Friday, August 19, 2011

Monkey in the Middle School

Yep. I have a middle schooler. sigh. clap. creak. That last one was the sound my joints make in the morning. In the afternoon sometimes too.  I took a moment away from shopping for depends to try and sum up my thoughts.

I was more scared for Phillip to start middle school than he was. Mostly that is due to having been there and experienced the sea of choas meet hormones driven decision making that plagues this age group. The first 3 weeks have been interesting and I've kind of been letting him float and see where that takes us. We had 1 trip to health room and some kinks to work out- but all in all he seems to be doing well. He repeatedly says he's got it- so I'm gonna let him run with it until I hear otherwise. I'm trying not to be overbearing and trust him because sometimes as an involved parent, that can be the toughest thing to do. I am trying to make the transition from hands on- to guided leadership. I find that I do have a tendency to micromanage, but I think we both are learning valuable lessons in our relationship.

I ask about homework, but I don't ask to check it over as I did in elementary. I offer to help. It is usually declined. The 3rd day after school I am with the girls- somewhere between Bella's gymnastics and shopping for Lily's new soccer cleats when I get a call from the Middle schooler. 

-Hey mom, what's local mean?

I resist the urge to spew my political commentary on the segretory version that pops up here and tell him- of or pertaining to a common area. Part of a community.  why?

-I know the definition, but what does it mean to be a local?

Here or in general? Why, what is this for?

-I have to write an essay for Social Studies on whether or not I am local.

At this point, I literally have to reign in the barrage of comments leaping out of my mouth. I wish I had a magic lasso for times like these that my wild stallion of a mouth(that one was for you babe) leaps over the fence and I have to go hunt it down. Ok back track, be civil, educational, not emotional. Try not to make this into more than a social studies assignment.  I explain that local means to live or be from a certain area and part of that community.

-But mom, are we local?

Well bud, that depends on who you ask. We are a part of this community and we work and live here and have for almost 7 years. But many people feel you have to be born in a place and have family there to be considered local.

-Lily was born here, is she local? 

See in Colorado they call it being native. Here they call it local- but it is more of a generational thing. It's really hard to explain. Colorado is my home, but Toledo is also my home- I am native to toledo because I was born there- and used to be local to Denver- but now home is where you and your sisters and dad are.

-Yeah yeah yeah, but do you think I am local?

Do you feel local?


I think it's more about how you feel than what labels other people want to put on you. You can be whatever you want to be.  Just make sure you address what your teacher wants and give a well thought out opinion and you can't go wrong.

-Okay- got it.

I fume for quite some time. Is this teacher labeling my child or assessing him for his thinking skills?  I am not excited that the entire first year of middle school social studies is again being spent on Hawaiian Studies. I was so grateful for a substitute teacher his 5th grade year who devoted her 2 month stay to teaching states and capitols- which are not addressed in the elementary my kids formally attended. When she pre tested the class- less than 50% could name 5 states- she got answers like Chicago, Guam, Samoa.  Most 4th-5th graders in Hawaii can tell you Haole means without breath or what the ancient Hawaiian gods represented, but cannot name all 50 states much less their capitols. Don't even get them started on laws and government organization- it soon becomes self evident why I faced some recent problems with the DOE. I find that I am actually looking forward to the Middle School open house so I can get a feel for the school and this teacher.

The night comes, it is a whirlwind of families and zooming around to classes. The classrooms are hot- standing room only and many teachers remark at how surprised and grateful they are for the turnout. Many of us are coming from a school where parents were neither welcomed nor given a tour or open house- this is a novel concept and clearly appreciated. I have already communicated with a couple of teachers regarding storage of supplies and snacks for diabetic emergencies in class. See the law is nice enough to address diabetes here- so the first day of school Phil dropped off 3 boxes to 3 strategic locations and there were no problems. The school is very institutional and I think technically we are supposed to call it "modern" or "green" but as one mom said- it feels like a prison in here. It does. There is wall to wall shades of gray. Some might call them "clean lines". I say bare.  Lots of high windows to allow natural light, but not a lot of art or warmth. But for what the school lacks in architectual variety, it makes up for in staff. Phillip's teachers all seem to be inspired and genuinely interested in the students and their growth. I now have a better understanding of the advisory period which is called exploratory wheel. He has a caring, openminded advisor, who is also his math teacher. She is a bit soft spoken, but Phillip assures us she's not so soft spoken when kids aren't listening.

I am impressed by the language elective and it's function as in introduction to various languages and cultures more so than trying to impart vocabulary of a singular language. Later kids can choose which language they would like to explore. That makes sense to me. Informed decision making- brilliant. And finally we pile into the social studies room. And it all makes sense. The teacher prides himself in giving the most homework.  There is a lot of emphasis on reading the news. There is a lot of emphasis on written communication. Thought is encouraged. I can't argue with any of it so far, well maybe the homework part. Some of the homework is through computer programs and although the test can be taken to better the grade, he only accepts the 1st grade- so do it right the first time.  The unit is Hawaiian Studies. But included are world and local current events. He is very systematic and precise- and I have to agree with my husband's analysis- this is real world experience- the kid has to learn how to adapt to the different quirks and requirements of different people- it will be a good learning opportunity. And that's when it hits me. That is why middle school is so tough- you are barraged with educational learning- but it is also a time of immense emotional growth. The big transition. One teacher flat out says he doesn't grade on behavior- he didn't know how to act when he was 12 and that's part of this middle school learning process. He does expect the work- and he does allow kids to re do their work for better grades the entire time. Later in life it may not be an option- but here is the time to learn by doing. I am impressed. I appreciate the diversity among his 6 teachers and the varying levels of expectation. One expectation was always the same- they have to work hard. Some present it as quantity, others leave it up to individual determination for quality. A big part of learning is learning how to deal with people imposing the parameters. All in all it gives me hope for the monkey in the middle school and a little peace of mind that we are moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Monkey School

The days of coaxing and cajoling everyone to simultaneously grin at the camera are gone. I am embracing the realism of my environment and this about sums it up! This is the 2011 First Day of School picture. I have been waiting for this day for a very long time.  Putting it into action is another thing entirely. Those curls don't brush themselves you know. And the owner of the curls just so happens to have the tenderest of scalps of them all- go figure. Then the red head is just hopeless and I let her embrace the tousled look because before we even made it to the car- I had sprayed and resprayed and tied her hair in a pony 3 different times. Nothing short of shellac would work for that one. Ironically enough- the boy is the most self sufficient in the hair department.

This year poses a new challenge for us- no uniforms. For the sensory sensitive of the crew- this is a big deal. Especially when her mom refuses to let her go to school in the holey bleach spotted sleep shirt that passes for a tshirt when we go to walmart. Wednesdays are spirit day, the one day a week they wear red shirts. Any red shirt will do. Lily monkey has 1, ONE shirt that will fit the bill. I told her Saturday when she wore it- that I would not be doing wash before today so she was going to have to wear a different shirt. After pleading with both older siblings for hand me downs- she had 2 choices to pick from. She had them both on at different points in the morning and she disappeared as I called them out for the morning picture. Lo and behold- she dug the darn thing out of the hamper and put it on. I asked the other ones to perform the sniff test and she got an "eh", a shrug and a "smells fine". Surely the wrinkles will fall out by the time we get to school. There weren't any obvious stains. It was be on time or fight the battle. Be on time won.

It wasn't pretty. Red's fourth pony was quickly losing purchase and she apparently owns only 1 of  no less than 6 pairs of shoes. Not 1 pair, 1 shoe of each pair- 6 shoes total- none matching.  Lily decided a headband was a necessary last minute addition but not all of her hair was allowed admission and Kiera suddenly decided she needed to memorize as many spanish words as possible in the 15 minute car ride- and her only source of spanish words was me. Of course Lily is convinced she speaks spanish and starts rattling off a combination of pidgin and gibberish- it's all the same really which frustrates Kiera and amused the heck outta Bella who is nervous as all get out for her first day but can only show it by random emotional outbursts. I look back and Bella went from giggling to what looks like either a seizure or anger- I wonder if I need to pull the car over then I realize she is trying to say Como estas.....which is unfamiliar to her so it requires the mobility of every single face muscle.  I distract them by pointing out the school sticker on the car in front of us and that if they do really well in school they will get one and I will put it on the van. Lily asks if she gets one can we put it on dad's car- I say sure- cause he's not here and he can deal with that fallout- mwah ha ha. Bella says- what about me? Hmm- we have no more vehicles- sure- we could put it on a bike- or better yet- Phillip's bum so people can see it when he walks to school. And of course that's a hit with the crowd and they are giggling like crazy. And in that moment- the drive to school just paid for itself.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I think I broke my Aloha.

It has been that kind of morning. A morning where my neighbor volunteers to drive the girls into school so I offer to give the preteen a ride to school. So I end up sitting at an intersection for 25 minutes that has a 9 way stop with a mix of functional and non functional lanes and no light. So between those who deem their time more important than everyone else's and those who just have no regard for the law, I am beginning to lose patience. I beg my kids to put on their earmuffs as I know where this is going.

I am 5 cars from the stop sign and a white van pulls next to me on the median and waves like that makes it ok. Around here, they call it driving with aloha. You can cut someone off- but if you wave while you are doing it- it's all good. So I smile and pull forward. Just slow enough so the guy behind me can keep on my bumper- which he does. He has been behind me the entire way too and we have just watched a dozen cars zoom by on the right and cut over. The car behind him does the same, and so on and so forth. White van with too many gold bangles gets tired and flips us all off and makes an illegal right turn. I finally make it to the light at school. Guess who pulls up next to me at the light?  I smile. White van with gold bangles mouths "Fuck You". She might have said it- so I rolled down my window- so she could hear me loud and clear. "What's your fucking problem" she yells. "You. You broke the law. " I yell back. "So what?" she yells"you (inaudible)bitch."  The light turns as I remark that she is an idiot. It may or may not have been loud enough for her and the entire intersection to hear. There may or may not have been an expletive. I am immediately ashamed and outraged. 2 of my kids are in the car and this is not a good example.

What did she say? I asked- because I'm pretty sure it was a racial commentary on the fairness of my skin. "She called you the b-word from the katy perry song" Phillip offers. I know that- the other word- "I don't know, I don't know what it was. " Good. No, not good. Bad. Very bad. All around bad. If I wanted this type of thing- we'd live in a major city. Not in a suburb on a dinky island in the middle of the ocean. Sure the crime is lower here. I'm beginning to think it is just a social experiment on the positive effects of laziness.

I don't know what the solution is. Me yelling at every idiot who breaks the law is not it. That intersection is unsafe and has been so for 3 years. I have written HPD. Periodically you will see an officer monitoring it- generally after a kid is hit- because there have been a couple of those incidents. The solution is to put one of those electronic message boards that blinks"slow down. Let people cross". I shake my head every time I see it- because the people who are not slowing down to stop at the stop sign and who don't care if they maul kids trying to get to school are not the sort of people who are going to take the time to reflect on the finer points of the suggestion of a blinking sign. It's us poor law abiding fools who are forced to sit there for 20 minutes while the flashing sign taunts us- as the other half of society blows by.

So was this morning about some idiot lady in a van trying to cut me off??? Probably not. It was the cumulative effect of a series of rather blatant injustices regarding race, policy and law. If I hear, that's just how things are done here one more flipping time... I can't listen to morning radio for 5 minutes without being barraged by one racist comment after another. Just because you are an equal opportunity offender, doesn't make the act any less racist or any less wrong. I'm tired of stupidity and ignorance being excused. When my 6 year old tells me that kids at her old school called her a fat bitch- I try to rack my brain for a reasonable way to explain this. He was wrong. It is wrong. It is even more wrong to me that there is no consequence. Just as you can drive on medians and make illegal turns, 6 year olds calling each other names is no longer a disciplinable offense. It's only wrong if you get caught mentality. They are just words right?  Despite the 6 notices I receive each year(filled with lots and lots of official words) about title 19 and bullying and how it includes words and discrimination and that there is zero tolerance in any school for such behavior. I have not seen this in practice.  Words are the foundation of our beliefs. The same words can convey very different things in the way they are used. The word aloha is a perfect example- hello, goodbye, love, peace, acceptance, let's get drunk and party(as in aloha Friday).

All I can figure is that the problem is in fact me. Somewhere I either misinterpreted aloha or broke my aloha.  There are many who do believe in aloha- the true spirit of aloha.  But they are the rare gem being over taken by beaches. I believe in aloha. I was not born nor raised here- so there is a contingent who will say I cannot possibly understand true aloha. I prefer to believe that we are the exact demographic who truly can understand aloha- because it is a choice not an obligation. The aloha spirit is one of love, compassion and acceptance. Acceptance of friends, family and strangers alike. After all strangers are just friends you have not met yet. The true spirit of Aloha is carried on the peaceful breeze, the constant tide and the suns rays. Yet as the breeze turns to gale, the tide to tsunami and the sun a burning force- the spirit of aloha can be taken under. The true spirit of aloha could be what allows people to let people over in traffic- but the true spirit of aloha is also waiting your turn so others don't have to wait for you and doing the right thing even when no one is watching. The true spirit of aloha is recognizing when your aloha is broke and trying to fix it. My aloha is broke, but I don't think I can fix it alone.