To Hell And Back

My benchmark for social media sharing is “Would I be ashamed if my grandma or the superintendent of schools read what I’ve written?”  I crack wise, gush about my kids, marvel at my dog’s behavior, beg for money to support our MDA walk team, but I almost never sprinkle politics in with my friendly middle-aged musings.

It’s not that I fear offending anyone on the other side of the fence, and I certainly expect to change no one’s mind by sharing misleading headlines or clickbait that advance my point of view.  I just don’t.  Venom is out there, as easy to inhale as the very air we breathe.  I don’t want to be part of division.  I’m an adder togetherer.  Most of the time addition is the mathematics function suits me best.

At the Tuesday evening budget meeting of the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, Amy Mizialko, vice president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (VP of union thugs like myself), was told to “go to hell” by a member of the school board.  Twice.  Amy stood at the podium questioning a suggested solution to looming budget deficits, asking for solutions that benefit or impact least, I suppose, children, families, and educators.

She singled out director Michael Bonds in her testimony, responding to an earlier proposal, a proposal that in my opinion creates a false dichotomy of budget options. The proposal suggests an either/or: teacher raises or cutting bussing for specialty schools. Other places to cut are out there (of course, I’d like to see people care about education and ADD to school budgets actually), but it’s now made to seem like the greedy teachers want what they want at the expense of students.

Yes, she called him by name, and his response? “You can go to hell.”  She looked stunned for only a microsecond by his words as she backed way from the microphone, but regrouped in a heartbeat and clarified, “I should go to hell?”

“Yeah, you should go to hell, you called my name out.”

THAT is how one of my district’s elected officials responds to its families and educators. And before he walked out of the meeting, he blasted teachers for test scores.

I send my children to the district in which I work.  I haven’t decided which part of my heart hurts more–the one that represents the twenty-seven years I’ve committed to the children of my city, or the one that represents my two children I’ve committed to a district who tells their mother to go to hell.  I’ve cried–at home and at work since the news came to my attention Wednesday morning.

I called the school board member who represents my district, whom I helped elect to her seat on the board.  I didn’t know what precisely to say (I mean besides the obvious), and I couldn’t offer a solution, but I had to say something.  I couldn’t not say something. I called as a parent who was disgusted and embarrassed, a parent whose children deserve better from the highest ranking district officials.  I spoke to our children about his outburst, telling them how angry I was that he disrespected their teachers, and that their teachers deserve better. I didn’t ask for nor do I expect a call back from my director, but I wish I would have had the clarity in the moment that Amy had when she responded the next evening by saying sure, we can go to hell. We go to hell and back every day for our students.

THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT FOR YOUR CHILDREN.  You want teachers willing to go to hell and back for them, to do whatever it takes to reach and teach them.  Only thirty percent of my job is direct student contact at this time, and while I sometimes miss therapy and full-time student contact, I fret that I’d feel beat-down too hard/much to be 100% at all times. 100% is what our kids deserve.

Parents, you want and your kids deserve teachers willing to go to the ends of be earth for your children. Public education is a cornerstone of enlightened society. Demonizing your community’s educators is one sure way not to attract and retain excellent, committed professionals. But I won’t even begin down the privatization of public education path here. Some other day.

For years I’ve been saying that we’ll never “fix” schools until we “fix” the problems underlying impoverished communities. If you think my job is cushy because I don’t work in July, please come spend a day on 3rd & Ring Street with me, or cruise up Atkinson Avenue en route to my office and hang for an hour or two.

This collection of paragraphs is brought to you by a potty-mouthed (but never overtly cruel in my profanity) public educator. No shame in that, is there Grandma?

In Vain

Actually,  it DOES.  Guilty means precisely that.  Our ubiquitous friend Google provides these two definitions for the adjective guilty:

  • culpable of or responsible for a specified wrongdoing
  • justly chargeable with a particular fault or error

I think the message the De Los Santos Law Offices, LLC means to convey is that they can get you off.  I understand “guilty” and “convicted” carry entirely different semantic shades under the law.  But to me guilty means guilty as it relates to personal responsibility, right?   Google turned up a third definition:

  • conscious of or affected by a feeling of guilt

Too frequently, I see a distinct lack of being affected by a feeling of guilt, in point of fact. “I didn’t do it.”  “She made me do it.”  “Prisons are filled with innocent people.”  This, in a perfect nutshell of a mammoth commercial billboard, is why I am having a really hard time at work these days.  The defeatism and frustration I’m trudging through aren’t novel workplace emotions in my experience.  Various forms and degrees of professional-becoming-personal malaise have cycled through dark periods of weeks, months, years during my nearly three decades as a public educator.  Right now I just can’t handle the flippant meanness.  The lack of personal responsibility for one’s actions screams at me every day.  Literally screams.  At me.  At the other adults with whom I work.

I spotted this billboard on the ride to my office from my new school assignment last week.  It so happens that this billboard is visible from the windows and yard of the  Women’s Correctional Facility adjacent to the building on which it’s posted.  To drive past the corrections facility’s unassuming brick facade, you’d think it houses more a commercial bakery maybe, or a 70’s-era office building than a prison.  But it is a prison, and the law firm’s intent is clear in its placement.  They’re a business–I understand basic marketing tenets regarding its placement specifically there by the law firm–but its message is so counter to my personal system of beliefs, I just can’t abide it.

Teachers and other school staff member like myself spend our days teaching the exact opposite of this message to our <a href=”http://Enroll“>enrollees, and we spend our nights planning and preparing lessons and materials to teach that, to engage students meaningfully and productively.  This message–you can do wrong (you know–assault, robbery, murder, vandalism, grand theft auto, whatevs), but we’ll try to get you out of it because it’s not your fault–is the diametric opposite of what teachers want to see and have happen to students.

I shared a photo last week of the pellet holes in my classroom window, and despite what you may think bullet holes in windows means, I LIKE my school.  I like my students, I like the staff members I’ve met over the last couple weeks, and I like the building.  Ah, the building.  The school has to be one hundred and ten years old if it’s a day.  It is grand.  It was grander once, but now it’s tired.  Still gorgeous in its architecture though.  Wooden staircases and floors gleam.  The stair risers are rounded out from square after a century of  little feet climbing and descending the steps.  Detailed woodwork adorns door and window frames, built-in storage cabinets line the walls of coatrooms, and messages of peace and empowerment are stencilled in the hallways.  The building was constructed during a period where public education was viewed as a cornerstone of society; education, and the buildings where children were sent for their lessons, mattered.  Architectural details, like those I see here, were included in schools’ designs in the early twentieth century, and details like those in my school did not come cheaply, so the import of education was demonstrated in the way city fathers funded schools.

It’s hard to imagine a time where budget cuts were not the first and only thing that mattered when society discussed how it educated its children. Is it possible to wax nostalgic for a time I never personally experienced?

I’ve long said that we can’t improve schools (the almighty test scores) until we improve the conditions under which students live.  The critical importance of safe, stable housing underlies Matthew Desmond’s brilliant Evicted, Poverty and Profit in the American City.  His first-person research into housing in Milwaukee provided an uncomfortable read, and left this reader with the conclusion that slumlording is a profitable venture and that having a safe, regular place to lie your head at night yields better outcomes for people.

“it is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”

“Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”

From EDWeek.org, this discouraging statistic about kids who come from behind, and not in a romantic sports “comeback kid” kind of way: 

“At schools in which more than half of students lived in poverty, only 6 percent of students far behind in reading in 8th grade and 3 percent of those far behind in math and science were deemed ready for college and careers by the end of high school.”

80% of the students in my district are identified as economically disadvantaged.  But I digress.  I know blogs are supposed to be focused, but I’m not hyper-focused on muscular dystrophy this week.  It’s OK if you take a break from me and spend your valuable reading time elsewhere.  I sure wouldn’t blame you.  I’ve found that writing has been a balm to soothe this moody, savage beast (OK, and like the old adage, music too, obviously), and I need to find and reclaim my happy.  I’m driving my co-workers bonkers, and coming home crying isn’t helping my bad attitude.  So I write.  I can’t change the world, after twenty-seven years, I understand that’s a foolhardy expectation.  But I can change little things in my students’ lives, so I keep trying.  And I can change me.  Just not today quite yet.  I’m still snappy and ornery.

It’s so naive to say “be kind” and expect that people will be just ’cause; it’s so easy to say “take responsibility for your actions” and print it on a poster, but how does that message become part of one’s makeup? I can’t afford to take out my own billboard, but I’ve got to do something besides avoiding that corner during my travels.

Road Rage

A parent never wants to learn that two cars were shooting it up as they raced/raged past your children’s school playground via social media.

Before you chide me with the inevitable “See, I told ya! I still can’t/never did/never will understand how you send your children to a city public school and/or remain a city of Milwaukee resident when it’s the fourth poorest city in the nation” call to action: no one was hurt.

My #2 heard the gunshots from the science room, but #1 didn’t hear anything from his classroom. Curiously enough, there was no mention of the shots fired made from either of my sons. Had I not asked Saturday morning, I don’t believe either child would’ve said anything, except perhaps in afterthought. My husband spent a few minutes studying the exterior of our Lannon stone home, looking for evidence of bullet strikes yesterday, and came up empty. We joked that the miscreants behind the wheels and triggers must’ve been expert marksmen–according to social media, MPD reported no artifacts had been found. One neighbor posted the 11:44 AM audio from his garage-mounted security camera; fourteen cracks unmistakable in their clarity. They had to have hit something. Themselves? Their cars?

No one at school was injured, the loss of innocence maybe the only casualty. I don’t even know what to do with the fact that gunshots heard in school didn’t even warrant a casual mention from either of my sons.  They both were outside hanging out yesterday, because when the temps hit upper 40s in January, you go outside!  I didn’t go into full freak out mode, and I don’t know what to do with the fact that I’m not freaked out enough.

If social media is to be trusted, it wasn’t a targeted school shooting, apparently a road rage incident gone local, and thank stars the kids had just come in from recess. Saying “well, it wasn’t a school shooting” is not to excuse or minimize ANY VIOLENT act, nope, but to illustrate that gun-wielding idiots with sub-average executive functioning skills permeate our society, “safe” neighborhoods and less safe ones alike. But no one cares, because no one will admit that this shameful, inexcusable behavior could happen LITERALLY in their backyard–it’s always in “those” neighborhoods among “those” people. And apparently we need our own personal arsenals to keep ourselves safe from “them.”  Well, it happened in my neighborhood, on my street.

I grew up with guns in the house; my parents and younger brother all hunters.  My ex-husband owned two handguns (which his mother ordered him to store at her house for awhile after I announced I was leaving him), yet for all the time I’ve spent with firearms in my houses, I’ve never touched a gun.  I don’t understand the allure. I do understand that while we say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” people are less likely kill someone with their fists than with a handgun or semi-automatic.

But this isn’t a blog about weaponry.  It’s a blog about being a parent whose kid has a shit disease.  A disease that renders him slow and clumsy and an easy target.  He got lucky this time; they all did.

I started another assignment at a new school Monday. This is one of the windows in my new classroom, the one right behind my head when I’m sitting at my desk–and yes, it’s in one of “those” neighborhoods, so it’s OK, right? And sure, it’s only probably BB pellets, so whatevs, “those” people don’t mind or don’t deserve safe environs.

I sent this photo to a group of my friends, and one of the girls responded by telling me that before her office moved, she found a gun alongside a stash of cocaine in the bushes outside her workplace.   It’s not just here, and it’s not just now.  I didn’t understand it then, nor do I now, and I sure as heck have no solutions to replace violence on this earth with peace in its stead.  My little mantra, be kinder than is necessary, seems to fall short and on deaf ears.  But still, do that: be kinder than is necessary, that is.  It’s a start anyway.

Kids Who Bring Light To This World

Number One Son was inducted into his school’s chapter of the National Junior Honor Society last December.  Understatement and underenthusiasm being two of his special gifts–he IS a seventh grade boy after all–I knew little of what to expect.  Students were selected based on their grades, there was an application asking for community service and outside interests and activities, and later a confirmation and invitation to the induction ceremony.  This was the sum total of my process knowledge.

It was a bigger deal than expected.  The ceremony itself was solemn, thoughtful.  Middle schoolers carried a gravitas I didn’t know they knew of themselves.  There were formal speeches, candles, blood signatures on parchment (OK, pen on paper), and an oath upon their swearing in.  During the principal’s address at the ceremony’s closing, she spoke to the members, inductees and audience about leadership, about doing the right thing for the greater good.  She spoke of the rancorous presidential campaign and election, and the divisiveness it engendered.  That we were at odds with ourselves, we citizens, and how she saw in these children, a light. These were kids who bring light to this world, she announced.  After a regular day, it can feel burdensome to turn it back around and head back to school for an evening function (although I don’t believe she used the term burdensome; I’m paraphrasing here), but how the light these kids, MINE included, share with the world was uplifting and motivating enough to make returning for an evening function a joy.  You know I had tears in my eyes–it’s how I roll.

Saturday marks exactly two years since the tall one was diagnosed with neuromuscular disease.  I’ve not spent one single day of my life since then not wishing otherwise.  I would do anything, anything!, to make things easier for him.  When we work together on his OT core strengthening exercises, I’d love for him not to look at me and ask how it’s so easy for me to position and move my body the way I do.  When I hold my hand stock still, I’d love for him not to tremor and twitch as he compares.  I’d love to watch him pop up from a seated position and not have to rely on a four-point stance.  Simple movement that unless you’ve experienced injury, is easy, much taken for granted.  I’d love never to hear him slam the piano keyboard in frustration because I JUST DID IT YESTERDAY, WHY CAN’T I PLAY IT NOW??

I crack wise here in these pages, and my posts are not always MD-specific anymore.  I now paint with broader brushstrokes here in my blog–I write not only to rant and vent about muscular dystrophy, but also now to (I think, OK I hope??) entertain.  I will try to take my kids’ school principal’s words to heart and try to share light instead of the bleakness that blanketed me two years ago.

Through my broken brain and fussy keyboard, I’ve shared stories that have actually helped people.  I did something!  I’ve helped raise funds for the MDA; I’ve made people laugh and cry, and I don’t know any better compliment than someone saying, “Hey, I liked what you wrote about (insert any of my random, inappropriate subjects here), can I share your post with my friend/sister/cousin?”  YES!!  I’m never going to win a Pulitzer Prize or be featured in a Top 10 Barenaked Ladies-Parenting-Baseball Mom-Profanity is Fun-Muscular Dystrophy blogs compilation, and that’s OK. I’ve carved out my own little niche here, and it fits perfectly.


By now, y’all know I pretty much make my own rules here.  I mean, cake and margaritas appear in no Emily Post etiquette book or Pinterest wedding board for first anniversaries, and I totally owned that one last year. Why, just today, I received a beautiful cake and touching card from my friend and co-worker Cindy in recognition of the anniversary.  She felt tequila would be inappropriate in the workplace (for the record, I find margaritas always to be correct).  So I move to make the non-traditional second anniversary of my kid having a shitty disease gift a private #Ladiesladies-only Barenaked Ladies concert with obviously, a personal serenade of Did I Say That Out Loud?  Hey, I asked for a cake, and my friend made it happen, so there’s hope!  She remembered a year later, and that’s gotta count for something.  You gotta keep the faith, people!  Not to put too much pressure on you, Cindy, but you nailed Year One’s anniversary gift 363 days in.  So I’ll wait real quiet-like for the concert announcement. I’ll just be over here, ya know, just hangin’ around all patient and stuff.  I violated my no bakery rule, and ate one-fourth of the cake for dinner tonight. Not with. For. Happy anniversary to me. Or something. 

The traditional second anniversary gift is cotton.  So for The Deuce, I’m going to share again the shirt my kid helped design for our MDA Muscle Walk last year.  Yeah, I cried when he developed the text.  Like his NJHS induction ceremony, he held gravitas I wasn’t prepared to meet.

img_2169I swiped a graphic which read A Year Changes You A Lot for my one-year anniversary post. Yeah, it does.  Thank you for rolling with the changes with me here.  I’m such a work in progress. I’ll never celebrate a January 21, though I will try to face it with more strength and light.  Maybe my kid and I have more in common than I thought.  My love for him?  Still, always, greater than gravity.