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Contrary to what some of you might suspect, I have not given up blogging for Facebook. Would I blog more if there were no Facebook? Hmmmmmm…no. No, I don’t think I would. Because I don’t get nearly as much pleasure out of Facebook as I used to. I go on Facebook every day, but I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook. Seriously, I don’t. I used to, but I don’t anymore. These days the majority of my time-wasting is spent on reading—which you might say isn’t a waste of time, but unless you’re Facebook friends with me, you don’t know what kind of books I’m reading. Some of them certainly aren’t time wasters, but others, well, some people have a couple hundred shows on their DVR; I read trashy novels. He who is without sin, etc.

That’s a roundabout introduction to my subject for today, which was inspired by an interaction I had with a friend on Facebook. The friend in question is a woman I know from church; she and her family recently moved into our ward, and I have enjoyed making her acquaintance. She seems like a lovely person. We’ve only been Facebook friends for a few weeks. Maybe a little more than a fortnight. The other day she posted a concerned-parent rant—I hate to call it a “rant” because she really is such calm, good-natured person, I don’t really think of her as “ranting” about anything, but if it wasn’t a “rant,” maybe it was a soapbox type speech—about Oregon’s Common Core guidelines vis a vis literature and composition classes. Apparently, one of the books eleventh graders are required to read is Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. She was very upset about this book being required reading because it contains very graphic descriptions of child rape, given from the rapist’s point of view. She likened it to pornography—perhaps even child pornography—and thought it was just outrageous that students would be required to read this filth.

My initial reaction was “Yowza—note to self: do not discuss books with this person.” (Especially if said books have titles like Invitation to Seduction or The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy. I’m not saying I’ve read The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t.) There are books out there I would classify as pornographic. I’ve read some of them. Can’t say I finished any of them because wanton dairymaids notwithstanding, pornography isn’t really my thing. I find it alternately gross and tedious. But I don’t consider your garden variety romance novel pornography, and I certainly wouldn’t classify your garden variety Toni Morrison novel pornography. I guess pornography is in the eye of the beholder, given people’s differing sensibilities, in addition to their differing values. To me, pornography has no purpose beyond provoking sexual arousal in the user (viewer or reader) and either has no artistic merit or is so exploitative as to render its theoretical artistic merit irrelevant. I don’t know. That’s all subjective, isn’t it? That’s why we have a constitutional right to Hustler. But whatever.

I’ve read a lot of Toni Morrison. It’s been a good 20 years or so since I’ve read The Bluest Eye. I only vaguely remember the story and the themes. It’s not my favorite Toni Morrison book. (That would be Song of Solomon.) But I don’t think it’s pornography. I mean, if it had been pornographic, it probably would have made a more lasting impression (unfortunately). I did recall it being somewhat sexually explicit. My FB friend was so disgusted by the excerpts she read online that she wasn’t comfortable posting a link, but through the magic of Google I found a blog or an article that gave several excerpts from the novel, and I immediately understood how a person who is not generally a prude (or may not generally be a prude—I don’t know this FB friend well enough to judge) might find this book offensive. Funny, I did not remember it being quite so…ick. Maybe because it was before I had children? I don’t know. Granted, the quotes were all out of context. Context certainly makes a big difference. It’s not fair to judge the literary merit of a book based on isolated excerpts. At the same time, these are still graphic, disturbing passages, regardless of context, and I know that if my own teenager had to read this book, she would be traumatized. Princess Zurg is particularly sensitive when it comes to certain subjects—probably more sensitive than your average teenager these days, but not the only one so sensitive, I’m sure. Certainly kids who come from conservative, religious households are more likely to be disturbed by such frank discussion of rape and incest (or anything of a sexual nature, including the consensual stuff).

I guess our household is conservative and religious. The household I grew up in was conservative and religious, but I have a high tolerance for “adult content” in books and always have. I don’t have a similarly high tolerance for such content in movies and TV. I process words differently than visual images. I’m very fastidious about what I let my kids watch—there are things I forbid them to watch–but I don’t, as a rule, censor their reading. I have a copy of The Bluest Eye in one of our (many) bookshelves. I would not forbid my teenager from reading it, if she (or he) wanted to. I really can’t imagine either of my teenagers wanting to, but theoretically, if they did, I would not forbid them. I would certainly warn them about the content because they’re the type of kids who would not care to be surprised by that sort of thing. That would probably end the issue right there. My teenagers are not such voracious readers that they’re going to pick up a Toni Morrison book for kicks and giggles, so I don’t need to think very deeply about this.

However, if Princess Zurg is expected to read The Bluest Eye next year, I will have a problem with that. I’m well aware that sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are very close to adulthood, and most of them probably don’t need sheltering. Certainly if they are college bound, they should expect to read more challenging material as they advance in their education, and some of this challenging material may offend those with more delicate sensibilities. Once they’re actually in college, of course, they will be expected to read all sorts of things. I’m of the opinion that, for the most part, “all sorts of things” can wait until college. It’s not like there’s a shortage of worthwhile literature out there. Plenty of sixteen- and seventeen-year-old kids can handle The Bluest Eye, as far as the language and subject matter go. That is, they’re not going to faint or anything. I am skeptical of how well they can appreciate the novel as literature, given that Toni Morrison is not the world’s most accessible writer. And being from a conservative religious community, I am probably more sympathetic to those kids who would be disturbed and/or scandalized by the graphic language, even though my own sensibilities are different. I am sympathetic to my daughter, who I don’t think would get any benefit from reading something like The Bluest Eye. It should be easy enough for students like her to get an alternate assignment, which is all well and good, but the thing about an alternate assignment is that it removes the student from the regular classroom curriculum for a period of a few weeks (at least a fortnight). That is less than ideal, which is why even though it is a provision of my daughter’s IEP that she be given alternate assignments when appropriate, we are reluctant to invoke that option. PZ has encountered plenty of books and plays and whatnot in her lit & comp career that have distressed her. To an extent I think she needs to learn to deal with being distressed, so I talk her through the material and she manages to complete her assignments and in the end she is okay, even if she doesn’t learn to like the books in question (in point of fact, continues to hate them). But I think something like The Bluest Eye would be a bridge too far for her.

I can see it being a bridge too far for a lot of teenagers, who are still, after all, living under their parents’ protection. No, they can’t be coddled forever, but they’re not adults yet, and most parents are probably reasonably good judges of what their kids can handle. If my FB friend thinks a book is pornographic, I can’t really blame her for being upset about her child being required to read it. Obviously, though, there’s something to offend everyone. That’s what we book-lovers are supposed to say: Where does one draw the line? Who will judge what is “inappropriate” and what is not? Well, someone has to, and it seems to me it shouldn’t be so hard to classify some books as inappropriate for required high school reading lists. Public schools are for everyone, not just for sophisticated urbane types who think there’s no such thing as an “inappropriate” book. As I said earlier, it’s not like there’s a shortage of worthwhile literature. There’s not even a shortage of challenging material that manages to discuss heavy issues like rape and racism without describing exactly what a pedophile does with a little girl’s vagina. I’m just saying.

It’s easy to understand how The Bluest Eye ends up on a recommended reading list. We want our students to read more than just the dead white males. Toni Morrison is female, black, and alive—a three-fer!—and also happens to be a Nobel Prize winner. Why shouldn’t high schoolers read her? Well, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, but there’s no compelling reason why they must¸ either. She is not the easiest author to read. She’s sort of a female, black (and alive) Faulkner, with slightly shorter sentences. Plenty of kids leave high school without ever reading Faulkner (I was one of those), so I think they’ll survive if they miss Toni Morrison too. Or they could read something she’s written that doesn’t contain graphic descriptions of child rape. I really don’t see what the big deal is. The Bluest Eye is a compelling novel in some respects, but not absolutely essential to a teenager’s education. Why court this particular controversy? When I was in high school, parents were upset about books like The Catcher in the Rye. The Bluest Eye makes The Catcher in the Rye look like The Cat in the Hat. Why would one feel so strongly about going there? Don’t we sophisticated, urbane types have enough trouble dealing with the parents who want to ban Harry Potter? Do we really want to upset a larger percentage of the parent population? Is it that worth it? I just don’t see it.

Of course, this is Portland (or Portland suburbia), not a terribly conservative community. I don’t foresee a huge revolt among the parents here. And I’m not the revolt-starting type. What do you gentle readers think? Have any of you run up against this issue in your sending-your-kids-to-school career?

This is my second post of the week. I am already exceeding my informal-and-totally-not-binding quota of one post per week. And my last post was, like, three thousand words long, so that should make up for the first two weeks of January where I posted nothing at all. Not that I owe you people anything! I promise nothing, do you hear? Nothing!

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately. Is it too soon to start posting book reviews again? Considering how many books I have to review, probably not. Considering how sick you all must be of reading about what books I’ve been reading, probably so. Well, I don’t really have time to start on that now, so you get a reprieve. Now, if only I could think of something to write about instead…

This week I’ve been in denial that I am getting sick. This morning I am no longer in denial, but I am in fighting mode. “Fighting” in the sense that I chose to spend three hours sleeping on the living room sofa, just because I could. Because nothing is more important than me stopping getting sick. (You know that’s just an expression, right? Lots of things are more important than my short-term health–like liberty and justice and the safety of my children, just to name a few–but I’m too constitutionally weak to determine where not-getting-a-full-blown-cold falls on my Priority-O-Meter.) When I got up, I was thirsty, but since I can’t drink water when I’m sick (“can’t”=don’t want to so much that I just don’t), I looked for some other beverage to hydrate myself with. Sugar Daddy was sick last week and asked me to buy him some Gatorade. I asked what flavors he preferred and he said, “Whatever,” but one of the flavors he specifically mentioned–perhaps the only flavor he specifically mentioned–was grape. At the time I thought, “Grape? Feh. But okay.” So I went to the store and bought lemon-lime Gatorade, blueberry-pomegranate Gatorade, and grape Gatorade.

Guess what is the only flavor of Gatorade left in the house? But I was thirsty enough that I drank it, even though I don’t like Gatorade and I definitely don’t like grape Gatorade. I’ll do it again in a few minutes, too. That’s how important my short-term health and hydration are to me. I should probably eat something too. You’re supposed to feed a cold, right? I sure hope so because I’m not constitutionally strong enough to starve anything right now.

Tonight Princess Zurg is supposed to have a friend over to spend the night. This is a new friend we’ve never met before. Does it seem odd to invite a girl to spend the night her first time over? Well, PZ knows her. If she turns out to be a serial killer or something, I’ll just send her home early. IF I STILL CAN. I am not afraid of giving the girl my possibly-head-cold-we’ll-see germs. I’m planning not to be around anyone as much as I can.

Mister Bubby is, quite serendipitously, spending the night at his friend’s house. Even though he has perturbed me in a major way by leaving his science project to the last minute, to the extent that it was not finished on the day it was due (which would be today). This is not really like MB, but maybe this is the new MB. I don’t know. I had no idea the project was due today until I dropped Girlfriend off at school this morning and MB’s BFF’s mom was there and asked if MB needed a ride to school so he could more easily transport his science board. That was when I pretended (sort of) to have the first freaking clue that he needed to transport a science board today. When I got home he was still writing his conclusions on the computer. Uh huh. Well, then.

I generally do not involve myself with my children’s science projects. Scratch that; rephrase. I never involve myself with my children’s science projects. What’s the point of being married to a scientist if you can’t absolve yourself of all responsibility regarding science projects? Moreover, I am not generally in the habit of knowing when my children’s assignments-of-any-variety are due. Not after they get past first grade or whenever the school stops making us fill out and sign their stupid reading logs. I would have a different attitude, I’m sure, if my children were doing poorly in school, but generally they do fine. So of course I didn’t know that the science project was due today, but I might have known if I’d gotten the impression that MB had been working feverishly on it at all yesterday…or ever.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t blame myself. Is it my science project? Is it my grade? Am I accountable for the homework my child fails to complete on time? No, no, and…no. (Not after they stop asking me to fill out and sign their stupid reading logs.) I’ve already been to school. I didn’t graduate from school so I could be responsible for homework, let alone science projects (shudder) all over again. So I don’t feel guilty. Which is odd, actually, because I usually feel guilty about everything, even the things that clearly aren’t my fault. It took me a few weeks to stop feeling guilty about the house fire that was started by a faulty bathroom-ceiling fan. I have an overactive sense of guilt, no question about that. But I don’t feel guilty about this. What I feel is…disappointment. I’m no stranger to disappointment either, but I’m not usually disappointed in my children. I’m angry with them and irritated with them, but rarely disappointed. This was a new sensation for me, so I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

I resisted the temptation to hassle MB about his lack of responsibility and poor time management skills. He’s apt to get an earful of that from his father, and he’s already going to be embarrassed by the consequences of his folly. Besides, hassling him would imply that I’m personally offended by his failure to complete his science project in a timely fashion, as though it’s a reflection on me. No, thanks. I’m sorry that MB screwed up his science project. (Sorry for him, that is.) I’m a sympathetic person. But man, am I disappointed.

And a little bit irritated because that means MB is not quite the self-reliant kid I have heretofore relied on him to be. I hate being disappointed!

And yes, he’s coming home early tomorrow and working on his Humanities paper throughout the three-day weekend until it’s finished because if he’s going to be a shifty ne’er-do-well, that’s just how I’ll have to treat him. (I’m being a little bit facetious, for dramatic effect.)

Well, if I’m going to feed this cold before it’s time to pick up PZ and her new friend and also Girlfriend, I’d better get on the stick. Or on the soup. Do you think I should have cleaned the house before anyone came over today? Huh, a little late for that. Well, whatever. I’m in fighting mode! They’re lucky if they don’t find me passed out on the couch with an empty bottle of grape Gatorade at my side.

I don’t promise to be entertaining, but after the last couple days, I owe you a post in which I talk about stuff that didn’t go wrong.

First of all, everyone was fine with a peanut butter sandwich this morning. That was huge. (Just kidding. It was nice, though.)

I went to the orthodontist, and my upper back teeth are moving forward like they’re supposed to.

Then I went to perhaps the most productive IEP meeting ever in Princess Zurg history. We established a behavior plan and set up minor accommodations without any fuss. No fuss! I had to pinch myself. Just kidding. Well, I probably should have. Then we brought Mary in and went over the changes with her. She was subdued, if not enthusiastic. I wasn’t expecting enthusiasm. Subdued was good. The vice-principal lifted the suspension and she spent the rest of the day at school, in the resource room, and over the course of the day she got to meet briefly with each of her teachers (most of them anyway). Tomorrow she will start attending her regular classes and, God willing, I won’t have to see her for seven hours. No offense to her.

I feel hopeful.

Bonus: I got pulled over by a cop this afternoon, and he let me off with a warning. Then I really did pinch myself!

Plus, I still don’t have cancer. (Haha, I just felt like I needed another item.)

So last night I couldn’t sleep–again. I think I may have drifted off somewhere between 4 and 4:30 a.m. Yes, the Valium is supposed to help with this, but sometimes even Valium isn’t the answer. Whatever. That’s where things begin. I get up around 6:40 a.m. and start making lunches. Sugar Daddy drops PZ off at her friend’s house so they can walk to school together again, and then he goes to work. Since I have a mammogram appointment scheduled for 9 a.m. and I know my only opportunity to shower will be between the time Elvis’s bus arrives circa 8 a.m. and when Mister Bubby’s bus arrives at 8:26 a.m., I am trying to be efficient and I make a sandwich for the still-sleeping Girlfriend without asking her first what kind of sandwich she wants–because she’s asleep. Silly me, I think I’m being considerate. When she wakes up and sees me making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, she runs out to the living room and flings herself on the couch and sobs because, I eventually ascertain, she actually would have preferred cheese. Well, fair enough. There’s still time to make a cheese sandwich and feed three people breakfast and find everyone’s backpack and shoes and make sure they brush their teeth. So I do all these things, and circa 7:40 I put Girlfriend in the car, leaving Elvis explicit instructions to not freak out while I’m gone because I will certainly be back in time for his bus. I have a somewhat…strenuous back-and-forth with GF in the car about whether or not she is feeling grown-up enough to walk into school without me so I can just drop her off at the curb instead of trying to park the car someplace and walk in with her and probably miss Elvis’s bus even though I promised him I wouldn’t. Eventually we are both convinced that she is that grown-up and I drop her off at the curb with plenty of time to spare.

As I’m pulling out of the drop-off line, circa 7:50, my cell phone rings. I notice it’s a school district prefix, and against my better judgment in every sense of the situation, I answer it (even though I’m probably technically breaking a state law). It’s someone from the high school informing me that PZ has had an incident involving another student and will be suspended for the rest of the day. At this time I should remind you that high school starts at 7:40 a.m. It’s 7:50 a.m. This is when things start to get awesome.

School Guy asks me if I can come down to the school right now. I say, “Absolutely not,” because absolutely, I cannot. I cannot come to the school now. I cannot come to the school at all this morning. My husband is usually in the factory in the morning and incommunicado, so I don’t know what I can do except possibly send her grandmother. I promise to send somebody as soon as possible, whenever that is. I get home, where Elvis is starting to freak out a little because it is very close to 8:00 and the bus has not come yet. I leave a message on SD’s voice mail even though I know he will not listen to it. A bus drives by but doesn’t stop. Elvis freaks out a little more. I call my mother-in-law and start to explain my predicament when a call comes in from SD and I still don’t know how to do call waiting on this cell phone so I hang up with my MIL and talk to SD, who hasn’t listened to my voice mail, and I explain the situation to him. Elvis is disturbed because it is certainly after 8:00 now. I need to finish making MB’s lunch. I’m about to call my MIL again to continue explaining the predicament when SD calls back and says he can pick PZ up after all, which is a much better idea, so great. I find potatoes in MB’s backpack. This confuses me, but I let it go and call my MIL back to tell her never mind. Elvis gets on the bus. I find relevant paperwork for MB. I take the quickest shower of my life and escort MB to the bus stop because even though he’s a big boy middle-schooler, he still wants his mom sometimes, and that’s okay.

It would be more okay, of course, if I weren’t absolutely livid about the fact that my daughter lasted all of ten minutes on her second day of school. Because seriously, what the hell, PZ? It’s a good thing that I have to go get another mammogram because I cannot be trusted to speak in a patient and non-shrill manner with school personnel who want to spend oodles of time telling me in explicit detail exactly what my daughter did wrong and how wrong it was and why they have to send her home, even though technically this information could be relayed sufficiently in approximately two minutes. Never mind that. I cannot be trusted to be in the same room with my fourteen-year-old, who has picked a really inconvenient day to be psychotic.

I had a mammogram in August, before vacation, but I have to do follow-up imaging. I’m not worried about it. I fully expect to get cancer someday–it seems to be what women in my maternal ancestral line do–but not for another ten years or so. Still, I have irrational anxiety. I like things to be finished and settled. I don’t like uncertainty. It makes me uncomfortable. So even though I’m not worried, I am still kind of a nervous wreck and it doesn’t help that my daughter is being sent home ten minutes into the school day and I have no idea what the crap her problem is or what I can do about it. I start crying in the car, which is bad because I don’t want to walk into the breast imaging center obviously upset and have people think I’m upset about getting a mammogram when there’s no need to be. Also, when strangers cry in front of you, it is awkward, and I really don’t want to make other people feel awkward. Also, there is no Kleenex in the car. There are some antiseptic wipes, but I don’t use them.

I pull it together. I have a mammogram. The technician takes one image, then switches out one paddle for a different paddle, one that looks like a little tray. Then she messes with my breast and decides she needs a different paddle, one that looks like a tiny tray. I have no comment, but I reckon I’m amused. Anyway. Several images later I go to the waiting room. I read Good Housekeeping because I have no desire to read Sunset or the AARP magazine. I learn about the appropriate way to apply sunscreen. Plus, a helpful travel tip. (Buy an extra glasses case to house jewelry or the ear buds for your iPod.) Another technician comes to see me, says we need more images. I go do more images. I come back to the waiting room. Someone has abandoned a People magazine, which I grab because it is slightly less boring than tips on cleaning your venetian blind cords, but not by much. Apparently Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting a divorce. Casey Anthony has reconciled with her mother and brother, but not her father. I didn’t follow the Casey Anthony trial at all, so this has little emotional impact on me.

Another technician comes to see me and tells me we need an ultrasound. Meanwhile, another woman has stolen my People. Fair enough. I pick up the Elle. Elle is even more boring than Good Housekeeping. It is excruciatingly uninteresting. Someone abandons an Us. I learn that Justin Bieber has a snarky side that is not at all attractive. I’m disappointed. The ultrasound technician comes out. I discover that yes, Virginia, there are men who work as breast-imaging technicians. Not that I’m scandalized. I’ve been around the block, you know, I’ve just never had a breast-imaging technician of the male variety before. I’m 41 years old. Anyway, he seems like a nice guy. Very personable. Which is good, since the last thing I need is some surly dude touching my breast.

Breast ultrasounds take longer than I would have expected. My arm falls asleep. I wonder how long it would take if I had any actual breasts to speak of. I become very well-acquainted with the ceiling. I think it would be a good service if they put reading material up there, but maybe some patients would not find that relaxing. The technician leaves, I make a mental list of all the things I need to buy at the grocery store, try not to think about my daughter or compare myself to my own mother. I try to wake my arm back up. It doesn’t want to. The technician comes back with the radiologist, and they both have another look-see together. Finally the radiologist tells me that I probably have benign fibroid cysts like the one I had biopsied two years ago, but I should get another mammogram in six months to make sure they aren’t missing anything. But she doesn’t think they’re missing anything. I guess that’s as finished and settled as things get.

Now it’s 11:30. I’m hungry because I skipped breakfast, and I really, really need to pee. I call SD to get a PZ debriefing. PZ will be out of school today and tomorrow. Tomorrow we will have a meeting with the full IEP team (wowzers!) and try to figure out what the crap we’re doing. I get the lowdown on what went down with the other student this morning. I’m not going to get into it now. Possibly not ever. I’ve been the parent of a wayward child for a long time, and I thought I had lost my ability to be embarrassed by my children’s behavior, years ago. But I am positively mortified by what PZ has done. Mortified and totally confused and twelve stages beyond at-wit’s-end. I get off the phone and start sobbing again, partially out of relief over not needing another biopsy but also because I am failing. Nothing that matters is any better than it was this morning, and I still have to do the grocery shopping. And I neglected to grab some Kleenex on my way out of the hospital.

The antiseptic wipes still seem like a bad idea.

However, to put things in perspective, it was not a horrible day. I’ve had worse. Also, thanks to my husband, I can’t help but think having a good day = didn’t have to use my AK. So if we’re going to use that standard, well…I don’t know. Let’s just not use that standard. Because overall I’m not a fan of today.

It was the first day of school–the first day of school the first year that all four of my children would be in full-day school–so it ought to have been a beautiful day. Yeah, I know, I was just blogging on Saturday about how I was all paranoid about school starting and worried and everything, but I do that so I can be pleasantly surprised when things turn out fine. I do not expect destiny to start messing with my reverse psychology. That’s just so unfair. Anyway. I didn’t sleep well–which was to be expected–but I got up and I made lunches for people despite the fact that there wasn’t much in the house to work with. (I didn’t feel like shopping this weekend. Shrug.) At 7 a.m. My husband drove Princess Zurg over to her friend’s house so they could walk to school together. (I just realized that sounds like an odd thing to do. I’ll explain later. Maybe.) Then he drove back home so he could wait with Elvis for Elvis’s bus while I took Girlfriend to school. I think at this point Mister Bubby was barely awake because he doesn’t have to get on the bus until 8:30, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I took Girlfriend to school. It was, of course, a madhouse. And not a good sort of madhouse, like you might think of when you think of your gentle Giraffe. It was definitely a bad madhouse. An appalling asylum. I cleverly avoided the parking lot nightmare by leaving the car a couple blocks away and walking in. That was the end of feeling smart about myself because that was around the time I realized that I’d left all her school supplies in a tidy bad by the front door. Of my house. Not a front door that would have been accessible by the time I realized that was where they still were. Anyway, that’s not the end of the world by any stretch. It just seems like the end of the world when there’s the population of a small country in a much tinier elementary school and you find yourself in desperate need of a paper bag to breathe in and out of because THERE ARE SO MANY PEOPLE AND NOT ENOUGH HALLWAY AND WE FOUGHT OUR WAY INTO THE CLASSROOM ONLY TO FIND OUT THAT WE MISSED THE BRAND-NEW BACKPACK HOOKS IN THE HALLWAY AND WE HAVE TO FIGHT OUR WAY BACK OUT OF THE CLASSROOM AND THEN BACK INTO THE CLASSROOM AND EVERYONE’S PUTTING AWAY SCHOOL SUPPLIES AND I DON’T HAVE ANNNNNNYYYYYYY AND I DON’T WANT TO COME BACK HERE EVER AGAIN DID I MENTION THERE ARE 37 FIRST GRADERS IN THIS CLASSROOM????

At that particular moment, it’s fair to say that I was missing some perspective. You really had to be there IN THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA OF BODIES DID I MENTION I’M AN INTROVERT THE HUMANITYYYYYYYY!

I narrowly escaped a panic attack. And the school. Eventually.

You won’t believe this, but I actually drove back home, got the school supplies and went back in. There were much fewer people there by that time. Technically I should have gotten a Visitor badge since the school day had officially started, but I just went to the classroom without one because I didn’t want to bother the secretaries, and also without my Valium I was feeling very transgressive.

Somewhere in the middle of this drama Mister Bubby got on the bus. He even made a new friend. (A neighbor kid who just moved in around the corner. Mister Bubby is charmed that way.)

Around 11 a.m. I was on the phone with the dentist, securing a sweet after-school appointment for Princess Zurg next week, and when I got off the phone there was a voice mail message blinking at me, so I listened to the voice mail and quelle coincidence, it was PZ…wailing that she hated high school and wanted to come home. Well. What does one do with that? Do I call the high school and say, “Hey there, you don’t know me from the man in the moon, but my daughter you might have noticed screaming her head off into one of the phones you have on campus–any way to track her down for me…?” Or do you just let it go and figure there are professionals there who can handle the situation?

I’m sorry to say that I chose Door #2. Well, what I’m really sorry to say is that a half hour later I got another call from an actual school professional describing the situation to me, and I spent the next 40 minutes or so on the phone with him and with her and with him again and her again, and not once did I come up with a solution to anyone’s problems.

I once went to a motivational talk by the authors of a book called “I Don’t Have To Make It All Better.” Let me tell you, those people were lovely, but they were liars. I do have to make it all better. I just can’t. That’s the problem.

My other problem is it’s late and I still have to do my unwinding for the evening, with therapeutic doses of chocolate and totally legitimate prescription drugs. Will I have more to say about this tomorrow? Maybe.

Blog-wise, anyway. I’ve been on vacation for the last ten days. I guess it was ten, I’m too lazy to count. You count for me: I left on the 23rd and came back on the 31st. What is that? Nine days? So nine days, not ten. This is the tenth day and here I am. Surprise! It’s good to see you too.

Let me summarize my vacation for you: We drove down to Gold Beach, which is in southern Oregon. There is nothing at all in Gold Beach except a jet boat tour that will take you up the Rogue River to the bustling metropolis of Agness, which also has nothing in it. I don’t mean to besmirch any of these fine geographical locations. The jet boat tour was a lot of fun. The beach at Gold Beach is very pretty. We ate lunch in Agness, and it was pretty good. We went to church while we were in Gold Beach, and I think we increased the congregational population by 20 percent. I find coastal towns inordinately depressing, but I enjoyed church there very much. It must have reminded me of my college days and the era of Mormon scarcity. Everything’s more precious when it’s scarce. Must be similar to the way Gold Beach residents react when they see a job. But I digress.

Anyway, we were in Gold Beach for a few days, then we drove down into California to see the Redwoods. We went to the Trees of Mystery, which has all the funny-looking redwood trees, and then we did some (very little) hiking in Fern Canyon. I want to tell you one thing about Fern Canyon: If you have the opportunity to go there, you must. It’s astonishingly beautiful.

Then we drove back into Oregon to see the Oregon Caves. Those were cool. Another thing that has to be experienced in real life. I tried to take pictures, but pictures don’t work. They really don’t. That didn’t stop me from taking them, of course. I kept trying to get them to work, but they just don’t. I’m sorry, but that is my excuse for not posting pictures of my vacation. You can thank me later.

Then we spent a day in Medford just taking a breather. This was one of what my husband has come to term “dog’s butt days.” (I hope you appreciate that hyper-link I went to all the trouble of providing, even if you don’t feel the need to click on it.) It is his concession to my need to not be constantly doing something, i.e. my preference for always doing nothing. Medford really is a bustling metropolis, next to Gold Beach and Agness, but there is also very little to do there. So I did the laundry and saw Brave with my daughters. (We had to drive to a theater in a neighboring city, though, since the one theater in Medford was not showing anything we wanted to see.) And that was the dog’s butt day that was.

The next day we drove to Eugene and visited with some friends. Eugene is just as depressing as it’s always been. Not coastal-town depressing, but I-used-to-live-here-and-I’m-so-glad-I-don’t-anymore depressing. No offense to Eugene. Well, none taken, I’m sure! Eugene is a special place. Unfortunately, it occupies a corner of my memory which is reserved for Very Dark Periods of my life. I get a similar feeling of dread every time I drive past an apartment building we used to live in. It’s all part of Life When Life Sucked. And you know, it’s not like life never sucks now, but compared to the way it sucked then? Well, there’s just no comparison. What’s the difference? Money. I’m sorry to say. But it’s true. I’ll never forget the first day I walked into a grocery store and thought to myself, “I can totally afford to buy whatever kind of breakfast cereal I want.” Money may not buy happiness, but it certainly mitigates the sadness. If you don’t believe me, ask a poor person.

The next day, which was yesterday, the last day of our vacation, we drove to the Enchanted Forest in Salem, on our way home. The Enchanted Forest is another thing that has to be seen to be believed. I call it the poor man’s Disneyland. My husband calls it “charmingly low-rent.” It’s the sort of place that my older kids should totally be over by now, but we go there every year and they still love it.

We took my mother-in-law on this vacation. At first she wasn’t going to come. I mean, at first we had planned for her to come, but then she spent three weeks in Chicago with her newborn grandchild and feeling like she was driving her daughter-in-law nuts, so she came back here and said she didn’t think she wanted to come with us on vacation because she didn’t want to drive me nuts. My mother-in-law is always talking about how she doesn’t want to drive me nuts. Really, it’s her son she drives nuts, not me. But after Sugar Daddy and the kids used all their powers of persuasion to get her to come with us, she said she would leave it up to me. To which I said, “…” Because what does one say? My suspicion was that she didn’t really want to come with us and maybe she wanted some time to herself after a stressful three weeks with her other grandchildren and daughter-in-law, but if I told her to go ahead and stay home if she wanted to, she would have interpreted it as “I’m too polite to tell you that you’ll drive me nuts.” So whatever. I don’t remember how it all went down, but she ended up coming after all.

Let me tell you: Never again. NEVER AGAIN. She really didn’t want to come. I was totally right about that. The kids drove her crazy, she drove my husband crazy, and even I, who don’t have the energy to be driven crazy by people to whom I’m not married or who didn’t come out of my birth canal, was driven crazy. The hours in the car were the worst. She was constantly sighing. She was like Al Gore in the 2000 presidential debate. Sigh. SIGH. SIGH. I want to tell you: I love my mother-in-law very much. Generally speaking, she does not drive me crazy. I’m very happy to have her living near us now. And I am very invested in her NOT getting sick of us in the first year. So, no. No more vacations with Grandma. She needs her space.

School starts on Tuesday. I’m very nervous about it. I just think I’m not prepared. This is my own special neurosis, perhaps, but I seem to feel unprepared on my children’s behalf, because I don’t know what they can expect. In the event that one of them goes to school on the first day and has no idea what to do or what’s going on, even if I were right there next to them, available to guide them through this difficult time in childhood, I would have no freaking clue how to help them. It’s ridiculous because I’m definitely NOT going to school with them, and therefore there is no realistic scenario in which I would need to help them navigate their day or find their locker or the cafeteria or whatever–I don’t know what kinds of problems they may or may not have, that’s how unprepared I am!–and so why should it bother me that I would be utterly inadequate to the task? I should just be grateful that they’re going to school and I’m not.

I guess I just need everything to go smoothly. I may have a psychological post-traumatic-stress thing going on because I was not prepared for when Princess Zurg entered kindergarten, I did not know what to expect, and kindergarten was a disaster. More to the point: Kindergarten through fourth grade was a disaster, an almost-daily disaster, during which it was not uncommon for me to receive phone calls during the day from someone at the school asking me to intervene in the disaster that was my daughter’s education and hoping that I could solve it, which I never could. Never mind that my other children have had very successful school experiences. PZ herself has since had successful school experiences, including a miraculously successful transition to middle school. Why should I be so nervous about her starting high school? Because I’ve been to that high school, and it’s big and scary. I don’t want someone to call me in the middle of the day and make me go down there. I’m afraid.

This year Mister Bubby starts middle school. I am somewhat less nervous about him because he always seems to manage just fine–or at least well enough that it is easy for me to ignore what he is not managing. I am being darkly facetious here. It’s the guilt talking. He really is a very capable child, despite the fact that he spent the first six months of his life glued to my breast. I really need to let that go. Plus, his BFF will be with him. You can get through anything with a BFF, can’t you? Have I ever mentioned that I have this secret fear that MB and his BFF will have some falling out because I have never had a lifelong BFF-ship and don’t understand how friendships can possibly last longer than a certain amount of time? I am gathering more material for my next therapy session as I type.

Elvis is also transitioning this year. He has spent the last three years in what they call the “lower social communication classroom” and now that he’ll be in fourth grade, he will be in the “upper social communication classroom”–the “lower” and “upper” refer to grade level, and the “social communication” refers to the fact that all the students are on the autism spectrum. Elvis has always had less expressive language capability than his classmates, and although he’s had a lot of improvement, he still communicates on a much lower level than his peers, even in this classroom where everyone has a social communication deficit. So–regardless of whether or not I’ve explained this situation adequately, I am nervous because academically there is a big jump between the lower and upper section, and I don’t know how he’s going to do with the increased expectations, not to mention the changes in general. He’s gotten much more adaptive over the years, but he’s still pretty rigid, and you know what? I’m pathologically pessimistic, even when I strongly desire not to be. I am refusing to think about this matter any more until somebody makes me. I just can’t take the stress.

And Girlfriend also has a transition, which I am mostly happy about because she will finally be in school full-time. I ought to be doing cartwheels. Metaphorical cartwheels, but still. Anyway. I don’t really worry about her. She likes school and is excited for school. She will need to get up earlier than she’s used to and she’ll be in school much longer than she’s used to, but I think she’ll be okay. Unfortunately, our school district has made some really big cuts this year and the target class size is 39. I think the first grade classrooms will all have 37. I have no reason to be particularly worried about my child, but I just can’t get my head around 37 first-graders in a classroom and what that will possibly look like. Well, I can see what it will possibly look like, but I’m trying to envision the not-disastrous scenario, and it is very difficult for someone of my personality type.

There is also the fact that her teacher is someone of whom the school psychologist once said, “That woman should not be in front of a classroom.” (This is hearsay, as far as I’m concerned, but only secondhand, and from a very reliable source, which gives me pause. Well, first I’m pausing because I can hardly believe a professional would make such an admission to a parent, but also I am pausing because, well, if she said it, it says a lot.) Personally, I don’t know that she’s that bad a teacher. MB had her for first grade, and he did fine. But still. With 37 children in the classroom, do you really want the teacher of whom such a thing was said by a fellow faculty member? Of course, I knew this was the teacher Girlfriend would get. I don’t have the social capital to get my kid into the Desirable First Grade Classroom with the Legendary Wonderful Teacher. I don’t even have the social capital to get my kid into the Other First Grade Classroom with the New and Therefore Unknown-Quantity Teacher. This is a natural consequence of my failure to join the PTA and volunteer at school. If my daughter burns out in first grade, I will only have myself to blame.

Just kidding. I will totally blame someone else. I don’t really anticipate that there will be a problem–at least not a problem that directly affects my child. But this might be because I am wearing myself out with all the other back-to-school worries. I simply don’t have the time and energy to worry about child #4. It’s the same reason there are no photographs of her between the ages of two and twenty-three months. And now I’m re-hashing my guilt over that, too. Thanks a lot, me. Great job!

Like I said, there’s plenty for the next therapy session.

Gentle readers, adieu.

When Girlfriend started kindergarten, a friend of mine whose youngest child was also starting kindergarten asked me, “So are you going to volunteer now that everyone’s in school?”

“Oh!” I said, as if the thought had never occurred to me, because it never had. “Wow. I don’t know. I guess I could do that now, couldn’t I?”

But I haven’t.

It’s May now, so I’m probably not going to at all this year. I’m a terrible human being.

It’s not like I’ve never volunteered at school. I’ve chaperoned field trips for Mister Bubby’s class. I helped out at Aussie Day when he was in the second grade. I helped set up chairs for one of the (monthly) movie nights last year. I’ve…well, that pretty much covers it. A couple field trips, Aussie Day and movie night chairs. That’s the sum total of my school volunteering. So yeah, terrible human being is more or less correct.

I used to have what I thought was a pretty valid excuse not to volunteer at school: I had other kids at home to take care of, and I wasn’t going to hire a babysitter to take care of these other kids while I volunteered at school because that’s crazy. I know other moms who trade babysitting with other moms so they can volunteer at school, but this was never an option for me because a) there are very, very few moms willing to trade babysitting with me and b) I am not going to waste that good will on freaking volunteering at school–that is crazy. Good will is for emergencies. Anyway. For the record, yes, I did actually end up paying a babysitter all those above-mentioned times I volunteered at school. It was crazy. I wouldn’t have done it, but Mister Bubby really wanted me to. He’s, like, the only kid whose mother never volunteers at school or something. So I did that crazy thing those few times, but I refused to do it on a regular basis, because that’s just crazy.

Now that all the kids are in school, I could theoretically volunteer on a regular basis without it costing me anything. I have no excuse for not doing it, except that I don’t want to.

I might feel more of a moral obligation to volunteer at school if there weren’t so freaking many other parents who volunteer at school. The school is lousy with parent volunteers, such that if you want to chaperone a field trip, you have to take a number. In my friend OBL‘s world, lots of parents volunteering=  more pressure to volunteer. I might feel this myself if I didn’t choose to be oblivious to so many societal expectations. I don’t want to volunteer at school, so unless I feel like I am actually needed, I would have to try really hard to feel morally obligated to do it–and I’m just not made of that stern of stuff.

Here’s another thing: I’m not good with children. I like children, but children don’t like me. I mean, my own children seem to like me just fine, but other children are afraid of me. I speak to them, and they will actually turn their bodies away from me to avoid interacting with me, hoping that I will set my scary sights on someone else. I really don’t get how I can be so scary to other people’s children with no effort whatsoever on my part, and yet my own children aren’t afraid of me at all, no matter how scary I try to be. I don’t like feeling socially awkward. I feel socially awkward most of the time, but it’s bad enough feeling it around adults. I don’t like feeling it around young children. (I especially don’t like feeling it around teenagers, which is why you’ll find me volunteering at a prison before you’ll find me volunteering at middle school.)

Volunteering at school seems to me like one of those above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty things. Probably because my own mother never volunteered at school. (Probably because she had other children to take care of and couldn’t afford to pay a babysitter and anyway, that would have been crazy.) I don’t remember seeing a lot of parent volunteers at school when I was young, other than on field trips. Those must have been the halcyon days when public education had all the money it needed and class sizes were smaller and teachers had less to do. Oh, wait. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to public education, but between the time I was going to school and the time my kids are going to school, things changed so that parents are now an integral part of students’ education, even during those hours while the school is supposed to be educating them. It’s not enough to help with the homework, which is intrusive enough; now we also have to be there at school helping the teachers do their jobs for free. I mean, we’re helping for free. The teachers are still getting paid, albeit not enough. But I digress.

It’s not that I don’t believe the teachers really need the help. I believe it; I just choose to live in the past when nobody did anything about it.

Here’s another dirty secret which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. My feeling is that the school is there to take the kids off my hands for several hours a day. That’s why I pay my taxes. I mean, I pay my taxes because the government will put me in prison if I don’t, but even if there were no government schools, I would pay money for someone else to educate my children so that they could go be away from me for a few hours a day. No offense to them, I love them, but we can only take so much of each other. I get them full time for the first five years. Kindergarten takes them for only two and a half hours a day during the school year. I just got rid of them–why would I turn around and volunteer at school so I can see more of them? It just doesn’t make any sense.

(Just so you know, I also send my children to school so they can interact with adults they’re not allowed to walk all over. I think that’s important. But secondary, I admit.)

And there’s this final thing. I had a very bad school experience with my oldest child. From the moment she started kindergarten, Princess Zurg hated school, and she misbehaved at school, and the school was always calling to tell me about her misbehavior and calling to tell me I had to come pick her up because she was being suspended again, and I was always going down to the school for the privilege of meeting with a group of educators telling me all the things that were wrong with my daughter and asking what we were going to do about it, etc., etc., etc. It was several years before I could walk into the local elementary school and not experience some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Intellectually, I know that it’s a good school doing good things for children. Emotionally, the school is not my friend. Therefore I am not emotionally inclined to do it any favors. Which makes it a lot easier to rationalize my intellectual inclinations not to do it any favors.

While writing this, Girlfriend came up to me and told me how excited she was for the school jog-a-thon, which is this afternoon. I’ll have you know that while I am very stingy with my time, so far as the school is concerned, I have tried to be generous with my money to make up for it. Because money, when you have it, is so much easier to part with. I will gladly spend more money in donations than it would cost me for a babysitter so I could volunteer my time (although as I’ve already said, I no longer need to hire a babysitter–but you get my point). So yes, I have sponsored both of my children generously in the school’s jog-a-thon, but Girlfriend just informed me that she would really, really like me to show up for the jog-a-thon and cheer her on. This was not my original plan. (See above about kindergarten only being two and a half hours and I just got rid of her, etc.) But she really wants me to be there, and since I’m never there to volunteer, I feel morally obligated to show up. So I will.

But I won’t help with the jog-a-thon. I won’t!

 

Apparently, in addition to compassion fatigue I also have title fatigue. (Was the “also” redundant? Yes. But it sounded better to me. Just like saying Tuesday thrice sounds better than just twice.)

I feel certain that I’m going to forget that my daughter has piano lessons today, just as I forgot that she had them yesterday, which is why I had them rescheduled for today, but will I remember that? It doesn’t seem possible, all things considered.

(And all things considered, why would I say my daughter has “piano lessons” today? She has a piano lesson today. She accumulates multiple piano lessons over time, but technically has only one today. But I always refer to piano lessons in the plural. Like I did just now. I can’t stop myself!)

I’ve had a few things on my mind. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but I’m easily overwhelmed. Like most people, I have a hundred things I ought to be doing at any one time, but I’m only willing to think about one or two and prefer to ignore all the others. When circumstances converge so as to force me to not only think about but actually do something about more than a couple things, I start to feel put upon. Hence, my current discomfort. And forgetfulness. I’m simply incapable of remembering most things, let alone everything.

The other day I panicked because I thought I had forgotten to order my dad’s birthday present, but then I remembered that I hadn’t forgotten, and I was relieved. So relieved that I proceeded to forget everything else. (Once I start relaxing, it is really hard for me to stop.)

SO. I know some of you would like to know why Princess Zurg was suspended on Friday. The short answer is “PMS? Insanity?” but the longer answer is this: She had a confrontation with her Language Arts teacher (the latest in a long line of confrontations with this particular teacher, whom she despises for reasons I don’t really understand) that culminated in her threatening the teacher’s life and subsequently she was taken to the Behavior Learning Center classroom to cool down and had another confrontation with a different teacher there, which culminated in her hitting the teacher on the arm. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these new-fangled school policies, that’s a no-no. I mean, all of it’s a no-no. She did very few things on Friday that are actually permitted under ordinary circumstances. So, yes, she absolutely deserved to be suspended for the remainder of that day, and she has had in-school suspension yesterday and today. I think she’s supposed to go back to her regular classes tomorrow, but I think she may be in for a change in Language Arts teachers. We’ll see. I really don’t have time to think about it right now.

Fortunately, I was able to get her in to see her shrink yesterday, and he has added another medication to our pharmacological support arsenal. It’s Abilify, which I think is probably the awesomest name for a psychotropic drug ever. I mean, it’s so stupid and nakedly condescending that you can’t help but love it. I believed I’ve blogged on it before, back when my own shrink was considering it for me (but alas, I was never actually Abilified). It’s supposed to have a calming effect and keep her from getting stuck on her runaway train of negativity. I’m sure I can come up with a better metaphor than “runaway train of negativity.” How about she’s got this Ferrari of negativity and someone’s cut the brake lines? That’s a little more apt. Anyway. She started that last night. One of the side effects is drowsiness (which is why it’s taken at night). She woke up this morning feeling nauseated. I was scared because I really, really don’t want this pill to make her nauseated. I don’t want it to make her anything but Abilified. Also, I really, really wanted her to go to school today. Because I want everyone to go to school everyday. It’s my dream, and I mean to live it.

She felt better after eating breakfast, so she went to school, and so far I have not had a phone call from the school reporting puking. So we’re cool. I guess.

Tonight is pack meeting for cub scouts. We’re going to eat cake. So that’s good.

Tomorrow night Princess Zurg and Sugar Daddy are going to the temple and the rest of us are going to Elvis’s basketball party. It’s the end of the season. So that’s good.

On Thursday I leave for California because it’s my dad’s 65th birthday on Saturday and my step-mother is throwing him a party. I am looking forward to the trip, but I haven’t really planned for it yet because I’ve been overwhelmed with thoughts of teacher-hitting and -possibly-murdering and suspensions and Abilification and scouts and cake and basketball and what to make for dinner and there’s also been a lot of laundry. Also, it is Dr. Seuss’s birthday on Friday and so the kindergarten is having Pajama Day.

HEAVY, PUT-UPON SIGH. Pajama Day.

So Girlfriend doesn’t actually own any pajamas. She did have some Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas, but they disappeared into thin air several weeks ago, and I have not been able to locate them. We even looked for them extra-hard once we found out that there was going to be a Pajama Day (HEAVY, PUT-UPON SIGH), but to no avail. I know what you’re thinking: So what has Girlfriend been sleeping in, if not pajamas? Answer: Not the buff. She just wears clothes to bed. Comfortable clothes, but not to be confused with pajamas, and therefore not a believable outfit for Pajama Day. So I went to the Target to look for pajamas, but being that it’s February, all the pajamas in stock are shorts, not long pants, because in Retail World, summertime starts in January. In the Pacific Northwest I shall not be sending my children outside the house in shorts until mid-July. Which is about when they’ll start selling heavy winter coats again, so I should make a note to pick one of those up then. Anyway, I got off the subject. I also went to Old Navy, which doesn’t sell pajamas, and I even went to Ross Dress for Less, which doesn’t sell children’s pajamas except for babies. So that was disheartening.

Today I had to go to Macy’s to buy fancy soap for my face, and while I was there I looked for pajamas. No love. So then I went to Kohl’s, where I eventually found something suitable. Ideally, I would have gotten her new Thomas pajamas, since they would match her Thomas slippers and her Thomas blanket, but there weren’t any Thomas pajamas to be found, so instead I got her Scooby-Doo. Of course, I had to go to the boys’ section because all they sell in the girls’ section is Pepto Bismol-hued princess stuff and stuff that says “Mommy’s Little Cupcake Sweet as Can Be” and crap like that. I mean, she is my little cupcake, sweet as can be, but jeez, she’s already going to school in her intimate apparel; let the girl keep some of her dignity.

While I was at the Kohl’s I remembered that I forgot to bring the belt that PZ gave to SD for Christmas and I’ve been meaning to return because it didn’t fit then, and since he’s lost 20+ pounds, it certainly doesn’t fit now. I just don’t shop at Kohl’s very often. It was doubtful that I could have returned it anyway, however, since I’ve lost the receipt and do they have a 60-day return policy or a 90-day, I can’t remember. Whatever. I think the best I could have hoped for was an exchange (which was all I wanted), but they appear not to carry that brand anymore anyway, so whatever. I bought him a new belt. Much smaller than the old belt. It was on clearance, so it sort of makes up for me wasting money on a belt he’ll never wear and I’ll never return. Kind of. Maybe I’ll just keep the old belt for those days when he feels bloated. Ha ha. If I see him start to put the weight back on, I can say, “Do I have to get out your fat belt, honey?” You know, just to be supportive of his new lifestyle.

Here are the things I have to do before I leave town:

1. Figure out what the weather is supposed to be in California. I mean, as I recall, February in Southern California is pretty warm, but it’s been a long time since I’ve actually experienced a SoCal February. I don’t know. It’s impossible to predict the weather in Oregon; you just have to be prepared for anything. But California tends to be pretty predictable.

2. Touch up my roots. I have this patch of grey by my right temple that looks like a bald spot from a distance. I don’t like that.

3. Remember how many ounces of liquid I’m allowed to carry on the plane. Now that I’m all high-maintenance with the fancy Macy’s soap and the conditioner that I have to buy off the interwebs, it makes travel a little more complicated. But I don’t want to check a bag.

4. Remember that PZ has piano lessons today. A piano lesson, that is. Just one. Approximately 50 minutes from now.

So I read this article this morning about a school board member who took versions of his state’s standardized math and reading tests and had a rude awakening.

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

“I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.

“I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.”

Now, I’ll tell you from the outset that I’m not a fan of these standardized tests, and I don’t like all the emphasis that is placed upon them, and if I were making a list of “Bad Things That Came out of the George W. Bush Administration,” No Child Left Behind would probably crack my top two. (I mean, don’t get me wrong; ordinarily, if teachers’ unions oppose something, I’m inclined to think it must be a good idea. Just not in this case. There are ways of assessing whether or not teachers are competent and doing a good job. None of these assessments can be performed long-distance by Washington bureaucrats.) So that’s where I’m coming from. But this article left me just a tad befuddled. We’re talking about an educated adult–two master’s degrees–with a successful business career, and he couldn’t pass a math test designed for a tenth grader. And he just barely passed the reading test. And the clear implication is that these tests must be unreasonably difficult or require highly specialized knowledge. This, forgive me, just doesn’t make any sense.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible that these tests are unreasonably difficult or require highly specialized knowledge. It just seems very unlikely. Because tenth graders take them, yes? And at least a handful must do well, and another handful must not embarrass themselves, either–or no one in this cat’s school district would be graduating or going to college. Of course, when you’re in high school, studying this stuff every day, the material will be fresh in your head. I would expect a smart high schooler to do better than the average adult. I might even expect an average high schooler to do better than the average adult. But I would still expect an educated adult with two master’s degrees and a successful business career to do better than a high schooler who hadn’t paid attention in class since they stopped putting stickers on his worksheets.

I mean, I’ve been out of school for a long time. I know that I’ve forgotten quite a bit of the math I learned in the past. I would not be able to pass a calculus test without some serious review. My trigonometry is equally sketchy. But if you’d asked me before I’d read this article if I thought I could pass a math test designed for tenth graders–not ace, mind you, but pass–I would have said, “Absolutely.” And if you’d asked me if I could do better than 62% on a reading test designed for tenth graders, I would have been insulted. I mean, I read every day. That part of the brain still knows what it’s doing. Of course I could do better than 62%. What is that, a joke?

So yes, this article left me befuddled because I can only come up with the following explanations for why this gentleman did so poorly on the standardized tests that he took:

1. The tenth grade math test is all advanced math. The tenth grade reading test is based largely on selections of William Faulkner’s prose.

2. The tenth grade tests are comprised primarily of trick questions.

3. The adult in question faked his way through graduate school–twice!–and only thinks he understands the complex data he’s confronted with at his job (really, his assistant is doing all the work).

4. The adult in question was drunk the morning he took his tests.

5. I’m not nearly as bright as I think I am.

I think these are all pretty far-fetched conclusions (yes, even #5), so naturally, I’m dissatisfied. I will not be able to understand this story at all until I find out what exactly is on these tests. I do find it interesting that no matter which link you follow in this article–and I followed link after link which led to other links which led to other links–you only get more articles about how bogus these tests are, but no information on what actually happens during one of these tests–nothing that would give me some clue as to why a reasonably well-educated adult wouldn’t know any of the answers on the math test and couldn’t muster more than 62% on the reading test. (A reading test.) It just does. not. make. sense.

Later in the article, the adult-in-question says, “It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

He continues: “It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?”

This is an interesting point. I’m the first person to argue that everyone who is not mentally incompetent should learn algebra. (Well, maybe not the first, but at least the second or third.) But I’m also the first to concede that you may lead a productive life even if you can’t remember how to determine the slope of a line. So let’s say we shouldn’t test tenth graders on whatever esoteric material is covered in this state test, but only on stuff that “relates in some practical way to the requirements of life.” What exactly would that stuff be? I assume it’s stuff that the state doesn’t currently require them to learn, since we’ve just established that these standardized tests are total BS.

If you were charged with writing the state test for tenth graders–the test that, unless I’m mistaken, is supposed to assess a student’s academic competence and/or possibly their career/college readiness–what would you be sure to include on it? Is it important that an adult should also be able to pass it?

So Princess Zurg has been complaining to me for quite some time about how the kids at school wear those pink I LOVE BOOBIES bracelets that are supposed to raise breast cancer awareness, but among middle schoolers really only raise boobie awareness (as if it needed raising).  If you read my one blog in October of last year, you know how I feel about being naughty for breast cancer awareness.  No, you don’t have to click on it, I’ll just tell you:  I find it an irritating trend.  Number one, I think just about everyone who could possibly give a crap already knows about breast cancer and how there isn’t a cure yet.  Number two, if you’re going to be naughty in the name of a good cause, at least do it for money–you know, something that might actually help the cause and not just remind people of something they already know about.

That said, I can’t say I have a lot of righteous indignation about the I LOVE BOOBIES bracelets–maybe because I spent all my righteous indignation on that one blog post.  Although I’m sure a portion of the proceeds from selling these bracelets goes to breast cancer research or breast cancer something-or-other, I’m reasonably certain that most of these middle schoolers mainly think that it’s cool to wear a bracelet with the word “boobies” on it–which falls squarely into the category of being naughty for awareness, which I’ve already explained is lame.  But whatever.  The point is not my righteous indignation–which is pretty well summed up with one big eyeroll–but PZ’s righteous indignation, which is summed up with a lot of complaining about how she doesn’t like the word “boobies” and how most of her classmates aren’t even aware that the bracelets are for breast cancer awareness (quelle surprise!) and how the school can’t legally forbid the students from wearing the bracelets because that would be encroaching on their right to free speech.

You might also already know my opinion of middle schoolers having a constitutional right to say “boobies” whenever they want.

But again, my indignation has been limited to eye-rolling, and I’ve tried to persuade PZ to limit her indignation to eye-rolling as well, since this is a heck of a hill to die on, when you consider all the problems an eighth-grade girl can have, not to mention all the problems in the world.  Also, I am trying to teach her to be less uptight.  (If you haven’t guessed already, she’s kind of a prude.)

Today, however, she was talking about a school policy that I already knew about and had previously rolled my eyes over:  Students are not allowed to hug each other.    They’re not allowed to hug each other because hugging a) can be construed as “borderline sexual harassment,” and b) is a gateway drug to hardcore public displays of affection.  I mean, obviously there are a lot of legitimate issues to consider here–or maybe there’s only two.  1)  We don’t want students sexually harassing each other.  2)  We don’t want students making out in the hall.  So it just makes sense to ban hugging.  It solves all kinds of problems–or, you know, it solves two problems.  You could just ban students from touching each other, period, but that would be extreme.  Insert eye-roll here.

So today PZ was complaining about the boobie bracelets again, and then she was talking about the no-hugging rule.  And suddenly the lameness of it all was in such stark relief.  You have a constitutional right to wear a bracelet declaring your love of boobies because that’s free speech, but you don’t have the right to hug your friend because that could lead to sexual harassment or public sexytimes.  PZ said that one of the justifications of the no-hug policy offered by school personnel is that some people might not want to be hugged but they don’t feel comfortable refusing and therefore will end up with an unwanted hug.  So, you know, better make a rule so no one has to be uncomfortable.  Unless someone’s declaration of boobie-love makes you uncomfortable, of course.

I’m sorry, but didn’t we give these kids the “good touch, bad touch” talk already?  Isn’t saying no to a hug, even from your friend, good practice for saying no to a host of other things you’re going to have to say no to for the rest of your life?  What’s wrong with teaching kids to say, “Hey, you know?  Not really a hugger.  How about a fist bump instead?”  It works for grown-ups; it can work for kids, too.

As long as we’re stretching the First Amendment to the breaking point, how about we invent a constitutional right for a middle schooler to give his or her friend a hug if the friend happens to…oh, I don’t know…have a mother dying of breast cancer?  Is there room in your America for such normal human interactions, or only for boobies???

Lame lame lame lame LAME!!!

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