Zumba

I’ve really broadened my range of workout activities since I last blogged about my quest to achieve less-of-me. The Bitch likes this a lot. I still think she’s a bitch. Zumba is still among my favorites, and it’s my topic today. To recap the rest, I’ve dropped Dance Party altogether, and I’ve increased my Yoga and Pilates and added Step and Gravity. (Yes, there really is a class called Gravity. It’s strength training. I’ll get there another day.) My primary purpose here is to explain to a workout buddy why she needs to give Zumba more than a single chance, though, so let me get to the point.

My first Zumba class sucked. I went in because Linda was going and I was desperate to increase my activity and needed a buddy besides poor Scott. (Who always goes along with whatever I’m doing but really shouldn’t have to.) I hated it. For starters, I did not know the steps at all. Other friends had described it to me as being something like belly dance, with which I’m reasonably familiar. After two songs, it became clear that these people were deluded. The only thing Zumba has to do with belly dance is that you sometimes do a belly dance hip-bump as part of a travelling walk-like-an-Egyptian grapevine. There is no sexy rolling of the belly in Zumba, and absolutely nothing is leisurely. Let me repeat that. Nothing. Is. Leisurely. The music is fast, and the instructor doesn’t really break it down all that frequently or effectively. If you come to Zumba unfamiliar with the form, come prepared to do a lot of flailing. In fact, one of the reasons I had come was that I hoped to find, hell the Y circular advertised, a dance class.  I did not want some aerobics course.

When I was in my final year of college, I had to take one credit of PE to get my BA. I took aerobics because I hate exercise and that seemed the least odious option. I liked the instructor, a lively woman who was a dancer when she wasn’t teaching college phys ed. It was from taking that class that I realized much modern group dancing is merely glorified aerobics, and that I really really hate exercise. Not that I hadn’t already figured this second thing out on my own.  I don’t like getting out of breath, and I loathe muscle fatigue.

So it was really easy that first class for me to recognize that Zumba is nothing more than glorified aerobics, and that I hated it. I wanted to dance. I wanted someone to teach me the steps, so that I could keep up with the class, and I wanted to learn how to pull off awesome moves on the floor. Purely aside from this, I had on shoes those first few classes, so every time I felt like vomiting, I had to stop and sit on my ass. It wasn’t just that I was out of shape. It was that if my feet get hot, I get nauseous. And if I don’t cool them down fast, I puke.  Of course, being out of shape didn’t help in that regard, either, but mostly, it was the feet.

So we left the class with Linda’s friend Ethel while I cussed a blue streak and swore it was the worst thing I’d ever done. This wasn’t the bitching and moaning I have learned to engage in.  In that kind of normal workout whining, it’s perfectly OK for everyone in the room to groan simultaneously, and there’s generally some wit (like me) with something inane and demotivating to say. This was the fury of someone who felt deceived. I came back entirely because I’d promised to keep Linda company. I promised her I’d try it once a week for a month, but that was it.

The second class felt as awful as the first, but I didn’t have the deception problem, so I wasn’t so angry about that. By the third class, I’d remembered I have to do everything barefoot, and I wasn’t so unhappy. And by the fourth class, I realized I’d learned a lot more of the moves than I would have expected given my rather negative state of mind. Two weeks after that, I was totally hooked. I had realized I loved Zumba, and that, though it remains glossed-over aerobics, there are dance moves in there, and I am learning them. There’s a lot of fun shimmy-shimmy pop stuff that I enjoy, and yes, it does bear a distant resemblance to belly dance. (Very distant.)

I’m going to have to be careful which teachers I take it with, though. They’ve just added an irritating woman with the drill sergeant problem (none of the other Zumba teachers has felt the need to bellow us forward) who is going to be taking over my favorite class AND teaching the one they’re adding on Sundays.  Denisse, who taught it when I first started attending, has moved on. She’s a military spouse, subject to the whims of the U.S. Air Force.  She left behind her an awesome crew including my favorite, Jina, and that’s whose classes I’ll look to take when I have a choice.

And to tell you the truth, I like my Zumba well enough that I may be tolerant of the dictators in there, but we’ll see about that. I spent a good few minutes contemplating what I would do to the tightly permed hair of the new twit if I could just get her in a headlock. So I’ll maybe have to stick to my favorites for now.

Rainbow Flag

For a number of reasons that will be dealt with later, I’ve been under an unusual amount of stress lately. The raw effect of this for my family is that I’m more short tempered than normal, and much less tolerant of my kids’ perfectly normal (if perfectly obnoxious) behavior. My students can’t see me in person, so they don’t experience my deep sighs when they ask questions with answers I consider obvious. Unlike my kids and husband, they never receive responses like, “I don’t fucking know. Jesus Christ, do I look like the Dali Lama?” To keep these moments to a minimum, I’ve been letting the Jester Queen have a bit more free rein. She is, after all, my sense of humor, and if I can catch my emotional waves right, she can give me the oomph to ride one and not get dumped face first in the sand.

So.

That’s the background. Here’s the story.

Linda came over this morning to borrow our lawnmower. She arrived in her Dad’s truck, which she has borrowed because the house she and Robert are renting has a washer and dryer already, and her Mom wants Linda’s old ones. The truck is an immaculate Ford, and her Dad is a man who loves his truck. As soon as we had loaded up the mower, she flipped up the gate to reveal a panoply of right wing political stickers.

Those stickers just begged to be, for lack of a better word, refudiated

 

Want a little tea with that party, sir?Let’s look at some of those a bit more closely.Thanks for repeating that one. I might not have gotten the message otherwise.

“That needs something,” I said.

“What do you mean?” asked Linda, whose viewpoints couldn’t possibly be more different from those expressed on the stickers.

“I dunno,” I said. “Something … virulently liberal. Something that would run counter to everything those things support. But I can’t think what.”

“Rainbow flag,” said Scott, as he pulled out of the driveway heading for a staff meeting.

 

Oh, how I love that man.

 

Now, I’ll pause here to say that I know sexuality should not have to be a political issue. That groups like the Log Cabin Republicans clearly prove that you don’t have to be a liberal to support equality for all Americans. And I personally know numerous Republicans who support GLBT rights.

Linda and I are pretty sure her Dad isn’t one of them.

But finding a rainbow flag bumper sticker in the Heart of Dixie proved to be quite the challenge. I tried the mall, where a wonderful clerk at Hot Topic could only come up with a couple of stickers where the words were in the colors of the rainbow flag. They said “awesome” and “deal with it”. Not bad. But not what I wanted, really. At Spenser’s, the clerk looked at me like I should have known that all people over twenty (or twenty-five at the outside edge) were banned from that store, and said “No” to my query about rainbow flags.  After that, I got smart and used the phone. I called Star, who suggested a number of stores. But the Earthbound Trading Company, the Hippie Lady, and Books-A-Million were all busts. On Facebook, I got suggestions like Jo-Ann’s Fabrics, Michael’s Crafts, and the Hobby Lobby. Dead ends. (Though I found the horrified silence at the other end of the phone while the Hobby Lobby clerk contemplated my request extremely validating.) I found a great shop in Minneapolis that could have helped me, except that they were in the wrong state. Sigh. Another day, True Colors, another day, and you shall have my business. Star sounded mighty sure about Spenser’s. And hell, that had been where my hopes had been highest, too. So I called back.

Jackpot.

The person I spoke to (who sounded remarkably similar to the person who had told me “No” previously) said they had a whole wall that I must have walked past. When I arrived, it seemed the confusion had been caused by my asking for “stickers” in person where I had said “stickers or magnets” on the phone. Spenser’s had no rainbow flag stickers. All they had were magnets. Well.

The selection was admittedly meager, but I still got some gems: a rainbow peace sign, a rainbow ribbon magnet, another rainbow ribbon magnet that said “Support gay marriage: everyone deserves the choice to be miserable”, and a rectangular one that said “I’m so gay I can’t even drive straight”. Not bad for a town with a single store monopoly.

I told the sales guy at Spenser’s the scheme, and he summed it up well: “Until he notices and peels them off, that guy’s gonna have a whole lot of people thinking ‘that dude is confused’”.

By the time Linda came over later, it was dark, but we affixed the whole collection to see what looked best.

Full disclosure - I doctored the pics to remove the license number

I would have loved to have found something actually political, but nobody carried those “I’m a blue dot in a red state” bumper stickers, so I couldn’t implement Star’s brilliant suggestion to cut off the words and leave the picture of the red state with a blue dot. Because Linda’s Dad isn’t a stupid person, and to affix something he will leave alone is going to take some sly maneuvering. He might not have noticed that one. Without the words, he might have just seen the red state and not picked up on the significance of the blue dot.  The other thing I’d have liked to have found would have been that long rainbow flag that runs the length of the bumper and doesn’t say a word. It blends in with most vehicles and he might not have seen it for awhile.

In the end, we settled for the one we thought the most flagrant of the lot. It initially seemed like the worst candidate, because its message was so strong. But there was little possibility of convincing Linda’s Dad that the rainbow ribbon was some kind of military support thing. And the peace sign was pretty anti-NRA, even if he didn’t notice the color scheme. The reason we decided that “I’m so gay I can’t even drive straight” might just fly under the radar is twofold. First, when the truck is initially returned, Robert and Linda will be popping the gate down to haul out the washer and dryer. Second, there was already a sticker there: the bomb squad one. So Linda’s Dad is used to seeing something there. Admittedly, he’s used to seeing red and black, not, well, the whole rainbow, but it might be just enough to not draw his eye, especially because, according to Linda, the place he parks makes it unnecessary to walk around behind the truck getting into and out of it at home.

Beforeaaaand afterSo. We’ll see how it goes. Linda swears she’ll take pictures if she’s around when he catches on. And you can bet if she does, I’ll be posting them.

 

Henson

I’m not doing very well at taking the weekend off am I?

 

Jim Henson died when I was not quite fourteen years old, long before I’d worked up the nerve to write and tell him he was one of my heroes. It remains one of my life’s greatest tragedies. I loved the Muppet Show. “Obnox-i-ous”, pronounced with a long “ee” for the “i” like Miss Piggy said it, was one of my favorite words when I was little.  I had only figured out Henson was behind Sesame Street weeks prior to his death, and Mom and I had actually started watching. (Previously, the fact that it was educational television had tainted our opinion of it, but once we realized it was Jim Henson and the Muppets, nothing else mattered.) And then he died. He was admitted for strep throat and gone from pneumonia before the world had a chance to take notice of the illness.  My mother and I spent a week in shock, and I still mourn him.

I am innately suspicious of everything Muppet-related that’s happened since he died, even though I ultimately wind up loving most of it. OK, I hate The Henson Company’s Sid the Science Kid, and I’m not that keen on Dinosaur Train. But those are two exceptions. For the most part, Henson’s heirs and assignees have done right by his creations.  The Youtube videos featuring the grumpy movie critics Statler and Waldorf (and yes, I did know their names, but I had to double check online) seem completely true to what Henson would have done, as do the new Muppet movies. (I am eagerly awaiting the latest installment.) But every time I see something, I have to wonder “If it’s this good without him, how amazing would it have been if he were still alive?” I mean, he’d only be seventy five right now, and even if he had retired, he wouldn’t have stopped imagining.

So this visit to the Henson exhibit in Atlanta was a big deal for me. I did OK staring at the giant Big Bird that’s just past the ticketing atrium inside. Even though I like it now, Sesame Street was never really my thing. But then I heard Henson himself beside Big Bird and turned my head in time to see him talking away in the voice of the gruff old colonel, in a video beside a case containing the colonel himself, whose foam skin was now yellowing with age. I sat down in the floor to watch, and Sam sat with me rapt for the ten minute presentation. It even included the politically incorrect clip where the old colonel says, of the Southern Bread Company sponsoring him, “They even paid me in Confederate dollars”. Beside the colonel’s case was a black and white photograph of Henson lying down on the railroad tracks under the Muppet’s costume, where they had filmed the scene of him failing to stop a speeding train with his bare hands.

“I will not cry,” I told myself.

I went on to check out the Fraggles, Gorgs, and Doozers. The video had shown how each group of characters worked, how much effort went into each show, and how much of a technological pioneer Henson was. I had no idea that Fraggle Rock was HBO’s first series (a far cry from Tony Soprano, don’t you think)? I just knew that I used to watch it when I went over to my friend Jenny’s house, and that it didn’t come on our TV at home.

Henson was the man behind Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, two movies that shaped my life, solidifying my love for fantasy and my belief that you don’t have to cut story to make an amazing film. (And also turning me into a David Bowie fan, even though Mom disliked his music and Dad never seemed to play it.) Right now, the museum doesn’t have the Mystics, Skeksis, or Gelflings on display, but they have a couple of early sketches, and they will have those creations when the Henson wing opens in 2012, because the Henson family really did donate some 800 Muppets for the project. 

At the moment, Henson’s works are crowded into a two room section that doesn’t do them justice and doesn’t have room for nearly enough of them. Big Bird and the Fraggles take up most of the first area, though the picture of Kermit and Miss Piggy as Scarlett and Rhett does get some wall space. The second room is mostly Muppet show, with Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, and an incredible stained glass Bert and Ernie on display. There’s a video in there, too, that loops another ten minutes of footage from a variety of Henson projects including the little known Dog City.

I continued to swear, “I will not cry,” as I walked through the exhibit.

I kept my promise until, roughly five minutes into the second video, Kermit started in on “Rainbow Connection.” If I hadn’t had to fire the DJ, Scott and I were going to dance to “Rainbow Connection” at our wedding.  It’s our song. And it brought the tears. I never got to tell Jim Henson that I have been half asleep and heard voices, and that his has always been one of them.   

Between the two rooms, I spent about an hour, and given my druthers and no children, I’d have stayed longer. We didn’t stay for the Cinderella puppet show. We didn’t even visit the puppet museum’s other areas, though I imagine it has some spectacular exhibits. Caroline and Sam were getting restless, which is to say they were getting mean to each other, and we had seen what we came for. It was worth the $8.25 per head admission just for those two rooms, and we will return when the Henson wing opens. I think I’d like to get an apartment there, though they don’t rent them, and probably wouldn’t consider making me an exception. I’ve never associated Henson with Atlanta, though he was apparently pretty instrumental in this museum’s getting off the ground when it first opened.  But as long as we live in the South, it’s the closest I’ll come to touching one of my idols.

 

Hanson

I was going to take this weekend off from blogging. I have two courses going on, final grades to turn in for a third, and three more starting up on Monday. (Yes, on the 4th of July. It’s one of the drawbacks of working for a for-profit online institution. There are no scheduled holidays.) So I’ll have five classes by the time all is said and done.  I’ve taught one of the three startups recently, I last taught another six months ago, and the third I’ve never taught at all. So I’ve got tons of prepping and grading to do this weekend. You won’t be hearing much from me until Tuesday or so. But. Today something happened that I’ve got to share.

Scott and I sat down to dinner after the kids tonight. We’ve kind of given up on that whole family meal thing, since whether we eat with them or not, the two of us wind up popping up and down like jacks running for the kids’ requests. Eating after them means we can at least sometimes exchange an adult word without juvenile intervention. We ate the meal, agreed it was pretty awful (if you ever get the chance to try Sam’s Club’s chicken fried rice, just skip it), and I started clearing the table.

Scott said, “Oh, hey! I think I found something for us to do.” We’ve been working on a list of indoor summer things we can do with our kids, because it’s always too hot down here.

“Yeah?”

“Remember the Hanson Brothers?” he asked.

“The stupid teeny-boppy pre-Jonas brothers?” Later, when I related this conversation to Linda, she reminded me of the song  “Mmm-bop”.  At the time, I took the butter to the fridge with what I hoped was sufficient hauteur to end the conversation.

“It looks like one of them made a puppet.”

“Oh-kay.” As usual, he had not picked up on my tone of voice. Or word choice. I was thinking, He doesn’t seriously think I liked Hanson, does he? Surely I’ve given him a better sense of my taste in music than that.

“Well, not just one,” he continued. “But like, a lot of them, all kind of based around the first one.”

Does he want me to go see this? Because I do not want my children to ever know about Hanson. “Um. What are they like? Is there something really cool about them?”  Is there anything redeeming at all about anything made by a Hanson brother?

“The first one is something … Miss Moo-ie, maybe?”

I said, “That sounds pretty stupid.”

“And she has this green friend. His name starts with a K…”

“Christ,” I told him. “That sounds like a rip off of Kermit and Miss Piggy.”

“Yeah! That’s it. Kermit. Kermit and Miss Piggy!”

“That sounds like a total Muppet rip …. Wait a minute.  HENSON. Not HANSON. HENSON.”

And it wasn’t until I was shrieking Jim Henson’s name at him that I stopped ferrying dishes long enough to look at his face. It was total deadpan. The only thing that gave it away was the open mouth that he was using to keep himself from smiling. So then, I shouted, “You did that on PURPOSE.” And we just looked at each other for a few more seconds before I dissolved into laughter.  It turns out 800 of the original Muppets have been donated to this puppet museum in Atlanta, and we’re going to go see them tomorrow.  I’m so psyched I’m going to have to drug myself to sleep tonight. And I can’t even imagine how long Scott spent thinking up that presentation.

He does that to me from time to time, comes at me out of nowhere with something spontaneous and hilarious. He once literally scared the hiccups out of me by sneaking up behind me and jabbing me in the ribs. I was so shocked that, after I screamed, I whipped around to order him never to do that again. Only while I was in the middle of telling him off, I realized it had worked, and I burst out laughing. Now, if I had a power like that, the ability to nettle somebody completely and then make them laugh about it, you know I would abuse it. But because this is Scott, it only happens once in a blue moon, and I never know when it’s coming.

When Scott and I first started dating, I remember asking my friend Tina, who had been married for several years, what she did when her husband, Jason, stopped surprising her. She looked at me, sort of perplexed, and said, “He really hasn’t ever stopped. It’s just not as often.”

At the time, her answer made no sense to me. I could not imagine a time when romance wasn’t just something new and wonderful every day, but I knew that kind of thing didn’t keep up forever. I was trying to understand how couples stayed in love once the initial sparks cooled off, and I couldn’t figure out her response.

 Scott and I celebrate our tenth anniversary this October, and it does finally make sense.  I’ve realized that with him, there’s always going to be something marvelous and unexpected around the corner, and that it’s useless to anticipate or wonder about it.  And one of my favorite things about being married to him is that I’ll get to find out what it is when it happens.

I love you, honey.

Racism

I got into a debate with some nitwit at the YMCA today, and this reminded me of two things. First, for a number of reasons which will make a later post of their own, now is a terrible time for me to debate politics and scholastics (like there’s ever a good one). And second, there is such a fucking thing as white privilege. I don’t deceive myself. I grew up with an awareness of injustice, but simply because I was white, I know I didn’t feel the kind of prejudice growing up that a black child in the same circumstances would have.  And there are so many white people who think otherwise that I don’t even know where to begin.

Yes, I do. I’ll start by giving you some context. First of all, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know my opinion of public schools. In case you don’t , let me summarize. They suck. There.  But that said, it is, for the most part, the system I object to. The vast Vast VAST majority of the people I know teaching in the public schools are fighting the good fight, trying to achieve success against outrageous obstacles. Today, however, I was reminded that teachers can be part of the problem, too.

I was showering after my workout, and the three women on the other side of the locker room were talking about public education. Two of them were white and one was black. This is significant. The African-American woman has founded a social justice group made up of teens. She teaches seminars about things like nonviolence and health and hygiene. And from what I can tell, she does it RIGHT.  She doesn’t hold lectures. She holds interactive meetings, where the participants are all involved. Her goal for the seminars is that these teens will each take the time to write to five people involved in the public school system, asking for a specific reform that they see being needed to improve their own educations. As far as I could tell, the classes are free, and she tried to cap them but couldn’t stand to turn willing participants away.

 One of the white women had overheard her talking about this group with someone else, and she felt compelled to offer her opinions. The woman running the seminars was all ears. She asked what ideas the white woman had  for who the students should write to, and what they might write about.  “Bloated administration. All they do downtown is sit around and do nothing.” And this wasn’t a bad suggestion, as far as it went. But then, the second white woman chimed in.

Now, I was eavesdropping here. I’m a nosey bitch, and I don’t apologize for it. I feel just as compelled to insert myself into others’ conversations as these two did, and I was itching for an excuse to join this one. The second white woman said, “They should suggest more expulsions. If I could have just thrown out one kid at the beginning of the year, everything would have been fine. But instead I had to fill out form after form, so the school could document a student being on “intervention” without ever doing anything.” 

She went on in that vein for some time, and after awhile it became clear that:

1)      She had taught in the schools for seven years and had just quit.

2)      She taught high school, though I never caught the subject.

3)      She wasn’t referring to one particular problem student, but to any student who didn’t want to cooperate in the classroom. She felt that if she could expel one at the beginning of each year, the rest would fall in line.

4)      She felt these students didn’t care because their welfare addict parents were teaching them not to.

By the time she got to point three, the African American lady had the sense to politely leave. She knew where the conversation was going, and she didn’t want to go there. She was on the ground working to enact practical change, and this teacher-type was exactly one of the people she wanted her students to be complaining about.

I got dressed while I eavesdropped, and just to be rude, I stole some deodorant from the first white woman, who jumped on the second one’s yes-man boat pretty fast. Hey, I forgot mine, it was right there, and I’d just heard her say three times that “Kids just don’t have any respect these days, and it’s because their parents don’t drill it into them.”  I’m a parent of a couple of those these-days kids, and I figured if I wasn’t drilling it into my kids, it was doubtless because I had none either. I only put it on my pits, though I was tempted to do something nasty with it before I popped it back on the bench where she’d left it sitting.

The teacher-bitch was visibly pregnant, though extremely physically fit, and the first white woman was probably in her late fifties, and extremely fat. I tell you this just to give you a mental image to go by when I say that the first woman was staring pointedly at the teacher-type’s stomach every time she made her behavior announcement. She was doubtless thinking something like,  This one, at least, I have a prayer of catching in time, before she falls into the permissive parenting trap. But the look in her eyes actually said I eat babies. When can you serve me yours?

Anyway, stealing the deodorant didn’t cheer me up any, and I was getting seriously pissed off at these two white-privilege-laden twats who were circling around and around racism without even realizing it. So I escalated things. When the former teacher said, “I just can’t understand why I was supposed to help these kids,” I jumped in. And let me pause here. She really said that, and she really said it that way. I made her repeat it. She didn’t say that she wasn’t sure “how” to help her students. She didn’t say she lacked resources. She said she couldn’t understand why that was her problem.

I said, “Well, who will help them?”

“Are you a teacher?” Instantly, she assumed that if I didn’t agree with her, I couldn’t possibly have ever walked into a classroom.

“No,” I told her. “I’m a parent. Of a special needs child. And I’m pretty sure you’d have wanted to throw out my daughter if she’d been in your classroom this year.”

“Surely not!” she exclaimed. Your daughter doesn’t live in the inner city, where I worked.  “Surely your kid wouldn’t throw her book in the floor and curse and say she wouldn’t do the work.”

I had to allow that my daughter would not curse. And I resisted the urge to say that this failure to use a blue tongue was not for lack of trying on my part. Instead, I said,  “But she did scream “NO” at her teacher while throwing things at least once or twice.”

“But she’s special needs. That’s different.”

“What’s to say the students in your classes aren’t special needs…”

“Weren’t. I don’t teach anymore, and you couldn’t get me to go back there.” Good. A few less kids fucked up for life.

But I went on “…how do you know they weren’t special needs?”

“Oh, special needs students were identified…”

“…what if they fell through the cracks? What if you had the opportunity to identify one kid’s need. I mean, I went to school with a guy that everybody assumed was dumb. He somehow got into college, and somebody realized he just needed glasses. He wasn’t stupid. He couldn’t see the board and thought that was normal.”

“Look, it wasn’t like that,” she protested. “It was like, I would have classrooms of thirty five students, and I would know if X was absent, I could teach thirty four of them, but if X showed up, I would have to spend all my energy making him or her participate and never teach any of them anything. So if I have to choose between thirty-four students getting an education and none getting an education, why shouldn’t I be able to choose to at least teach the ones who wanted to be there?”

Whiner.

“That had to be hard,” I said. Because it did. Teachers should not have these huge classes that make it impossible to meet individual students’ needs. I don’t blame her for that at all. I do blame her for acting like she didn’t expect it to be that way, and for not even being willing to try, it sounds like from the get-go. Come on. It was that bad when she and I were both in school, and it’s only gotten worse sense. I’d be willing to lay money she was oblivious to it then because she was too busy with her own social life.

I can’t remember quite what happened next, whether she said something else to piss me off, because I’d been ready to let it go at vaguely placating, or whether that “discretion is the better part of valor” attitude never got the upper hand and I just plowed on. Anyway, I wound up saying, “You know, in this town, it pretty much all boils down to racism.”

She rolled her eyes at me. She rolled her eyes at me.

“Seriously,” I said. “Socioeconomic status and race are inextricable in Montgomery.”

She looked like she’d swallowed a melon to go down on top of that baby. I didn’t know people’s throats could puff up like that when they weren’t in shock of some kind. I wondered if I should worry that the other white woman, who was watching me usurp the conversation in the most placid way possible, had activated her secret baby-eating powers while the teacher-type was distracted. But she was most probably just trying not to laugh at me. “Oh I think it’s mostly socio-economic status” she said. And from the way she said it, I could tell that the phrase ‘socio-economic status’ bugged her as much as race. “These were practically adults. They were nineteen years old, in the ninth grade, making a choice to come disrupt my classroom.”

And I don’t doubt that some were. But I also don’t doubt that the woman was on the defensive and engaging in hyperbole. “So what makes them make the choice to not care?” I asked her.

“Their parents are teaching them they can make a perfectly good living off of welfare.” That’s another attitude I abhor.

“Statistically speaking,” I said, “people on welfare are trying to get by. Yes, there are jerks who abuse the system, but I think their motivation probably went deeper than that. What made them poor to begin with?”

She admitted that they were probably born in poverty, following up quickly with, “but that could be anybody, black or white.”

“But how many of them were actually white?” I asked her. She didn’t say, but I’d guess it was few. “Racism,” I explained, “is engrained in Alabama’s constitution.”

She made a little “psh” sound under her breath, but I kept going.

“Seriously. The state constitution was last revised in 1901. It enshrines racism. It still uses the word N-E-G-R-O.” Yes, I spelled it. I curse like a demon, but I do not speak racial slurs, even when quoting. “Changing that would take a constitutional convention, and until it’s changed, it’s virtually impossible to discuss class without race.”

She didn’t believe me. She didn’t even disbelieve me enough to continue arguing. She said something noncommittal and pulled out (which, admittedly, I had been on the verge of doing a few sentences before). She taught in the Alabama schools, yet she clearly did not know the state was operating under a document composed by segregationists intent on preserving the Jim Crow laws that benefitted themselves.  The other woman maybe disbelieved enough to Google it when she got home, but I’m doubtful.

I didn’t get a chance to explain about how Montgomery, in particular, is in such a nasty position. White flight to the suburbs here didn’t just mean white people pulling out to create new public school districts.  When integration of neighborhoods and schools became a certainty during the Civil Rights movements, many white people in Montgomery picked up and went to the burbs, to found private schools, where their children wouldn’t have to integrate. The people left in the inner city were, by and large, black. And they were by and large, poor. So the inner city schools had no money, or very little.

As real change came, the private schools developed ethical codes that denounced racism. That meant that anybody who could afford it, black or white,  put their kids in private school, because the public schools are so bad. But that still left the inner cities full of poor people who didn’t have any God-damned bootstraps to pull themselves up by. And that poor population was largely black because the people with the money had left specifically to get away from black people. And because there are so many private schools, they are cost competitive. I have my choice of places to send my kids to private school for under $8,000. So it’s middle class people sending their kids to private school here. One friend pointed out that if all the kids in private school suddenly tried to enroll in public schools, the public schools would be teaching classes in the coliseum because there isn’t enough space to accommodate many more kids in the public system. (I haven’t run the numbers on that, but she’s got a PhD and works in Education, so I’ll trust her.)  

For that matter, people with any money at all in this city do not choose to live in the West End, because it’s a poverty stricken, dangerous area. And it’s also a largely black area. Those two things cannot be separated.

Not without groups like the one the African American woman has founded. Her group, teaching teens both how to live and care for themselves, and how to reach out to others, has a chance to make a real difference, and I’m sorry she left before I could find out more about it. It seems to me that she was the one with common sense. The other women couldn’t see how their attitudes would be part of the problem. They had their heads buried in a world of puritan values and outrageous attitudes where being beaten down and exhausted isn’t a real thing, where jobs grow on trees if you just look hard enough, and where inequality doesn’t exist. In their world simply-living-in-the-by-God-United-States should be enough to make a body leap out of bed, thank God, and Go To School to later Get a Decent Job. They and their apathy disgust me. Why should it be your problem indeed, you damned fool?

In case I’ve got you wondering, here are some links:

First, a link to the Alabama Legislature page discussing Alabama’s six constitutions and noting that we’re still operating under the 1901 version

http://www.legislature.state.al.us/misc/history/constitutions/constitutions.html

Here is the law  criminalizing miscegenation in 1901: (Note the N-E Word)

http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/acas/CodeOfAlabama/Constitution/1901/CA-245637.htm

And here is the amendment overturning that law. It was passed in the year 2000. I found a couple of websites that I didn’t quite trust enough to link back to stating that the overturn only passed by a 59% margin.

http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/acas/CodeOfAlabama/Constitution/1901/CA-569874.htm

But here’s a link to an article on Stateline discussing that overturn:

http://www.stateline.org/live/ViewPage.action?siteNodeId=136&languageId=1&contentId=14152

And… what? Oh OK OK – here’s the link to the article with the percentages showing that in 2000 Alabama only repealed its anti-miscegenation law by a 59% vote in the general election. It’s something on an English class’s page. But it does link back to an article on a <shudder> wiki, which links back to the actual votes behind the statistics. So I’m including both of THOSE links, too:

The article with the percentages: http://www.class.uidaho.edu/engl_258/Lecture%20Notes/american_antimiscegenation.htm

The wiki: http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Alabama_Amendment_2_(2000)

And the Actual voting numbers: http://alabamavotes.gov/downloads/election/2000/general/2000g-amend.pdf

This is a fun one! Section 182 of Alabama’s constitution, which appears to remain untouched (in spite of section 102’s overturn), lists miscegenation among the crimes that disqualify one from voting

http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/acas/CodeOfAlabama/Constitution/1901/CA-245722.htm

Next, a link to Section 256 of the constitution, which establishes segregated schools. It uses the still entirely inappropriate phrase “colored”.

http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/acas/codeofalabama/constitution/1901/CA-245806.htm

And here is a Washington Post article discussing the failure of a 2004 Amendment that would have removed the offensive language and stipulation about “segregation”. Yes, that’s right, people. Just seven years ago, given a chance, the majority of Alabama voters chose to do the wrong thing. Alabama schools are no longer formally segregated, but voters at large chose to pretend they still might be.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16443-2004Nov27.html

That’s probably about enough from me on the subject. I think I’ve made my point rather abundantly clear. I want to emphasize that this rant is not directed at those teachers who are on the front lines fighting to make a difference in the public schools, not just in Alabama, but in the nation. I do not judge you by this cunt. (Yes, I did just call her that. And yes, I did mean to imply that she is to be defined by the most gross depiction possible of her genitalia. I was very well behaved when speaking to her. You know me a little better and know I don’t hold back on the important descriptors.)  By and large, it is the system that is flawed. Things happen to be particularly bad here, but I think Alabama is really just an example of a problem that exists around the nation.

Sam’s Song

Last night, I told you about Caroline’s fondness for Neil Diamond’s song with her name in it. Sam has a song, too, but we only found it recently. There just isn’t much out there with the name “Sam” in it, or even “Scott”, since that’s really his name. But, with a little research, Dad found us Barbara Streisand’s cover of “Sam, You Made The Pants Too Long” for me yesterday. Here’s a YouTube link in case you haven’t ever heard it before. Like us. Go on and listen. I’ll wait.

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In case the embedding doesn’t work, here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrmIEl9S8VQ

There now.  Isn’t it cute?  My mom, whose musical knowledge runs deep, recognized the tune as soon as I mentioned it, and she gets bonus points for knowing that it predated Barbara off the top of her head.  But it’s the Streisand version we found on YouTube, and Sam loves it.

It has the same power over him that “Sweet Caroline” has over Caroline and “Jessie’s Girl” still has over me. There’s just something magical about hearing your own name in a song. As soon as I put it on, even before he knew the title, Sam said, “This is a beautiful song.” And when Streisand sang, “But Sam”, my Sam gave a little gasp. Thereafter, he climbed up in my lap and listened, rapt. It only took three hearings for him to make up a story to explain why the song was specifically about him. He said, “I was over at their house one time and I made them pants and they were too long.” It is not clear who “they” are in this statement, but Barbara Streisand is surely one of “them”.

If it had been written today, it would surely have been composed by The Wiggles, or Sandra Boynton, or, God help me, Yo Gabba Gabba.  But since it was, according to the extremely authoritative information on Wikipedia, written in 1940 by Milton Berle as a parody, it got recorded by Streisand some twenty-six years later and put on the market for adults.

It makes me nostalgic for funny songs for grown ups. I absolutely love Weird Al. But he is one of only a very few mainstream musicians writing humor these days. Pop stars don’t seem willing to step out and write something silly, then put it on an album with more serious works. It’s as if goofy songs might contaminate the recording studio. Some of them will perform on Sandra Boynton pieces, but Boynton is genuinely writing kids songs. Or they’ll do guest appearances on kids’ shows. But few of them come out and write their own funny music. I miss songs like “Yellow Submarine” and “I am the Walrus” that celebrate absurdity. I doubt Streisand would record a song like “Sam” in the 21st century, and I consider it a wonder that she was willing to do it as late as the 1960’s.

Half the stuff I sing is absurd. I got Caroline through her first two years of life by having a song for everything, and it’s impossible to sing about parking lots, baths, and toilets without being funny about it. Many of the rock songs we love best have funny twists, like The Kinks’ “Lola” , Styx’s “Plexiglass Toilet”, and the two aforementioned Beatles tunes. There are a few modern singers who will pull off humor now and then. Outkast has “Roses” (which has the bonus of naming a “Caroline”, though it’s pretty insulting), Barenaked Ladies has some goofy stuff, too, but there isn’t nearly enough funny going around these days.

Basically, humor music has become a genre, like rock and country, except that instead of being identified by musical qualities, humor is defined by content. Often, humorous songs are parodies , but there are some that just stand alone. Quite frankly, the humor artist I like best is always going to be Weird Al. (Who else could write a track about snot and make it catchy?) But I’m glad Ms. Streisand recorded “Sam”, because it’s the perfect blend of innocent humor and repetition of my son’s name to keep us all singing along just like we do for “Sweet Caroline”.

Sweet Caroline

I’m on the verge of making a retraction. Sort of. See, I’ve always hated Neil Diamond. Always. Possibly just because my Mom did, so I’m willing to admit that it’s a judgment I’ve made without much research. Nonetheless, I’ve always associated the guy with bad hair, ugly leisure suits, and overly-emotional ballads.  And there’s not much he can do at this point about the hair and the clothes. But. He sings “Sweet Caroline”, a song that does for my daughter what “Jessie’s Girl” did for me as a kid. (According to You Tube, Wikipedia and nearly every other Google Search result, it really is spelled “Jessie’s Girl”.)

I remember my Dad explaining that the “Jessie” in the song was a guy, but I really didn’t care. I came up with some bizarre logic of my own by which, since I was Jessie (even though I spelled my name “Jesse” at that time), and since I was a girl, I could be both Jessie and Jessie’s girl. Yeah. It doesn’t make any sense to me either, nor did it then. But. The point is that I loved that song. Rick Springfield was singing my name, and there was no faster way for Dad to make me happy than to use his home studio to play me Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and The Who’s “Athena” (from It’s Hard) at top volume.

Caroline is the same way with Neil Diamond. Way back in her Gan Shalom days, Miss Denise used to sing her “Sweet Caroline” all day at school. When we first moved to Montgomery, we went to a minor league ballgame, and that was the song playing as we entered the stadium before the first pitch. One of her many nicknames is “sweet girl” because she’s such a cuddlebug. So she’s got some crazy logic about how the song is about exactly her because she’s both “sweet” and “Caroline”.  This has me softening considerably towards Mr. D. (Note, she’s actually named for a different musical Caroline, the one who’s “feelin’ down today” in the portion of “Fallin’ In And Out of Love With You” that precedes Pure Prairie League’s “Amie”. And also for Scott’s great grandmother Caroline.)

Scott and I helped Linda and her husband Robert move across town this weekend. (I should say “Scott helped”. I played in the pool with the kids, which nominally allowed the other adults to work without them underfoot. ) Anyway, I wound up with some swag in the form of Robert’s entire CD collection. (I cannot believe he was getting rid of them. I swear I picked out at least fifty new discs.) Robert, as it turns out, is a Diamond fan. So we suddenly went from owning zero copies of “Sweet Caroline” to owning five.

And my sweet Caroline has taken over the car CD player, running her song in a continuous loop that would make me revert to my previous stance about dear Neil if it weren’t so utterly cute.  The version she likes best is live, and she sits in the back seat waiting for the audience to hum along so she can sing  with them. And her little voice is so pretty, so lilting that after just once listening to her accompaniment, everybody else in the car, Sam included, bursts into the chorus because we’re so excited about what she just sang.

And she has no idea. None. For her, all that matters is that Neil Diamond is singing her name, straight to her. As far as she’s concerned, the rest of us are excited about the same thing, not about the lovely, tuneful little melody she just hummed with the audience.

There’s more to this story, but I think I’ll stop there for now and continue with Sam’s song another night.

Ballet Camp

Hey everybody. Sorry for the radio silence for the last couple of days. I was helping my friend Linda move, catching up on some grading, and developing a nasty cough. (This nasty cough seemingly different from the nasty cough that cut me off at the knees last Wednesday. Whatever.) Anyway, I’ve been working on a post, but it has taken me a bit longer than usual to assemble. Here it is now. Enjoy!

Ballet Camp

Caroline has been taking ballet pretty much since we moved to Montgomery. Last December, she got to perform a small role in the Nutcracker, and there’s no reason to believe she won’t be cast again this winter. The director, Elie Lazar, has a knack for choreographing productions that make full use of the city’s relatively small dance community, and he believes kids benefit from participating in real productions. This invariably results in tension around recital time, as he turns that into a real show, too, when most of the parents consider end of year recital performances only last in the long line of things-kids-do-at-the-end-of-the-school-year. The other teachers at the ballet are unfailingly cheerful and patient, balancing out Mr. Elie’s artistic temperament. More important for me, everyone, Mr. Elie included, has always been super with Caroline, and now with Sam.

Children can start creative movement classes as young as 2 ½, but Sam’s hyperactive nature made me wary of enrolling him so young. There was never any question that he would enroll. He’s been begging to join since Caroline started, and Scott and I don’t suffer from absurd preconditioned notions about boys and ballet. I did, however, get him a year past the minimum age. So it was last year, while Caroline’s broken arm was still in a cast, that Sam finally started  ballet.  He was in a different classroom from Sis, although their class times were simultaneous.

Sam was a pistol. But he loved it. Unsurprisingly, he adored his teacher, Miss Keyana. (Soon to be Mrs. Keyana. Or perhaps already. I know she got engaged, but that period may well have worn into wedding by now.)  He would have followed her right out of town, pied-piper style, even after the horrible sugar-high post-Halloween class where all the children behaved so badly that no weekly stickers were handed out in creative moment that day.  At the end of the year, the big kids had their recital, and this younger set had a dress-up ballet party that parents were invited to view. And we were allowed to take our own pictures of the younger kids. We had to pay for professional photos and videos of the older group.

They got to wear costumes. The only thing that vaguely fit Sam  was this particular Little Lord Fauntleroy. He loved it, in spite of the fact that the pants were so big they fell off if he didn't clutch them up around his waist.

The blurry tall figure is Miss Keyana

Sam's ballet class. I know it's dark. The photo ops weren't the greatest.

Then, over the summer, I enrolled both kiddos in Fairy Tale Ballet Camp, which is broken up into two separate age groups, amounting largely to an “over five” and “five and under” set meeting for 3 hours a day on different days of the week.  It was kind of exhausting for Scott and I, as we had Caroline to run into class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as well as Sam to deliver on Tuesday and Thursday for two weeks, but the end result was more than satisfactory. Both of them had such wonderful experiences, ending in a small recital for the parents. These were not the formal presentations associated with the end of school, but that was a relief.  Because there was less pomp and costumery, it didn’t matter that we only took two of the camp’s three total weeks, that ballet was only one of many competing demands, and that our kids were overly wiggly and still just a little undisciplined.

It was fascinating to us that even though the two age groups engaged in basically the same activities each week, with an extra day of stuff thrown in for the older set, the camp still highlighted our kids’ two very different strengths and focal points perfectly.  Caroline loves ballet in a very holistic way, enjoying the music, the movement, the costumes, and especially the other kids in her classes. In contrast, Sam is hardly aware of his classmates. He’s only alert to the music as much as he needs to be for any one spin across the floor. He’s very restless in the class, but he has somehow picked up every single move Miss Keyana has taught, to the point that he can accurately correct big sis. For my blossoming little romantic, ballet is all about the love affair, all about the dance.

So during this camp, Caroline was deeply involved in making friends and socializing. She watched and enjoyed Snow White because that was the designated activity one day, even though movies in general terrify her. She made caramel apples with her friends, and she nearly freaked out about something relating to her magic wand until a couple of buddies came to her rescue.  In contrast, Miss Keyana had to assemble Sam’s caramel apple. He conned Reece into coloring his pictures. And he even got one of the student assistants to do most of the work making his magic wand.  He likes the other kids. He enjoyed being with them. But the only times when he was fully engaged with the class were the times when he was dancing. Then, although he never stopped wiggling completely, he concentrated on moving in the right ways at the right times.

Caroline's friends called her into their photosEach class put on a final performance, and the best Caroline pics are all from after the show, when friends posed together at random. It was so gratifying to Scott and I to see her pals coming up to her, asking to be in shots with them. She was asking friends to be in her photos, too, but to see them invite her as well, with the same level of enthusiasm as she displayed when asking them, meant a great deal. It meant these relationships were all two-way connections, not just events taking place only in her own mind, which is a real danger for a child who thinks the random people she chats up in the grocery store are friends for life.And she invited them to be in hers

There was even another little boy at ballet campSam’s best pictures are from during the performance, which was roughly three minutes long. He paid attention and stayed in time, except when somebody else’s screaming younger sibling distracted him.He was totally with the groove, down to which way to turn his head.

The kids will be back in ballet come fall. Assuming his fidgetiness isn’t too much of an issue, Sam will move from Creative Movement to Pre-Ballet. Caroline should be promoted from Beginning Ballet to Ballet Level I. I don’t think Sam will be old enough to audition for The Nutcracker, but it would be awesome if he could, since he begged to be the Mouse King after he watched it last year. Caroline will surely try out for a small role, and, as I said at the beginning, she’s likely to receive one. She loves being one of the small girls in ensemble scenes and doesn’t have aspirations on anything more specific than being a part of the show. When Sam’s day finally comes, I think it will be a different story. He knows exactly what he wants and enjoys. He understands the concept of performance, and he doesn’t just want to be a part of things, he wants to be in the center.

A better picture of Miss Keyana, who also taught Fairy Tale Camp

New York

In honor of the New York vote in favor of marriage equality, there will be a moment of tumultuous cheering on my blog. You may begin.

 

 

hoo-raw

 

OK. All done now? Oh. No? Another round? Sure, why not. Here we go!

In  a New York State of MindYay-doodleYahooie

 

 

There. Now. Let’s be quiet for a moment and think about what this means and how long it’s been in coming.

A quick history lesson is in order. Back in 1993, Hawaii’s Supreme Court first tried to say the state constitution allowed same sex marriages by default, and that banning them was therefore not permissible. But the state’s voters closed that loophole, adding a constitutional clause that limited marriage to being between one man and one woman. Idiocy won the day. And carried much of the nation. Many states added similar clauses to their own constitutions in response to the Hawaii situation.

In 1996, the US Congress passed the nasty Defense of Marriage Act, which basically says “states only have to respect marriages performed in other states if those marriages don’t involve two people of the same gender”. (May I add, down with DOMA. Efforts to repeal it began earlier this year, but so far have not, to my knowledge, been successful).

Down With That GarbageBoo-Hiss

Some equality minded states tried to move things in the right direction, but on the whole, it’s been a slow, uphill battle. Before New York, only ten of the fifty states allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry or enter into the separate and not-equal state of “civilly united”. That figure doesn’t count California, which isn’t permitting same-gender marriages to be performed while Proposition 8 plods through the court system. An even fifth of the nation, then, allowed any kind of equality before tonight. A couple more recognized marriages performed in other states but lacked the support or courage to support marriage equality themselves. New York just moved off that last list and onto the first, bringing the equality-friendly count to eleven.

That means, as a nation, that we are a bunch of chickenshits. Canada legalized same sex marriages in 2001, and, in spite of a lot of hullabaloo and rabble-rousing, the gay-Canadian-zombie task force has not infiltrated the US.  (Sorry fans. The South Park movie never came true at any level.) Nine other countries also support marriage equality, and they have not devolved into chaos. So the US was watching New York tonight for a number of reasons.

For one thing, New York doesn’t have any residency laws for granting a marriage license. Anybody can go there and get married. Anybody. Now, whether a gay or lesbian couple’s home state will recognize that marriage when they get back is a different issue. But at the level of simple fairness, of the simple legal acknowledgement of a loving bond, New York has opened its doors.

For another thing, California is in Proposition 8 limbo. Poor timing meant that after California legalized same sex marriages, voters enacted a constitutional ban on them: Proposition 8. (At least two groups who turned out in such large numbers to vote for President Obama in 2008 are historically opposed to same-sex unions.). A federal judge threw out Proposition 8, but when he turned out to be gay, his ruling was called into question. And upheld. But it’s been appealed, and the case is liable to go to the Supreme Court, whose decision for California is going to send a nationwide message on the topic. I hope the Big  Court opts for Equality. Even more, I hope the Court refuses to hear the case, which would mean the ruling of the judge who invalidated the proposition would be upheld by default and would send a message of its own. But that battle is a little bit in the future. Right now, people are watching New York, and I’m sure not a few of them are imagining a similarly tight fight when Proposition 8 comes around the horn again.

But perhaps the biggest reason all eyes were on New York tonight was that the gay rights movement really has its roots in New York’s 1969 Stonewall Riots. So this vote had a lot of symbolic meaning. Before Stonewall,  there was a quiet homophile movement, and Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon had founded the Daughters of Bilitis in the 1950’s. But those groups were more engaged in protecting their members, in giving them a safe place to stay in the closet. Only after Stonewall did Kinsey’s statistics about homosexuality and its prevalence gain widespread respect. (Even though Kinsey’s other results about human sexuality had already gained scientific ground.) Only after Stonewall was it common to be openly gay in America and proud of it. Only after Stonewall did the nation have to take notice that homosexuality was not a disease or aberration.

So it can be imagined that with New York adding its name to the marriage-equality rosters, the same kind of momentum might finally bring the national players to a fair decision. And even if it doesn’t, tonight’s vote closes a kind of circle. What started with an act of civil disobedience has come round to a legislative action all but unimaginable when the movement first began.

For my part, I hope New York brings enough people around that equality becomes the norm at the national level. Because the suggestion that marriage equality should be decided at this state-by-state snail’s pace is absurd. I have dear friends who cannot check the ‘married, filing jointly’ box as their federal tax status. Even if their home state recognized their marriage, our nation would not. I have another friend who could not legally obtain a divorce when she and her partner of eleven years split up, because they were never legally married.  It’s a technicality that involves not just the distribution of personal property, but the custody of their two children.

People close to me are punished by this lack of equality, and it’s an injustice that makes me angry. I want to see the United States go the way of New York. I want to get up one morning knowing that our country realizes the rights afforded to straight married couples must be extended to all married couples. And for that to happen, couples must be allowed to marry without regard to gender.  Our national vision must extend beyond some pseudo-Victorian falsehood. I want all my friends and family members to have the same options I do in a relationship, no matter who they love, and no matter what their gender.

In closing, I just want to say a final congratulations to New York and a thank you to those New York senators who did the right thing and voted for equality. I think you should all take a bow.Take a bow

The broken arm entry

As many of you know, Caroline started a new school last fall. In fact, most of you know this story in its entirety, but it deserves to be written down, and Brenna’s post over at Suburban Snapshots got me thinking about it. I’m going to give the back story pretty briefly, largely because it’s worth of its own entry, but also because it will turn any post it dominates into a rant. The short version is that the school Caroline had been attending went from awesome to sincerely dangerous in the space of a summer. The new teacher in what would have been Caroline’s classroom declared that my daughter couldn’t attend without an aide (she doesn’t need one), and generally proved to be a fucking lunatic.

Rather than fight a losing battle with a bunch of idiots, Scott and I pulled her out of school after the first week. Of course, since this school had started late, we were suddenly trying to find our first grader a new school two weeks into the school year in a city where public school is simply not an option, even for my husband who fully supports the public school system. (Tangent: My problem is NOT with public school teachers. Those people are often on the front lines fighting an unwinnable battle. It’s the system that is flawed. It just happens to be worse here than many places.)

Pretty much, this meant that we had exactly one option, Churchill Academy, a school designed for kids with ADHD and high functioning autism. I was terrified. I had heard stories of smart kids getting raced through the curriculum to graduate too soon at the expense of their social skills. I have to pause here and admire the irony that I would ever perceive this as a problem. I was so ready to be done with school by the time I was ten, and I still resent that nobody ever forced my school board to skip me grades. If I hadn’t been able to leave high school for college at sixteen, I’d have probably dropped out. But that’s another story. My story. And this one is Caroline’s.

Scott and I met the principal, Lisa Schroeder, and we were sufficiently impressed. We met Caroline’s classroom teacher, Mrs. Davis, and we were more than impressed. We met a few other parents in the lobby, and we were hooked. But we were scared. It was a Thursday. We left Caroline there for half a day, then picked her up and filled out paperwork that afternoon. We were travelling that weekend, so she started school the following Monday.

Now, Caroline is a pretty flexible kid when nuts come to bolts. Mess with her routine, and there’s going to be chaos, but she’s always ready to make new friends, and she adores her teachers. She was still processing the utter betrayal of the scarybitch from the other school, and was a little reluctant, but overall, she was looking forward to the new experience.

It honestly reminded me of her first day of preschool, and, since it’s relevant, let’s just go there a minute. Caroline went to an awesome preschool when we lived in Lexington. It was called Gan Shalom, and it had everything from the best director to the best kids. It was housed in a Synagogue and followed a basically Jewish curriculum, but there were Montessori elements as well. The environment was so good. On Caroline’s first day of preschool, I got a call from the director. It went like this:

“Hi, this is Ziggy. It looks like Caroline has fallen and cut her lip. It was the only sharp corner in the room! I don’t know how it happened! We’ve only ever had one other child get hurt like this before!”

After a bit of back and forthing, I realized the lip was still bleeding and hurried over to see for myself. It kept bleeding, and we couldn’t tell if she had managed to bite all the way through when she hit the corner, so Scott and I dashed her off to the doctor. The bleeding finally stopped, and the doctor said she hadn’t bitten through. All would be well. I started to take her home, but she, a barely vocal child, demanded to be returned to school. Until I was willing to take her back to her new friends, she wouldn’t turn off the tears.

So. Right at noon on Caroline’s first full day at Churchill, I got a call from the principal. It went like this:

“Hi, this is Lisa Schroeder over here at Churchill. Caroline’s had a fall, and we’re afraid she’s broken her arm.”

“I’m on my way,” I said. But, quite honestly, my soul was still serene. I was figuring this for an injury like the one at Gan Shalom, where a quick trip to the pediatrician’s and (as this was possible bone damage) a couple of X-Rays would set everything to rights. Maybe a splint would be necessary, but I seriously doubted the child had actually broken her arm.

So when I arrived at Churchill simultaneously with the ambulance, I was somewhat taken aback. These people had not struck me as the sort who would call the emergency crews in frivolously. I abandoned my car in Churchill’s entryway and raced inside, still thinking I would be driving Caroline for medical attention myself.

I will never forget the scene in Mrs. Schroeder’s office. Caroline’s teacher was standing in one corner, her skin as pale as my daughter’s. Caroline herself was cradled in Mrs. Schroeder’s lap weeping in a monotonous way that frankly terrified me and chanting, “I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying,” in between her dry sobs. My head felt seriously light as I walked into the room, and I thought that I might fall down and break something.

Mrs. Schroeder transferred Caroline to my lap and began to talk to the ambulance crew. Peripherally, I heard her saying that Caroline had fallen from the monkey bars at a bad angle, and, although she was keeping her references oblique to maintain some level of calm, and even though most of my energy was consumed with holding Caroline and singing to her, I could clearly understand that the injury was bad. This wasn’t a “think she might have broken” break, this was a “well, it didn’t puncture her skin, but that’s about all I can say good right now” break. I was able to stay calm right then largely because everybody around me was so calm, and all of them were so obviously holding it together for Caroline’s sake.

Although Caroline was calm enough in my arms, she was still crying in that monotone, and there was no question of my being able to put her down. We would be riding out in an ambulance. It took around fifteen minutes to get us out of there, and in the end, Caroline had to be tied to the backboard to keep her from thrashing until she relaxed a little.

While we were working around to this, I was really noticing some things about the school that I would have never realized under good circumstances. This place was geared for injuries. It didn’t dominate, so the first aid kit wasn’t the first thing a new parent noticed, but the supplies were there, and the staff knew how to use them. The stabilizing force on my daughter’s arm? It was a real splint. An honest-to-god medical splint, like what you would find in an ER or urgent care clinic. And it was tight. Her fingers wouldn’t be turning blue, but her periodic physical outbursts weren’t going to knock it loose, either. Which meant the staff had been trained in serious first-aid, not just given some annual CPR courses.

And, just as when she cut her lip at Gan Shalom, everybody there was shaken. Mrs. Schroeder, though a picture of peaceful efficiency, kept coming over to stroke Caroline’s head and apologize. Caroline’s teacher, poor Mrs. Davis, must have said, “I’m sorry” at least a thousand times. They all presented a calm façade, but they were also all emotionally invested in this child who had gotten hurt on the first day of school. And that meant far more to me than the injury having happened in the first place. Kids are going to get hurt. It’s a given. But the reaction of the adults around Caroline at Churchill was what cemented my love of the school.

And at some level, it was Gan Shalom all over again, because Caroline didn’t want to leave the school. Some of her hysteria over the hospital involved the well founded fear that they would poke her with needles. She finally agreed to go to therapy, not really realizing that she had just agreed to go to the hospital, since that’s where her therapists work. But her larger problem was that she had been having fun with new friends and would now miss the rest of that time.

Mrs. Davis held herself together until I climbed into the ambulance after the stretcher. As I turned around to settle myself out of the way of the EMTs, I could see her eyes filling up with tears. And I felt as bad for her as I did for Caroline. And if she had heard, as we drove away, Caroline sobbing, “I want to go back to school, I can’t miss my first day”, I know she would have just sat down in the parking lot and bawled.

The break was as bad as I’d feared in Mrs. Schroeder’s office. When the nurse took off the splint for just a second, prior to Xrays, Caroline’s arm was this terrible S shape, with the skin stretched out disproportionately long. For those of you who have seen the second Harry Potter movie, think of the scene where Lockhardt debones Harry’s arm. It looked like that. When I first saw that film, I decried that scene as bad CGI imagery. I hereby retract those negative statements, because Caroline’s forearm looked just like the rubbery mess a cartoonist might render.

In the end, she had to go to surgery to have her bone set. But she did not need a pin, entirely because the Churchill staff stabilized the arm right away. Because she hadn’t been able to make the injury worse waiting for the doctor, Caroline doesn’t have a piece of metal in her arm to forever mess up the metal detector at the airport. She spent a week in a soft cast and six more weeks in a hard one, but she suffers no long-term effects, even psychological ones.

See the signatures? Her teachers were among the first to sign. I couldn't believe how many people went out of their way just to autograph that thing.

I rather thought that would be the end of Caroline and the monkey bars, but she has proven me wrong. By this February, she could cross them hand over hand, and she’s now working to master dangling from her knees. Her first day at Churchill, while quite traumatic, has proved to be a wonderful thing for our family, as it showed us that the quality of care our child would receive on a horrible day was on par with the care she would get on a good one. We made a lucky move when we came to Churchill, and I look forward to a long association with the school.