Child


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Two things inspired this post. The first was a comment or two from the Widower Wednesday series referencing the ire of in-laws and adult children whose widower was daring to date without their permission. The second was a news item concerning Sir Paul McCartney’s recent engagement to his soon to be third wife.

All I can really say is, “Huh?”

When I hit adulthood, it never crossed my mind to seek my parents approval of anyone – friends or potential partners. I was an adult. Free to companion as suited me, my life-style and needs. My parents certainly never concerned themselves with my opinions of their friends or even of the relationship they had with each other – the latter of the two clearly being none of my business.

But it seems there is a segment of the adult world – both parent, grown kids and even extended family – who feel that getting judgey and expressing it in all manner just-plain-juvenile-and-wrong is completely fine and normal.

McCartney sought the approval of his grown children before deciding to marry again. Perhaps he felt the need to verify his choice after the particularly disastrous 2nd marriage to a gold-digger a few years ago, or maybe the big kids informed him that all future step-mothers must be vetted by them. Who knows. But why? Why?

If my mother were to date or even marry again (and I would start preparing for the Second Coming in either case because it would surely follow on the heels of something so mind-bogglingly unlikely – you’d just have to know Mom in person, trust me), I would smile and say nothing – to her anyway.  DNOS and I would have plenty to roll our eyes about in private to be sure, but we were raised better than to presume on our parents’ intimate relations.

Rob’s mother recently remarried and he kept his mouth shut throughout the process that led her online to a Catholic dating site and through a whirlwind courtship that made ours look downright puritan and leisurely by comparison. She’s an adult and sound of mind and it’s her life.

FIL shaped up to be a good match but even if he hadn’t, it wasn’t the place of her children to wade in – unasked – and jump up on the nearest high horse to pontificate about it.*

Back in my message board days of new motherhood, I belonged to a group of women who were all first time mothers. We’d met at BabyCenter and took our cadre off to a private group once our kids arrived. Through the course of several years, we shared our lives and a couple of the women lost their mothers and had fathers who dated and remarried. Oh, the angst. Some of it was grief driven and I understood that, and none of them got up to any antics because they were too well brought up for such trailer park drama, but it’s not uncommon for adult children to over-think and have a hard time letting go of the idea that parents aren’t just Mom and Dad trapped forever in the context of our childhoods. They were grown ups long before us and continue to be long after we’ve cultivated big girl and boy lives of our own.

The “being raised properly” thing is likely the culprit. The past couple of decades have seen parents being less the adults and more the friends and allowing children too much input into how a family is governed. Recipe for entitled-to-meddle-in-your-lives-adult-kids, in my opinion. Heavy emphasis on the word “kids”. Some people never let go of the selfish impulses and world view that drove their parents to distraction when they were physically children and is now quite the lodestone now that they are only physically adult.

Edie and Mick were somewhere between taken aback and actively stunned when Rob announced our engagement to them. They knew about my existence, our dating and that was about it. They felt a little out of the loop, but that’s because technically they were. That’s what happens when you go out into the world and focus on your own life: you stop paying a lot of attention to what your parents are doing. In some ways it reminds me of my middle school students who were always incredulous when details of my life slipped into their line of vision. They couldn’t conceive of me outside the role of teacher. Kids have the same stilted vision of Mom and Dad. We are JUST Mom and Dad. So there was no reason for the older girls to know about Rob’s life and he was equally oblivious to their grown up lives too.

But Shelley and Rob raised their girls well and our new family formed and continues to evolve without any reality show drama.

The issue that extended family or friends may take with a new relationship or spouse though is different. Whereas children’s feelings should be taken into account – though not necessarily catered to because the idea that one’s children – especially those underage – have some mystical idiot savant ability to ferret out bad actors is one I wish would simply vanish. Children are not the equivalent of drug sniffing dogs when it comes to people’s character. They are far too self-interested for one and way too young and inexperienced for another.

One’s in-laws or friends, unless they are point-blank asked for an opinion, should just keep their opinions to themselves. And even when asked, they should remember that no one really wants opinions. When you are asked for an opinion what is really required is validation. So validate with a smile because no one gives even the tiniest fuck what you really think. Really.

I am continually astounded by people who put up with people who behave like the cast of Jersey Shore. I don’t have any tolerance for it. Neither my younger brother CB or my youngest sister Baby act out with impunity and when my older nephew got snotty with Rob on his first visit, he was squashed. It didn’t prevent further fires, but he knew I wasn’t putting up with it and I didn’t. We actually packed up and checked into a hotel during our 2008 visit when N1 unleashed one of his classic tantrums and I unceremoniously kicked CB out of the house the afternoon Dad died because he launched into his famous imitation of his substance addled teenaged self. Though I loathed Dr. Phil, the oaf got one thing right – you do teach people how to treat you. The choice to be a doormat in your own existence is entirely yours.

Rob has had to set both his SILs straight about what he will and will not indulge as far as their grief issues go, but by and large, our road has been baby butt smooth compared to the horror shows of some of the women I have encountered in the comment sections here and there.

Stalking, verbal harassment, poisoning the opinions of small grieving children. Not okay. If the party related to these people is not acting, that’s telling, and if you are not drawing hard lines in quick drying cement, telling as well.

We have this idea that drama and the “course of love never did run smooth” means that a relationship is meant to be because adversity is good for romance. That’s just sick twisted Hollywood garbage. As the credits roll, the actors are snug back in real lives and the people on the screen are make-believe.

*Rob’s youngest sister was a bit blistery when she first met him – after the engagement and slightly ahead of the wedding – but Rob didn’t back her up. We all sat, rather uncomfortably, around the table while she had her say. Gee handled the episode with more grace than I would have.


Oocyte viewed with HMC

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Rob calls me “literal girl” because sometime nuance escapes me. I have often wondered if there had been an Autism spectrum when I was a child if I would have been slotted somewhere along it.

I make assumptions about the virtual people I know based on what they post and where they post it. If we are Facebook acquaintances, and your feed is a healthy mix of the personal and self-promotion, I figure that no question is purely rhetorical even at the crossroads of religion and politics.

Apparently, I am wrong about this. One can shamelessly promote causes and career and still feel that status rants are sacrosanct.

A blogging acquaintance roared a bit about the recent abortion scuffle during the almost shutdown of the U.S. government, which I personally feel has little to do with “life” and everything to do with stripping women of the few rights we still possess, and basically called out those of us who believe that women’s healthcare should number abortion among its many faces.

Why not just admit that abortion is about killing children, she asked. I would respect you more if you would simply own that fact.

I thought about it. And responded.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have. The cheering section that followed her bluster was a clear indication that only those who believed as she did would be actually respected, but I responded.

Why? Because she asked for responses and because she’s wrong. Her position, grounded in motherhood and Christianity, presumes that those who support the ability to choose to abort a pregnancy think the fetus is a child or that life begins at conception or that the unborn have rights that supersede the woman’s before they are viable.

“You know it’s murder,” she responded.

But it’s not, in my opinion.

I don’t believe in any of that Christian nonsense.

Life doesn’t begin at conception. Existence does. And just existing doesn’t mean much. My late husband existed for months in a spastic body with a brain scoured clean of dura matter, taking in nothing, processing nothing and responding to nothing. That’s not life. The embryos left over from our 2nd IVF existed in cryo-storage for over three years before I gave permission for them to be discarded. Frozen potential but also not life.

I know the difference between life and existence. That’s the quibble and we are nowhere near ready to admit it or deal with it as a society.

But I also don’t think life is sacred. We are born and ,if the stars align properly, we live, happily or not so much, depending on a lot of circumstances of which a goodly number are not ours to control, and then we die. That which is me – truly me – continues on. Maybe my self is born again or maybe there is another plane of existence. I don’t know. But this one life, while I like it very much, is just a blip on a vast canvas and given what I have seen, read, watched and experienced in my short life, I have yet to be convinced that anything about physical life as we know it is all that special. We certainly don’t treat it as such on the whole if one excludes the moaning over potential life, which seems to attract far more interest than the real live children who suffer within walking distance of almost all of us every single day.

But the bottom line is that someone else’s religious beliefs shouldn’t carry more weight in the eyes of the law than my own where my internal works are concerned and forcing a woman to give birth (or to risk pregnancy because you don’t believe contraception is moral either) is wrong. Woman are more than potential incubators, which is what the pro-life movement reduces them to – slutty incubators with the maternal instincts of magpies. (And just as an aside, since when does using your vagina for sexual purposes automatically translate into allowing the government jurisdiction over anything that results?*)

And I said so. But that wasn’t, actually, where I messed up even though – according to someone who responded later – I was rude to have replied at all.

No, what I did was tread unwisely into the “why don’t women who don’t want their babies simply give them up for adoption because there are a lot of us out here who can’t have kids who could benefit from this.”

The unspoken companion fairy story spins off into the “win-win” weeds of how everyone gets what they want and a poor unwanted baby is loved and cherished.

I really hate it when it’s assumed that I was unwanted or that my birth mother was little more than a brood mare.

Being adopted, however, I take all sorts of issue with the idea that adoption is a panacea without consequences. There are oodles of studies supporting the fact that even newborns know their birth mothers, and how can anyone think that an infant separated from its mother and carted off by strangers doesn’t know it or that marks aren’t left as a result?

There is also the tip-toed about problem that, at its heart, adoption is a legal transaction that comes uncomfortably close to buying and selling a tiny human being, who will someday be an adult that the law still regards as a child where the adoption is concerned.

And finally, almost no one goes into adoption as a first choice. Unless you are Angelina Jolie, maybe, you likely adopted as a back up plan when biology failed you. There is nothing about this that makes you a bad person, but the disingenuous way many adoptive parents approach this obvious truth is insulting to adopted children. We know the truth. We only think less of you when you won’t admit it.

I am not a puppy. Here are my papers, bundle me up and take me home. Woof.

My birth mother was seventeen, Catholic and it was 1963. She had no choice but to put me up for adoption.

My parents were infertile. If they wanted a family, they had no choice but to adopt.

Kudos to my parents for never pretending I wasn’t adopted or that the reason for it wasn’t the fact that they couldn’t have biological children. It never mattered to me. I knew nothing else. I was torqued, however, when I found out as an adult that not only was I not entitled to contact my birth parents for a health history, but that my dad had torched all the papers the agency had given them that might have helped me find out the information I am entitled to.

Dad took that tongue-lashing with an uncharacteristic meekness, I might add.

What was annoying about the responses I received on my take on adoption (one I think I earn by being an adoptee and therefore knowing something of what I speak) is the consensus that I was “wrong” and “need help”.

Seriously?

Really?

“Aren’t you glad that your mother cared enough to give birth to you? Wouldn’t you just hate it had you been aborted?”

What kind of backward logic is that?

Being a fetus, or even an infant, is not something I can recall, so if I had been aborted, how could I possibly know or care about it?

And if I had been and being born was important to me, wouldn’t I have simply been born to someone else? Or what if simply being conceived was all I had to do to complete what assignment this go around had me down for? What if my only task had been to blink into existence and then cease to be in a cellular form. providing my birth mother with the opportunity to have an abortion, which was part of her life’s lesson plan?

Of course, I had a more active curriculum to complete and to help others with this time. Being adopted was part of that though I still feel it is just a slightly harder to justify form of the whole ownership thing we pretend doesn’t exist where our children are concerned anyway.

It’s too bad, I suppose, that abortions have to occur. They are no picnic for the women getting them either, and it’s incorrect to assume why women have abortions by stereotyping them in the same category as those who take established lives.  But life is hard. Choices can be hard, and abortion is one of the hardest and making it harder, or impossible, might make you feel like a good person but it doesn’t solve the issues that bring women to choose it now, does it?

*Ah ha, I hear the righteous squeal, then why do my tax dollars have to pay for STD and PG checks via Planned Parenthood? If you want privacy, take care of your own damn health. To which I reply, good point. And let’s add getting old to that because my tax dollars shouldn’t have to replace a knee or hip you didn’t take care of when you were young because you were too lazy to exercise, right? Or that heart by-pass or the diabetes you developed eating nothing but processed food. Or the cancer you have because you couldn’t suck it up for the hot flashes and took hormones for too long.

And while we are at it, shouldn’t you have to fund your own retirement? It’s not my problem you thought your house was an ATM or that your children need five star summer vacations, is it?

There are a lot of things that tax dollars cover. Bank bailouts. Sketchy military actions. Corporate welfare. The list of waste is long and shifts depending on your politics, faith system and socio-economic status.

Lighten up.


A teacher writing on a blackboard.

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Being the parent as opposed to the educator is a bit of a task for me. Balance eludes me even though Dee has been in public school for six years now when preschool is factored in, and I still find it hard to silence myself or pretend not to know what I know about the politics and practice of being on the educator side of the desk.

Last night was Parent/Student Conferences. This year conferences have been separated completely from report cards, which won’t be sent home for another month. The entire affair is student-led with the purpose being student demonstrating what they have learned.

I facilitated student led conferences in some form or other – on and off – since the late ’90’s. By and large, they are neither good nor bad practice where evaluation is concerned. Many parents despise them and with good reason. Most kids are woefully unprepared to present evidence of their own learning and progress.

There is a lot of work and preparation involved in getting kids ready to lead a conference or even perform the most minor dog and pony show for their parents. And most teachers don’t have the time to prepare kids properly with the end result being painful for child and parent alike.

Dee is  painfully shy under the spotlight. It stems from her slightly OCD tendencies and her fear of being wrong. What exactly she thinks will happen if she messes up, I don’t know. Rob and I try to reassure her that grade three is simply not – in the long-term – such a big deal that making mistakes here and there don’t matter, but it’s a fine line. After all, we don’t want her to develop an impression that elementary school isn’t an essential part of what she needs to do in order to move on from childhood to teen to adult. But honestly? It’s lower stakes than one is led to believe by raving politicians and media analysts.

But it’s not stake-less.

Basic skills like simple arithmetic, ability to write a complete sentence and eventually a paragraph or two and the ability to read gradually complex materials with understanding are huge.

It’s no secret that Dee struggles with her reading. She has since preschool – where yes, they were pushing reading already.

I have questioned – closely – every teacher Dee has ever had about my feeling that Dee perhaps had  problems that went beyond the need to work a little harder. And they all brushed me off.

In grade one, the brush off at the fall conference was followed by a later admission that maybe Dee did need a bit of intensive one on one. She was put into a program designed to catch up kids who were lagging but not special needs and she did indeed make strides. But reading was still not easy and it seemed to exhaust her.

Grade two, I had to go in and arrange a meeting with the teacher mid-year to insist on Dee receiving some additional assistance. This also seemed to help but didn’t solve the problem. Dee simply can’t sound out words. She can sight-read. Once she knows a word, which can take repeated exposure, she remembers it, but it can be an exhausting process.

This year, I voiced my concerns early and was again told that Dee’s issues fell within the realm of developmentally accepted parameters.

I accepted this – only after checking with my friend, Sis, who is a Title One teacher back in my former school district. I had her run Dee’s “symptoms” by her supervisor and a few other reading teachers we know and they agreed that it could be the case.

Not long ago, however, I’d had enough and insisted on Dee being tested. Frankly, I wanted her tested in grade one and was told no.

We’ll have the results soon. I am pretty certain I will be vindicated but not pleased with the fact that too much time has elapsed since I first voiced my concerns.

Dee was able to cut losses the last two years because her teachers had time to work with her one on one. Alberta sets class sizes for grade two and lower that are small by US standards. They also allow for more remedial and special education for the youngest children, but not the older ones. She is now, unfortunately, not likely to get much help because most special education funding is eaten up by physically and behaviorally disabled kids.

There is an autistic boy in the grade behind Dee who has an aide all to himself who – according to Dee – “plays with him in the hallway all day”.  I’ve observed this little guy up close on a few occasions and my guess is that in terms of being educable – he isn’t. Not that this should condemn him, but I question a system that spends a lot of money to babysit a kid in a school setting that he will not benefit from while kids like Dee, who could be helped greatly with just a tenth of the attention, are left begging.

The biggest issue this year is my own fault.

On the first day of school, I read the names of the other kids in her room and realized she was once again a buffer kid.

I know buffers. I rearranged class lists and seating charts with them.

A “buffer” is the quiet, obedient student you use to put space between the pains in the arses in your classroom.

Dee’s teacher refers to these kids as “characters”, which is the politically correct way of referring to the “time sucks” that every teacher has and sometimes in overabundance.

And yes, these charged up characters deserve their education and the time and attention they receive, but the truth is that they get it at the expense of kids who are quiet and sweet and sometimes in more academic need than they are.

Dee has spent the last three school years as a buffer kid. I should have gone straight to the office and planted myself there until she was moved to the other class. But Rob and I didn’t want her to get the idea that she could simply rearrange life when it wasn’t to her liking.*

So we told her to “suck it up, Buttercup”. And, being our daughter, she did.

But the cost has been heavier than just her social life.

Dee, for personality and learning need reasons, requires a calm learning environment. From the first, loud look-at-me kids have repelled her. Part of it is just who she is. Confrontation seekers or kids seeking to dominate her are not welcome in her sphere. She is not a leader herself but she is no mindless follower. If she follows, it’s out of genuine attraction to people. Anyone seeking to make her a pack member had better parse their invitation with care. Additionally, when she is engaged in activities that take quite a bit of effort – like reading – any distraction will derail her. Once off-track, she frets and worry leads to inertia in a hurry with her.

Her teacher assigns seats, changes them frequently and doesn’t allow the children to choose their work groups. None of this is out of line, but because the boys really outnumber the girls, Dee sits and works with rough, tumbly “characters” a lot more often than is good for her learning style**.

The only break we’ve caught all year is the fact that she doesn’t share a cubby, but otherwise, her poor little psyche is under assault for hours a day and as a result her progress has ground slowly to a halt from which I don’t see an easy jump-start. At this point there is no way we could hope to get her moved to the other class because of the numbers. Grade three is huge. But, next year we will not be gracious at all if Dee ends up with the Loud Boys again.

My final observation is one of irony. Back in my old Iowa school district, the province of Alberta is looked upon as a model of education practices. From what I have observed, the schools here face the same short-ball mentality that plagues the US, so the government continually bleeds the system with cuts that pretty much mean the Canadian version of special education is teacher assistants in the classroom and individual education plans that may or may not be implemented if the budget is short that year.

Dee was to be subjected to the Alberta version of standardized tests., PAT’s. If not for that, I wonder if her teacher would have broached her concerns about Dee’s reading at all. From the look on her face when Rob announced that Dee wouldn’t even be in school the week of the tests, I get the feeling that she or the school or both are evaluated based on the tests outcome.

My personal opinion of standardized testing is based on 20 years of having to give them and on my own experience writing them – they are slippy tools.

One can make a test sing and dance to just about any tune one likes and because of this, they are mostly valueless.

It would be easier, I think, to send my child to public school if I’d never taught in one, but having no alternative save home-schooling – which I am not ruling out – I work on my balance.

And my balance is being sorely tested.

*In addition to her classroom being “bad boy” heavy, none of her friends were in that class. She gets along with everyone, but she has no one in the class with whom she is close. She often talks about how no one shares notes with her or talks to her at lunch or asks her to join in games when weather forces them to remain indoors for recess. She is such a social creature and craves being included that I am amazed she doesn’t complain more than infrequently.

**Although I am guilty of using students as buffers, I avoided placing struggling learners with tumbly characters regardless of how mild-mannered they were. Ultimately, a child’s learning was more important than the control factor level of the room.