Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Terry's Camera Was Not Broken After All

Terry was taking a nap when I got home from work
but I could see he was stirring.
I looked over at the lump in the bed and said,
"Were they able to fix your camera?"
He had traded big chunk of change for that
swanky digital camera at Kenmore Camera.
He looked at me and told me the story,
"The guy spent a half hour looking at it
and told me he couldn't figure out what was wrong with it."
I thought that was odd since the Kenmore Camera
people are always crackerjack about fixing things.
Terry went on, "He said the view-finders are very
touchy on the new cameras and went to check
it out in the back room."
I looked at him and asked him if it was fixed.
He said, "Oh yeah, the guy brought it back and
handed it to me and said it was good as new."
I asked him what the guy did and he said,
"The guy said the viewfinder was too dirty to work."
Why doesn't that surprise me?

Monday, October 24, 2016

It's Too Heavy

I pulled my favorite sweater out of the dryer
and stared at it with dismay.
It had been shrunk down to a size zero.
It wouldn't even fit my old doll Cathy.
I ran up the stairs to the living room
and held it in front of Terry's face.
"Look at my sweater!" I yelled.
He had a big smile and said,
"I know. Isn't it great? I did the laundry."
I sat on the end of the couch close to his
recliner and explained about shrinkage.
(Not that kind)
I calmly told him I would prefer to do
my own laundry from now on.  I told him
if he REALLY wanted to help he could
push the vacuum cleaner around the house.
His bushy cromagnum eyebrows came together
and he frowned and said, "It's too heavy."
My mouth began to drop open but I caught it.
I placed my lips together and smiled and nodded.
THIS coming from a man who hauls an 80 LB backpack.
(half of which is mine of course)
AND who last week carried a 60 LB bag of
kitty litter from Grocery Outlet across the road
AND lifted my old 100 LB canoe to the top of my mini-van.
(much to my delight)
I told him that I REALLY appreciated his help
and then...
I hired a cleaning lady.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Odd People in Comfortable Shoes

I looked up smiling as the head librarian of
Lake Washington school district gave an impassioned speech
on the merits of the new Encyclopedia Britannica online database.
Anne gave the comparative statistics as to why we
should vote for the district to purchase this database
over another database.
Database, database, database.
Favorite librarian topic I assumed as her best friend
Mary began to argue with her.
After nine years in the substitute pool and a grueling year
at the University of Washington library grad school,
I had ARRIVED. I was sitting at the start of the year
with the forty librarians from all over the district.
I had a JOB.
I listened intently as Anne and Mary's debate became
more and more heated. Mary shouted at Anne,
"You're so odd!"
Then she burst out laughing.
Anne tried to look dignified as she looked from the
podium at her best friend of thirty years and replied,
"You KNOW what they say about librarians."
She then smiled at her bestie and said,
"They're odd people in comfortable shoes."
I covertly peeked under the tables at all the shoes
on all the feet, including my own.
We were all wearing comfortable shoes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Parent Letter to Shoreline School District

Dear Shoreline School District,

I love you.

I haven’t written a love letter in years, maybe a decade, and I wasn’t expecting to be finally writing one to a school district—but here we are and here I am, in love with you. As a young single black mother of two brown boys, I have been used to doing this alone—to not having a team to raise these beautiful kids with. But you’ve given my kids what I thought was only possible for well-off, able-bodied, neurotypical, straight, cis white kids—you’ve given them real education and community.

When we moved here from a wealthier, white neighborhood on the eastside three years ago, I was desperate. I had almost lost my teenager—constant ridicule from teachers had crushed his confidence, racial slurs hurled at him from white students had broken his heart, he had sunken into depression, he got in fights, and his grades had plummeted. And not once, not a single time, did his school contact me. Not until the day they casually called to tell me that they had found his backpack in the street, not knowing that he had tossed it there believing he’d never need it again. The next call I got was from his dad, headed to see our son in the hospital psych ward.

Meanwhile, my younger son—my bright, energetic nerd child—had already been deemed “overly aggressive,” a term often used to describe kids with his loud voice, his height, his enthusiasm, and possibly, his darker skin. His father asked about testing our son, who was bored out of his skull in his class, for the advanced program. We were told that they had already determined he was not a good fit.

And so I searched for a place that would be better. A place with more diversity, both racial and economic. A place we could afford to live and also a place that invested in its people. A place that cared about kids beyond their test scores. A place we could call home. And we landed here, a short walk away from the city, in a tiny house a few hundred feet away from a methadone clinic, a park, and a high school.

And a few months into the first school year here, my teenager came home with a piece of paper to show me. There was no fear or shame in his eyes like there had been in the past; his eyes were full of pride. Student of the Quarter. Whereas six months earlier, his previous school had watched my son drowning and couldn’t even bother to toss him a lifejacket, your school was excited about him—celebrating his strengths.

I love you for that.

You encouraged and grew my teen’s love of music, and when he took the stage to accept his Outstanding Musician of the Year Award at the end of our first year here, he confidently thanked his teacher for being so supportive and patient and loving. And he accepted that award knowing that he deserved it.

I love you for that.

You adjusted your curriculum to fit my nerdy grade-schooler, setting aside the first grade reading material and replacing it with fifth grade material. And while you recognized his strengths, you didn’t tell him that he was better than other kids or praise him for having all the right answers—you praised him for trying his hardest, for helping other students, for sharing knowledge, and for being kind. And at the end of the year you sent me a message saying that you hoped I would consider testing my son for the advanced program the next year.

I love you for that.

When my teenager struggled to adjust to his freshman year of high school, you didn’t ignore it, and you didn’t punish him. You reached out to me, and you worked out a plan to help him with not only his organization, but also with the anxiety that was leaving him unable to focus on his studies.

I love you for that.

And when you brought the mayor in to talk to my teenager’s high school class, you didn’t censor their questions. You let them ask what was important to them. And when the kids asked the mayor if he thought black lives matter, he was able to say that yes, he did believe that black lives matter. And my son was able to come home feeling like he matters.

I love you for that.

When my grade-schooler wanted to wear his #BlockTheBunker shirt proudly declaring that black lives matter to school, I was nervous. I was scared that his righteous little heart would be broken by adults who do not believe that black lives matter. I was worried that he would be hurt like he was when our neighbor informed us that he didn’t like my son’s black lives matter sign that he had hung in our living room window. I was worried that a day that began in smiles would end in a call from the principal. But when I met my son at the bus stop that afternoon, he was beaming. “All the grown-ups really liked my shirt,” he said.

I love you for that.

And when I decided it was time to talk to my teenager about toxic masculinity—to tell him to watch for signs of depression and anger in his friends when they were going through breakups, or having trouble at home, and to reach out to a trusted grownup for help—he informed me that I didn’t have to. He said that a school nurse had already gone to every class saying the same thing. He knew what to look for.

I love you for that.

And this year, when my grade-schooler nervously told me that he didn’t want to say the pledge of allegiance anymore in school, I was scared. I had memories of the one girl in my grade school who wouldn’t pledge, and how they insisted that if she wouldn’t pledge, she couldn’t be in the room at all. I remember how the teacher collecting her each morning and making her stand outside while we said the pledge had made her an outcast. But when I emailed my son’s teacher explaining that my child did not want to say the pledge, the response I received was perfectly succinct: “I fully support his decision.”

My teenager who was drowning in depression and anxiety is now flourishing. Yes, he struggles from time to time, and will likely never be a straight-A student, but you’ve seen his strengths and allowed them to grow. He’s now in choir, jazz choir, and the varsity bowling team. He has healthy friendships and confidence.

My third-grader who had been dismissed as too loud, too big, too different is now at home with other enthusiastic nerds in the advanced program, has just joined the math club, and is considering joining the drama club.

And it’s not just my kids. The kids in this economically and racially diverse school district do well in a state that is known for failing its kids who live outside of the wealthy suburbs. And you do so well because you love their differences. I see how you have translators at the ready for parent-teacher conferences, I see how well you work with working parent’s schedules, I see how easy you make it for busy parents to stay involved. I see the way you have developed programs not only for the traditionally gifted students, but for the struggling students as well. I see the ease with which some of my son’s transgender classmates have been able to transition in a school that prioritizes the safety and humanity of its students. I’ve seen how comfortable the queer kids are able to be with their sexuality.

I know how rare it is that a school district would be so dedicated to all of its students—not just in words, but in deeds. And I hope that other schools see this love letter, and know that they too could be receiving these from the parents of their black and brown kids. From the parents of their neurodiverse and disabled kids. From the parents of their poor kids. From the parents of their LGBT kids. I hope they see this and know that all of their students deserve the same love and care that my children are receiving. I hope they see this and realize that they are the ones missing out.

But until then, I will thank you Shoreline School District, for being what so many other school districts have decided not to be. A school district for all children.

Public Information Office
Shoreline Public Schools