Tag Archives: school

Real Mom Talk– What I Think vs. What I Actually Say and How it Enables Toxic Masculinity

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Emily is in first grade now and the mean girl club has started with a vengeance. This has been a seriously rude awakening for both of us. For whatever lucky ducky reasons, my son (who is four years older and five grades ahead of Em), did not go through social crap in the same toxic, manipulative ways my seven year old daughter is already navigating with her peers.

Emily is a sensitive and empathic child, which makes the whole issue all the more heartbreaking. I’ve addressed it with parents, her teacher, and the principal and we’ve come up with some supportive ways to help Em cope with the stress of being a sweet little lamb in a lion’s den.

This week she went back to school after the holiday recess, and happily applied herself to her studies. She loves to read and is thrilled by participating in art. This morning, as I was in the bathroom getting ready for work, she approached me.

“Mama, when you go up to dress, can we have a talk?”

“Of course. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just need to do some talking about my feelings.” She said with a serious little face.

So, here’s another difference between Em and Jack. Both of them have the same goopy, social worker mom, but my son rarely willingly divulges his emotional space to me. Em on the other hand is all about the deep, emotional bonding.

As I pulled myself into my undies and leggings I asked her what was up. She disclosed to me that after school, when she was playing in the school yard, under the watchful eye of her babysitter, one kid had stolen her hat off her head and her special new toy, and run off with them,  and threw them over a fence.

She told me this calmly and clearly as if recounting the forensics of a crime scene.

My heart sped up and it was all I could do to keep the steam inside my head. I hugged her. Her glossy curls brushed against my cheek and I felt the little bones of her back under my hands.  We talked about how it made her feel and how she solved the problem and what she thought we should do next.

Then she wanted to play on the iPad.

She moved on, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I was pissed.

Had it been an isolated incident, maybe I could have let it go a little easier, but dude, I’ve been dealing with this social crap for the past four months now and I don’t understand why it isn’t getting any easier. It also seemed to suck and confound me because the bully this time had been an older boy.

So, at pickup, I approached the kid’s mom and mentioned to her that her son (who is four years older than my first grader) had been physically aggressive to my daughter. I let her know that Em is just super sensitive right now and I’m trying to keep tabs on things, and I knew her kid probably didn’t mean to hurt her hat, toy, body, or feelings, but that was the end result. I told her directly, but politely.

She told me it was inappropriate to mention it in front of her son and that she would talk to him and get back to me…….

Here’s what I REALLY wanted to say, “Heya bitch face, tell your poorly socialized excuse for a spawn to keep his grimy paws off my precious little baby and while you’re at it, maybe you want to have a convo with him about consent and how to treat women because clearly you are training him to be an abusive little shit! Boys will be boys after all!”

I didn’t tell her that at all. I smiled and thanked her for her time and then I went and privately had an anxiety attack that I had confronted this woman who was clearly pissed with me and didn’t have a grasp on where I was coming from.

TBH, I’m pretty much still shaking, even after texting and talking to several friends who validated that I was advocating for my daughter and did the right thing.

It is hard to address these issues with other moms. I appreciate that. Furthermore, I get that the other mom was also advocating for and protecting her son, but oh man, in this day and age, maybe we all wanna double down on those discussions with our sons about respecting the physical space of female bodies and set some good examples for future generations.

IDK. It got me thinking about all the things I sorta wanna say as a mom, but don’t.

Smile and nod. Smile and nod. . .

When does my politeness become complicit? When do I actually enable the abuse of my daughter on the playground by saying what is polite instead of saying what I really mean and feel?

What do you think?

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Musing on Aching Ovaries, Weaning, and the End of the School Year

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It helped more than you can imagine that you took the time to read my incredibly neurotic last post about wacky mid-life hormones.  And to those of you who commented to let me know you are in a similar boat–  well, you just rock.  Sometimes I guess bemoaning my aching ovaries has its place.

So thanks for that love and support.

I had another thought that made me wonder. . .

. . .  as my journey towards weaning continues with Emily, how is that affecting my hormones, and how is that affect on my hormones affecting my emotional/physical state?  My three and a half year old daughter continues to nurse one or two times per day, usually.  Sometimes she goes a couple days without nursing, and I’ve been practicing the whole “don’t ask, don’t refuse” thing.

Breastfeeding is all about hormones.  I’ve noticed that there are times when the oxytocin rush from breastfeeding is more effective than a dose of Zoloft.  But then there are other times when it makes me want to claw off my skin.  So, I wonder if my hormones could be additionally out of whack, not so much because I am going into perimenopause (which I don’t really think I am yet), but because my body is just confused from this whole march towards weaning?

Do any of you know anything about that?

Today was also Jack’s last day of second grade.  He’s had a great year, mainly because he had a phenomenal teacher who really supported and inspired him.  We have had no tantrums about school or homework, and more importantly none of the somatic complaints that he was voicing last year.  I’ve felt so blessed that he’s had this safe space to be in during the day, and I really think it has allowed him to grow and learn emotionally, intellectually, and behaviorally.

That said, I sort of dread the summer.

Jack and I both have a hard time with change.  It really rocks our boat in a big way and can lead to anxiety and anger.  I totally understand where he is coming from in this regard because I am really right there with him.  This year, he is doing some summer day camp about which none of us are particularly thrilled.  I’m praying there will be nice kids there, attentive staff, and that Jack will not be miserable all summer because of it.

This morning I sort of broke down and cried.  I was just so overwhelmed and sad about not being there for my kids as much as I want to be, as much as they NEED me to be.  It is really, really hard.

My husband took this job in February with the expectation I would be able to cut my hours at work.  This has not come to pass as I cannot leave my program in the lurch with no staff, and financially we are still digging out of a pretty deep hole.  So, we are both at our limits and have not really been available to each other.

So, this morning when my daughter wanted to look at books instead of put on her shoes, everything just crashed around me and out came the tears.  I pulled it together pretty quickly, and Emily’s hug was like magic.  I got the kids out the door and felt a surge of pride watching my little-big-boy march into the playground for his last day of school.

So, it’s not all bad.

And you all are still here.

So, it’s not all bad.

One random final thought:

When Jack was a newborn and I was struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, my husband would take our colicky little son and walk him around the house.  The Spouse would sing this chant that I believe is from Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.

It went, “I have arrived, I am home, in the here and in the now.  I am solid, I am free.  In the infinite I dwell.”

This little chant came to me today and gave me comfort.

So, yeah, I am home with my achey, breaky ovaries, my mommy guilt, and my anticipatory anxiety about the summer.

In the infinite we dwell.

Momaste.  xoxoxo.

Threat

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Yesterday, about 4:30 p.m., I got an automated message from the Superintendent of Schools in our district.  Her voice chirped that there had been an anonymous note delivered to police that threatened elementary schools in our area.

I could feel my face blanch and then grow instantly hot as two, tiny, imaginary hands squeezed the backs of my eye sockets making my vision blur.

The message said there would be an increased police presence in the schools, and everyone’s safety would be assured.

My seven-year-old-son, Jack, is in second grade. 

I ranted a little about oh the humanity! around the water cooler, then finished my work day and went home.

Everyone was there, safe and sound, bickering about not wanting to take showers or eat tater tots and who would get the last cider donut.  My husband and I gave each other knowing looks, but didn’t talk about any of this news in front of the children.

At this point, there is just too much unknown.  We don’t know what the note said, or where it came from, or why it was sent.  My mind could make up a billion different scenarios, each equally terrifying.  Anyone who knows me, knows I tend to be anxious (at best) and downright neurotic (at worst).  So, it is a constant challenge to stop my brain from “going there.” 

Many parents have reacted in fear.  Local news websites are flooded with people making threats to “get a piece of ’em,” and “this is why the stinking liberals should let us have our guns”, and “there is no way in hell we are sending our kids to school”.  

It is a mob mentality I understand, but in which I do not want to take part.

Everyday, I take an existential leap when I leave the house in the morning.  Everyday, I walk a tightrope of faith that everything will be okay when I kiss my son and put him onto the bus.  Everyday, I willingly and blindly trust fall into a suspension of reality when I watch my daughter drive off with my husband.  I do it, for the most part, without fear.  I leap, in fact, without even thinking about it.  My legs bend and spring out of pure muscle memory.

I’ve often shared with people that during the month before I went back to work after my maternity leave with Jack, I cried every night until my face looked deformed.  The unbearable sense of leaving him drove me nearly insane, but in the end, I went back to work.  I could do it only by telling myself, “this is what responsible moms do.”

In other difficult situations, I’ve gotten through it by thinking I’m doing the “right” or “responsible” thing as a mom, as a decent human, as a worker, as a wife, as a part of a family.

What is the “right and responsible” thing to do in this situation?  Do I send him to school and assume that risk, or do I indulge in the culture of fear and keep him home.

This morning, I asked my husband, “Is it okay to feel scared about this?”  His yes was resounding.  My husband is not an alarmist, still I wondered.  It is like my fear sensors are out of whack and I am not certain what is actually scary or threatening to me and mine.  I believe this comes from living in a culture of fear, where every minor accident and robbery is broadcast on every news channel, and where gratuitous violence and gore is glorified on TV and movies.  

It is really hard to stay centered in this kind of situation, to be mindful and to not hop on board the bus of mob mentality which drives the perpetuation of anger, hate, and aggression.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect any parent who kept their child home in light of these “threats,”  but my husband and I decided to send Jack to school, as per usual.  

A couple things factored into our decision. 

My husband pointed out that, probably, the next few days will be the most safe for the children, as security measures are increased.  “Whoever did this may be watching to see what the schools do,” my husband pointed out.  That is the scary part to me.  There are just so many unanswered questions.

I also thought about the general safety or danger of the world.  If I keep my son home from school today, where does it end?  Do I never take him to the mall because it could be attacked?  Do I never let him go to school again and homeschool?  Do I never take him outside to play for fear the sky could fall on us? 

As a clinical social worker who works in a very high risk community, I am aware of dangers visited upon children.  If not for maintaining a mindful view of all the goodness that balances the world, I would live in perpetual and paralyzing terror.  Being informed and educated is different in my mind than getting swept away by all the fear of the unknown.  Again, for someone who struggles with situational and anticipatory anxiety, this is easier said than done.  It is also a constant struggle not to be overshadowed by the darkness that does exist in the world, and become depressed. 

My husband and I weighed all of this, then we talked with our little son.  We let him know there would be some changes at school over then next few days as they practiced increased safety, “just in case.”  There will be some extra police, and it is important to listen to the teachers and principal and do everything they say.  He accepted our comments with a casual complaint about having to endure indoor recess over the next couple days. 

His security and calmness was somehow reassuring to me. 

In my wildest and worst dreams I never imagined sending a kid to school with all sorts of contingency plans for “just in case.”  It sobers and saddens me, but it also makes me realize the insignificance of all the little daily battles like putting on socks, or eating breakfast at the table. 

I hugged him extra and kissed him all over before putting him on that bus.  My heart squeezed tears up to my eyes, but I blinked them back.  Rationally, I know he will be safe.  But that little primal place at the back of my brain still senses something I can’t quite name.

It makes me want to ask what the hell kind of world has this become?

Still I leap.

May the power of good always shine brighter than any darkness.

May love always create safety and peace for the ones we love.

May the desire to live in love grow stronger than any that would live in hate and fear.

Breathing in, I accept my fear of violence and the unknown.

Breathing out, I surround myself and all around me with love, and hope, and peace.

How do you stay grounded in the face of fear?  What existential leaps will you take today?    

 

First Steps

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Still little enough to hug and kiss me
on a black-top packed with people,
you put your arm around my waist, lean into me
with authenticity, and a hint of apprehension.

This year, you enter the brick cavern
with a loose tooth, and I wonder if you will lose it
while you are away from me, as you spend
so much time away from me.

We take these first steps, do these first days
over and over, swallow hard
and breathe into the stretch,
knowing we will not tear.

I have armed you with light-saber sneakers,
food for your journey (yes, I put fluff in the sandwich),
and hope, as the sun rises hot
on this first day.

Last year’s first day of school poem can be read here.

 

Watching You Board The Bus

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We hugged in the chilly morning

on the corner

in front of our house, and I smiled

as you boarded the bus,

waved until you were out of sight. 

I smiled hard so my cheeks held the tears

up in my eyes,

until you were out of sight. 

Then my face fell and they spilled down. 

I’d heard you say “hate” for the first time,

heard you whimper and worry 

about being picked on, and

how alone you felt. 

But we talked and hugged, 

with the promise of spring in the air,

and you walked off

with that impish smile,

climbed those big steps,

and allowed the door to slide shut at your back. 

Your wave was hopeful,

but my heart was under those tires

as the bus drove off with you.

My heart was under those chunky, smelly, dirty tires

like a little clock

which was then smashed,

as the bus drove off with you,

into a zillion delicate pieces

with which I had no idea what to do.

And I Thought Kindergarten Was Rough. . . Welcome To The Academic Treadmill

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We went to our son’s school for Open House earlier this week. I’ve been fighting a gnarly head cold all week, hence my lack of blogging, but I dosed up on Claritin and Tylenol to get in there and sit in that tiny chair behind Jack’s desk.

He colored a stunning picture of him playing outside on a sunny day which was left on top of his desk. On its back he wrote a little note welcoming us to his classroom. It turns out that this was the only bright spot of the event.

His teacher welcomed us to the first grade classroom by letting us know how busy the kids have been. “I have them on an academic treadmill,” she proclaimed. “I don’t do birthdays. I don’t do holidays. There is not time for me to read to them, and we eat a ‘working snack,'” she continued. She then handed out a packet on the “Common Core Standards” they are enforcing with the kids.  She talked for another ten minutes and then “dismissed us.”  She did not seem to want any questions.

Granted my head was fuzzy from the cold, but I had a hard time processing this information. I wasn’t sure if I was depressed, annoyed, or scared for my kid.  It seems they are trying to tighten up academics, teach more, encourage more independence, and create better learners. But is putting our little ones on an “academic treadmill” the best way?

Her presentation lacked warmth or empathy. While I understand that in this educational climate she is under the pressure of being responsible for my child’s test scores (and not much more apparently), she did not have the sense of self to know that telling parents you are training their precious children to run like rodents is NOT the most reassuring way to go.

What became clear to me were the reasons for my son’s apprehension about school. He ‘s giving us a hard time in the morning, saying he hates school, he feels sick, and the usual avoidance tactics. We chalked this up to him being bullied in the first weeks of school, but this situation was addressed. We were optomistic things were on the upswing.

The other clarification I received was why Jack comes home so agitated in the afternoon- his poor six year old body sits behind that little desk all day while his brain races away and he’s desperate for some physical release!

I posted a while back about our struggles with the rigorous expectations of kindergarten. It had been so hard for us to adjust to institutionalized education after our idyllic experience with Jack’s early child care. But at least they had story time and show and tell in kindergarten!

My concerns with first grade are the same as they were in kindergarten- that Jack will find education a drudgery as opposed to finding learning is fun and full of opportunities for creativity. It also concerns me that there is no room in this curriculum to teach compassion, which I feel should be mandatory. This is, however, the system we have. I do not have the luxury of sending my child to a private school with a less-traditional approach to learning, nor can I stay home and home school So, I don’t know any other answer than acceptance and hope that it will all be okay in the end.

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School is different now than when I was small. I find it hard to believe they challenge our little ones with so much academic rigor when developmentally their brains are wired to learn from play and socialization with other children. But this system here and now is all that Jack has known, and I will be enthusiastic and supportive of his education. I will also provide him with opportunities to play, laugh, be creative and wild in the time when he is with me.

We signed him up for soccer and karate, both of which he is thrilled with. I hope the physicality of these activities provides balance for him. I’m also making an effort to be a little more laid back with our structure in the home, to be mindful of the fact that Jack has been subject to academic dogma for six hours straight and needs some physical and emotional freedom.

I don’t think my kid is any better than anyone else, but he is mine.  So you bet your booty I’m going to advocate for him any chance I get, or when I see a need to foster understanding and compassion.  I’m also thinking of joining the PTA, because I think maybe getting involved will help temper my fears and anxiety.

That night at Open House, my nose was dripping like a faucet and I was dying to get home and commune with my netti pot.  So, I left without saying anything to the teacher, which was probably the better choice anyway.  As you might imagine, I will be on the lookout for opportunities to help this teacher understand that my son is a sensitive, thoughtful, energetic little human and not a simple mouse who runs blindly away on a treadmill to nowhere.

Are you satisfied with the education your child is getting?  Have you ever had to advocate for you child at school?  Did it make you uncomfortable?  What did you do or say?  

Wednesday Worries– A Bully In Our Midst

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My six year old is being bullied in his second week of school? Aw hell no!

Jack brought home a little sticky note from his teacher in his folder last night notifying us he spit at at a peer, and could we please talk to him. It requested that I sign and return the sticky note.

My first response was to get sick to my stomach. I had a brief urge to get drunk and jump off a bridge– but unless it was a very small bridge into a heated lazy river, I wasn’t really in the mood for that. As for getting drunk, being hung over with children scampering around is like my worst nightmare, so that was not an option either.

That left talking to my kid. 

Jack did NOT want to talk about it and when I brought it up screamed at me to shut up. This was the final straw. What had I done to bring this monster into my midst who apparently was engaging in primal behavior at school?! I was devastated and also discouraged at Jack’s lack of respect for me.

I admit it.  I catastrophized. 

Then the social worker in me remembered the signs and symptoms of bullying- changes in behavior, anger, crying, embarrassment, etc. When we finally got him calmed down (and I got myself calmed too), I laid down in bed with him and talked to him.

Because you have to talk to your kid about these things.  You can’t run away or jump off anything.  School teaches neither compassion nor self defense, so we are responsible for talking to and helping our children solve their problems.  We are their Obi Wan Kenobi, their only hope. 

It turns out there is a kid who Jack has been complaining about since the first day of school, on almost a daily basis. The kid pushed him in the library and has also said some mean things to him. This kid spit at him in the cafeteria and there was no teacher nearby for Jack to turn to, so he spit back. The kid then told on Jack before Jack could tell on him.

We explained to Jack that this behavior was totally unacceptable from that kid and from him. We explained that using our words and getting an adult to help is the best course of action. We hugged him and reassured him that we were on his side and that we would figure out how to fix these problems together.

This was his first time encountering a really mean kid. Of course he didn’t know what to do. And have you ever been spit at?  It has to be one of the most disgusting and shocking forms of aggression, in my humble opinion. 

I’m not excusing Jack’s behavior, but what the crap??!! This is his second week of first grade!! Why the eff are kids so freaking mean? I’m pissed as hell, which is maybe not the “right” response. Maybe if I called it the Mother Bear Instinct it would sound better. . .

I’m also really sad.  It wounds me to the core that my son has been hurt and confused by another child’s cruelty, and that he knew no other way than to respond in kind.  And I can’t help but wonder why that other child is so mean in the first place.  I do not want to believe that the world is a nasty place, but it truly challenges my faith in humanity to see my own baby in this space. 

Anger aside, I tried my very best to model tolerance and compassion for James, to not malign the other child involved, and to explain that we always do our best to be kind to others even if they are being mean to us.  My husband composed a letter expressing our concerns as well as our desire to work on preventing and addressing such occurances as a team in the future.  We Cc’d it to the principal. 

If I were to look on the bright side, and be ultra-mindful and strength’s based, I would have to say that this presented a good opportunity for us to discuss and model coping skills, compassion, and communication with Jack.  Unfortunately, bullies are going to be a part of any child’s experience at school, so it is also important to discuss how to handle those challenging situations. 

It also presented me with yet another opportunity to check myself and be mindful of my own feelings towards institutional education.  As a parent it is hard for me when I have really strong feelings about something, but have to put them aside and put on a bright and positive face for my children. 

While we hate to make a name for ourselves as the High Maintenance Parents, this is one issue on which we will not stay silent.  I am hoping and praying for a positive response from the teacher, and that the bullying will cease.  Until then, I will definitely be hugging my kid a little tighter and talking more about the power of love and compassion. 

Has your child ever been bullied?  If so, how did you respond?  Were you sucessful?  How did bullying affect your child, and how did you help support them? 

The following link will take you to the Mayo Clinic’s site where you can learn more about bullying and steps to handle bullying.  There may also be community groups in your state or area who can help you advocate for your child at the school level, if the school is not suitably responsive to your concerns about your child being bullied.