Too Cool for School

I just went to parent/teacher conferences and was reminded just how much my kid and I are alike. She has been talking for weeks about her Latin teacher and how cool he is. When I met him, I couldn’t help but notice he was a lot like her dad, both in looks and sense of humor. Within five minutes he told a story about how he described an ancient poet as “punk rock” to a group of eighth graders. When they asked what that meant he explained how punk was an attitude. He went on to say that he does a presentation where he teaches the differences in poetic styles by playing music. He gives his high school classes a taste of epic poetry through the Who with their seven minute rock operas and the Sex Pistols with their ninety second in your face anthems. I warned him not to refer to anything as “punk rock” around my kid unless he wants to hear her twenty minute monologue on the subject. The good news is he will most likely be her Humanities teacher next year combining one of her favorite subjects with one of her favorite teachers.

My child has always brought her big personality into the classroom with her. In third grade she gave a rock a nose ring and mohawk and named it “Punk” for a science project. In fourth grade she persuaded her music teacher to include a music history lesson on the roots of punk rock music and helped pick songs that were appropriate for a group of Catholic school kids. And now, in fifth grade she has a Latin teacher who talks about the philosophy of punk. I’m expecting by next year she’ll be writing a paper on why “Get In the Van” is one of the most important pieces of American literature. I’m glad she has the freedom to do this, because I certainly didn’t when I was her age. Granted, there weren’t a lot of nuns and 70 year old teachers who had great taste in music, and the punk genre hadn’t even been around that long, but I can’t remember a single young, cool teacher that I connected with. Luckily I get to live through this self-expression with her. I show up to help once a week in her art/design class where she is making a skateboard from scratch. A bunch of fifth graders are using saws and power tools to build their own skateboards from gluing the layers of board together to screwing on the trucks and wheels. They are even using a CAD device to laser cut designs into their boards if they choose a logo that’s too intricate to hand sketch. I’m hoping I get to tag along when these girls bring their boards out for their maiden voyages.

Seven years ago my husband and I researched pre-schools like our life depended on it, and we ended up right where I started school in second grade. Within a few years we realized that we created a mess of anxiety in those preceding years for nothing. By kindergarten my daughter was being taught music by the wife of the studio owner where all of my bands recorded. Her after school activities were led by a retired musician who reminisced about the best and worst venues with me and dubbed my kid “Rockin’ Riley” after she jumped behind a drum kit like she owned it. Somehow a bunch of amazing, artistic people made their way to the same school under the direction of one of the wisest, most loving headmistresses in the country. It’s a small world for sure. Sometimes I still get side eye when I show up at a lacrosse game wearing glow in the dark skull Vans and a Pennywise hoodie, but I think I can safely say that would happen anywhere my kid ended up. It’s hard not to look twice at the middle aged mom dressed like a teenage boy. At least the teachers can match the kid to parent when my daughter shows up the next non-uniform day in a Distillers t-shirt and camo joggers. If anything, they are thanking their lucky stars she hasn’t developed my mouth just yet. Never fear, there is still plenty of time.

**I wrote this blog while thinking about my formative years and listening to my favorites from my middle school years – GBH**

Get Out of My Sandbox

I do not work well with others. Generally I find people annoying, so having to rely on them to complete a task is a real chore for me. I am in school again, and the program I am in apparently requires me to work with others quite a bit. I have collaborated well for the most part. I haven’t lost my shit on anyone…yet… but some projects are more difficult than others. Group papers are especially challenging. I have come to the conclusion that in any group paper situation, when the group consists of more than three people, you end up with a problematic character. 

I had a group paper last semester which was about a consulting situation. It was actually kind of perfect considering the paper was about collaboration and we were collaborating. One of the young women I was working with literally wrote one paragraph of a ten page paper and then kept asking to have zoom calls so we could discuss the paper. When we finally did, she managed to get one of the other women to write her part as she dictated what she wanted to say, which sounded similar to a drunk parrot reciting words out of a medical textbook so had to be revised anyway. I understood why she only wrote one paragraph after hearing her for five seconds. She only had one paragraph worth of information in her tiny little brain.

This semester I was assigned a group paper with three other students, and once again, I successfully managed to identify the problem child right away. Interestingly enough he was the only PhD candidate in the group. We had a couple zoom calls in this class, and this guy appeared for the meeting late both times and then asked to be caught up on what he missed. He also thought that the question “how are you?” was an open invitation to talk about himself at length. When this paper was introduced, his first response was “should we set up a zoom call?” I was not falling for that trick again.

The paper was about diagnosing a fictional character. When our professor suggested that we use a TV character the egomaniac started describing a show that I wasn’t familiar with. I mentioned another show and he said that was the one he was talking about. I am still scratching my head about what season or episode he was referring to. He said the guy lived in a house with a bunch of people and was involved in a school scandal. I figured out that he did live with “a bunch” of people… his family, but I still have no idea what scandal he was referring to.

Since I was the only group member that had seen the entire series, I took on the task of writing the character narrative. Even though the other group members weren’t all that familiar with the character on the show, they had no problem using my narrative to write their parts of the paper. But not Mr. PhD-bag! No, he decided to binge watch the show for a week rather than writing the assignment. And when he finally started working on the paper, less than 24 hours before the due date, it was to edit what we had all written and send us articles that he thought we should all read to start working on the paper. He seemed to be completely unaware that we had created a document and shared it with him a week prior and we had all done our parts.

He finally added one of his two parts literally less than 12 hours before the paper was due and it was a recap of one of the episodes that had nothing to do with what I had written in the narrative. When I mentioned this, he left a comment that I could go back and update my part to include the new character he introduced. Sure buddy, I’ll change what I wrote a week ago to discuss a meaningless character because you just happened to watch that episode.

The worst part about working with someone like this is that he actually thought he was being helpful by editing all of our work. But we never asked him to do this. We asked him to write the part of the paper he was supposed to write. One of the other group members and I ended up texting back and forth wondering what the hell Dr. Dumbass was doing. We were pretty sure we were being punked. We both communicated to him several times that everyone was waiting for him to write his part and that he was holding us up. His response was excuses and assurances that it would be done by the deadline. He completely ignored that collectively we had set an earlier deadline due to our schedules. He clearly didn’t care. He was obviously driving this paper and we should be grateful that he was even lending us his expert opinion on our work. 

Our professor was pretty harsh in some of his critiques. I am not proud to say this, but I was happy to get a B on the paper for one reason and that is that I was right. I argued about a few points in the paper, and the PhD-bag insisted on covering a situation that was meaningless and bringing up points that went against our approach. Our professor agreed with me on both points and as far as I could see, the areas where we lost points were all from our self-appointed editor. The paper didn’t affect my grade in the class much and even if it had, it would have been worth it to be right. 

**When I am feeling antisocial I like to listen to music that reminds me my people are out there.

Sad Semester

There are many reasons I send my child to someone else during the day to learn her three Rs. I don’t understand new math, I don’t explain things well, I need to look at a map to tell you where Nebraska is and I can’t figure out which fingers go on which holes on that godawful instrument called a recorder. But at the very top of the list of why homeschooling is not a good idea for this family is because after three days of too much time learning together, we all want to murder each other. Strangely, I am more of the victim in this situation than the instigator.

If I were my daughter’s real teacher, she would be hiding my erasers and writing dirty limericks about me on the bathroom walls. Luckily she isn’t old enough to even think about skipping school or I would be showing up to an empty room by now. I’m fairly certain the last person she wants teaching her anything is me. Second to last is her father. I don’t want to say my child is critical of my teaching style, but she is. Very critical, in fact. So critical that she can find fault in anything I do, down to the pencil I choose to help her with a math problem. When both of her parents are in her learning space with her, she gets even more annoyed. We apparently breathe too loudly. I get it, we are not her teachers, we are her parents. She doesn’t want us to be the ones teaching her math and science. She wants us to be her cheerleaders, not her coaches.

What makes the situation harder is that I feel like I am failing, all day, every day. There is nothing that will make you feel more like a monkey trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle than trying to work through a math problem you have been using a calculator to complete for the last 30 years. With my mini-me peering over my shoulder, it feels like I am trying to defuse a bomb on a school bus full of children. My daughter’s teacher is great about sending the parents instructions to guide us through this process, but even with instruction I feel like I have forgotten more than I will ever know and I am a small step above useless to my kid. All I see on the internet are supportive posts from fellow parents and mommy blogs telling me to be gentle with myself and my child and to let things go, but that is just not my nature. I want to thrive in this situation. I should be good at this. I tutor kids my daughter’s age. I spend time volunteering at her school. I left a job I hated several years ago to spend more time with my kid and now that I have all day every day with her I kind of want to run far far away. 

The thing is, everything is weird right now and as humans, we are uncomfortable with uncertainty, which is pretty much all we have today. I am certain about a few things – my kid enjoys me dancing with her to fulfill her PE requirement and she will follow instructions from her dad for music and art, so we have that going for us. I am focusing on these areas more than I am arguing about how to properly add fractions. She is getting more time on her skateboard and piano. She is also cooking and reading like a middle aged single woman.

I am helping when I can, but sometimes I think my child is better off working on her school work by herself. I attempted helping her with her french work but only managed to teach her how to swear in a foreign language. I mean, realistically, it is one of my few areas of expertise, so I may as well pass it on. She gets her musical ability from her father and her ability to say “go fuck yourself” in four languages from her mom. In my defense, the instruction was totally unintentional, just like how she learned to swear in her native language. 

If nothing else, my child is learning to be self-sufficient. She is doing more for herself than ever. Since both of her parents are busier than usual, this kid is actually figuring things out for herself. In the past six weeks she has had more training in technology than she will in the next six years. She is trouble shooting problems herself before asking for help which is going to serve her well later on. She has also had a lifetime’s lesson in patience and grace. She is watching her mom be frustrated but keep going and she is doing the same. She is watching her dad come up with new ways to get things done when the old ways aren’t available and she is doing the same. She is being coached by her cheerleaders in unexpected ways. Most importantly, she is being gentle with herself and with her parents. She has yet to swear at me in french or any other language for that matter. And as always, I am learning much more from her than she is learning from me which I think is kind of how parenting works. 

**I wrote this while listening to NOFX who are masters of making me laugh when I want to be outraged. 

Sinner or Saint?

My daughter had her first communion last week. But first, she had to complete her first reconciliation. She had been talking about this event all year and, of course, I had a few questions for her about the process. Namely, when she needed to confess and what atrocities she had to confess.

I recall going to confession as a child and debating about what to tell the priest and what to keep to myself. It wasn’t necessarily that I was such a bad kid at the age of eight that I thought my sins were unforgivable, I just didn’t want to admit I was wrong about anything. Telling the school priest that I had been mean to my mom or lied to a friend seemed like a not so smart thing to do. I was always a skeptical child, so I was pretty sure the priest was going to blab all of my dirt to my teachers. I pictured them sitting around the lunch table gossiping about what the kids said to their moms and each other. I didn’t want anyone to have any dirt they could hold over my head.

A month ago when my mini-me and I were talking about confession she asked what kind of things I had talked to the priest about when I was her age. I told her it was mostly me being sassy with my mom or not being as nice as I could be to friends. “What do you do if you don’t have anything to confess?”  she asked with a straight face. I told her I could give her a list if she needed one. She sounded just like my Dad who jokes that he has nothing to repent for. Unfortunately, she wasn’t joking. In her mind it was a totally valid question.

The day before her first communion was spent preparing for the big day. The kids practiced the readings, found their places in the chapel where they would sit with their families and tasted the wine. I had learned earlier that they give all of the kids a sip of the wine the day before so nobody spits it out on their dress at the main event. My daughter had a rather lengthy discussion with a saleswoman at the shoe store about this as we picked out a pair of white heels. She talked animatedly about how disrespectful it would be to God to have some kid spit out the blood of his son all over the floor. She had already talked to me repeatedly about the church wine. She was scared to drink it because she thought it would taste bad. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she was obsessed, but the wine was on her mind much more than her weekly spelling words or current lego project. I was happy to know it would be put to bed after her retreat.

When she came home from school that day she had two things to share. The first was that she did make a confession and it was that she made me crazy in the morning (which is true). She was not given penance with the rosary, but was instead told to cut it out. She of course shared this information with her grandparents, but did not want to divulge the conversation to me. Smart kid. The second piece of information she shared with her dad (again, not with me). She walked in and promptly told him “Dad, I loved the wine. It tasted so good!” He immediately texted me to let me know that fear was coursing through his veins. Well, that seems about right – my kid worried about the wine for a month and we will now worry about it for the next twenty or more years.


Potty Mouth

I walked in on a conversation between my husband and daughter last night about how all the kids in her class are talking about swear words. I have been hearing about this for months so I was a little surprised that she hadn’t brought it up to her dad yet. Maybe it’s because they just went to see a movie over the weekend where she spent much of the time covering her ears so as not to hear any swearing. I know this is hard to believe, but she doesn’t hear the f-bomb a lot. I clean up my gutter mouth around her as much as I can. Also, she usually doesn’t really listen to me.

Somewhere along the way she started telling me some of the foul language in the movie. She said someone said “beep-hole” which I interpreted as asshole. But then she said it was the “S” word and I was confused. So as my mind was trying to work out why someone would be calling another person a shit-hole, my husband said “like look at this dump. This place is such a s-hole”. I started laughing that I couldn’t figure out the context. So I said “Oh, I thought it was the ‘A’ word” which was met by a puzzled look from my daughter. I quickly said “A for awesome” to which my husband responded “yeah, your mom is called the ‘A’ word a lot!” I couldn’t argue.

I never would have thought that by the age of 8 my daughter would not have heard at least a dozen four letter words from me. I’m pretty proud of this. Especially considering she told me a girl in her class told everyone how she overheard her Mom say “I f’ing hate you!” to someone. Not to be outdone, another little girl claimed to say the “S” word to her parents. I’m wondering when she is going to ask me to hear the George Carlin recording of the 7 words you can’t say on the radio.

This morning I asked her why she and her friends talk about swear words so much. Being as insightful as she is she noted that it was probably because they weren’t supposed to say them. I told her this was true and I would be upset if she were swearing, but she really shouldn’t feel bad about hearing the words every now and then. She told me she knew this was true or I wouldn’t be listening to all of the music I listen to. She told me that she was happy that she didn’t have to be disappointed in Tim Timebomb for using foul language. She may not listen to me but she does listen to what I am listening to!

This piece is brought to you by lots of f-bombs!