A funny thing happened after parent-teacher conferences last week. Upon my return home, I cracked open a malt beverage and basically slammed an alcoholic beverage for the first time since college. OK, graduate school. Well, OK and maybe that one time in Mexico, but Mexico is the home of tequila, so tequila is part of the cultural experience, people, so shooting tequila was key to becoming culturally competent, see? I see you rolling your eyes back there–stop it! Still. It’s not my standard operating practice to drink anything with a kick on a Tuesday evening, but I did. And then another funny thing happened: I immediately tore into a second Redd’s Apple Ale (I feel like they should probably slip me a Benjamin at the very least for all the free advertising I’m giving them here, right? Hello??), and pounded that one down nearly as hard and fast as the first.
My husband looked at me and asked, “You gonna keep going?” I do love this man–for many reasons, and even a little squeeze extra this time because he didn’t ask with even the slightest note of judgment in his voice. Probably because he was gonna try and get me all drunk and stuff and see what would happen. But I was all like, it’s 6:45, Honey, and the kids have homework and piano practice and what would happen is sorta inappropriate with the kids moseying around. (Editor’s note: I may have projected a bit here. The actual exchange ended with his for reals non-judgmental query because my husband is a swell guy who loves me and hasn’t tried to get me drunk since before we were married. I assured him then that I didn’t need a third margarita, that I was a sure thing after only two.) Sorry. Sometimes my mind drifts. But surely you know that already if you’ve read so much as one paragraph of anything I’ve written previously.
I didn’t keep going with the booze therapy, but I did send a picture of my nearly empty bottle of brew to an online group of friends, saying something along the lines of celebrating having survived parent-teacher conferences. And how I love my friends for thinking that I was celebrating the end of parent-teacher conferences where I’m the teacher. No, no. I was celebrating surviving my own child’s parent-teacher conference where I was the parent! And how I love my friends all the more still for saying it’d be OK if I had two more or ten more. They get me.
Wearing my professional hat at conferences often leaves me filled with wonder. Sometimes shock. Sometimes awe. I work with children whose family’s lives include extreme poverty, street violence, substandard housing and homelessness, poor education, unemployment, underemployment, and pretty much every other trauma known to limit education outcomes. My students live the kind of neighborhoods about which people intone, “THOSE” neighborhoods, the kind you see on the news, but wouldn’t dare to dip even your pinky toe into. This is where I work. Every day. Often but not always, their basic needs of food, shelter, and love go unmet. But it’s not always, and I hate hearing mass judgment of the poor as “THOSE” people. It’s inaccurate and it’s unfair. My students teach me every day, but most recently they’ve been kicking my ass (and by ass I mean psyche and heart–anatomy is hard). In my therapy recently and at conferences last week, these are actual exchanges I had or overheard.
Student to me: I met my daddy last week. He in jail. Is he my blood? (She’s nine) My mama stabbed my daddy, but only on his hand, so it wasn’t no big deal or nothing. But she had to go to jail for awhile, but not as long as my daddy and then I was livin’ with my granny and she told me that my daddy was from the block, but I don’t think he know my mama. Like she never knew him.
Me to her: I’m pretty sure she knew him.
Me: Well, she knew him for at least a little while about 10 years ago.
Her: My daddy say that that they make you drink pee when you in jail. I don’t wanna go to jail. That nasty. I ain’t drinkin’ nobody pee.
Me: Let’s work on getting you smarter so that you can avoid jail, OK?
Parent to a fourth-grader: Put your fuckin’ shit in your bookbag and LET’S GO!
First grader with an intellectual disability to me: My uncle killed my dog Saturday.
Me: WHAT? WHY?
Him: He didn’t like him.
Me: WHAT? WHY?
Him: He didn’t like him. You can hear me?
So, despite having a two-drink minimum after conference for my big kid, I’m reminded that it could be worse. A lot worse. The gift of a good education is one whose importance and value cannot be stated strongly enough. This is part of what made me nuts about my big kid’s conference–and it’s not that it was BAD, but it wasn’t GREAT. My kid doesn’t understand how critical it is to get his work and words on the paper–how you write and (I HATE THIS) how you test is how you’re judged. It’s how you get into a good high school. It’s how you get into college. It’s how you do better than the other guy you’re interviewing for a job against. He doesn’t get the why.
My son struggles with problem-solving and reasoning. We’ve known this, but now we KNOW this. In some ways the universe has smiled upon him, providing him financial stability (sort of), safety, and love. We don’t struggle in the same ways the families of my students struggle, that I can say for sure. This is not to suggest that we lead a charmed life either. If you’ve read more than one paragraph of anything I’ve written previously, you know that too. But he needs help improving reasoning and problem-solving skills, and that is something he does have in common with the students I serve. How could I have failed to notice til just now? Christ, talk about being asleep at the wheel.
Education is the single best way to rise against ignorance. Says the mother who slammed a couple drinks after conferences. . .