Friday, March 18, 2011

Elaine and Gary

When you flip through Architectural Digest or Martha do you think, "Why don't I live that way? Why don't my hand-stitched pillows stay fluffed on the artfully arranged couch in front of the mural I painted myself? Why is my home the only one decorated in Early Peanut Butter Stains?" Well, thanks to a reader who has far too much time on his hands, I'm coping the URl for the story of a family which does live that way. Have a lovely weekend.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bully For You

I stood in the middle of the locker room, my shirt, socks and undies on. My pants were the tool of a tug-of-war between me and Donetta. That’s her real name. If she’s reading this, I’ll accept an apology via the comments section.

Donetta and her friends had zeroed in on me, with my braces and glasses and my gangly Middle-school age hair and budding acne. Every day for a year, I raced to the locker room to try to get my clothes before Donetta got them. Mostly, I failed. She’d stolen a necklace my parents bought me in Amsterdam, untold amounts of money, and my dignity.

So, here I was, in a tug-of-war for my clothes. It was a very real possibility that I’d have nothing on my butt when the bell rang.

I don’t remember the rest of the story. Eventually, I got my clothes. Eventually, I moved. Eventually, I’ll stop linking the name Donetta with Devil.

Fast-forward 6 years. I’m a Senior, and I don’t feel threatened by my peers. In fact, I’ve got a pretty good social life. I date as much as I want, I have friends I love, and I haven’t felt out-classed for years.

But along comes Ivy (not her real name, because she’s a victim here.) She’s a Sophomore. And for some reason I still haven’t figured out, I cannot stand her. We should be in the same social settings--we like the same music, the same type of boy, the same clothes. She’s young enough that she doesn’t pose a threat to me. But I do all the mean-girl things. I write pithy, cutting poems and post them on all the lockers around hers. I slam her locker door shut. A lot. I make animal noises when she passes me in the hall. And one time, I left a roll of toilet paper on her doorstep with a note that said, “I would have TP’d you, but you’re not worth the trouble.”

Now, don’t get all psychological on me. I was mature enough to know that I had no right to abuse her like that. And I don’t think it was my Donetta moment.

Here’s what I do know: I’ve felt bad since I graduated.

So, recently on Facebook, I sent her a message, apologizing. I didn’t ask to be her friend--I’m really not interested in that, anyway. I just wanted her to know that, although the poems were very clever, they were evil and I’m sorry.

She responded. I didn’t expect her to, but she was very gracious and grown-up about it all. She said she hopes my life is flourishing, and I didn’t sense any sarcasm in the comment.

Boy, she turned out cool.

And I’m so glad.

But I would like to save other children the emotions I experienced, both as a victim and as a perpetrator.

So I’m working with a middle-school counselor to put together a curriculum for our local 7th and 8th graders. The curriculum will be short, 5 minutes in the classrooms once a month to either roll-play or do a case-study, with follow-ups posted in the newsletters, over the announcements, etc.

To that end, I’m collecting stories about bullying, personal stories. I don’t want them to come from strangers on the internet or from the news--I’d like them to come from you, my friends. I don’t want them to be the sensational “she killed herself because of a bully” story because that’s the exception, and I want to set up a curriculum for the general population.

My theory is that everyone except my brother, for reasons based entirely on his personality, has experienced bullying in some form. Social, physical--maybe even cyber, although we’re all so old, maybe we missed those experiences.

Would you email me your stories? I’ll change your names, so you don’t need to worry that when you run for President, your past will suddenly find its way to Fox. Thanks.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

No Dark Sarcasm

I only learned the metric system of measurement. I was reminded of this while reading a friend’s blog. Knowing the metric system in the US is only useful if you are A) a scientist or B) Charlie Sheen. It is not useful if you are a housewife who is cooking and needs a 1/4 cup of sugar but can only find a tablespoon. It is also not useful when some says, “Walk 10 yards to the left,” and you start counting the number of houses you pass.

I don’t remember the metric system, because how often does a non-scientific US housewife need to convert decaliters to hectoliters? Never, I tell you. I do remember that it’s a base-10 system, which makes it way easier than trying to remember how many of the king’s feet will fit in a yard.

My oldest daughter has become a pro at taking standardized tests. Around here, they start ‘em in 3rd grade. She gets nervous, but I remind her that it doesn’t affect her life at all, not even a little, and if she wants to make pretty patterns out of the dots, that’s fine with me. I feel slightly guilty, because it does affect her school and her teacher, and I like them, but it doesn’t make me feel guilty enough to encourage her to do her best. I also remind her that testing week means no homework, no schoolwork, and all the junky sugar-loaded carbs she can wolf down during the test. Provided gratis by the parents who get gentle reminders that kids need brain food during the test. Goldfish? Brain food? Not unless they’re swimming, I think.

The stupid things we teach kids. And the stupid ways we do it. I was in a “progressive” school in 6th and 7th grades. It was a pod system, where we had a little group we were assigned to, and within that group we broke out for our separate classes based on abilities. So far, so good. But the building, too, was in a pod structure. Each class opened onto the other classes. So while reading Antigone, we heard the science class learning about geodes and the math class running their abacuses. Yes, we learned how to use an abacus. Because that’s way more efficient and convenient than using a calculator. And, in order to not distract us with thoughts of freedom, there were no windows in the building. Not one. The front door had textured glass that let in a bit of distorted light, but in the winter, we arrived at school in the dark, arrived home in the dark, and didn’t see any Vitamin D the whole day. That is not a good way to spend middle school.

Middle school. Shudder. I have a child who will be in middle school next year. My mantra to get me through it has been, “I can home school. I can home school. I can home school.” Because girls are nasty to each other, and at 12, you can’t hang out with the boys unless you can kick their butts in basketball, which she can’t because she has my DNA. She wouldn’t want to hang out with boys, anyway. They’re clueless and they smell bad.

An ideal school would have no standardized tests, no “progressive ideas” that will be outdated and make stupid mathematicians before the year is even out, and it will have no middle-school age children. Just how to accomplish this I don’t know. I think I would be able to figure it out, but my schools encouraged in-the-box thinking and so that’s where I’m stuck.