Monday, June 30, 2014

The Law of What-Doesn't-Kill-You-Makes-You-Stronger

Sitting in the principal’s office across from Mrs. Straight-and-Narrow, her assistant and the guidance counselor suddenly I feel like I am the one who is in trouble. 

I skip the pleasantries, pull the two letters out of my purse and lay them on the table in front of me.

I don’t want this to be a confrontation. I don’t want a yelling contest. I just need the explanation about the mystifying discrepancy between the contents of the two pages carrying the same letterhead and the same signature. The letters that have raised the hell’s sandstorm in our lives.

There is … none.

I am informed about the emotional resilience of school age children.

I am assured that the administration and the 5th grade team is doing everything to ensure smooth transition to the third teacher.

When I am told I was the only parent who came to complain, I get a vague sense that I am being scolded for overreacting.

Not wishing to waste either mine or their precious time, I say my good-byes and leave.

You have no idea how hard it was to write that letter.

I look up and see a tiny crack in the emotionless façade of the principal’s face.  I am taken aback.

It would have been helpful if you had communicated something like that in the letter, I say, and am surprised that it was without reproach.

Oh! She seems genuinely enlightened. Thank you for your input.

We survive the remainder of the school year alternating between good, bad and really mean days.

One afternoon at the beginning of the summer break, I ask:

Are you nervous about going to middle school next year?

She looks over the book she is reading,

Nah. After THIS year, middle school is going to be a piece of cake, she shrugs and goes back to her book. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Law of Why-Bother?

Unfortunately (or not!) I find that having all my anger drained out of me seems to have drained all my motivation. The emotional fuel to deal with the situation is gone and now I battle the gravitational pull of inertia.

It doesn't even matter what I do. It won’t change anything. When I tried to affect change before it only made things worse.

It all seems futile – nobody cares.  Nothing ever changes. All of it is like a ripple on the surface of the water left by a pebble that sinks to the bottom. The ripple erased. The stone lost in the slimy riverbed. Why bother?

Why bother indeed?

There is no lofty moral mandate I have to carry out.

There are no marching orders issued to some Joan of Arc that she must fulfill.

At this moment, I don't feel I have to do anything.  No sense of compulsion. No pressure or urgency that drives an erratic action.

Just a gentle, quiet pull inwards, where the motivations and choices and decisions of a human heart reside.

I look at the little girl, her eyes puffed from tears, the echo of her crying faint in my ears… and I realize,

I am not here to change the world. I am not here to alter this messed up, screwed up system. I am here to show to my child that what happens to her and her friends matters to me…because it does! I want her to know that I care and that if I need to, I will voice and embody what they themselves would if only they could…

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Law of Waiting it Out

When I open my eyes, my soul feels all black-and-blue from the previous night’s battering. It takes me a few moments to get my bearing and as I roll out of bed and hit the floor to make my coffee, I remember the letters and the red-hot dragon’s fiery fury.  I want to resume where I left off, I want to feel angry, but to my great surprise, I find I used it all up. 

I am still frustrated. 

I am still confused about the inexplicable decisions and what seems to me as dismal incompetence of the administration. 

I still want all my questions answered.

I still want to give them a solid piece of my mind.

But, all the previous night's fury…all the turmoil... ? 

I turn to the left.  

I turn to the right… but the red-hot dragon is… gone!

Where did he go???? I ask myself, for this is definitely not the usual me. 

For, you see, I grew up in the world where holding grudges - and I am not talking just days and weeks... I am talking centuries old grudges - is a national sport… and cultivating anger is favorite past time. 

I never even knew there could be an alternative. 

I didn't even realize that it could be possible to not act on your anger. 

That it is possible to wait out the emotional thunderstorm the same way one waits out a central-Florida afternoon thunderstorm stuck behind a full cart in Wal-Mart Supercenter until the thunder and the lightening and pounding rain passes and the rivers recede into the drainage ponds. 

And the blue sky reappears behind the dark clouds.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Law of Taming the Red-Hot Dragon

The tiny sound of fire alarm battles valiantly against the red-hot dragon breathing smoke and fury for the control of my hand which now hovers over the receiver.

I visualize about two dozen other parents of the 5th grade students at this very moment receiving the same letter, the red-hot dragons breathing down their necks while the voices of their children are wailing in the background.

Through the fog and smoke I somehow manage to remember that every time in the past I allowed the red-hot dragon to win and its noise and heat to drown the quiet, persistent sound of fire alarm, things didn’t turn out that great.

But there is a magnetic field drawing my hand towards the receiver. I tell my legs to move away but they refuse. I order my legs to move away but they feel like they are made of lead. Nevertheless, I somehow manage to move them a millimeter away from the phone. The millimeter feels like a mile.

I consider suggesting that the school adds an anger management class to the core curriculum… for students AND for parents.  But, that is not going to help me this very moment.

I drag my feet for about  347 miles in the opposite direction from the phone and collapse in a heap on the floor.  I still feel the burning heat but the fog clouding my thinking isn’t as thick.

I spend a restless, sleepless night in prayer to the Almighty God alternating between reciting Psalms of unmitigated fury and meditating what I wish I could do to the person who signed the two letters and her supervisor.  By the time the dawn cracks on the horizon, I am so exhausted I fall into fitful sleep. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Law of Eating Your Own Words

Unlike the letter we received on September 11 – the one that goes into great details about the importance of organization and responsibility, continuity and stability, the new letter dated October 28 skips all that.  The only explanation I have for this is a severe case of eating one’s own words.  Despite the fact that I have often suffered from the same disease myself, still I struggle to find much empathy for the person who penned both letters.

 This is what the second letter says:

Dear Parents,

Your child’s teacher, Ms. S has transferred to another elementary school. Mrs. M will be your child’s teacher. Mrs. M is highly qualified and certified…We are very excited to have her join the 5th grade team. She will meet with the class tomorrow to introduce herself and begin building relationships with the students.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s classroom, please call or schedule an appointment to meet with me or Mrs. K.


If???? IF??? If I have ANY questions OR concerns??? The hell I do – BOTH questions AND concerns! And this time you’ll get to hear them all!

I head towards the phone, both letters in hand and pick up the receiver.

There is a red storm swirling inside my head and my heart, and a tiny, barely audible sound of fire alarm in my left ear.

When there is a hot-red storm inside my head and inside my heart, and a tiny, barely audible sound of fire alarm trying to catch my cognitive attention, I know for a fact that what I am about to do might not be the most productive or helpful.

I must resist the urge to act right now and force myself to wait. Until the red-hot storm passes and I can think again.

This is very hard when there is a 10-year-old child wailing inconsolably in the background. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Law of "If It's Broken, Don't Fix It"

The minor setback - that broken A/C – turned out to be not so minor. The classroom being uninhabitable, the newly formed class and their freshly appointed transplant teacher embarked on an Isrealite-wandering-for-40-years-through-the-desert-like adventure.

From one classroom to another to another.

Week after week after week.

By the end of the month, a permanent classroom was secured tucked away in the 3rd grade hallway. Away from the rest of the fifth graders. Back with the 'little' kids. But the physical separation only manifested the reality already there in heart and spirit.  

The castaways.

Nevertheless, with the restoration of some semblance of permanence, there was a huge communal sigh of relief and an overwhelming sense of gratitude that with all this now behind us we can finally focus on the reason why children go to school in the first place. The two-month setback became somewhat of a motivation to these ten-year-olds to re-double the effort and prove to the rest of the world that what these fifth graders went through only made them better and stronger. 

The gap that was created, huge as it was, didn't seem unbridgeable.

That’s when we received the second letter from the principal.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Law of Serendipity

I take a deep breath. It’s my turn to walk my talk.  It’s my turn to trust… and let go… and embrace… whatever it is that’s out there to embrace with my eyes blindfolded.

We all are a little apprehensive when we go to school to meet Ms. S, the new fifth grade teacher. 

First thing we notice is that she is young.  She couldn't be older than fourteen! She is also very sweet.  She has transferred from another school after one month of teaching first grade. 

This tells us a lot. It tells us that she is familiar with the heartbreak. She is a fellow sufferer of the trauma of rooting and uprooting and transplanting and re-rooting.  She knows what these kids are going through and she is present in and through it all. Her new room is already set up – minus just a minor setback - a broken classroom A/C in Florida’s sweltering September, which, we are sure will be taken care of by the time the new school week starts in few days.

It is inside this simmering crock-pot of a classroom that we discover our daughter’s new teacher is also a Harry Potter fanatic… pardon me – fan… just like we are! 

Our resident Harry Potter buff can’t believe her fortune.  Her new fifth grade teacher shares the same Hogwarts DNA with her! They both light up like 4th of July fireworks display as they talk Dumbledore and Voldemort, muggles and Ministry of Magic.

My husband and I look at each other and suddenly we know for certain that all is right with the world.  The worst thing has become the best thing and we find ourselves again in that blissful place where we can’t wait to see what is in store for us in the coming year

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Law of Turned Tables

I want to consider myself a good mom, but my children have a way of blocking my goal.

When I suggest that I meet with the principal, my 5th grader wipes her face and says:

No. You are not going to do that.  There is nothing you can do.  It’s done. Finished.  I have to deal with it.

What do you mean, ‘It’s a done deal.  It’s not a done deal until I deal with it. And I AM going to deal with it alright!

Mom.  There is nothing there for you to do. I am going to deal with it.

It’s that moment when your child does exactly what you’ve been telling them to do all their life… stuff like,

God works all things together for good for those who love Him… or

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.


Except that this time you don’t want them to do it.  You want to step in. You want to protect. You want to straighten the path, right the wrongs and not allow the innocent to suffer as the result of your or anyone else’s incompetence or lack-of-forward-thinking decisions.

Friday, June 06, 2014

If Not Me, Who?

I suppress the mixture of equal doses of outrage and guilt and force myself to press on through the letter:

The time children spend in 5th grade is critical. It is time for students to develop the foundations for organization, responsibility and independence in addition to their rigorous learning. Continuity and routine are also important factors at this grade level.  The administration at our school is aware of the critical need to develop these important skills.  The 5th grade team, our guidance counselor and I are working diligently to make this a smooth transition for our students.

I re-read the paragraph because it articulates it so well... it explains better than I ever could the concerns that any parent would have under the circumstances.  

Developing the foundations of organization and responsibility.



Learning environment.


But part of me wants to stomp into the school office and tell the principal how she should do her job.  I want to point out that with a little bit of planning and forward-thinking, the use of statistics and area demographic projections  all of us could have been spared a lot of unnecessary drama and trauma and gross disruption with unforeseeable ramifications.  The sad reality is that for some kids - perhaps even many kids - school is the only place where they get to experience a semblance of stable environment, continuity and routine. (Of course, that's a topic for another story, so let me continue with this one)

Isn’t that her job??? I ask myself,  To take the letter of the law and use her judgment and discretion to apply it, like a wise judge would, to the best interest of those for whose protection and provision the law was created in the first place. 

The more I think of it, the more upset I get. 

In fact, I want to meet with her and the guidance counselor and the area superintendent and spell all this out in their face so there is no confusion. 

If not me, then who?  If not now, when? It's what good moms are supposed to do, isn't it? 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Law of Unintended Consequences

We received the following letter dated September 11, 2013:

Dear Parents,

In 2002, citizens approved an amendment to the state Constitution that set limits on the number of students in core classes… blah, blah, blah… Our current blah blah bla..  Therefore, blah blah blah…along with student data… balanced group blah blah blah. Your child has been chosen to move…blah blah bl…

The fast moving train of my speed-reading suddenly lurches to a halt. I shake off the relevance lens that helps me process mountains of data that deluge my life every day. and pick out the few valuable nuggets.

Words like move or your child along with few select others have a way of re-framing my perceptions. They give me hawk-like focus I ordinarily lack as a matter of sheer survival in the information-overloaded yet increasingly impersonal and generic world.

Your child has been chosen to move suddenly turned a boring form letter into something deeply personal which explained inconsolable wailing coming out of our 5th grader’s room.

This was not the kind of choosing, the kind of singling out we anticipated or wanted. 

And this certainly was not what I, aforementioned nameless citizen wanted or anticipated when casting my vote in favor of the amendment of the state Constitution that limits the class size.

With this letter my distinct voter’s intentions and our suddenly dismal reality collided carrying a vague yet very real sense that it is my responsibility – indeed, my fault – that my child - along with the entire 5th grade - is experiencing current turmoil.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Be Kind - Rewind!

Today is the last day of elementary school education for our family. It's a bittersweet day full of reflection. And tears. And, I would be dishonest if I didn't say, a huge sigh of relief. As well as a bit of dread, which always seems to accompany the transition from strict schedule and order to no schedule and barely-managed chaos of our typical summer.

Back in August of last year, we received the following card in our mail addressed to our fifth grader:

Hello, my name is Ms. J and I will be your teacher this year.  I hope that you have been "Wild About Reading" this summer.  I am looking forward to meeting you and having an exciting year.

If it had been up to our child, she would have chosen Ms. J to be her teacher herself. The card was received with excitement and anticipation of a great year ahead.

The first day of school only confirmed the promise of the wonderful things to come. Several special friends were in the same class -  we knew we were off to an amazing beginning.  This is a welcome departure for our family from the usually bumpy start to anything new - some of us have harder time embracing, or even accepting change than others. Of course, we still needed to adjust to the new schedule, but all in all, we couldn't ask for a better and smoother transition.

The bliss lasted for exactly one month which is approximately the amount of time it usually takes our family to adopt the school schedule as our 'new normal'. Just as we thought that we had finally nailed down this school thing, our 5th grader stormed in on September 11, carrying the following letter from the principal.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Cracked Beauty - the Epilogue

I realize that this bowl is too big for my hands to hold …

in its beauty

in its brokenness

in its unfinishedness…

in its usefulness…

I need bigger – much bigger - hands to support my trembling fingers...

Trembling with awe…

Trembling with pain…

Trembling with the exhaustion of the long journey…

I need a place where I can set down the bowl…

… and rest…

just as I need a place to set down my head… and rest…

… to set down my heart and rest…

The owner’s sky-blue eyes wait kindly, the bowl in his hands where it had started, long time ago, spinning on his wheel soft and pliable...

I swipe the credit card and sign my name on the electronic pad.  He smiles as he hands me the beauty.
All yours now. You chose well…

I shake my head.

All mine… and it’s not. I chose it… and yet I did not.

I walk out of the studio into the blinding sun, the bowl in my arms…I know it’s not mine to hold it alone…

Mom! What took you sooooo LONG??? We’ve been waiting here F-O-R-E-V-E-R.

Maybe more like five minutes, I have to correct.  I am a mom. I just picked up a piece of pottery from the clearance table…Whatcha' think? Like it?

Cool.  Can we stop by Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way home? We are starving...

For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said,“In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God" Psalm 46:10