Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Best of Days....

Yesterday was a busy day.  We're in rehearsal for a show, of course, so there's an endless list of big things, details things, and ephemera that need completing.  I've been leaping out of bed and hitting the ground running for so many days in a row now, I've lost count.  Yesterday was also my 55th birthday.

55.  Where did the time go?  Technically, now, a senior citizen.  I can now buy my way through life at 10% off.  How?  How did I get here?

Yes, there was a mere momentary sense of the fleetingness of time, but life is so good and wonderful, there's no time to mourn lost years.

Lost years?  What am I talking about???  It's been the richest of lives, and yesterday, another ordinary day, one of the 20, 075 days that I've been alive, was truly one of the best.

Yesterday, there was no time for reflection and introspection, but today, having leapt out of bed AGAIN (at 5:30), there IS some time.  Time to walk the dog; time to check Facebook in between bites of Cap'n Crunch (the ONLY cereal whose sog-level allows for checking and posting on Facebook), and time to write my gratitude and thanks for this life I live.

I had breakfast at the First Church of Cracker Barrel with my husband and good buddy, Corey.  Smiles, shop talk, friendly banter with the waitress, sharing pancakes with my husband.

Shopped at Restore.  Have wanted to stop there for quite some time and yesterday, on my birthday, I made the time.  Amazing place for a dumpster-diving, garage-sale fanatic, thrift store frequenter that I am.  We might end up buying a refrigerator there!

Checked Facebook.  So many birthday posts that made me smile.  I tried to 'Like' all of them, but there were so many!  More than 100!  Hope I got them all!

Watched soccer.  My oldest boy came home.  Good buddy Corey over.  A loss, but fun to share World Cup Soccer with them and the rest of the country.

Went to rehearsal and was surprised by a cake and gifts (!!).  What a delightful surprise!  Rehearsal went fairly smoothly, and really, where else would I rather be than with my theatre family?  Like the card said:

"In a way, we choose our families.  Of course, we have the family we're given, but if we're really lucky, we also have people in our lives who care about us so genuinely and personally, that we come to think of them as family, too...."

That's exactly right.  And at 55, my family is huge and ever-growing.  I am the luckiest of people, leading the most blessed of lives.  It's a fine line between living life to the fullest and finding time to stop and smell the roses, watch the sunrise, and sit on the swing with a good book and I work up a sweat trying to find the balance for both.  I know that in my chosen avocation, I have touched many lives, but equally, I have been touched by many more, so that my only concern from here on out is that I give back as much as I've gotten.

At 55, it may be early for this, but I've started thinking about what I will leave behind. Earlier this week, I commented to one of my theatre family, that I just wanted to be remembered.  He laughed and said, "Chris, I'll forget my own name before I forget you."  Lol.  I doubt that, but if that's the legacy I'll leave behind, who could ask for more?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Aftermath: a Follow-Up to Ben's Issues at School

When we last spoke, I was terribly sad and angry over Ben's most recent patch of rocky ground, but I feel as if I left you hanging and I want to share with you what happened in the aftermath.

First of all, thank you everyone for the words (and photographs) of support and comfort and hope.  I was moved to tears by some and to loud laughter by others.  And there were so MANY comments, even some from strangers, as the blogpost circulated.  I began to wonder if it would go viral, but we were overshadowed, I think, by the kid who ate his pop-tart into the shape of a gun and began waving around the cafeteria.  Eek.

Some of you suggested I should contact the press.  I thought about it, but by the time the Indianapolis Star called, I had thought better of it.  I truly don't want Ben to think of himself as a martyr, a victim, OR a hero, and I thought it best to just let it die down.

The first day of the suspension was a day of sitting home and recovering.  He and I were both so shaken and upset over the confrontation in the office, and the shame of being suspended.  The second day, however, Ben asked when he would be able to return to school.  I was happy to hear that question as I thought I would never get him through the doors of the school again.


In sharing Ben's story with others, I talked with a friend about Ben's lack of friends, and lack of interest in any of the school extra-curricular activities.  She suggested 4-H, which Ben jumped on.  He is now enrolled and signed up for projects in Legos, Collections, Model-Making and...Photography.  

Time passed.  We worked on some of his take-home work and watched a lot of TV.  Ben agreed to come and take photos at my theatre rehearsals, for which I paid him.  He did some chores around the house and accompanied me on errands.

On Tuesday this week, Ben returned to school where he is, yes, far behind now, but I have grudgingly given up the idea that Ben will leave Mt. Vernon with a high school diploma.  In just six weeks, Ben will be 17, and still a freshman in high school.  Next year this time, he will be just about to turn 18, and at that point, eligible to take the GED.  I believe now that our goal is to simply keep him IN school as long as we can, then take the GED and move on to the next phase of his life, whatever that is.

On Friday of this week, we had a case conference at school for Ben where we worked at making school a friendlier place for Ben.  We came to an agreement that Ben would be able to scan his homework at home and email it in.  He is also allowed to take time-outs from stressful situations in the classroom and go to the nurse's office for--a snack (I firmly believe Ben's temperament is often tied to his diet).  From now on, he will be able to keep a small drawing pad by on his desk during lessons, because I (and his psychologist) firmly believe that being able to doodle helps Ben concentrate.  Among other decisions made were for Ben to be pulled out of the Algebra class and be tutored on his own time towards taking the end-of-the-year Algebra exam.  He also will able to use a device called a Smart Pen.  

In any case, things are better. We are still working to get him caught up at school, and looking ahead, like everyone, to the relief of Spring Break.

Thank you again, everyone, for your support, encouragement and advice.  It's good to know that we have friends out there.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lessons That We Learn From the World

The school called at 7:58 a.m., but I missed it.  It was Mr. Shelton, the disciplinary principal.  I returned his call and was sent to voice mail.  The phone rang again at 12:36 p.m. and Mr. Shelton asked me to come up to the school.

When I got there, he met me in the lobby and directed me into his office.  There was Ben, sitting quietly, looking as if he had either recently cried or was about to.  Also present was his resource teacher Mr. Boss, and a police officer.

Mr. Shelton slid a paper across the desk at me.  It was a Math test with a small pencil drawing of a pirate cutlass in the upper right hand corner.

As I had been in the office not three weeks before for this same incident, I turned on Ben.  "Ben, why did you do this?"  Following the first incident I had had a lengthy discussion with Ben, both in the office and at home, about today's climate, and how teachers are responsible for hundreds of kids and are obligated to follow up on anything and everything that might be considered a threat, no matter who the student, no matter how trivial.  "I just...did," he shrugged a little sheepishly.

What is the matter with this teacher that she takes a pencil drawing of a pirate sword straight to the principal?  What is behind this?  Yes, Ben gets frustrated in Math and, yes, he sometimes expresses that frustration in sullenness and responses that this teacher labels as 'rude'. did we get THERE to begin with?  The frustration, the sullenness?  Certainly we didn't start out on Algebra Day One with this attitude and behavior.  Where is the teacher who will reach out, teach  and re-teach with humor and patience?  Does this teacher truly feel threatened by my 5-foot nothing child and his pencil drawing of a pirate's cutlass????

Mr. Shelton went on to say that he had actually called me for a second incident:  another student, a reputable student--MY child is NOT reputable?--had come to him and said that Ben threatened him by saying, "I'm going to murder you."  This was somewhat more serious, so I turned to Ben again and he denied it.  "I didn't say that, Mom."

 Today's language is laced with violence.  "I'm gonna punch you."  "I'm gonna beat the shit out of you."  Very common, even in our household, where there are no guns or weapons.   The term 'murder' did not sound like language that Ben would use.

"Ben, what did this kid do to upset you?"  Ben related a story from his history class where a student was leading a review session, asking questions and passing out candy for correct answers.  Ben explained that he usually opted out of these review sessions and sat and drew, but today he decided to participate.  He said he answered three questions correctly, and the student in charge didn't give him candy.  He said that he named a Hindu god that he had heard about from an adventure movie but since it wasn't on the review sheet, the kid denied him correctness.  He said he answered correctly the name of one of the holy cities, but the kid-in-charge gave candy to a girl who responded with, "I'm don't know for sure, but it begins with an 'A'..."  Ben went on to say that the kid-teacher kept calling on his friends and some of them left the classroom with pockets FULL of candy.

Who set this up?  What TEACHER allowed this blatant opportunity for bullying to take place in his classroom?  Where a KID is in charge of the review session?  Where a teenager decides who is allowed to answer, who is right and who is wrong, whom to reward and not to reward?  Really?  REALLY???  And I thought of my child, who stepped up and forward, in good faith and innocence, to participate in this.

I turned to Mr. Shelton.  " cases such as this, when you have 'he said, he said' situations, what is the usual outcome?"

During their public school years, I listened to both of my children's encounters with bullying.  Depending on the seriousness of the incident, I would recreate the situation and replace my child's hurt response with a funny, off-the wall reaction that seemed to lighten things up and send them to bed with a smile.  If it sounded more serious, I would tell them, "You don't have to put up with that.  Do you want me to come to school?  If I don't, then it will continue and you'll have to live with it.  If I do, then you may have to deal with some sort of revenge after the bullies get in trouble." I felt that this was a realistic approach to rampant bullying that the school simply cannot manage.  I visited the school for bullying issues only twice.

Mr. Shelton completely sidestepped this and once again slid the knife-adorned math paper towards me.  "I SHOULD have suspended him for this the first time, but YOU said YOU would handle it."

"Oh, so now it's going to be MY fault because I didn't discipline him in a way that kept it from happening again????  You turned it over to me and I handled in the best way I knew how.  I told you then that as a former teacher, I completely understood that teachers can't take chances.  I sat right here and talked to Ben about it extensively and again at home.  I'm surprised that it happened again, but it's not because, as you think, I didn't handle it properly!"

Mr. Shelton then went with that age-old deflection:  "Why are you yelling at me?  I'm not yelling at you."

"Because I feel like it and let's not change the subject and make this about me.  It's about HIM!"  I gestured to Ben.

And then I took a breath.  I looked out the window and at the cop and Ben's resource teacher and back to Mr. Shelton and said, "What is the consequence for this?"

"Five days suspension."


"What?  FIVE days?  Mr. Shelton, it's a drawing!  Five days?  I can understand one...or two even, but five?  He'll never recover from that.  He's struggling now!"

Stony-faced Mr. Shelton said, "He can make up the work."

"He can't keep up with the work NOW!  This will put him so far behind that he'll never catch up.  You know his grades!  He has Ds and Fs!!"

I told another breath.  "Let me ask you something.  When there is an actual fight, a physical altercation, where two students intend bodily harm on each other, and they accomplish that with actual punches and blows, what happens then?  What's the consequence?"

"They get five days."

"The same consequence for fighting and for a drawing of a sword???  There's a HUGE difference between an actual fight and a pencil drawing of a weapon on a math paper!"

Old Stony-Face replied, "I see no difference."

I looked at him, and then I crossed the line:  "I've got you backed into a corner, don't I?  This doesn't make sense and you know it, but because you've said it, you can't back down, can you?"  I looked down at Ben and said, "I'm sorry.  I just mishandled this.  You're getting five days because I yelled at him and backed him into a corner and I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Mom," Ben said.  "I love you, Mom."

I looked back at the sanctimonious person of authority, who knew he was wrong, and asked, "When does this suspension start?  Today or tomorrow?"

He looked at Ben and asked, "When do you want it to start?  Today or tomorrow, Ben?"

Are you really going to take the chance of sending this dangerous threat-to-others back to CLASS????

Ben said, "Today."  So we packed up his books and left.

I have never been a Mama Bear type, never sided with my child against an educator.  I've always believed that my children need to reap the consequences of what they sow and learn from their actions.  But this is so much different.  If I am not on his side, then who is?  Certainly not his teachers.  Not his resource teacher, Mr. Boss, who said NOTHING in Ben's defense during the office discussion.  Does Ben see that the deck is stacked against him, the odds are not and have never been in his favor?  He is but a freshman and I know he wants an education, but he is struggling.  How can he continue against such adversarial conditions?  I can only imagine the discouragement he must face every single day.  His poor grades, peers who mock him and tease him, and teachers and administrators who are so quick to put him out of the classroom and out of school like like some of misfit, out of sight and out of mind.
We both cried the whole way home.  I watched Ben in the rear-view mirror.  Every time he seemed to be getting control of himself, he'd come out with another choking sob.  He said, "I hate that school!  I hate the kids!  I'm not going back!  I'm done with that school! I want to quit!!"

He is 16.  He could quit if he wanted to.  How in the world will I ever be able to convince him to go back and why would he ever want to?  Oh, the damage done here.

After awhile he said, "I should have stayed at Connections Academy [the online school he attended the year before]."

I said, "But Ben, you were lonely at home."

We talked a little about the drawing and he said, "I know I shouldn't have done that.  I take full responsibility for that."

And then he said, "Well, one thing I learned.  I learned not to like Mr. Shelton."  We cried some more.

If that is all you learned, my child, then I guess there's still hope.  In your innocence, you still believe that the world is a fair place, and that your teachers are your friends, and that everyone is still good at heart.  But what I fear you will eventually learn is that not only does the school hate you, but the world hates you, too.  My five-foot-zero-inches-at-16-years-old child, as non-athletic and as geeky as the day is long, with no friends, NO friends at all, besides his dog, and his drawing pad. Walking through life, alone, trying to make the best of his physical differences, his unique personality and his interests--a funny child, a sensitive and loving child, a smart child, a gifted artist, but absolutely and undeniably alone in this world, frustrated, confused and sad.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Great 'Game of Thrones' Dream

I dreamed I was in 'Game of Thrones'.  No, I wasn't an actor in the TV show, I was IN it, living it.

We were getting ready to throw a grand feast.  I was looking down into the court yard from my room, which was mid-way up the height of the castle, and saw people coming and coming and coming from all the seven kingdoms.  I turned to Rachel and Meghan Batka, who were my sisters, and said, "This is when trouble starts.  When there's fun, and entertainment, and too many people, something bad is going to happen.  We need to get knives to protect ourselves."  [My wisdom and insight into this situation must have come from my years of reading the series and watching the program.]

 We left my room and began looking for some kind of knife.  We found some old bronzy ones, but they were too big to conceal.  We finally ended up in the kitchen, where I found a blue velvet box (like the kind that holds expensive jewelry) and opened it.  [Don't ever let anyone tell you we don't dream in color.  It's not true.]   Inside was a row of six gleaming silver knives, like the dollar-sized filet knives that Pampered Chef used to sell, except they had pewter handles instead of plastic.  We each took one and hid it in the blousy part of our bodices, and returned to the window to watch.

Looking down into the courtyard once again, I noticed a row of six horses enter through the gate, each of them in a full canvas sheath, like race horses, of a bright solid color:  red, green, blue, yellow...  There was something about them that signaled danger and I turned to the girls and said, "This is it.  It's starting.  We've got to hide."

I gave some sort of warning cry, an alert to everyone in the castle and we began to seek out the tunnels and secret rooms that were in the utmost top of the castle.  The entrances to these tunnels and passage ways were hidden behind loose stones. The passage ways were small and smooth--you had to crawl, like the tunnel we used to crawl through at the Egyptian tomb exhibit at the Indianapolis Children's Museum--but the color of them was reddish, like adobe or terra cotta.  The tunnels opened up into larger, but still small areas where we bunched together and hid, all of us, the inhabitants of the castle, our knives and weapons at the ready.

We could hear them looking for us, moving throughout the castle, and eventually coming into the areas adjacent to the hidden rooms.  They hadn't discovered our secret hiding places yet, but it seemed as if they would.

All of a sudden, a large shadow passed over us.  We saw it move across the floor of our hiding place.  How we were able to see it through the walls and ceiling of the castle is anybody's guess, but hey, this is a dream, right?  It was a dragon's shadow!  Oh, yay!!!  Just like the one in the trailer for the next series!  And the top of the castle, where all of our safe rooms were began to dislodge and slide of of the rest of the castle.  The dragon had pulled free the entire section of the castle where we were hiding and was flying us to safety!

The end.

Just 40 more days.