Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

banner-12-years-a-slaveI have made a couple of mistakes in recent months, mistakes which have caused me to lose desperately needed sleep, as it is difficult to settle my thoughts and I have obsessive tendencies anyway.

The first mistake actually happened several months ago when I allowed my eight year old daughter to see the movie, Twelve Years a Slave by director Steve McQueen. In my defense, she is very interested in history, particularly the history of slavery in America.  She poured over almost every biography she could get her hands on, of various African-American figures in history.  We decided it would be risky but we gave in to the pleas to see the film while it was in theaters. I didn’t get to go unfortunately, so she went with her dad and stepsister, who is college-aged.

Even though the African-American woman who saw John leave the theater with both of his arms wrapped around the stunned and tear-stained faces of his daughters, told him they needed to see the movie and they would be okay, I knew this past weekend it was just too much for her to handle at her current age.

I didn’t win any parenting awards for that decision. Needless to say, she had nightmares for a couple of weeks after the film.  But I didn’t recognize the magnitude of my mistake until I was finally able to watch it this past weekend.  

I was haunted.  

I multiplied the horror story of Solomon Northrup and his fellow prisoners in slavery by 100,000, for every slave had their own tale of atrocities to recount if they could articulate it to someone at some point.  My partner told me that history states that approximately 700,000 people were taken from Africa and sold into slavery. From those 700,000 grew generations well into the millions in this country, each with their own horrific tale that was never told.

The second mistake was watching the movie while living in North Carolina, with its subtle wavelength of racism that permeates the air like a dense patch of fog, like the smell of burning leaves in someone’s backyard that lingers over several blocks.

It’s like the White children who so politely open the door for us in the kiss and go car drop off line at my daughter’s elementary school. As they open the door, they peer inside carefully, and I wonder whether they’re expecting to see a deluge of blackness seep out of the vehicle and stain their clothing, like an enormously eager ink blot. They look at us as we say our loving goodbyes, as if surprised that people as brown as we are can actually perform such Leave It to Beaver displays of normalcy.

Maybe if I had not seen the movie Twelve Years a Slave, I wouldn’t have rented Long Walk to Freedom about Nelson Mandela’s lifelong fight to eradicate apartheid.  Yes, I am obsessive… And perhaps this story wouldn’t have kept me up last night, with a mixture of anger and sorrow quickening my veins.

At a lovely UNC doctor’s office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the kind of offices that are scattered just as frequently as McDonald’s in any given city (except Chapel Hill), a White heavyset woman went in to have her blood drawn at the lab.  To her anger, an African-American woman would be the unlucky person who had to draw her blood.

Here’s what the coarse and monstrous White woman told the lab technician as she prepared her materials: “If you dare to even touch me with your black skin, I will slap your face!”

What would Jesus have done?

What would you have done?

I know what I would have done, but I’m torn.  Should we rise above this deep-rooted racism and maintain composure and dignity?

Or do we give in to our absolute exhaustion of living with the ignorance of the South, STILL, in 2014 and let our baser instincts fly free?

My over-working brain played with wicked joy all the probable scenarios I would have done to that woman, including licking her, cursing her, or cutting her down with an assault of words sharper than any scalpel at UNC.

The lab technician was shaken and in tears after the ordeal, offended and demoralized, which leads me to the question I have asked my mate oftentimes over the years since I have relocated to this dismal region: Why didn’t every Black person in the South leave and go far away from this evil, racist-infested land?

 Why set up roots for generations after freedom had been granted? Why continue to work for the White man?

Was it ignorance and fear? Lack of education? A lifetime of browbeating and soul-crushing that robbed them of their dignity and integral fortitude?

As I observe the community around me I have many questions, and no answers.

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In Durham Public Schools, the White kids are missing.  Even though they make up over 50% of Durham’s population, only 19% of White kids attend the public schools.

Not to mention, the racial makeup of traditional public schools are reflecting Durham County’s racial makeup less and less. Durham County is 53 percent white, 38 percent black, and 13 percent Latino, yet 51 percent of the children in the Durham Public Schools system are black, 24 percent Latino and only 19 percent white.  http://www.thedurhamnews.com/2013/12/31/3494508/durham-public-schools-looks-to.html

According to Mr. Alexander, the author of this news article, Caucasians are populating the growing number of charter schools approved by the state’s school board.  These students are the children of Duke professors, UNC professors, etc.  Either the giant purple blob of the ’50s is living in the public schools of Durham, or they’re running away from something else.  Shall we take a guess at what they’re running away from?

Yes, the White people of Durham know what’s going on behind the closed doors of their neighborhood public schools. They know they don’t want their children in an academic environment that is far from anything that can even faintly resemble a learning institution. These Durham schools are filled with kids from families who don’t seem to give a damn, who are more concerned with their drink, their cars, their weaves, or the latest reality shows on tv.  They don’t read to their children, their children stay up far too late on school nights, and they are the two out of three who are not proficient in reading yet…in the third grade. In fact, the local papers in the area frequently feature school personnel gingerly stepping into the projects to deliver books to needy children, or deliver school supplies to them.

I’m not afraid to say what this article comes short of writing. The days of dancing around the truth are over for me. The White people are on the run and I certainly don’t blame them.

When we were on the run from exclusive Chapel Hill, hoping for more diversity and less Stepford-ville living, we listened to the advice of others who were more familiar with Durham.  The one that struck me the most came from the principal of the school where we sent our daughter.  I looked her square in the face, and asked her to tell me, not as a principal, but as a mother, whether she would place her child in the school she runs. She replied confidently, a resounding yes, absolutely, positively, this school is very diverse and an 8 out of 10, 10 being amazing.

With a deep breath we rejected the charter school spot reserved for her, and plunged ahead into the neighborhood school she was zoned.  Our family’s experience in summary, follows.

  • Day one: the front office staff barricades themselves from the parents.
  • A good measure of the quality of any school is the car rider line. During the first week I witnessed cars driving over the curb at high speeds to cut in front of other parents in the line. Others were virtually running over the other walking parents who were taking their kids to the door.  Parents in front of me were yelling at the staff to come around to the other side to get their child out of the car, instead of the parent putting their child on the correct side for quicker exiting. Staff members opened the door to our car, mumbling how many more years they have until retirement.  Yes, very encouraging.
  • A classmate (3rd grade) passed a note to my child offering to give her oral sex.
  • 5th grade girls on the cement block where the kids were allowed to “play” (the brand new playground was off-limits to the students) walking up to my child, wanting to jump her for no discernible reason.
  • Third grade teachers were brawling in front of the students during recess. Don’t get me started about the staff.  Every single form that came home to us had typos, grammatically incorrect sentences, misspelled words, incorrect dates on them.  Staggering ineptitude.
  • We witnessed staff members at the awards ceremony for good grades laughing at the students names as they pronounced them incorrectly. These were the staff members who were at the podium, in front of everybody.

There’s more, but what’s the point?  Can anyone offer a better explanation as to why the White families have taken their children elsewhere?

The limits of our endurance came when our child’s teacher was abruptly moved out of her classroom, to go teach a 4th grade class permanently, with no notice to the parents, nothing.  Then the student teacher who was in the classroom suddenly became as the permanent teacher.  The STUDENT teacher.  Yes, that’s right.

According to a comment by the school board chairwoman, Heidi Carter, “We need to be sure that we have the confidence of the parents in this community that our school system can provide excellent educational opportunities for their children,” Carter said. “The strengths of Durham Public Schools lies in our people that are in the classrooms or in the school buildings leading and teaching every day.”

Would this inspire confidence for any parents?  Maybe because I am a former educator I simply expect too much?  No, I don’t think so.  With my first four children I met hundreds of teachers at several schools.  This situation, for my child’s critical 3rd grade year, was unacceptable.

She no longer attends that school.  After battling with the principal, and being denied a transfer, I had to reach out to the school board and superintendent’s office.  The first question from one member of the superintendent’s team when I explained our concernsm, was, “So what exactly do you want?”

What did I want?  I wanted what I thought all parents wanted: for my child to receive the basic instruction to help her grow into an educated young lady, a productive member of society. We would do the rest.  I wanted staff members who were professional, who didn’t treat us like we were felons when we arrived to pick up our cookie dough fundraiser garbage to help support the school.  I wanted the community I remembered when I grew up.  But those times have changed.

So, as in any major inner city school system, the White people are on the run away from the rest of the residents, who are mostly minorities.  Mr. Alexander’s article goes on to discuss the needs of the minorities while the comments from the district office is the polite and safe but meaningless jargon about poverty and their efforts.  Here’s the reality:

The African-Americans and Latinos are two cultures that are neglecting their responsibilities to their children. I don’t believe it’s all about poverty.  I watched (remember the car rider line) these “poverty-stricken” families rolling up in cars with the fancy spinning rims, while their kids stepped out the vehicles in cold weather with no coats on, shirts that were riding over their protruding bellies, hair that hadn’t seen a comb in days, and flip-flops on their feet, and in warm weather like they’re going to the club. Their priorities are all screwed up.  The dads are missing.  The grandmothers are trying to raise their grand kids when they should be enjoying their golden years.  Let’s just be honest here:  The African-Americans have lost sight of all it took to get them the freedom they deserve and unfortunately not all the Latinos are quite the success story of Emilio Vicente.

See: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/08/3603256/for-uncs-emilio-vicente-an-extraordinary.html.

More money isn’t going to fix this cultural breakdown.  This is the plight of all inner city schools across the nation.  Seeing Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008 may have sparked a few temporary tears for many minorities in this country, but it didn’t create the wave of sudden optimism to break the chains of stereotypes.  There’s been no radical swing in upward mobility by enough minorities to show America a different face.

I didn’t come from people with money.  I came from hard-working Hispanics.  But every day when my parents stepped out of their apartment to go to work, their clothes were clean, freshly pressed, and they were neat.  My mother always told me that just because a person is poor doesn’t mean they have to look like they’re poor.  I have plenty of relatives living in projects, but once you get up to the 96th floor and into their residence, you could eat off the floor it was so clean. Poverty in this day, with all the services being offered, is no longer an excuse for ignorance.

In 2014 ignorance is a choice.

So, what do the Whites do?  Keep running.  Keep making more money working for large pharmaceutical companies or food manufacturing companies that are poisoning Americans with too many drugs, addictive junk foods, all while keeping the ignorant down, so they can afford the private schools and segregate the South once again.

The perils of living in a state like North Carolina are infinite.

In the last year, among other equally moronic actions, our fine governor, Pat McCrory, along with his legislature, decided to reject the Federal government’s assistance with extended unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed. Apparently, these leeches have been suckling the system, and are unwilling to take the abundance of jobs available in the state.

According to thinkprogress.com, the brilliant governor said:

 We had the ninth most generous unemployment compensation in the country and we were having a lot of people move here, frankly, especially in urban areas to get unemployment and then work other sectors and survive. So, people were moving here because of our very generous benefits, and then of course, we had more debt. So I think, personally, more people got off unemployment and either got jobs or moved back to where they were going or came from and quit the migration as much because of unemployment. We’ve seen this in other states where the benefits are very high, it could draw people from outside the state.

Seem a bit exclusive?

I recently watched the news report about the decline in the unemployment numbers, even though they do not tell an accurate story, and McCrory proudly reported the figures to the press, while explaining that it is partly due to people accepting jobs that they would have rejected otherwise while living a cushy life with unemployment benefits.  As one of those people who enjoyed the luxurious accommodations of the unemployment benefits of North Carolina, I stepped my feet out of the pedicure tub, and took a seasonal job at a retail store to help support my family in any way I could, after the savings ran out.

 The lessons I have learned have been eye-opening and depressing on many levels as it relates to society and humanity.  

Lesson #1  

The American Consumer Madness is a monster. The lines of people I have witnessed as I ran a register who buy so much garbage made in China, only to make sure they “look” happy and their children are happy (for a few minutes at least) with toys they don’t need, gadgets that make them dumber, and more clutter to fill a garage within six months, is staggering.  I have since begun to truly question every single purchase I make and asking myself, “Do I truly NEED that?” Will this must-have clearance item improve my life exponentially?

 Lesson #2  

Parents have confirmed what I have known for years but could never verbalize openly: they DO do their kids homework. I have helped hundreds of parents, educated, intelligent, and everything in between, find items THEY needed for a school project, while their child stood idly by, on their cellphones, or running around the store like heathens.  When I taught English, and a student wrote something in class that was at the level expected for a high school student, and then submitted papers that many New York Times columnists could not equal, it was very clear to me that someone else did the work.  

 As many have said before me, the damage that parents have done to this generation in enabling their children has crippled them for the future (and we wonder why there are so many school shootings lately) and created disconnected and morally corrupt adults, which will hurt our society on a scale that we are only beginning to grasp.

SO STOP DOING YOUR KIDS HOMEWORK AND PROJECTS. They won’t die if they actually have to do some work.  As I paid my way through college, I worked nighttime security with a wise man, who had nine kids (yes, he was Irish Catholic). He told me a story which has remained with me through the twenty plus years raising my own six children (yes, Puerto Rican Catholic). Whenever his children got into trouble of some sort, he immediately set them to work raking the broad expanse of their yard. There are few things in life which hard work does not cure, he would say. I employed the same strategies as a divorced mother of six. My kids know how to work a rake!

Lesson #3  

People are rude. And selfish. And self-absorbed. They walk through my store, picking things up, too lazy return them to their original location, and I actually heard one customer tell their companion, as he callously tossed aside items he no longer wanted, “I’m just giving THESE people something to do.” Ahh, yes. Should I have pumped his hand in gratitude, thankful that because he and his fellow shoppers trash the store every single day, it enables my manager to keep me on the payroll for my average earnings of $100 per week?

 Granted, there are the gracious, well-mannered shoppers who appreciate customer service, look me in the eye, and value my very knowledgeable assistance. These are the humanists who don’t just throw the money on the counter, who don’t say “keep the change” as if it were mine to keep, and don’t talk on their cellphones while I am scanning their purchases. I tuck these kind souls in my pocket and try to ask myself, “What would Mother Teresa do?”  

There are so many lessons that humanity teaches us as we interact with the world on a daily basis. Mostly, I have absorbed the good, the bad, and the ugly, and use it as a guide, as a reminder for myself, on how I am raising my last two children, and how I treat others in my daily travels.  

So, thanks Governor McCrory. Thanks for nothing, and thanks for everything. This too shall pass. And when the day comes that I can wave goodbye to this pseudo-progressive, exclusive, good-ol’-boy state, I will debate on whether to wave with dignity or resort to another less dignified yet digit-al form of nonverbal communication.

When did we stop teaching children humility?

I distinctly recall having it drilled into my head as a child that “children were to be seen and not heard” during events where adults were gathered. I recall the sting of shame if I dared to become too familiar with an adult and refer to them by their first name without the proper title before it.

So many things. These things created a social ecosystem which we understood as children, as it primarily established the boundaries of respect between us snot-nosed kids and adults.

But it has changed.

I recently had the chance to work with a small group of kids aged seven through twelve on some techniques for the hottest toy/fashion accessory for kids called the Rainbow Loom. Our family had discovered it months before the craze hit the world and I advocated for it strongly for it’s excellent non-digital occupation of time, fine motor skill learning, mathematical reinforcement, etc. Youtube (an amazing learning website!) offered a plethora of bands to make, from beginner to advanced. Fantastic!

What I thought was going to be a fun, relaxed environment of like-minded aficionados of the Rainbow Loom turned into an uncomfortable scenario as I was confronted with elitist show-offs who had apparently never been taught respect in their young lives.

The children — not one in particular — called out questions randomly. They expected to be waited on and catered to, even if it meant neglecting the other child being helped. They didn’t listen to the proper instructions, choosing to do it “their” way, causing the technique to fall apart. They mimicked and blatantly laughed at my hand gestures and comments.

I felt like an aging grandmother (which I’m not yet) at a Skrillex concert in the park. Suddenly Rainbow Loom and it’s ingenuity felt stale and lifeless.

How sad to see bright young children with such poor social skills. Even more disturbing is the thought that if you multiply them by 100 or even 1,000, these are the faces in classrooms across the country. The faces of kids who don’t have a clue what the causes of World War II were but are certain that they know more than my careful instruction could provide because they glanced at a video for a few minutes and after all, aren’t they the generation of uber-technology and at-your-fingertips information?

As I reflected on my distaste for the situation and made another glance upward in gratitude that I no longer teach, I wonder if we even know the damage we are inflicting to our country’s future. I also remembered a great read called There are No Shortcuts by a Mr. Esquith (I think), a teacher in California (I think) who made tremendous strides with his elementary school kids in education. These fourth and fifth graders were studying Othello and other Shakespearean plays, concepts and literature far beyond their years, and the author/teacher’s basic foundational premise was that there were no shortcuts in life, as the title offers. I wonder whether our youth today will one day realize the same.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for the old school methods after all.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

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Earlier this summer, as I began the ritual of camps for number 5, I was waiting to pick her up, along with several other parents.  We had the same look on our faces, akin to the look a person has on their face as they prepare for an injection of Novocaine.  (By the way, how is it that we have landed on other planets but can’t find an easier way to numb the gums?)

The shock of the day began with a cute tow-headed boy and his lovely svelte blond mother who were seated nearby at another picnic table.  It went something like this:

“You’re so stupid!  I don’t even know why I listen to you!  You don’t even know what you’re talking about!  Just shut up already!”

Is your mouth hanging open now?  No?  Maybe you’re not surprised at all, considering the state of this country.  It doesn’t matter how often I see this, I’m still profoundly disturbed when I encounter things like this.

Before I share mom’s response, let me preface by setting the stage.  This is Chapel Hill.  Home of the Tar Heels (crap).  It has the highest property taxes in the state of North Carolina.  Only the best of the best, the wealthiest, classiest, and most educated people live here.  Let’s not forget how progressive Chapel Hill people are as well.

Whatever! (My students would be proud to see me be so avant garde here!)

In Chapel Hill, children are bright, well-adjusted, two-parent loving, bible thumpers.  Their understated yet over-priced clothing is a testament to their right to belong in this upper echelon of society.  Enough said.

So, mom crumples up into a ball of embarrassment, turns her head away from her handsome son, probably in an effort to hold back tears, and they proceed to give each other the silent treatment.  I shared this scenario with my mate. He said, “The kid probably treats  her like that because that’s how the father talks to her too.”  I don’t know if that’s true or not.  But I know this:

If this is what it takes to raise good kids, in a good neighborhood, surrounded by good people, then give me an urban, crowded, loud, crime-ridden town any day.  I don’t want my children to grow up with this sense of entitlement that is pervasive around here.

Side note:  One day while still teaching, I was talking to my doctor about blood work results, when a foreign exchange student from Sweden waltzed into my room (my lunch period) and sat down to read a book.  I looked at her as though she must have fallen and bumped her head, and asked her if she needed anything, to which she replied, “No, it’s just too noisy out there.”  THE AUDACITY.  The NERVE.  How dare she assume she could take such liberties, and stroll into my classroom without knocking or asking if it was alright to sit there?  I didn’t even know her.

I completely agree with this quote by John Rosemond, a parenting expert:

What’s happening in America today is parents are emphasizing their relationships with their children instead of leadership.  Anyone in leadership will tell you, you cannot have a warm, fuzzy relationship with people you are in charge of leading. 

His parenting approach is no nonsense, realistic, and perhaps a bit traditional in comparison of the last few decades of “be your child’s friend” garbage.  This is a huge part of the problem in education today.

I may sound harsh here, but I have told my own children the following life and death mantras too many times to count:

1. I wish you would try to talk to me like that…or roll your eyes at me…or twist your neck at me…or dare to even raise your voice above a whisper.

2. ‘I don’t know’ is not an answer.

3. If you ever think you’re too big for a spanking, rest assured, I will stand on a chair and take you down if necessary.

Truthfully, I was disgusted by that mother, repulsed by her weakness and at the same time, afraid I would remain in this Stepford-like town for so long that I would succumb to the “let’s all be friends club”.  As a “former” teacher, I stand firm that a good number of the children’s problems stem from parents who are afraid to be parents. They’re so afraid of screwing up the way THEIR parents did that they’re inadvertently screwing their kids up.  Wait, I think I just screwed myself up!

To that end, here’s a recent picture of my three baby boys and a family friend, (the other half, the three girls were running around elsewhere) in an epic Nerf Gun Battle Showdown.  My role was simply the countdown to annihilation person and photographer.

Aside from the obvious violent subtleties, aren’t they cute?

I just spent an hour trying to figure out how to rotate this and I give up.  All suggestions are welcome.  I clicked on the edit photo icon in the top left corner but all it allowed me to do was crop.  I’m using the desktop today and it’s getting arthritis.  Sorry.  Anyway, that’s half the volleyball team of mine.

Parents, it’s time to wake up and stop being your children’s friend.  Stop giving them everything; you’re making it so hard for those of us who can’t.  Step up, put your big girl panties and boxers on, and stop ending your orders to your kids with, “Okay?”

I’m off to Fedex!  Ciao!