What Are You Good At?

Obviously I’m quite talented with the grammar, ending a sentence with a preposition in the title here and all.  *and a stunned hush falls over the crowd*  Despite this particular gaffe, somebody thought enough of me to purchase this card with a beautiful message of thanks inscribed within, and a fab swag bag to thank me for being her mentor this year.

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The fidget spinner was not part of the swag (because we are grown-ups), but some energizing bath & body products were. Also, my children never ever put anything away, so my house is a disaster.

I was having a conversation with my friends, the Ladies ladies, not long ago. Periodically we throw out a random question of the week just to see how the others respond. We are all friends, but we don’t get to spend much time together in the real world, so sometimes these questions illuminate and help us get to know one another better. I was bragging on my killer vodka pasta, which I’d made a few days earlier. I wrote that since I’m not really good at anything (crabbing again about my Grand Canyon-scale negative space vacuum of artistic skills) I was happy to have some creative outlet in the kitchen.

Now because they are my friends, the girls responded by telling me I was a talented writer, a good mom, and a good friend.  See, they are my friends. Of course they’re going to say that. And how I love them for their mendacity.  But the reality is my weak visual motor integration frustrates me, and this is not news to anyone who has read this blog before.  I asked the girls: So, what are you good at?

I thought for a while myself, and came up with a short list of things I considered myself good at.  I’m a good friend. I really am. I’m a good program support teacher. Thank goodness, ’cause they pay me for it and I’ve got 183 people who directly or indirectly rely on me to be good in my role. I’m a decent cook–tasty food, but not beautiful plates because, hello?? And I’m a good mentor.

Fortunately, my mentees agree. So it must be true!  For fourteen of the last 16 years, I have had the good fortune to have mentored brand-new speech-language pathologists.  They’ve taught me so much, more than I could ever hope to return to them.  As a group and individually, they’re exceptionally driven, high-achieving young women. Like they have never gotten a ‘B’ in grad school types of high-achieving young women. They’re bright, buoyant though generally seem to believe themselves as underperforming in their roles as school speech-language pathologists.  They are not underperforming.

The miracle is that they do facilitate progress with the district’s (city’s, state’s) most academically and communicatively challenged students. They improve the lives of kids in most desperate need. They do it with woefully inadequate resources and with too often inhospitable working conditions.  These young women work their butts off while feeling they’re not doing a good enough job, deflecting compliments and assigning credit to everyone around them but themselves. 

I do kick ass at work. I fail way more often than I succeed in getting what I believe our SLPs deserve and need though.  If I kick ass, it’s because I’m surrounded by equally (no, more) kick ass SLPs.  I don’t do status quo well, and I’m certain that my boss wants to throat punch me at least thrice weekly. But my boss is a lovely human who understands that my wanting the best for our SLPs and students underlies that tenacity.  Yes, tenacity. Because “pain in the ass” sounds just slightly less professional. 

So thank you, Lenaya, for the gift. The stuff, yes, (the happy notes are SO me!) but the gift of time with you this year. It was I who received the gift this year. Watching you grow in skill and confidence, and measuring the progress you made happen in those small people was my distinct pleasure.  Thank you for reminding me that I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Thanks for telling me you considered me a rock star.  YOU kick ass. 

Best. Card. Ever.  

What are you good at?

Not Justice, Not Karma

Thirteen years ago to the day, I was presented notice that I’d been a named defendant in a federally filed lawsuit. In my work as a speech-language pathologist program support teacher, I was brought in to help “fix” a case gone awry. The “case” was a then- 3-year-old child whose father had been recently relieved of his employment responsibilities (he was fired) from the school district.

I was called to the scene to represent the Speech-Language Disabilities Program. The school SLP who’d been working with the child was unable to communicate effectively with this parent–weren’t we all??–so I was a neutral SLP.  Wasn’t attached to the school, the student, or the parents, so my role was to represent theoretical best practices, and develop an appropriate IEP (individualized education plan, the special education vehicle for services) for this little girl.  I was to be the unemotional outsider.

I asserted then, and stand fast to this day, that the district acted in the best interest of the child. Therapy services were delivered as the IEP required, but after the father physically assaulted the school principal, he, not his daughter, was restrained from school property.  It made speech therapy at that site, shall we say, something of a challenge for the family to attend.

The guy requested mediation.  Mediation in the special education process is about what you’d expect.  Two parties engage in discussions, mediated by a neutral legal presence, and develop a consensus plan.  Our side was “successful” (lots of quotes here tonight, friends) in the school board’s directive to “make this guy stop calling me every night.”  A plan that I disliked but had to live with was developed, and to this day I am bound not to discuss the mediation with anyone outside that room.  The plan assigned a third SLP to provide services, and she did so with the utmost professionalism.   Because this family’s beef was never actually about therapy for the child, the father then filed for a due process hearing, which went entirely, wholly in favor of the school district. He filed complaints with the Department of Public Instruction, all of which were found to be groundless. 20120821-justice-sword

Having failed in all previous legal outlets, his swan song was to sue me and other named individuals, including past and future school board members, two district superintendents, various high-ranking district special education officials and a partridge in a pear tree in federal court.  The feds laughed him out of the courts, wouldn’t even hear the vaguest rumblings of it from this yahoo, and at long last, he went away.  PS–it really never was about his daughter, who was appropriately served and dismissed from services when her communication goals were met.

I’ve never forgotten that my maternity leave was interrupted by this suit. My then-boss came to my home to visit me and my week-old infant to tell me that I’d been served, so to speak.  She had the decency and respect for me to tell me to my face.  She was an amazing leader, a talented supervisor whose lessons were many, but chief among them: always find a way to do the right thing if it’s good for kids.

Two weeks ago, I was informed that this man had been arrested.  This man who sold himself and narcissistically viewed himself as an exemplary father, so committed to his daughter’s education that he had to “right the wrongs” done to his daughter (none).  So full of self-righteousness and straight-up crazy (well, I do have a psychology minor) was he that assaulting a school principal and pursuing every single legal remedy known in the special education realm was his duty, I imagine he would say.  He’s a great dad, I know he would say.  I heard him say it, I remember.

But great dads don’t use computers to solicit sex with underage boys.  Great dads don’t have sex with underage boys.  Multiple boys.  Multiple times.  Pretty sure that’s not good for kids.  He goes to jury trial November 7, and if the allegations prove true, well. . .

Someone asked me if hearing about the trial left me feeling vindicated.  It hasn’t.  Someone asked if I felt karma had done what karma does.  I don’t.  I’m not happy or relieved or feeling anything good about it.  This man did the unthinkable.  This man has children, and was having sex with children his son’s age.  Allegedly.  Multiple times.  No, I don’t feel good about that.  I’m not smirking or fist-bumping or told-you-so-ing.

I’m appalled.  I’m offended.  His path of self-righteous wrongness continued to spiral from inappropriate and ridiculous to criminal.  His court record is lengthy, and this is not something to rejoice in.  It’s one thing to mess with my professional life, but quite another to mess with a child’s mind and body.  I will never understand.  Ever.

After-Conference Cocktails

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.

Her:  Nuh-uh

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. . .