Dear Deplorables…

…now that you have it, what are you going to do with it?

My parents, some of questionable sanity, instilled a sense of obligation in me at a young age. Confronted at the age of four with anti-Semitism by the family up the street, my father (the sane one), showed me how to manage bigotry in one sentence and a door slam. Both my father and my stepfather taught me that it is my moral obligation as a Jew to ensure all minorities, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or any other category, are safe from harm.

Throughout my life, I have seen and experienced prejudice, discrimination and overt racism directly and indirectly: at school, at work, during my leisure time, while participating in the most mundane activities or the most critical. It is not dramatic when someone says these experiences can be traumatic and terrifying. When your concept of safe spaces are corrupted, life does become unbearable.

When I speak up, when I interrupt, I fear people hear the words and the voice of a crazed individual ranting on a street corner. Yet, if I don’t, I wonder “who will?” So I do. I do me. As I was raised. As I was inspired by my father, my hero, one of my best friends. And I know I am not alone. I am so fucking blessed to count amazing, brave and bold people as my friends. Men and women who stick their necks out every day to stop injustice and make this hellscape a better place for the benefit of others and not themselves.

As I watch the election returns trickle in, I sit in awe. Of all we have been taught, of all we have learned, the path we are, as a nation, choosing to go down is one of hate and fear. One of intolerance and exclusion. One of complete and total lack of regard for our fellow human beings. As a society, we have committed to dismissing the pain of others. As a society, we have dedicated ourselves to perpetuating stereotypes, false information and lies. And for whose benefit and what cause? To satisfy fear and ignorance. For it is much easier to hide behind the cloak of intolerance than it is to confront our bias, own our weaknesses and grow as people.

Every single man, woman and child in this country, citizen or non, deserves better than what is unfolding right now. This is not the “change we need.” This isn’t the punishment we deserve for our bad behavior, either. This is, simply put, bullshit.

To the deplorables, the leaders and the followers, this is yours now. The responsibility. The accountability. The time for bluster has passed. The time for action has arrived. You must now prove to every single person you are not the bigot you claim you aren’t. You must now prove to every person that you are, indeed, human. You must now earn our respect.

Your margin of victory is small so don’t think of this as a referendum or a free pass. Our black lives still matter. Our safety in public toilets still matters. Our freedom to follow whatever religion (or none at all) is still ours, per The Constitution. The Supreme Court has ruled our same sex couples can get married. You don’t have to like or approve of these basic principles but you will still have to accept them. Just as we have been living with your intolerance all of these years.

Show us you can lead by building the bridge to healing. Show us you can lead by being humble and decent. Show us you are anything but the horribly behaved example you demonstrated throughout the election. The ball is in your court. The burden has become yours.

Pantsuit Nation

please note:  my usual laziness and ambivalence will be suspended for today.  As various ideas pop into my fragmented mind, I may or may not blurt them out in manic fits of euphoria, paranoia or confusion.  It’s been a difficult election cycle for all.  On the verge of potentially (as a Philadelphia sports fan, I know better than to hope for any positive outcome) witnessing the election of a female president, I’m finding myself genuinely overcome with emotion.

During my years as a member-facing consultant, I never procured a single pantsuit. That was a pointless endeavour, as I’m short and didn’t feel like spending money on a tailor after buying an expensive suit. Skirts it was. Sadly, no pantsuit in the wardrobe for me today.

Undeterred, I yanked out one still-on-the-hanger-from-the-cleaners navy blue jacket and paired it with a red and white striped shirt, dark grey skinnies and my sugar skull boots which are embroidered with the phrase “Don’t walk in fear.” Kang’s version of a pantsuit will have to suffice for the only time I leave the house: the carpool.

Rock on, Pantsuit Nation.

But it’s alright, ’cause it’s all white…

or is it?

Another day, another explosion, another Muslim to blame.  Expedient and convenient.  In rapid fashion The Deplorables emerge from their basket, full of rage and bare chested, arteries close to exploding as the Do-Gooder-Patriot thumps his chest in outrage.  The call to eject citizens or aliens, legal or non, grow louder and louder as crumpled cans of Budweiser hit the floor and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A” bleats in the background along with Fox Noise, Alex Jones or whatever nonsensical voice from the Alt-Reich will serve as the clarion call to the patriots.  Pick up the guns, bruh.  We gots ourselves some work to do.

Let’s say The Deplorables get their way: Der Trumpenführer und Col Wilhem Klink Pence are elected in November.  The mass deportations begin.  Muslims *poof* gone!  Mexicans (And let’s be blunt about the definition of Mexican, shall we.  We all know the word “Mexican” encompasses anyone from Central and South America in this instance.) *el presto* dunzo!  African Americans who refuse to heel to the esteemed white man and accept institutionalized racism *boom* outta here.  Jews, sorry my fellow brothers and sisters, we’re off to live on disputed soil in a desert because Secretary of White Washing, David Duke, thinks were shifty, at best.  I’d cite more but, admittedly, I’m bored.  Also, why bother?

So, now that the Great Again United States of America is as white as a mountain of blow, all is good, right?  There are no longer any explosions (abortion is outlawed so no need to fret about that).  Crime no longer exists because white people don’t do that stuff.  Right?  Right?  Wait…I’m…wrong?

After all that expended energy – the culling of the herd, the elimination of the undesirables, there is still crime?  There are still people who are (scratches chin) bad?  But, how could this be?  It’s a white, christian utopia full of hard working, non-welfare taking, non-idle people who spend their non-work time at church or building homes for Habitat for Humanity (although why HH exists when everyone has a job and can afford a home escapes me entirely).  When do the adults find time to commit crime?  When do the studious angels find the time between school, volunteerism and extra-curricular activities?

The fact of the matter is, Dear Deplorables, you can eliminate as many brown, yellow, black, olive, purple, polka-dotted, twenty-armed, two-headed, nine-footed humans from your country as you wish.  You will never eliminate bad behavior.  It could be debated that the Deplorable is the embodiment of bad behavior but that’s tangential and not relevant to the discussion.  The bad behavior remains.  What will the basket dwellers do then?  Do they systematically jail their brothers, sisters and cousins or do they bounce them out of the country, too?  Back to Europe, for you guys!  You are so fucking horrible, you white criminals, we’re going to make sure you have to endure the hell that is democratic socialism with its stupid healthcare, its 36-hour work week and guaranteed four weeks of paid holiday a year.  That’ll show ’em!

Deplorables, you will never have a society free from crime, free from vice and free from bad behavior.  Certainly not when you’re a part of it.  But, regardless, the bad behavior will always be here.  Even if your nation becomes a sea of white faces as you so desire.  Your solution of toting guns and eliminating those who look and think differently than you is about as rational as a two year-old’s fallback of a temper tantrum for not getting a second cookie or a sixteen year-old’s screaming “YOU ARE RUINING MY ENTIRE LIFE” because she can’t have the keys to the family truckster.

Throw out everyone.  Make every minority leave.  Oust everyone who has a dissenting opinion.  I guarantee you there will still be things blowing up, people walking around crowded places with guns and knives, women still being raped and children still being abused.  I guarantee you will still be in physical danger to a degree.  Otherwise, in your white utopia that you have achieved, you wouldn’t have any need for that gun you’re clinging to, right?

Shitty Pizza, The Past, The Future…

…and The Now

Last night, John Oliver did a bit on charter schools, primarily the regulation or the lack thereof.  Believe it or not, Opinionated Public School Teacher’s Step-Daughter has no clearly defined opinion on charter schools.  I have seen models which are disasters.  I have seen models which are successes.  My son is currently number 78 on the waiting list at a charter school in our area.  We find that mildly hilarious because number 78 should really be “OHAHAHAHAHA!  Why bother?”

After flirting with and subsequently becoming involved in a two year relationship with private schooling, I have arrived at the conclusion that there is one significant component missing from private school – baseline (quantifiable and measurable) standards for performance.  This conclusion helped me realize that private schooling may not be the best approach for our family.  It’s simply too loosey-goosey and subjective for my comfort level as a parent and that is before we address the annoying political bullshit of dealing with the private school mentality.  I am a busy human who doesn’t have time for that nonsense and even if I did, I find that sort of thing too tedious to entertain.

In Oliver’s closing, he summed up charter schools by addressing the business aspect of the “scheme” (or scam, depending on one’s perspective).  While tangentially related to private schooling, based on the tax status of the school, that isn’t as relevant to this essay as his last statement which I have highlighted for emphasis.

If we are going to treat charter schools like pizza shops we should monitor them at least as well as we do pizzerias.  It’s like the old saying ‘Give a kid a shitty pizza, you fuck up their day.  Treat a kid like a shitty pizza and you can fuck up their entire life.’

The reason why this statement is so impactful is because it isn’t limited to any particular form of schooling.  This can be applied to charter schooling, private schooling, home skooling and public schooling.  This statement is the most succinct summary of my son’s first year in JuniorMAPP (otherwise known as a combined first and second grade classroom) at his old private school.  It defines our current reality and every single obstacle we as parents have to help him manage, that he as a student must overcome and that his teacher has to work with by luck of the draw.

Last year, my son was treated like a shitty pizza.  The toppings were one teacher (nicknamed “Lizard” by my son) and one autocratic, considerably neurotic control freak of a school administrator who goes by various names depending on the source.  The side-effects of said treatment have been generalized anxiety, erosion of self-esteem, stomach ailments, occasional vomiting and nightmares for the child.  For the parents, a leave of absence from work was required to manage the exhaustion as I could not keep up with the demands from work, an ailing parent and the train wreck that was happening to my child at school on a daily basis.

The shitstorm began approximately five weeks into the new school year for the Milkface with minor, aggravating issues.  Initially, I thought he was just being petulant and having issues adjusting to a new teacher given that his previous teacher was so stellar, anyone who had the misfortune of following her would be bound to fail in some way, shape or form.  I was quick to coach and possibly quick to dismiss some of his concerns.

It took Milkface’s bursting into tears and refusal to leave the car during morning drop-off to make me understand something was critically wrong.  Milkface had been in daycare and/or a preschool environment since 12 weeks old.  The only other instance when he refused to get out of the car was while he was being bullied at the YMCA camp.  It was at this moment I realized there was a serious problem and requested a conference with his teacher.  His teacher, following protocol, extended an invitation to the school’s director.

In spite of what we (Dock and I) thought was a productive conference identifying gaps and weaknesses, along with developing a plan to keep Milkface focused, busy and engaged, nothing improved.  Milkface remained disconnected and physically ill.  His teacher continued to verbally intimidate the students, yell and refused to engage six and seven year-olds in a manner which six and seven year-olds should be engaged.  Milkface was legitimately terrified of school for the first time ever.

Over the course of the school year, what seemed like millions of emails were exchanged, heated conversations were had, unpleasant conferences were attended and accusations were lobbed by all parties.  Dock and I had enrolled Milkface in the program with the intent that he would stay there for his entire K-12 education.  Milkface approached me and asked if he could explore other schools to attend for the following year (hence the charter school reference).  I approached the director and asked if it would be possible to skip his second year in JuniorMAPP (as he had started first grade at the second grade academic level) and promote him directly to SeniorMAPP (and a different teacher) to avoid the horrible Lizard.  We made it clear there would be no re-enrollment until we had a guarantee that Milkface would not be looping with his current teacher.  Then, we started the search for another school.

Around the beginning of April, after another trip to the doctor for vomiting and stomach upset, Milkface decided he couldn’t take any more of his current school.  He stoutly refused to return to the school in the fall.  He did not care about leaving behind his friends and other teachers he adored.  He did not care about ending up ridiculously out of contention in the charter school’s lottery.  He did not care about being the new kid in a huge, public elementary school with a year-round calendar.  Milkface wanted out and that was it.  Dock supported Milkface’s decision.  I did not.  I reluctantly completed the enrollment paperwork for the public elementary school near our home but held off as the director said she would have her answer for us on May 1st.

Then, this happened:

Sad Max

I promptly enrolled Milkface in his new school and sent an email to the director the next day informing her of our decision.

So, that’s the past.  The relatively recent past.  The close enough past that we’re still dealing with Milkface’s nightmares, his uncertainty about his academic performance (which was excellent in KinderMAPP), his low self-esteem and his anxiety about school.  Fortunately, we don’t seem to have any more issues with nausea and vomiting from nerves.  Thank goodness for that.

There are days I will vent to my friends who are still involved with the school on one level or another even though three months have passed.  I vent even though Milkface has started his new school three weeks ago and appears happy in the new environment, is making friends and managing the new kid blues really well, has a lovely teacher, the school runs like Mussolini’s trains and he’s catching on to Common Core quite well.  I mention the past because it’s not so long ago and the differences between the two institutions are so significant, his new school makes the old school look like some faith-based home-skooling network run by Trumpanzees and Duggarfangurls.  I mention the past because when you leave Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, you become a Suppressive Person; not unlike Scientology.  You made noise and challenged authority.  You pointed out the flaws.  You may have even said unkind things while your child was being treated like a shitty pizza.  Worst of all, you showed your emotions because observing any child being treated like a shitty pizza upsets you in ways people who do not know you (or don’t know you well) will never understand.

The past isn’t exactly the past.

Your friends will tell you, encourage you, to look toward the bright, brilliant future your child has ahead of him.  Focus on the positive!  Be happy you made a great decision for your child (or, in this instance, listened to your child as he made a great decision).  Think of all the negativity he is avoiding.  Enjoy the fact that he is thriving.

This is wonderful advice.  It comes from the right place.  It is said out of love and concern.

Unfortunately, it overlooks the immediate:  The Now.

Today, because my son was treated like a shitty pizza by shitty adults, I have a child who is damaged to the point where he is afraid to seek help or clarification from his teacher because the previous teacher wouldn’t allow that behavior in her classroom.  She either refused to help the children because they had to be “self-sufficient” or “independent” (she is a lazy one, that one) or she would yell.  As Milkface adjusts to Common Core, he has questions but is reluctant to ask for help.  When Dock asked him when his library books were due,  Milkface said “I suppose I could ask Henry.”  Dock coached him “Well, isn’t there anyone else you could ask?”  Milky responded “Logan is very nice.  I could ask him.”  Dock prodded a bit more “Milkface, think for a second.  When you have a problem, you ask a…grown-up.  Who is the grown-up in your classroom?”  Milkface said “Oooh!  Mrs. T!  I guess I could ask her.”  But the latter part was said with a great amount of apprehension.  Milkface remains terrified to engage his teacher unless he is engaged first.  He is entirely reactive in this situation.

It’s not limited to asking questions, either.

Last week, Milkface melted down over instructions for his Math Mountain homework.  The word “and” threw him for a loop and it took him well over 30 minutes to calm down enough to approach the worksheet again.  Math has always been his strongest and favorite subject.  By the end of last year, he was so deflated and demoralized by being told he wasn’t smart enough to learn material that he was already learning on his own, he has zero confidence in his skills or his intelligence.

I can look to the future but not right now.  Right now, Milkface needs me to help him get through The Now.  Milkface needs all of the adults to help him find his safe zone, rebuild his self-esteem and restore his confidence so when he makes a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.  In our family, mistakes have always been a learning experience.  A wrong answer is still, in a round-about way, a right answer because we learned what not to do.

The Now is so negatively impacted by the past; we do not have the luxury of time to fuck around.  We are in the process of rebuilding what was considered an ideal student because two adults didn’t do their jobs.  And this makes me angry, hurt, devastated and sad.  This makes me a ball of negative emotions I have to hide when my child is around.  This makes me feel terrible.  This makes me question my decision making:  was I right in leaving Milkface in a toxic environment for an entire school year to avoid the trauma of forcing him to be the new kid in the middle of a school year somewhere else?

While it’s natural to think that I’m overreacting because that is something a mother would do, it’s important to understand:

  • My child was in the first grade last year.  His first year of elementary education was phenomenally negative.  The foundation of his education was traumatic.  One of the most important years in a child’s education was an emotional nightmare.  This is wholly unacceptable.
  • The behavior on the part of the teacher was not an isolated instance.  Complaints were lodged by other parents in previous years.  This is a problem that should have been solved years earlier.
  • Administration’s response was, at best, marginal.  The issue clearly was not a priority if the bad behavior was permitted to perpetuate year over year.  For a person who speaks of her institution as “her life’s work,” she seemingly overlooks a crucial detail:  a parent may view their children as their life’s work.  Mutual respect goes a long fucking way in my world.

How does one let go of the past when it is present and requiring attention?  One can look forward and set all the goals they wish but that amounts to nothing more than daydreaming if you are not addressing The Now.  Willing things to happen, wishing for things to happen does not make things happen.  Working on things, fixing what is broken and healing will make the future happen with positive outcomes.  Ignoring the past, living in denial and pushing aside the past’s problems that exist in The Now is merely perpetuating bad behaviors.  Pure and simple.

(and I say this not to chide those who are encouraging me and helping me through a really difficult time)

After Milkface’s experience, I want him to have what I have always wanted him to have; what I want every child to have:  an emotionally stable, safe, secure environment in which he can grow and learn to the best of his capabilities.  An environment which fosters respect for others, a love of learning and fun.  I want him surrounded by positive behaviors exhibited by children and adults, alike.

Neither Dock nor I are perfect parents, let alone perfect people.  We’re flawed.  We fuck up.  We parent in ways people find atypical, nontraditional or entirely bizarre.  And you know what?  We give zero fucks because this works for our family.  When we make a mistake, inflict harm or screw up as it relates to Milkface, we own our foibles and apologize, just as we expect Milkface to do in turn.  We also do not expect any other person in our lives to be perfect but we do expect accountability.  We saw very little of that at Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns last year which, in comparison to the year prior, contributes even further to our heartbreak and pain.

The past is not the past.  Not yet.  It’s still very much The Now for all of us.  Maybe, this time next year, we can all look back and all that we will have to talk/laugh about with regard to PCSGU is the music teacher who cannot sing, the amazing friends made and that magical first year.  Maybe, this time next year, Milkface will be whole again and his new school will be his domain – a place where he can come out of his shell, entirely, and his love for school will not be dampened by adults who let their pettiness, selfishness and personal grievances snuff out what little professionalism lies within.

Teachers and administrators remember:  Treat a child like a shitty pizza and you can fuck up their entire life.

No amount of rationalization, blame-shifting, saying the problem is with the student or his parents will change that, either.  The burden for the student-teacher relationship never falls on the student when the student is six years-old.  Additionally, if you have enough time to spare to critique parenting methodologies (yes, the erstwhile Lizard tried to blame Milkface’s performance issues on us), you have enough time to ensure your administrative tasks are complete and correct (something Lizard never seemed capable of doing).  And, portraying a well-behaved child as a discipline case only makes you look inept when the next school sees no evidence of what you tried to pass off.  It’s your own form of bad press.

For us, The Now will consist of repairing the broken child and guiding him towards a (hopefully) auspicious and happy future.  This entails working with him to ensure his self-esteem is not defined by a very unfortunate experience.  His new teacher is aware of what she inherited and is on-point.  Milkface adores her (“She doesn’t yell, Mommy!), so we’re fairly confident that he will do his best to please her.  Furthermore, we have seen his excitement for school return in the way he approaches his homework.  There is very little grumbling or pushback.

But, I also have some work of my own to do for The Now.  I need to remember while I’m healing Milkface, I need to take some time to make sure I’m healing myself because this process took quite a bit away from me, too.  Watching your child hurt is brutal.  Hurting along with your child isn’t exactly a good time.  Openly hurting and feeling as if others are not only watching you but judging you for what they do not understand is frustrating at best.  Heartbreaking is more appropriate.

Throughout this entire ordeal, I forgot to do one of the things I’m really quite good at:  giving zero fucks because people, as a rule, don’t understand what makes a person who they actually are.  They don’t know the experiences that formed you.  Shit, people don’t know what you had for lunch.  As you go through a significant trial with an audience, you suspect you’re being judged for whatever loopy behaviors you may exhibit (and maybe you’re merely being slightly narcissistic because it could be that no one gives a damn); crying, puffing steam through your nostrils and ears, kicking rocks, laughing manically, babbling to yourself in a foreign language you don’t necessarily speak well.  For a long time, until PCSGU entered our world, I didn’t give a good goddamn what people thought of me.  I have no idea what changed my attitude but I found myself less Kang and more Maxsmom.

Fuck that.

I’m 45 which should be “old enough to know better.”  I get angry when children are treated like shitty pizza and I’m done explaining myself or apologizing for it.  If you don’t want the side-eye of doom or my wrath, don’t treat kids like shitty pizza – directly or indirectly.  An adult’s series of bad days can very well become a child’s legacy and battle scars.  If you’re not remotely prepared to accept that level of responsibility and accountability, you need to get the fuck out of education and stay the fuck away from children.

Munich…

…and jumping to conclusions.

Why wait for the facts when it's easier to act like a total asshole?

Why wait for the facts when it’s easier to act like a total asshole?

Completely emotionally drained from yesterday’s bullshit, I went to bed early.  Early enough that I didn’t stay glued to the news as I usually do when stories such as these break.

This morning, I woke up and did my usual routine of coffee grab, dog duty, breakfast for the Milkface and checking Facebook for birthday reminders.  I was distracted by two things at the top of my feed:  an article from The Local – Germany and a rambling verbal tantrum about Obama’s failure to protect German citizens from Muslims who want to see the world burn.  It came as no surprise that an American would ignore basic facts and twist a story to suit a political narrative:  Obama is the problem, our foreign policy is weak, we are soft on terror, we enable terrorism by allowing immigrants entry into our country.

The tragedy in Munich is not an IS related incident.  The tragedy in Munich was committed by a man called Ali Sonboly who was born and raised in Munich.  He has no ties to IS.  Per reports, Sonboly was obsessed with mass killers and inspired by Anders Breivik.

For those who do not remember Anders Breivik, he is the far-right extremist who shot up a summer camp on Utøya in Norway in July 2011.  Breivik had written a manifesto of explaining his ideology and his desire to to deport all Muslims from Europe.  In short, he’s a racial purist. Utøya was carried out as a means to draw attention to his manifesto.

This morning, there are people who are inferring that the atrocity in Munich is related to the nightmares in Nice, Paris and Istanbul.  This line of thinking needs to stop immediately.  We must understand the difference between Utøya and Munich and Nice, Paris and Istanbul.  Utøya and Munich were perpetrated by members of the far-right who want Muslims, non-whites and immigrants out of their country.

Not unlike many people who are currently supporting Donald Trump’s “platform.”

Obama is not the problem.  Muslims are not the problem.  Hispanics are not the problem.  Immigrants are not the problem.  The problem is with people who are reluctant to embrace change, accept those who are different (from them) and perpetuate hate because they are unabashedly ignorant.  The problem is with those who live in a fear of losing control and no longer being a majority.  The problem is with those who actually believe that being white and Christian means that they are better than those who are not.

Finley Y Fuckery

Last year, we enrolled our son in camp at the Finley Y for the few weeks his school’s camp was not in session.  Having been members of the Y for a few years and having heard good things from other parents, we didn’t think twice.  One assumes that a Y camp will be a safe environment for a child.  Our only concern was what one of Milkface’s friends called “G-d Time” which was a time for Christian prayer.  Given that Milkface is Jewish, his mom is Jewish and his father is agnostic, we had to have a discussion with Milkface about that.  Our discussion consisted of “They’re going to pray.  You’re going to be quiet and daydream.”

Milkface’s time with Finley lasted all of three days.  He started on a Monday.  By Thursday morning, he was in tears in the parking lot, begging me to take him home.  Camp was scary and he had been bullied every single day.

After the first day of camp, I reached out to management to alert them to the issues.  Management was marginally responsive but not responsive enough.  The supervision was limited.  The older kids antagonized the younger kids.  Despite my repeated requests for additional monitoring or supervision, nothing improved.  We sent an email to the director informing him of Milkface’s withdrawal from the program and requested a full refund.  The only positive observation I have of the program is that the refund was issued lickety-split and with zero argument.

Dock and I wondered if we were being hasty in our decision to yank Milkface from the program after three days.  We knew we had an unhappy and scared child.  We knew something was very much off with the program.  We also knew that abruptly pulling your child from a program would also limit his opportunity to learn how to manage bullies.  Like most things parenting, there’s always going to be some way you shortchange your kid.

Today, reading the local news, I found this article.  It is awful.  It is not, unfortunately, remotely surprising.

I’m not one to post many mommy rants or condemnation of businesses or services unless it’s a necessity.  I feel it is.  The culture of bullying is still pervasive.  Only now, because of one very on-the-ball and brave mom, we understand exactly how terrible and horrendous it really is. And, of course, the message needs to be shared because neither child nor parent deserves an experience like this.

Raleigh mom says son was pinned to ground, assaulted at YMCA camp

There is growing concern among parents, and an ongoing police investigation, after a Raleigh mom said she saw her 6-year-old son being assaulted by two older boys at a Triangle YMCA.

Justine McGuire said she walked into the gym at the A.E. Finley YMCA last week and found her 6-year-old pinned to the ground and assaulted in the groin by two older boys.

“I got there and I found him lying on the ground and his back was next to one of the benches,” she said. “One of the boys was holding him down to the ground with his feet on his chest while the other little boy pulled his genitals out of the bottom of his gym shorts and then sat on his face.”

McGuire said her son wears a hearing aid and has epilepsy.

But she said her concern skyrocketed when she was told that one of the boys wouldn’t be punished at all, and the camp director told her not to contact police.

“The camp director basically told me, ‘I know it’s gross, but boys will be boys and horseplay is typical at this age’ and I may have been overreacting,” she said.

McGuire said she disagreed and called authorities.

A Raleigh police spokesperson said they are actively investigating the allegations of assault.

In the meantime, McGuire’s story has gained traction on social media where other parents have shared similar stories.

Tasha Bullock says her 8-year-old daughter was assaulted by another child at the same YMCA last fall. She too said the camp director discouraged her from calling police.

“A little boy lifted up her dress and tried to touch her in her private areas under her underwear,” Bullock said. “I’m telling (the camp director) I am about to call the police, and he is like, ‘Oh, police aren’t needed.'”

A YMCA spokesperson released a statement Wednesday that said, “We have been in close contact with parents, our staff and local authorities, and are fully cooperating with the investigation. The children alleged to be involved in the situation are not part of camp at this time.”

A letter was also sent home to parents, but officials declined to release any additional specific information about the incident.

YMCA code of conduct prohibits harassment of any kind.

Thoughts of a Teacher Heading Towards Burn Out Bridge

Most schools I’ve worked at have a full time student councilor, and those that don’t at least have a part time one who comes in once or twice a week. This is someone to whom the students can talk when they’re feeling overwhelmed by the various pressures of their adolescent lives, such as having to deal with school, parents, friends, crushes, that sort of thing. Very rarely is such a service offered to the teachers. Basically if they are feeling overwhelmed, overstressed, or overworked, then they’re supposed to handle it on their own, which I think seems a little unfair. Teaching is a particularly stressful job, especially for newcomers, and it would be incredibly helpful if they could have someone to talk to when they are having “one of those days.”

Alas, no. In my fifteen years as a teacher, I’ve seen many fresh out of school teachers arrive full of enthusiasm and eager to begin their careers, and then witness their slow decline into misery. The bright-eyed look on their faces at the beginning of the year is gradually replaced by a deer in the headlights stare of bewilderment, as they are eaten alive by their students and offered little to no support from the administration. They thought they wanted to become a teacher because it would mean job security and long breaks and it would be fun to work with kids. But they weren’t prepared for the reality of dealing with a room full of obnoxious and indifferent teenagers, most of whom don’t really want to be there. To use a military term, they wash out.

If you can get past this stage then you can look forward to a long career as a teacher. You develop your own teaching style and methods for managing unruly and disruptive students. You learn to be effective, and inspirational, and learn ways to stimulate your students’ thirst for knowledge. These kinds of skills can only be developed over a long period of time. In teacher training, you study methods of “classroom management,” but pretty much all the education and training you receive is useless once you enter the classroom. I consider myself to be a pretty decent classroom manager, but I still make mistakes from time to time. Sometimes there are students that you just cannot reach, on whom all of your tried and true methods do not work. Those are the students that stamp out the fire that burns within the teacher, the flame that burns with a passion to bestow one of life’s greatest gifts: knowledge.

Unfortunately, once that fire is out, it’s very hard to get it going again. As a teacher, that’s when you’re burnt out. That’s when you have to make a difficult decision, whether to continue to work in this burnt out state, when you are nothing but a tiny wisp of smoke, a shadow of the confident educator you used to be, or you can admit you’re burnt out and you can quit. This is the crossroads at which I find myself now. I’ve had a long and varied career as a teacher, but right now I feel like I’m on a train heading towards Burn Out Bridge. Once I cross it, my career as a teacher will be finished, or at least on hiatus for a while.

It isn’t just one or two particularly obnoxious students that are pushing me toward that bridge; it’s a variety of factors, personal and professional. The stress has taken its toll on me, physically. I’ve become overweight and unhealthy. I’ve recently developed a headache that hasn’t gone away for over a month. It might be related to an accident three months ago that resulted in a head injury. I was hit over the head by a malfunctioning railroad crossing boom at the train station, but that’s a story for another time. The doctor said it was more likely a tension headache and he advised me to stop taking pain relievers and try stretching and massage instead, which does actually work, albeit temporarily.

Professionally, I feel overwhelmed and inadequate. I have a teaching credential in one subject only, which is English. Yet, I am teaching four subjects, in three of which I have no credentials, and even though I’ve been assured repeatedly that I’m “doing fine,” I don’t feel confident that I am. The students deserve someone who knows what the hell they are doing, who knows how to teach these subjects, not someone who was asked to teach the subject because there was no one else available. At least the subjects I teach aren’t very crucial ones. They are practical subjects, so I try to make them as interesting and fun as I can, but I know next to nothing about the theoretical content I’m supposed to teach, since I never read most of these subjects, nor have I received any training in how to teach them.

Finally, the school at which I work has recently changed ownership and not all students and staff are entirely on board with it. We chose this school because its name, image, and philosophy all appealed to us. However, that all changed at the beginning of the year. The school that we knew and that we chose over all the others is now gone. It went from being a small neighborhood school to part of a large corporation. Additionally, our principal, the man who hired me last year, resigned because he didn’t agree with the demands placed upon him by the new owners. It’s a lot to take in. We’re still in the “let’s wait and see” phase of the transition, and it’s not a very comfortable place to be.

So here I am, uncertain about whether I want to continue working at this school, or indeed whether I want to continue working as a teacher at all. I don’t want to leave my job, and yet I do. The work is still fun and stimulating, and my colleagues are good people, but I feel that my career as a teacher is nearing its end. I’ve always held firm to the belief that one should only be a teacher as long as one’s heart and mind are completely committed to it. There’s nothing worse than being taught by a sad, overwhelmed, and jaded teacher who crossed that bridge a long time ago.

I feel like I should get off the train before I get there.

Goodbye, David Robert Jones.

Daniel and I end most evenings sitting in our cozy little pub, which Daniel converted from an enclosed porch shortly before I moved in. We chat over the events of the day, whilst sipping on a glass of wine and puffing on our ecigs. This is also a great time to listen to music, and just relax before heading to bed. On Saturday, the ninth of January, I was reading through facebook and saw that David Bowie’s new album was being released that day, his 69th birthday. What a wonderful present from the birthday boy. It wasn’t the first time, either; his previous album, “The Next Day” was also released on the ninth of January, 2013. We’re both huge Bowie fans, so I found the album on Spotify and we gave it a listen. It was jazzy, weird, experimental, and kind of cool. We ended that evening listening to my David Bowie “Hunky Dory” playlist. It has a lot of songs on it, not just from the brilliant Hunky Dory album. It’s my thing to give all my Spotify playlists clever sounding names.

It turned out that we were listening to Bowie’s last album, as countless other fans no doubt were, on his birthday, which turned out to be the day before his last day on earth. I can’t think of anything more poetic, more elegant, more quintessentially Bowie, than to go like that.

As a life long fan, however, the news of his death came as a complete shock. It was Monday morning and I hadn’t slept very well the night before. This was the first day back to work after Christmas break, and my mind was full of planning and details. I left for work extra early and arrived at the office about 7:30 in the morning. At 7:59 Daniel sent me a link on Facebook messenger to a story on the Hollywood Reporter website, which reported that David Bowie had died the day before. My first reaction was (and I quote), “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” But then we thought, wait a minute, this has to be a hoax. So I quickly googled for any David Bowie death hoax pages and immediately found one that said reports of his death were fake, and his Twitter and Facebook accounts had been hacked by some cruel troll. Well, that was a relief. I started my first lesson of the day reassured that David Bowie was alive and well, just as the page that reported the hoax said he was.

Of course, the cruelest irony of all was that the reports of his death were in fact true, and that the death hoax page was itself a hoax. Over the next hour more and more reports of his death started appearing on other sites, Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, Gawker, the BBC. And then we knew the unthinkable had just happened. And the idea that David Bowie was dead was indeed incomprehensible. I actually wrote, “I can’t even think about it right now. It’s just too horrible.”

“Same here,” wrote Daniel.

I went through my day, reconnected with students and colleagues, answered questions about how I spent Christmas break, taught my lessons and planned more lessons, generally kept busy. But at one point I went to the staff lounge and sat on the couch. No one ever sits in there so it’s a great place to get some peace and quiet. For the first time, my mind was quiet enough to fully understand what had just happened. David Bowie was dead. How could he be dead? That doesn’t even make sense. No one knew that he was sick, that he had been battling liver cancer for eighteen months. I was sitting alone in the empty teacher’s lounge, and I could feel the tears running down my face. I still could not accept it. My mind would not process it. I quickly composed myself and went to join students and colleagues for lunch. But it was in the back of my mind all day, “David Bowie is dead.”

When I got home from work, Daniel and I talked for hours about how surreal it was that David Bowie was dead. He had also broken down and cried that day. We ended that evening that same as we did on his birthday, listening to Bowie’s music.

It’s now Wednesday, my day off. I knew I was going to write all this down, and I’ve finally had time to sit down and do it. Earlier today I watched a video of Rick Wakeman performing “Life on Mars,” on piano, as a tribute to Bowie. That’s when I broke down and really cried. It finally sunk in that David Bowie was dead, and how incredibly sad and tragic that is.

The Man to Fell to Earth has had his last day on earth. He’s really gone. It’s so painful just to write these words down. David Bowie was a brilliant musician, a true artist in every sense of the word. The world feels plain and dull without David Bowie in it, so empty, and a hell of a lot less weird.

Gävlebocken!!!

Assembling Gävlebocken.

Assembling Gävlebocken.

It’s the most glorious time of the year!  Gävlebocken has returned!  I feel reborn.

It's a beautiful day...to burn.

It’s a beautiful day…to burn.

Important reference material:

Twitter Feed
Blog
Instagram
Website
History

Shimmering in the darkness, begging to be ignited.

Shimmering in the darkness, begging to be ignited.

Now, for the important stuff:  Gävlebocken Incineration Sweepstakes is underway on Facebook.  If you wish to participate, leave your desired date of destruction in the comments.  I will let you know if your selection is available.  The prizes:  one beautiful, sparkly virtual trophy and the right to gloat for one entire calendar year.

Please, please burn me.

Please, please burn me.

Call to action:  Gävlebocken must burn this year, motherfuckers.  Do not allow the kommun to break it down and ship it to China (or anywhere else, for that matter).  Do not allow it survive.  Burn this bastard.  Make it so.  Deliver your offering to the High Priestess.  She rarely asks for anything, after all.

Every family has that idiot cousin who has to be invited to all the celebrations. This is Gävlebocken's. He should burn, too.

Every family has that idiot cousin who has to be invited to all the celebrations. This is Gävlebocken’s. He should burn, too.

Paris…

…how you see the world and how you will teach your children to see it, too.

About a month or so ago, Milky said to me “(classmate) says Paris is a dangerous place. There are bad people there.” I did some digging and discovered that she must have heard this after Charlie Hebdo. Her father is an art director for a magazine. It makes sense that her six year-old perspective would be such.

Paris is a special place for me. If you spend 10 years of your life studying a language and a culture of a particular place, the epicenter of said language and culture means something. When Dock and I took our first taxi ride into The City of Lights, I openly wept. Sweden owns my heart. France owns my brain. Knowing that I would soon have a chance to walk around this magical city, the core of it all, was simply too much to process. It was 10 years of studying, six years of using my knowledge at work (albeit intermittently), two weeks of slogging my way through trenches, forts and bunkers in the making. I was excited but overwhelmed. The teachers who never knew they inspired me would likely never know the dream would be realized. And all of those hours spent making a stained glass window in high school would pay off the minute I stood in La Sainte-Chapelle (which also made me cry).

I turned to Milky and said “Paris, like any big city, can be dangerous. It can also be safe. Big cities require big city posture. You and I call that Philly Style, right?” Then, I explained Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher. To a six year-old. To a six year-old Jewish kid. It was arduous work, thinking of how to minimize the fear, especially since Milky will be taken to Paris, at some point. The city is too important to Dock and me for us to keep Milky away.

Towards the end of the conversation, I shared my story of one time when I was in Paris, when in the hunt for cheap lodging, away from tourists, I decided we would stay near La Marais. Being the history fiends that we are, I wanted to inject a little Jewish history into our adventure. I admit, I’m not quite ready to experience anything Holocaust oriented, at this point. My stepfather’s family died in the Holocaust. It’s too painful.

We ended up in a predominately Arabic district in Paris six months after 09.11. The general mood was quite peculiar. The French, as a whole, were thrilled to see Americans returning. One bar owner said “You have been gone too long. We miss you.” which is something I expect from smaller towns and rural areas. It is not something I expect in Paris proper. It’s not something anyone with a lick of sense should expect to hear in any large city (so, kindly refrain from saying Parisians are snotty. They’re not. They’re urbane, just like every denizen of every large metropolis.). We courteously thanked him. He was also gracious enough to speak English to us which is also sort of an anomaly because very few people in France speak English to me. Dock, yes. Me, no. I learned too well and no matter how exhausted I am from a day of translating, no one gives me mercy.

As we wandered around our little temporary neighborhood, it was evident there was an American in one’s midst. Dock felt slightly uncomfortable. I shrugged it off. I shrugged it off to the point where I left Dock and our traveling companion behind one afternoon and took off for a walk by myself. “That’s how dangerous Paris is,” I tell Milky. Mommy, all 63 inches of her, all 130 pounds of her, can go for a walk by herself in a big city and feel just as comfortable as she would in Philly. Or anywhere else. And, being me, I bought souvenirs for friends and candy (it was near Easter and chocolate eggs are ubiquitous) for my colleagues. I also scouted for kebab stands because Dock and I love authentic kebab.

This tangent is important: Dock looks very WASPy and American. He doesn’t dress typically American when he travels but his general appearance is very much American or Scots-Irish. I, on the other hand, am ethnically ambiguous. Thanks to my paternal DNA and the ability to speak more than one language (well enough to survive), it’s hard for the locals to determine where I’m from. Most natives know I’m not from their country but thanks to my table manners, my appearance and a few other factors, they just cannot figure out where I’m from. My father reports the same thing only everyone assumes he’s Middle Eastern (he looks eerily similar to Yasser Arafat).

We arrive at the kebab shop I found earlier and the shop keeper stops us at the door. He looks at me, looks at Dock and then says, in French “No. You can’t come in here. You’re American.” I respond, in French, “Why not? We’re hungry. I speak French quite well. We don’t have proper kebab at home.” He twists his face, pauses and relents “Fine. Come in.” As I’m eyeballing the menu he says “No. Go sit down and I’ll make you something. You’ll like it.” Now, it’s challenge time. Do I accept food that could have expired or do I trust the man? I trust him, grab Dock’s sleeve and sit down. We look around and we’re the only non-Arabic folks in the restaurant. I whisper “Imagine what would happen if he finds out he’s feeding Jews.” in a joking way. For all I know, the shop keeper could love Jews but really hate Americans after 09.11. He had no way of knowing that Dock and I fundamentally disagreed with the Bush Administration. The meal was the best kebab I have ever eaten and neither one of us became sick. We thanked the shop keeper, left a standard, small gratuity as appreciation and went on with our evening.

Another night in Paris. Another night in a beautiful place, brimming with culture and brimming with diversity. Another opportunity to show that not all American tourists are hideous, chest thumping beasts.

I shared that bit with Milky, as well. We all have our implicit biases. Sometimes, it’s up to us to knock down someone else’s wall. Most important, in a post-09.11 world, it was imperative for Americans to not treat all people of Arabic descent like garbage for then we’re the problem.

Paris is not dangerous. Paris is not a scary place. Paris is not rife with evil. Paris is hurting. This year started horrifically for Paris. It appears that it will end horrifically, as well. When Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher happened, I said that Paris shouldn’t be defined by this, that Paris has survived much worse (you think it hasn’t?) and that Paris will recover. 2015 is a very small period of time in a city with a history dating back to the 3rd century…BC.

Today, I ache for Paris. I ache for the world. I ache for my child and children everywhere. Yet, I remain determined and committed to keep moving forward, keep pressing on – for this world can be better. Even if it’s only one kebab at a time.