” Well, how do you like that? Mr. “I’m so uninvolved emotionally and capable of keeping my feelings out of the situation” is actually waiting on pins and needles to know the results from today’s event.

I started to text back the good news when it struck me that it wouldn’t kill my husband to wait a few more hours to learn the verdict from today’s challenge. After all, I wouldn’t want him to take things on too personally and rob my son of his learning experience.
I texted back, “He prefers to talk with you in person.”

Yes, I know it was a bit childish. O.K., maybe even passive aggressive to purposely lead my husband astray like that. But it wasn’t a lie. Not really. Just a…a…an extension of the truth. And one that cheered me immensely over the course of the afternoon. Honestly, can you blame me? It’s not easy being married to a professional parent who always seems to have all the right answers.

Ancient battles

I’m not a poet. I wouldn’t know how to technically craft a poem to save my life. I like to write funny. Funny is safe. Funny is easy. But sometimes nothing feels funny. Every moment hurts. Bitterly.

 

 

 

Ancient Battles

When they are small it’s so easy to

kiss away boo-boos,

Wipe soggy tears,

And dab ointment on cuts and bruises.

A mother’s salve.

Healing.

 

But time changes all that.

And pains become immeasurable.

My words cannot erase the hurt

of treacherous laughter

and taunting betrayal.

 

My heart aches inside me.

I want so to help.

Instead I remain outside his fortress,

Unable to soothe.

Ill-equipped to protect him from the child warriors

who rage at the walls of his porcelain ego.

 

We are both wearied from battle.

“Don’t give up,” I manage to eke out the words

like a fallen soldier,

desperate to embolden the barely breathing comrade by my side.

“You will win in the end.”

 

He tries to believe me.

The corner of his mouth curls just enough

to tell me he’s not ignoring me.

And then silence.

We drive on through the night

alone –

together.

His fresh wounds bleeding.

My scabs ripped open to

once again remember the agony of childhood.

 

Don’t mean to depress anyone. But this is where I’ve been living this past week. So many good, kind parents have no idea that their children are viciously tormenting others. Please, talk to your kids about bullying. Teach them that cruelty wounds deeply and childhood scars can last lifetimes. Even if you’re certain it’s “not your kid,” think again. Because it just may be.

Coyote smorgasbord

Have you ever done something so completely idiotic that you even surprise yourself by your total lack of judgement? Well, welcome to yesterday morning.

As is often the case, I walked my 8 year old son, Eli, to the bus stop about two blocks from our house. I also chose to take our two dogs, Maggie and S’more along with us. Not surprisingly, I’ve never managed to leash train the two canines, so a “walk” with them is more like an amateur wake boarding competition.

We were the first to arrive at the bus stop. But we were quickly joined by several of the usual grade school suspects. I was the only parent. Suddenly, I looked up and spotted a vicious predatory mountain lion aggressively racing towards us. Well OK, it wasn’t exactly vicious, and it wasn’t actually a mountain lion. It was a…coyote, a mean looking, mangy coyote. But mangy means hungry, doesn’t it? And on second glance, it wasn’t really racing towards us, it might have been minding its own business. But it was like 20 feet away from us and didn’t seem at all put off by me, my dogs or the little folk beside me.

I grabbed both leashes tightly as my dogs yelped and pulled towards the wild beast. Clearly they weren’t afraid. But I was. It felt like a situation on the verge of going horribly wrong. I struggled to hold the dogs back and avoid a wildlife confrontation. The coyote passed us without incident and turned the corner a few houses down. “Eli,” I said, my voice still shaking, “I have to get the dogs home so they’ll be safe. I can hardly hold them back.”

Then I corralled my two pups and headed off in the opposite direction. As I approached our house, I breathed a sigh of relief realizing we were out of harms way. But then it hit me. I had just left a cadre of elementary school children unarmed and unprotected with a rabid coyote on the prowl. What the heck is wrong with me? Sure the dogs were safe. But Eli might have been served up as Wile E’s second breakfast.
I dropped the dogs at home and turned tail to head back to the bus stop. But a few yards down the block I caught sight of the yellow school bus leaving the neighborhood.
“Phew,” I relaxed knowing that the children were safe and on route to school. Unless of course one had been eaten prior to the bus’s arrival. I heard my therapist’s voice in my head insisting I employ logic when “worry brain” starts to take over. “Nonsense,” I reasoned, “I’ve never heard of a single case where a lone coyote chowed down on a school child.”

Just in case, I drove by the bus stop on my way to work. There weren’t any entrails or blood stained concrete. I was relatively certain that no child had met with an untimely fate. But I will confess that I felt a whole lot better at 3:30 when Eli bounded off the bus surrounded by his entire posse of bus stop buddies.

Well, you know what they say, parenting is one third knowledge, one third judgement and one third luck. So in those instances when you come up a little short in the judgement arena, just pray that you’ve got a surplus of luck to fall back on.
p.s. To those of you feeling the urge to report me to child protective services and write chastising letters to the magazine: no children were actually endangered in the writing of this article. Our local coyotes are as timid as mice and as vicious as common house plants.

Classroom Socialism

“It’s totally unfair!” my nearly twelve year old son, Levi, railed. “Mrs. Y teaches advanced math and sixth grade science. She gives out these tickets for good behavior that can be redeemed for the most amazing prizes; like dinner and a movie or board games, stuff everybody really wants. But some people have her for both classes. I only have her for science since I’m not in advanced math. So it’s totally unfair. Don’t you think so?”

“Well, not really,” I tentatively began, “What’s unfair about it?”

“Mom,” he rolls his eyes at the sheer inanity of my question, “ The people who only have her for one class can’t earn as many tickets. That’s what’s unfair.”

“But it doesn’t hurt you or take away from your chance to earn tickets that some other people earn more, does it?” I ask, knowing I’m treading on thin ice. “I mean, it may take you longer to earn the prize you want. But that’s how life works. Some people are better at some things than others. Some people earn more money or drive nicer cars or live in fancier houses. Everything isn’t equal. Plus if you really wanted to, you could work harder and be in the advanced math class. But you don’t seem to want to spend the time or effort to do that.”

“Well mom,” my son reasoned, “I am trying to be happy with myself at the level I’m at and not put undo pressure on myself.” I suddenly flashed back to a book a colleague of mine wrote several years ago entitled, “What to Do When Your Kid Is Smarter Than You.” I’ll have to reread that.

“That’s fair, Levi,” I conceded. “But life is what you make it. Nobody owes you equality. If you want to earn more tickets, think of a creative way to do that. Maybe you can stay later or earn extra credit somehow. But moping about unfairness is like buying into a socialist doctrine that we, personally, do not believe in.” I gingerly stepped off my soapbox and waited to see how my remarks had landed.

“Would you like to at least hear my solution?” He asked with a hint of arrogance that made me feel embarrassed for my philosophical outburst.

“Of course,” I nodded.

“Well,” he began, “I raised my hand and told Mrs. Y that I thought her system was unfair for the reasons I mentioned. She thought about it, agreed with me, and decided to amend the system. Now everyone can only earn tickets in one class.” He offered a self satisfied smile that landed like a gentle lob into my court.

I was, I’ll admit, speechless. Finally, I gathered my wits and responded. “Well, Levi, what you may lack in mathematical acumen, you more than make up for in ingenuity and boldness. I gotta hand it to you. You spoke up for yourself and were able to affect change. That’s awesome. I’m proud of you.”

“Really?” he asked doubting my authenticity.
“Really,” I answered. “Life will always set up obstacles for you to overcome. You used your intelligence, determination and creativity to do that. It’s like my dad used to say to me, ‘You can do anything if you put your mind to it.’” Then I thought about all the kids who had ostensibly been demoted to single classroom point earners.

“But just to be safe,” I added, “Let me show you how to throw a right hook in case any of those double point people come looking for you.”