The Disappearance of Joy

What do you remember about kindergarten?

I remember:

  • Those cute little carpet squares for rest time and cubbies for winter coats and hats and mittens
  • The Dick and Jane books and the artist’s easels where we could all be Picasso for the afternoon
  • My favorite place: the book nook! And the smell of paste and the thrill of using safety scissors
  • The yellow, upright piano where Mrs. Greene would sing the hello and goodbye songs each day
  • I remember making a Christmas tree out of an old paper towel tube that we glued with different sizes pieces of green-painted pasta

There is a piece dated yesterday in The Washington Post by Valerie Strauss that should make every parent in America angry.
In it, the author shares the story of a Massachusetts kindergarten teacher who became so fed up with the endless requirements, testing, standards, methods, and assessments (which she believes are robbing her students of an optimum learning environment and taking her out of the classroom for inordinate amounts of time), that she gave her notice.

“We (her colleagues) found ourselves in professional development work being challenged to teach KINDERGARTNERS to form persuasive arguments, and to find evidence in story texts to justify or back up a response they had to a story.  What about teaching children to write and read through the joy of experiencing a story together, or writing about their lives and what is most important to them?  When adults muck about too much in the process of learning to read and write, adding additional challenge and pressure too soon, many children begin to feel incompetent and frustrated.  They don’t understand. They feel stupid.  Joy disappears.”  (the bold and all caps are mine.)

Her resignation letter is included in full on the site. This is a teacher who worked for 18 years in the public school system. You can feel the passion she has for her students and her profession in this piece. And you can hear her heartbreak as she tells of her decision to leave.

“I began to feel a deep sense of loss of integrity.  I felt my spirit, my passion as a teacher, slip away.  I felt anger rise inside me.  I felt I needed to survive by looking elsewhere and leaving the community I love so dearly.  I did not feel I was leaving my job.  I felt then and feel now that my job left me.

What I found most interesting about this whole piece was how many times (I count 12) that she refers to the amount of time she has to spend outside of her classroom, away from her students to attend meetings/conferences/workshops so she can learn about new methodologies, assessments, and standards to which she and her colleagues would be held. Take that number and contrast it with the amount of times she makes any mention of additional compensation for the extraordinary amount of personal time spent out of the classroom (I count twice – but note that she isn’t spiteful; she is a realist. She mentions that she and her colleagues simply asked if they could apply some paid leave to compensate for the time).

I don’t have any recollection at all of tests or memorizing math facts because, um, it was KINDERGARTEN. I also don’t recall there being a student teacher to occupy the class while my teacher was off at a conference or another meeting to learn more about how she will be held accountable for every little thing I would learn or worse, might fail to learn.

Let me just say that I have absolutely zero background in education apart from my own schooling (K-12, associate degree and a bachelor’s degree) and a good part of my professional career working for a stellar two-year school in upstate New York in PR, not as an educator. I am not a teacher, but I have one child in the public school system and another one ready to begin soon. As a parent, I want the best for my kids. I want them to love learning just like I did. I can rattle off all of my elementary school teachers easily and recall at least five or six fond memories from each grade. I adored school and yes, I excelled at school. But I attribute that not to some innate gift but rather to the ability of my teachers to motivate me and get me excited to learn. The last thing I want for my kid, or any kid, is for them to feel stressed or pressured into performing for some arbitrary standard that may or may not mean anything in the long term, but that will surely frustrate the hell out of them in the short term.

Let me also say that I am a big believer in testing. How else can we know we’ve mastered a particular subject or concept well enough to progress? I’m not a believer in the “every kid gets an award for participation” thing. In fact, I think that’s the most ridiculous concept. There are tests in life and you either pass or fail or fall somewhere in between. That said, I firmly believe that when learning is forced and play is either compromised or reduced to an extracurricular activity ESPECIALLY IN THE EARLY CHILDHOOD YEARS, that we’re doing a great disservice to our kids. And to the teachers who teach them.

Kids are supposed to be joyful. I mean, do we really want our kids to go through some archaic, militant-style school system that is only concerned with test scores and rigorous academic work which will probably sharpen their brains, but also harden their hearts?

I don’t. And I don’t think you do, either.

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.” – Fred Rogers

 

Oh Please, Not The Whole “Happy Holidays” Thing Again

I have no problem at all with how people greet me during the holidays. As long as it doesn’t involve an insult or calling me a name I wouldn’t want my kids to hear. Say “Merry Christmas” to me, and I’ll thank you and say it right back to you. Say “Happy Holidays” and I’ll return the favor. Say “Happy Hanukkah” and I shall wish you the same.

I took my daughter to the Radio City Christmas show tonight and as we walked in, one of the greeters said, “Hi everybody! Happy Holidays!”

To which an elderly, white man SHOUTED back, “THAT’S MERRY CHRISTMAS, SON!”

Way to go, sir. Your mean spiritedness really showed him.

Posts like these and various chain emails about the importance of saying “Merry Christmas” make their rounds every year and they bug me. For goodness sake, if you want to say Merry Christmas, then say it. But don’t be offended if everyone doesn’t say it. And certainly don’t be offended if someone wants to say Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or Buenas Noches (fine, forget that last one – I’m just checking to see if you’re still with me). My point is, why can’t we all just exchange greetings…smile…and enjoy it?

Does everything have to be a political statement? I don’t want to be all crabby about this because who cares? I’ll continue to say what I want to say. And I think everyone else should too. So good bye crabbiness and hello ‘NSync. Don’t tell anyone, but I love ‘NSync and I love this song. And note – it’s called “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.” Good for you, young Justin Timberlake.

 

Sucked Up

While vacuuming up the dirt from a potted plant that had spilled (after a dancing two year old twirled past it…), I decided to vacuum the dining and living rooms while I was at it.

And that’s when it happened. A clickety clack racket – you know the sound. You’ve just run over something that most definitely does NOT belong in a vacuum cleaner.

I wasn’t sure what it was at first. And then I saw what was left of my cell phone charger cord. The frayed remnants of a thin black cord which was still plugged in to the outlet. The vacuum had swiftly ripped the cord apart and sucked it up.

To say I love my phone is an understatement. But it will die tonight and be useless to me in the morning until I drive to the mall and get a replacement. I don’t know if I can last til then!!

Side note: last week my two year old was afraid the vacuum would eat her. I reassured her but then my older daughter got her hair caught in the vacuum. Today’s incident – with all the clickety clack racket – did nothing to reassure my two year old that vacuums are not mean eating machines.

So I’m sitting at a Supercuts while my older daughter gets her haircut typing this blog post.

On my phone.

Which is using up my battery.

Dammit.

Run. Hide. Fight.

This was the advice a former Secret Service agent gave to people in case they find themselves in an active shooter situation. A situation not unlike what occurred at a mall in New Jersey last night. My thoughts are all over the place on this. Another unstable person enters a public place and fires a weapon with God knows what kind of intent. Every single time a shooting occurs (which is just about weekly at this point), my mind reels. What if I was there? What would I do? What if my girls were with me? How would I protect them? Is that whole adrenaline thing a myth? Would I freeze up or would I know just what to do?

When I heard the words RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. tonight on the national news, it stuck with me as a sort of sad irony.

We teach our kids to run. Toward the kids on the playground. Toward opportunity. Into our open arms…

And now we have to teach them to run away. TO RUN FROM EVIL.

We teach our kids to hide – their eyes for a big surprise, or themselves in a game of hide and seek. 

And now we have to teach them that hiding may be the ONLY WAY TO AVOID GETTING SHOT.

We teach our kids to fight – for themselves, for their country, for the little guy, for what’s right.

But now we have to teach our kids to fight off evil. TO LITERALLY FIGHT FOR THEIR LIVES.

I don’t know what else to do.

I let my elected officials at the state and national level know how I feel about gun control (if you haven’t guessed, I’m highly in favor of stronger gun control, stricter background checks, and a complete ban on assault weapons. And don’t go all ‘gun rights – second amendment’ on me).

I’m part of a few grassroots social groups on Facebook and other social media sites that leverage the power of numbers and their voices to make real change.

And I support mental health support and outreach to help those people who are unstable and should be nowhere near a pair of scissors let alone a weapon of any kind.

I didn’t intend for this post to be so heavy. It just infuriates me that we all need to be on high alert all the damn time.

Is this our new normal? Is this the kind of world we want to live in? It sure as hell isn’t the world I want to live in.

Why I Hate The Word “Blessed”

You hear it all the time.

“Oh I feel so blessed.” “God has really blessed me.” “Let’s ask for God’s blessings.”

I call bullshit. Not on the whole God thing. I believe in God, but don’t feel the need to justify whether I do or don’t in this space.

My problem is how people say it. As if God is up there (up where, really?) looking down and randomly choosing people saying, “Yes…let me bless that real housewife of Beverly Hills with zillions of dollars and a new car and fame and Botox…” All the while, turning his back on the people in the world that really need a blessing.

People like Davion Navar Henry Only.

He is 15 and has never had a real family or a real home. Now I have to give a shoutout to the folks who have been providing him with a foster home. Fostering a child is a very noble act and one that requires a great deal of commitment. (Yes there are people who abuse the foster care system, but I’m not going there).

But think of it. Here is this young man who normally our society wouldn’t give a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. He’s a black male born to an imprisoned woman with a drug problem. Odds are that he would be dealing drugs, raping women, murdering innocent people or – God forbid – dead already.

But he isn’t.

Instead, he stands up in church and asks for a family. No, he pleads for a family. I cannot imagine having to plead for a family. Having to plead for someone to love you not because they’re paid by the state, but because they genuinely care about you. He wants to feel connected to someone. Anyone. And when it comes right down to it, don’t we all?

He wants to play football. He wants to use the restroom without having to ask that it be unlocked.

These are simple things that shouldn’t be denied to our kids. And yet, they have been denied to Davion.

My heart sank this morning when I read this story. How does this happen? There are about 400,000 kids in the US Foster Care system. My question is – why are there so many kids in need of permanent homes when there are so many people unable to have biological children who are yearning for the chance to parent a child?

Is it because there aren’t enough families interested in fostering or adopting older children or those with troubled backgrounds?

Is it a lack of money?

Not enough awareness?

Are these kids not pretty enough? Young enough? White enough?

Have you read Nia Vardalos’ book “Instant Mom” ? I have and to say I devoured it would be an understatement. Long story short, she and her husband were unable to conceive a child through all of the normal and medical routes. With a heavy (but open) heart, she explored alternatives. Blowing away all Hollywood stereotypes, she and her husband adopted an American child from the Foster Care system. Her story was real and compelling and I couldn’t put the book down. Now, she’s an adoption advocate who works aggressively to get the word out about the growing number of children who are aging in a failing foster care system.

Many of you know I placed my son in an open adoption 25 years ago. I’ve shared my story in a number of places. Adoption isn’t for everyone, but it was the right choice for me and my son at the time. I feel extremely fortunate to have a close and loving relationship with him and his family to this day.

Yeah, I hate the word “blessed.” I believe in a very loving God. One who looks out for all children. Not just the uncomplicated ones.

When I think of my two young daughters that I parent with my husband – and my son who was raised by a phenomenal family and is making his way in the world as an independent young man – I don’t feel blessed.

I feel enormous gratitude.

I feel like we’re the lucky ones.

Pretty Sure Burger King Hates Me

The sarcastic tone coming out of the drive-thru speaker was unmistakable.

I had just ordered a bag of sliced apples for my two year old and a medium diet coke for myself. We had just finished a great morning at our local YMCA. She had her first swim class by herself without me having to sausage myself into a bathing suit and crawl into the over-chlorined pool. And after swim class, she joyfully ran to the kids play area while I enjoyed a three mile run in an effort to shed some of the aforementioned “sausage”.

We left and both of us were kinda hungry.

I love hate fast food…especially the super-delicious incredibly bad-for-you french fries. So unless we’re on a road trip, my rule is: just a diet coke and a bag of apples. That’s it. It’s enough to quench our thirst/hunger temporarily until we get home.

The woman took my order. And then I heard her reply…laced with a strong hint of disgust.

JUST a bag of apples and a coke? You don’t want anything else?”

Um, nope.

“Fine. $3.78. Drive around.”

And then she smirked at me at the window.

What the?

You know what, Burger King? You offer a drive thru window so people can order WHATEVER THEY PLEASE conveniently and then go on with their day. If you have a problem with that, then maybe you should set parameters at your window. Minimums, if you will. Something along the lines of, “Five dollar minimum…” or “Must order a meal…” or “Can’t just order a drink…”

Either way, I’m pretty certain the four dollars it cost me for a drink and some fruit is equivalent to the four dollars you’d be pocketing had I ordered a small french fry and a burger.

Just trying to have it my way, oh king of burgers.

Why I Let My 9 Year Old Watch Miley Cyrus

I can’t believe I’m joining in on the bandwagon of posts about last night’s abysmal performance by Miley Cyrus and her so-called “twerking“. But I am. At first, I patted myself on the back for successfully preventing my daughter from watching the VMAs for yet another year. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted her to see the scantily clad former Disney queen parading around making a complete ass of herself.

And so I played her a clip of last night’s performance. 

And my daughter’s reaction was exactly what I’d hoped it would be…

She was horrified and a bit uncomfortable, her mouth agape in disgust and confusion.

She said, “THAT’S Miley Cyrus???”

Then we had a lovely “teaching moment” about how being wild and crazy in your twenties is kind of what your twenties are for – but that it all comes down to personal choice. We all have the ability to make our own decisions about how we treat our bodies and how we view ourselves. In the end, she seemed sad for Miley. And that of course made me happy that she had understood my twisted lesson. I’m not a prude, but for the love of all that is holy – I did not need to see that bump and grind fiasco. And while I’m at it – shame on you Robin Thicke for participating in such gratuitous ratings-grabbing.

On a much lighter note, she was desperate to see what her idols had worn and if they too had made a spectacle of themselves. And it was my great pleasure to tell her that they looked gorgeous and very 20-something and had behaved like typical young women. They danced and laughed and partied with their friends. And they totally kept their dignity intact and (thankfully) their clothes on.