Monday, August 25, 2008

Room Mom Lament

In my last post I discussed education and some of the reasons why schools work or fail. If you read that, and my fairly opinionated commentary, you already know that my feeling is that the single greatest determining factor in a child’s scholastic success rests with the parents. That’s not to say that a failing district can be overcome by the parent, but I think failing districts often have an overabundance of parents who are not accountable for their children…

Well, hell, I just re-read that and realized that I’m about to piss a lot of people off. If you have tender hearts or virgin ears, please discontinue reading. Otherwise, buckle up.

I am, once again, a room mom – this year for my middle child’s class. I already know what’s coming, having been ridiculously involved since my oldest started three year old pre-school (she’s in fifth grade this year). I didn’t volunteer for this one, in fact I purposely didn’t sign up. I have three kids in school and wanted to make sure I could make at least one party for each of them. When you’re a room parent, you have to attend the majority of the events for that class… okay, that was long and windy, but the basic thing is – no one else would accept the position, which already tells me I’m going to have a hell of a time finding volunteers. Luckily, the first and third grade have their Christmas parties on different days, so hopefully I can attend that one for youngest.

But enough about how I’m going to balance spending some time in each of my children’s classes – the point is the lack of volunteers. Here’s how this conversation can often go:

Me: Hi, my name is Merry and my child is in your child’s class. We need parents to help with their holiday parties. Do you think you can sign up for one of them?

Parent: Oh, no, I work. Sorry.

AAAAARGGGGGG!!!!! Not for nothing, but what kind of bullshit answer is that? There are a lot of parents who work and still make their children’s school life a priority and quite frankly there are relatively few employers who will hold it against you for taking one afternoon off in a ten month school year to attend your child’s party. If you are the extreme case whose boss will boil you in oil, you are excused from this rant… but for the most part, these same parents who can’t commit to an one hour party in the afternoon are also never in attendance at the evening or weekend events, so in some of those cases I’m thinking they just can’t be bothered – which sucks for their kid.

I get that working and raising children is hard to balance. I even get it if you can’t make the afternoon stuff but try to make the evening events or in some other way volunteer (there are a lot of things you can do from home, just ask the school). And forget the fact that it’s flippin’ annoying to the rest of us who, by the way, also WORK – that line just kills me, I’m sorry. I’m not sitting on the couch eating bon-bons for fuck’s sake – even if I wasn’t writing at home, I’d still have every ounce of time consumed with raising my own kids and taking up the slack at school for the parents that don’t flippin’ bother!

Okay, sorry. You can unplug your virgin ears now. Here’s the thing, for any of you reading that don’t bother with your children’s events – don’t worry about annoying people like me. Hey, who the fuck am I, really? (oops, now you can unplug them) But you should definitely take into account the kind of message you want to send your kid. Do you remember being that age? Do you remember what it felt like when your parents didn’t bother to show up? When you missed a school event because they didn’t think it was a big deal?

Their school world is their whole life. It’s where they learn how to deal with people, how to build relationships, a work ethic, respect, pride in accomplishment, independence… and their parents, for better or worse, hold the reigns to how they feel about themselves for most, if not all, of their lives.

If your parents were ones that didn’t think it mattered – do your kid a favor and show them a little better.

Okay, I’m done. Carry on.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back To School

This month, a group of ministers in the Chicagoland area called for a boycott of the first day of school. The reason they want to hold children back from their classrooms is in protest of the way schools are funded in Illinois. Let me first say, I think it’s ridiculous to boycott in this way – the only people really inconvenienced or hurt by keeping kids out of the classroom are the kids. But, on the whole I agree with them. The funding system here is unfair. The way it works is that schools are funded by the property taxes paid in the area, so obviously affluent suburbs have a greater amount of money to work with and far fewer students to educate.

Some suburbs have as much as $17,000.00 per student, where the inner city has about $10,000.00. Yep, that’s a discrepancy and in a public school system I have to agree that the amount of money your family earns should have no bearing on the type of education available to you through that system…

But, here’s where I diverge. Catholic Schools need about $5,000.00 per student to educate their pupils. That’s half of what’s available in the city schools. Catholic School students, on the whole, out perform their public school counterparts and a far greater percentage of them finish high school and go on to college. Now, I mentioned before that I moved my own kids from the local Catholic School to the local public school last year – so I do believe children can get a good education in the public school system – but I don’t think the answer is to throw money at it.
I think if this protest works and the funding is more equally dispersed, it will have little to no effect on how well the children in those districts are educated. I think the call for more funding in education is a great rally cry for politicians, but it doesn’t do anything to solve the problems in education.

I think what we really need to do is look at the schools that succeed (regardless if they’re public or privately funded) and see where they differ from the schools that are failing and I think the biggest variance you’ll see is in the pupils’ own families. Kids who succeed in school have parents who are supportive of their education. They have parents who come to all of their school functions, volunteer to help in the classroom, or in whatever way available to them they show their child that they value the work they do in school. They treat the child’s school career with the same respect that they treat their own career.

That is the first variance I see, there are others, but we have to own the fact that a child’s first and most powerful educator is his / her family. In other words, counting on politicians to solve this problem is ludicrous. First, most politicians do not use the public school system. They send their own children to private schools that the average American cannot afford. So why would we count on them to fix a system that they have no vested personal interest in and, quite frankly, don’t take the time to understand? And even the well-meaning politician who honestly wants to champion the school system is at a disadvantage – even the best system and most dedicated teachers can do little to educate a child whose parents won’t work with them.

I think we’ve come to a point in this country where, when things are not working, we automatically want the government to fix it and I think that’s dangerous. We need to own our own communities and our own lives.

There are other reasons education is failing in areas here, and I’d love to talk about that in the comments section, but I think the number one decider of a child’s success at school will be in the support they receive early on and throughout their education. A close second is the amount of support their peers receive, because I can be as proactive in my child’s moral and academic growth as possible, but if they’re in a classroom full of kids whose parents don’t care, kids who then start misbehaving or being disruptive, well, obviously, that puts every child at a disadvantage to learn.

If I had that situation in my own kids public school, I’d move them right back to Catholic School without batting an eye… it doesn’t solve the problem in the school system, though, does it? And right now, many parents’ hands are tied in where their child attends school because private education is very expensive.

This is a far reaching topic and I think there are a lot of variables. What do you think? How do we fix it? Can it be fixed? Do you think more government input on individual school districts is the answer, or less? Do you think more funding will solve it?

Monday, August 18, 2008

What did you do all weekend?

So, hubby type person took the kiddies camping for the weekend. It sounds like they had a ball. They left Friday afternoon and are due back here in a few hours.

Yes, dear friends, I had the whole lovely weekend to myself. I couldn’t even talk to the kids on the phone because the reception was bad, so my communication with the family was relegated to hubby’s text messages via my email.

Once they got on the highway, he called to let me know where they were, what they did all weekend, etc. etc… and after a glorious recap of the friends my daughter made (my ten year old can and will make friends anywhere, she was invited to other people’s camps for dinner and even to a birthday party after having been there barely a day… of course, he couldn’t let her go off with people he just met, still she found it nice to be asked… she even garnered the whole family an invitation to spend the evening with another family at their campfire…she’s a trip, that one)

Anywhoo, after his glorious recap he asked what I did all weekend.

I wrote. I noodled my current wip a lot, I wrote, I deleted, I wrote some more… I made notes, I looked up some things, I played online and checked in at blogs… I wrote… That’s what I did pretty much all weekend.

To which he asked, okay, you wrote, but did you buy the kids school supplies?

Umn, no. Not yet. I’ll go this week, I guess.

Did you clean out their rooms? Did you organize the house? Did you stock up on groceries? Did you balance the checkbook or anything?

No… I did not. I thought about it, and then I passed. Listen, I have to do all of those things, I even thought I’d get to some of them this weekend, but no… I did some laundry… but, yanno, the machine can run while I’m still writing. I didn’t cook I didn’t clean I did nothing that would resemble work for the household, it was all about writing. I wrote. That’s what I did.

Huh… hubby replied, a bit taken back. And then he bit his tongue, which was a wiser decision than he knows. He will come home, look around the still somewhat disorganized household, and wonder why he married such a lazy woman.

Guess what… I don’t care. I wrote. It’s very rare that I get the chance to just think about the writing from sun up to sun down… I took it. I get that he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t see any progress there, he only hears me say that I wrote but since there’s no promotion or paycheck involved I might as well tell him I spent the weekend drunk or zoning out in front of the tv.

And usually I feel very guilty when I spend that kind of time on my writing and not with the kids or on other people’s stuff. But I’m not doing it today. I can get in the cleaning later. Hell, they can help me clean – they live here, too.

So how about you guys? What did you do with your weekend? And do you feel guilty spending time on your writing when it’s not the job that pays the bills? Does your spouse support you in your writing and see that time as valid?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Here Comes The Sun

A little lesson in Tarot before we begin:

A Tarot deck is comprised of the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana is the predecessor of today’s playing cards, though each suit holds one extra face card – Page, Knight, Queen, and King.

The Major Arcana has twenty two cards, from Key Zero – The Fool, to Key Twenty One – The World. The cards come with a lush history and there are many different studies of how to read them and games that may have been in popular use through the ages. One philosophy is that the Major Arcana tells a story and that each card delineates a part of The Fool’s journey (all of us being the fools :-)

Since most of you probably aren’t that interested in the cards themselves, I’ll skip straight to the point. The Sun card, pictured above, notes exactly what it looks like. It’s happiness and fulfillment. It’s the spoils after the stuggle, and it’s contentment in all areas of your life. Now, each card can bear varied meanings, depending on their placement in a spread and what the other cards are around them, but overall this one is exactly the thing we all seek – fulfillment and contentment... it often means material success but I think that’s become a meaning because people seem to equate happiness with money, not so much because the cards do.

The card directly before The Sun card in the deck is, fittingly enough, The Moon. The Moon carries a lot of negative connotations in the tarot deck, despite the fact that many pagan and Wicca traditions stress the power of the moon and all of its phases. In The Fool’s journey, The Moon symbolizes the struggles to overcome, the rocks in your path and the hardships you must face on your journey. Again, the exact meaning will change with the layout and position, but overall, most people don’t like to see The Moon come up in their readings.... except for me.

The Moon was my favorite card, since I first started to learn about tarot in my teen years. I identified with it – looking at the obstacles in life not as something to fear, but as a focus of pride and a means to evolve and grow. I focused, not on the actual hindrance, but on the experience as a means to make me stronger... pride goeth before the fall...

Anyway, I think most people have their ‘things’, little symbols or quirks that people associate with them. One of mine, was the moon. A lot of people who know me don’t necessarily know that it comes from the tarot, or the signifying meaning, but they do associate it with me, enough so that I’ve received moonstone jewelry, boxes with moons on them, and all sorts of various knick knacks with the moon in it somewhere as gifts over the years. My first tattoo was a moon, on my stomach... I was nineteen and it was an adorable half moon... three kids later, and it’s not nearly so adorable... and not exactly half anymore either, but I’ll digress.

But lately I’ve been doing a lot of pondering about this, about my focus of energy and how much influence that has over the things in my life... I don’t consciously think of the moon daily, don’t get me wrong, but with various reminders of that connotation around me, I wonder if perhaps I can’t help but focus more on the tasks and less on the fun... I want this life to be a journey – I think that’s where the whole thing started, because The Sun to me always signified an end of the journey, a completion. And even if that completion was triumphant, it still meant the end – where else is there to go after reaching perfect happiness?

But, in this little path of self inspection, I’ve decided that my original summation of The Sun card was flawed. It is not happiness in completion, but happiness itself. It’s the decision to find joy in the journey, on the path, in the everyday. And I do think that’s a decision. So, I’m changing my card... I pick The Sun... The Moon and I will always be friends, but it’s time to shift focus... we’ll see where it goes from here.

So how about you guys? Do you have any symbols or things associated with you? And how about your own self-inspection – had any life revelations that would benefit the rest of us? I’d love to hear about it....

Thursday, August 07, 2008

WOW - An Open Prompt Flash Fiction Contest!

The awesomeness that is Chris Eldin turned me on to a new contest when she posted her short story, Warning Shot (follow the link to check out her haunting entry). The contest is hosted by Women On Writing, and they have one every quarter - check out the submission guidelines here. This one is the summer contest, and it’s an open prompt, so fun for all writers – the deadline is August 31, 2008. I hope all of you will consider playing... So far, I know Precie put up a stellar entry, too.

Okay, without further ado, making it in just under the 500 word count, my entry:

Time In Purgatory

Most of the sorrows of the world were caused by envy and greed. Of this, Madeleine was certain. Just as she knew that the best of our history would be forgotten for fear. Our most significant accomplishments were often in the mistakes, and those we took care to bury much deeper than the ordinary lies we let people see.

Cocooned in the prison of hospital sheets, she ran crinkled fingers over the stiff material and attempted a sigh through the plastic tube stuffed down her throat.

"Not much of a thread count there, cheap bastards."

Madeleine stopped willing herself to die a number of days before. It just didn't work. You'd think a simple thing like telling her own damn heart to stop might be easy, but it wasn't.

She listened to the respirator beside her bed with its steady, annoying huff, and she whispered a prayer, if only in her own head. Well, how the hell else was she meant to do it? For once in her life, she couldn't use her mouth.

She finally resorted to swearing at God, hoping it might bait him into finishing her off. But that bastard always was smarter than her, and she figured he was keeping her there, stuck in purgatory for a lesson. Either that or he was cutting her a little break before eternal damnation, but she wasn't quite sure which it was.

Visitors came and went. Her children hovered and sat, clicking through the stations on the wall-mounted TV and staring at the blinking, neon numbers on the machine that let them know she wasn't dead yet.

Madeleine's oldest granddaughter, Fiona, swooped in once a day, filling the room with the stink of expensive perfume. The smell stayed for hours, settling in the back of Madeleine's throat with a vicious tickle.

"Have you cleaned out her house yet? We should go through the jewelry and bank accounts soon." Fiona said to her mother, who was sitting in the chair next to Madeleine's bed.

"Not yet. I think we should wait until after. Your father and aunts will throw a fit if we go through their mother's things while she's still alive." Elaine's eyes flicked over the emaciated woman, lying prostrate in bed.

Madeleine heard every word, but didn't stir. Her lashes fluttered open here and there but otherwise she acted as if she didn't know they were in the room. Thirty five years. For thirty five years Elaine was sunshine and light around her mother-in-law, and she made sure Fiona was, too. Not now, though. They had some nerve when the old lady couldn't respond.

"That's okay," Madeleine thought, the corners of her mouth just twitching up around the tube.

Her mind shot back to the papers in her desk drawer at home and the copy with her lawyer. Madeleine wished she could give a mighty guffaw, but settled for a slow cackle in her head as she slipped off to sleep in the sterile room.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Scary Stories and their linksies

A few weeks ago, I announced a contest for best scary story. There were a few takers, so I thought I’d share their links. Stop by and visit – you’ll definitely enjoy the writing.

PJD’s Three Wishes A beautifully written piece that will tear your heart out and make you catch your breath.

Sarah Laurenson’s Short An offbeat flash fiction piece, that will play on your senses... and offer new perspectives.

Colleen Katana’s Creepy Kid Ghost is a true story about the ghost child that plagued Colleen’s mom and ripped the heads off her children’s teddy bears.... Mrs. Katana is a mighty brave lady – I think I might have moved.

Sorry for the short post... I’ll be back around the blog-o-sphere to catch up soon.