Dear Mrs. Lindsey (Reported name of West Virginia teacher whose mic-grabbing has gone viral)

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Dear *Mrs. Lindsey* (Reported name of West Virginia teacher whose mic-grabbing has gone viral),

I bet Tuesday morning when you woke up, you had no idea what this week held. And now you are one of America’s Most Hated People. People are writing petitions demanding you be fired instantly. Calling for physical violence. Criticizing your appearance, your weight, your facial expressions, your ability to teach. Jamming your school’s phone lines, condemning your administrators, and hurling every type of profanity and vulgarity in your direction. Your personal phone number has been published and the phone number and address of your school has been viewed by tens of thousands. You have to be bewildered and panicked. You obviously didn’t see this coming. And as a teacher, it makes me frightened for all of us.

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I learned of you only because a headline came through my FB newsfeed. *Elementary Teacher Makes Autistic Student Cry When She Snatches His Microphone During Thanksgiving Play.*  Wow, you sound like a disgrace to the profession. I got this mental image of The Teacher From The Black Lagoon leaping on stage and ripping a microphone from a child’s hands while knocking him backwards off the platform with her scaly tail and of him sprawled on the floor weeping. And it made me mad. So I watched the very short clip. I observed the narrative presented by the parent grow and develop new details as the media ran with this heartbreaking holiday tale. Then I read your administrator was standing with you and no discipline was being taken. I decided to dig a little deeper.

I watched the play in its 12 minute entirety. I urge others to do the same. It looked exactly like every other first grade performance the day of a full Supermoon just before Thanksgiving break. In other words, it was a hot mess. Just like it is at all schools.

The construction papered Mayflower travelers and their indigenous friends shuffled in and out – occasionally at wrong times and unsure of exactly which way to leave the stage and several either forgot their lines or never bothered to learn them. Caleb, the child in question – playing the part of the turkey – appears to refuse to go to the mic to say his first line and the children quickly adapt and go around him. The next time Caleb is supposed to speak, he is unaware that the mic will be as loud as it is and the volume sends the audience and Pilgrims and Indians into peals of laughter.

You quickly get the children to speak in chorus so the laughter is minimized.  Another little boy flubs his lines and the mirth of the participants intensifies and I can feel the red rising in your face and the sweat starting to form. Caleb correctly speaks a line and then wanders aimlessly around the stage a few times which is reasonable considering his disability. It appears that a different teacher stage left is attempting to coach him to return to his correct place. A little boy gets to the mic to say his line and he just can’t do it. He dissolves into giggles and takes with him the entire gym.

Caleb’s next line is supposed to be humorous and he nails it. Laughter. There is a very nice song that appears to pull the program back together. During the music, Caleb sings loudly and often at the wrong times – again, very understandable and only noticeable because his mom has the recording directed right on him. However, the child next to him senses the amusement of the audience and begins to ham it up. Kids singing in the front row turn around and stare at Caleb and giggle at him.

The atmosphere is fragile and it is time to bring this production in for a landing.

Two children step to the mic to thank the audience for coming. Somehow, Caleb is back in front. It does not appear that he is supposed to be there. It looks exactly like every first grade Thanksgiving production across the United States. No one in the world would care at all about this story except for what happens next…

You had to make a split second decision and there was no way to know it could affect the rest of your life or anyone else’s. Before Caleb could speak, you took the mic. You didn’t yank it from his hand. You walked over and were ready to take it from the stand as soon as the last line was delivered, which deprived Caleb of his self-given moment and he had an emotional outburst. It is hard to tell if you didn’t notice Caleb or if you deliberately preempted him. Either way, he was unable to speak into the mic.

Did you make the right decision? Who knows. By the reaction of the armchair Thanksgiving musical directors it appears that removing the mic was the moral equivalency of shoving a child into a corner wearing a dunce cap. What ifs are a tough game to play. Life is a giant Choose Your Own Adventure book except you don’t get to flip back and make a different decision if you mess up.

Having been in similar situations I’m going to guess you were hoping to save Caleb from further embarrassment. You were hoping to keep the place from laughing more. You weren’t sure if Caleb would deliver an appropriate line or a string of words he learned from HBO. You knew that autistic children can behave more erratically in a situation in which there is sensory stimulation or at an event that is atypical in routine. You erred on the side of prevention. It also appears like your coworkers were in support as in the longer video they are seen trying to coax him off the platform. The mother’s posts indicate you are not even his teacher as she is unsure of your name – maybe Mrs. Linsey – and refers to you as *one* teacher rather than *his teacher.* This is pure speculation but it would seem that you moving so quickly means that there was previous discussion among staff of how this type of situation would be handled and you acted accordingly.

What is interesting to me is the mom’s voice during the recording. There’s a point early in the play where she says very flatly, dejectedly even, “Yeah, that’s Caleb.” Her emotion for how her child is perceived can be felt through the recording. She doesn’t like the laughter. She pleads in a whispered prayer for him to get his fingers out of his mouth. She knows he’s being laughed at and that he isn’t even aware of the ridicule and it breaks her heart. I don’t necessarily blame her for her reaction. I hurt for her. But I also think she is being unreasonable and is irresponsible in her demand for revenge. Not justice. Revenge. Her actions are not going to make the school a better place. They are keeping other parents from being able to contact the administrator about equally important issues. They’re broadcasting to thousands of people the faces and location of dozens of other children. They are dragging the school into what will be months of a public relations and HR nightmare, which will distract from the school’s fundamental purpose. And, they’re firing up a hateful, irrational mob. Sadly, the end result will most likely not be a better learning environment for Caleb.

Here is what should be terrifying for all educators. 30 seconds, on film, taken out of context, could end careers and destroy lives. Show me a teacher who has never snapped at a child in exasperation, has never misinterpreted a situation and doled out improper consequences, has never erred in judgment, has never wished they could take back a word or action and I will show you a tap dancing unicorn. The same could be said for parents. There are some pretty unrealistic expectations for educators. Very few teachers enjoy being on display at public events. Teachers get stage fright, just like everyone else. I get sick to my stomach and lightheaded and my thoughts and words get all tangled any time I have to face a full auditorium of parents, students, and coworkers. I know every avoidance technique to get out of speaking publicly. But I’m a good teacher. A really good teacher. I have made some horrible public blunders, including a Steve Harvey moment in which I awarded a prize to the wrong student. It was a dozen years ago and I still wilt each time I remember it.

In my early days of teaching – nearly two decades ago – a mom wandered down the hall while a child and I were working out some issues. She was not the mom of the child, nor of any child in my classroom. Thankfully, this was before the days of cell phone cameras or I would be on the receiving end of internet shame. What the mom caught was me cutting off the child each time she attempted to speak. Calmly but sternly directing her to walk to a previously determined calming down location. The mom saw just a snippet – what appeared to be me callously interrupting the child and repeating for her to go where she needed to be. The child was crying by this point and continuing to attempt to speak. The mom interjected herself and began yelling at me for not listening to the child. She said she was going to my administrators. She was livid. Even the crying child stopped her commotion and her eyes grew wide and she quickly headed down the hall to where she was supposed to be. I ignored the parent and returned to my classroom and my administrator knew the larger context and nothing happened. Nothing happened because that one moment wasn’t captured and sent to the world. One moment can look really bad. But what it doesn’t show is that the child had been retained at the administration’s recommendation and the child’s mother agreed only if the child could have me for a second year. It doesn’t show that the parent, special education teacher, social worker, administrator, and an outside consultant had spent hours and hours devising an individualized plan that included zero tolerance for this child arguing once a final decision had been made by an adult. It doesn’t show the child and her mom at my house for dinner (this was back in the olden days when it wasn’t creepy to do such) or me attending her sports events. It doesn’t show the card in which she declared me the best teacher in the world. Could my school have withstood the pressure and not fired me had that small clip been aired to the public? I hope so. We all should hope so.

 

The unfair thing about these situations is a parent can say anything they want about a school. They can accuse the school of all sorts of misdeeds and intentions of malice. They can dash to the media and present a snippet and the press rejoices over anything that can make public schools look bad and can be worded as click bait. Parents can broadcast any action of a teacher that they happen to snag on video and allow the universe to weigh in. Not to comment simply about the educational decision that was made but to critique wardrobe, weight, and attractiveness in a way that anyone reading such about themselves would be humiliated and never want to face the world again. The school is completely restricted at that point. They can’t speak about the child. They can’t present the public with the child’s records. They can’t list all of the accommodations teachers have made or even show longer videos that provide better context. They and the teacher are helpless. I truly hope people will keep that in mind before they weigh in on these situations.

So, Mrs. Lindsey… I don’t know you. You might be as awful as some people are claiming and deserve to be done with your career. If that is true, farewell. But if you and your colleagues know this is an unfair characterization of you – I hope your district continues to stand up for you and that your fellow educators surround you with care and comfort. I hope that somehow you can ignore the shout of the mob and find a way to enjoy the holiday. I hope there is healing in this fractured relationship between your district and the public. I wish for you compassion and grace.
Sincerely,

A Teacher

Dear Voters in the 102nd Michigan House District

Dear Voters in the 102nd Michigan House District,

I am totally not going to vote for Michele Hoitenga and I think you should know why. There’s only one reason and it’s a good one: I don’t live in her district. Otherwise she would solidly have my vote.

I grew up in the 102nd District in a little dot on the map that few people have heard of. Two bars, two churches, and the sole traffic light was a blinking one to help the non-locals navigate the only real intersection. Michele likewise grew up in that town. We worshipped at the same church, learned from the same teachers, and attended the same Friday night basketball games.

Michele is enough older than me that she was occasionally my babysitter – the best part about that being that she had not only great makeup to get into, but a princess phone and a waterbed! The 80s were good times. In those days Michele went by the nickname Missy and I distinctly remember a babysitting incident in which I was playing a rhyming game with her name and landed on a word that started with a P. I got in big trouble. Time has a tendency to fly by more quickly than we anticipate and we both grew older. She married. I became a teenager and occasionally babysat her children – it’s how the circle of life works in a small town. Sadly, I had no princess phone or waterbed to offer and I doubt her sons were interested in my makeup.

Michele may not remember this, but the memory I have of her that remains most vividly with me was from my junior high years. I came home after school one day and she was sitting in our kitchen chatting with my mom. I sat down at the table with her as my mom momentarily left the room. Michele asked me how school was going and we made small talk. Then she got really serious and said to me – Be sure to choose good friends. It’s important to surround yourself with friends who will support your beliefs and encourage you. She went into more detail and gave me a little Come to Jesus session about how we are affected by the people we spend time with. That always stayed with me. I heeded that advice at some very critical times in the following years and I believe it saved me a tremendous amount of regret. I am a public school teacher and many times over the years parents have voiced to me concern about sending their child over to *The Middle School* from the safe cocoon of elementary. Every time I have said to them – Help your child choose good friends. Make sure they surround themselves with friends who will support their beliefs and encourage them. If they have good friends they will be fine.

That Dr. Phil moment is not the primary reason I would vote for Michele, although I do think it gives insight into her character. I would vote for Michele because of this picture. I saw this photo and it brought tears to my eyes. It’s of Michele heading to her vehicle at the end of a long day of hard work. It captures every woman. It says this day I gave the world my best and my feet hurt and dang it the heels are coming off. I’m headed home to put on yoga pants and love on my family and tomorrow morning I will get up and I will give the world my best again.

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That is what is so incredible about living in the United States and having a Constitution with a 10th amendment that gives each state a great deal of authority in governing its people. On Tuesday, and then again in November, you and I each get to go to our local school or fire department or town hall and check a little box and say this is the person I want to represent me in Lansing. Represent. Me. Those are two very powerful words. I’m choosing someone from my area who knows my struggles and my concerns and my culture to go to Lansing and say – I’m here on behalf of my neighbors. I’m here so they have a voice.

Michele represents the people of her area. I happen to live in a region similar to the 102nd. We are hard working people who believe that the more the government stays out of our life, the more we will succeed. While the world around us is filled with hateful words and groups pitted against each other we stay out of the fray and keep plowing ahead doing what we do. Loving our neighbors and lending help to those who need it and worshipping God and enjoying our family. We are self-sufficient people who are happy to pay our share of taxes when they are reasonable and used responsibly for purposes outlined by the state constitution. But when they’re not and our hard earned money gets misused, we get a little…well, the word that rhymes with Missy. We are teachers who want decisions about our school made by the people of our town – not bureaucrats who know nothing about education or our particular group of kids. We are farmers who put in endless days growing sustenance for not only our neighborhood but to send across the state and nation and sometimes we wonder if we will even break even. We are grocery clerks and business owners and truckers and garbage men and police officers and we want someone to say – I Will Represent You. I will keep your interests foremost in my decision making. I will listen and I will make your voice heard.

I know Michele and I have full confidence in her willingness and ability to do just that. Represent Me.  Represent You. I would bet a waterbed and a princess phone on it! So voters in the 102nd – I envy you. I can’t vote for Michele on Tuesday. But you can and I hope you will.

Sincerely,

A Former Resident of the 102nd

Dear Michigan Public School Teachers

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Dear Michigan Public School Teachers,

It is July. The finish line has been crossed. And most of you did not sprint over it, hands waving in victory. You were a sweaty mess – staggering, stumbling, gasping, and limping toward the final bell. You were sunburned and blistered from track and field, track and fun, herding your class(es)  to the local ice cream stand, and your seventy-twelfth field trip to Greenfield Village or Sleeping Bear Dunes or Mackinac Island. You entered so many test scores into the computer that your eyes are just starting to uncross. The cramp in your right hand from writing *Your child was a delight to have in class* on report card after report card and in your left hand from crossing your fingers while writing this is finally easing. You printed awards, signed awards, handed out awards, and smiled at cameras and cell phones with your arm wrapped around the backs of children who have yet to discover deodorant and others who bathe in cologne or perfume.

The school year started out fine. Your classroom design, stolen from Pinterest, was bright and cheerful and unmarred by the August perspiration you donated free of charge day after endless day to make it look so. You scraped up Scholastic points and raided garage sales to replace books that currently reside under the beds of the previous year’s students. The desks or tables were straight and even. You painted and wrestled with contact paper and cut out letters and laminated and your head was filled with brilliant ideas from the classes you took and books and articles you pondered and highlighted over the summer.

You attended back to school PD, except it’s now called PL and no one knows why the change but don’t forget to turn in your log to the office. You and your colleagues decided to spend the first day of PL playing a drinking game with the word *rigor* but by an hour and a half in you had so many tallies that a drink per mention would land you in a coma and definitely not in any shape for *PL Day 2 – Disaggregated Data: Which Subgroup Does Your Grade Level Suck at Educating?*  You changed the drinking term to *authentic assessment* and at the end of the day there were zero tallies because that’s sooo 2007 and you went to bed having consumed water – which is good because you were dehydrated since the library hosting PL was 102 degrees.

At that point you still liked the members of your PLC but that ended somewhere between the thirteenth and fourteenth GOP debate and you personally think the words immigration, terrorism, climate change, gun control, Trump, and Clinton should be banned from the lounge because you want peace. Not even world peace. Just lounge peace. And that could happen if those words are eliminated from discussion, the person who jams the copier fixes it, and colleagues quit posting cryptic messages on Facebook that leave you scratching your head wondering who is speaking to whom and which side you are on.

There were times in the year that you smiled. So very many times. You eye-roll  smirked at the state mandated viewing of *Slips, Trips, and Falls* in which you are instructed to call a custodian every time you need a poster hung on the wall because he will be delighted to assist you.  There were good smiles too. Creating unique voices during read aloud time is as funny to you as it is to the giggling criss-cross-applesauced children you’re entertaining. You smiled when Tasha finally passed her nines times test and when Quinton grasped the difference between a noun and a verb. You ran a victory lap in your head when Lola had a capital letter and ending punctuation on most of the sentences in her writing piece. You laughed out loud when you saw that Jordan had answered *Yes* to the question *Is 74 even or odd?* and laughed even harder when you saw that under the yes was a half erased *No,* meaning he had pondered the question a really long time. You tried really hard not to smile on Career Day when one of your littles raised their hand and told the visiting police officer that her mom had handcuffs like that but hers were red and glittery. In fact you nearly choked to death trying not to ROFL.

There were times in the year that you cried. So very many times. Teary eyes reading journal entries about dead dogs, dead grandmas, and deadbeat dads. Tears dabbed with tissues in the bathroom after being reamed out by a parent who doesn’t understand that his precious snowflake sometimes isn’t. Way too many of you ugly cried – curled in a ball in bed at home over the news that a student or colleague’s  life ended too soon. Then digging deep for strength, you returned to the school to wrap your arms of comfort around sobbing teenagers. And then those last-day-of-school tears and lumpy throat as they walked out the door and you knew you could never possibly love a group of kids more. At least until exactly this time next year.

There were times in the year that you were tired. So very many times. Not the wow-I-got-so-much-done good kind of tired. You were and are tired tired. Not from the kids. Or the administrators. Or the lessons. Or the parents. That stuff is easy peasy comparatively. Mostly you are tired of being a pawn in political debates and decision making.

You’re tired because the political party of *local control* really does enjoy controlling the locals (despite overwhelming resistance from the provincials via voter initiative) and chances are you suffered under an EFM, an EM, a PLA, an SRO, an EAA, an EAS, or an LMNOP. You spent your year scrutinized by your principal who now has to do planned and impromptu walk throughs, observations, follow up conversations, and annual evaluations of everyone in the building and according to the courts – because they know – that still leaves her with enough time to contact an exterminator, figure out why the copy paper wasn’t delivered, and deal with Johnny flipping off the lunchroom and calling you the b-word. You were also observed by a team of suited strangers with expressionless faces – from the distant land of Lansing – who criticized your learning target and called the depth of knowledge of your assignments lacking but somehow failed to recognize that your ceiling is cracked and caving in, the drinking fountain water is orange, and the federally funded mobile computer lab in your classroom is pristine because your building doesn’t have wifi so it isn’t actually usable.

You’re tired of the GLCEs versus CCS polka or tango or salsa you’ve been dancing for several years now. You spent every spare moment of four years of your life crosswalking the standards. Nodding thoughtfully and respectfully (i.e. erupted into furious debate and hurled personal insults about *yo mama* while factioning into pro and anti-cursive coalitions) at committee meetings. Figuring out which lesson plans you could salvage and easily convert and which ones needed to be passed to a different grade level. Listing materials you would need to teach the new standards, knowing that the requisition request would be returned with a laughing emoji.  You hurriedly retrieved your thrown away units when the legislature said it knew more than MDE and cancelled Common Core. But wait for it… nope it’s back… it’s gone… no one knows… Then threw your hands up in despair when the MDE site essentially said just teach both, we don’t know what the heck the Governor is doing either and he just stole your SRO unconstitutionally. Hold on…  Never mind… the legislature is switching everything to Massachusetts’s pre CCS curriculum because… because… Massachusetts and Michigan both start with M??

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You’re tired of those who are not us but claim to be. You know who you are and we all know it too – you teacher that sits and stares at your computer all day while the kids run wild. You teacher who shows way too many movies and ridicules students and leaves the minute the buses do and never contributes anything productive to school culture. Or worse, you teacher who makes the headlines for having affairs with your students or watching porn on your school computer or physically assaulting a child – you are not us. We do not claim you. We do not like you. You administrators from the east who pilfered your teachers’ supply order money by pocketing vendor bribes – we detest you. You do not deserve the title of educator and you do not have our support. You are the reason the press vilifies us, the internet trolls delight in us, and why public perception of us is negative. It is at least partially your fault that teacher tenure has disappeared, due process eliminated, and bargaining rights slashed. We all pay the price for the legislature attempting to solve the problem of you and it makes us despise you.

It is partially the fault of the few and far between bad teachers, but mostly the fault of your elected officials. After yesterday’s announcement that despite five courts finding the teacher tax to be unconstitutional due to the quite obvious fact that it is *arbitrary and capricious* you wonder why Governor Snyder can’t channel his inner Elsa and LET IT GO already! Even Attorney General Schuette – not generally known as friend of teachers – thinks the governor has lost his mind on this one. You won and part of you feels vindicated. But you mostly just want your money back. Now. If not sooner.

Speaking of the Governor – which teacher from his childhood so completely warped his view of you? So much that he feels the need to attack. Attack again. And then attack some more. You sighed and wrote a check for your union dues – since Governor Snyder had so much free time that he sided against the Michigan Association of School Boards, the majority of school administrators, and the Michigan population at large (who didn’t care) and signed a bill stating that you can have donations to the crippled and orphaned widows of neglected elephants without tusks fund directly withdrawn from your paycheck, but not your professional association fees.

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(Photo courtesy of MLive.com)

 

But then Right to Work. The debacle in Lansing of being locked out of the House owned by you made you so mad you wrote out that professional association fee check with an extra flourish and an angry pen. The list goes on and your eyes get wider each time you read the news. The state might retain any third grader who cannot read. As judged by which test exactly? The MEAP? The M-STEP? Or the not yet decided assessment apparently created in Massachusetts?  Until when?  Until said third grader is sporting a mustache and driving himself to school? The state might not pay teachers for days they already worked. One teacher calling in sick can be considered as the entire district going on strike and penalties applied. Swinging from the extreme of the NCLB mandate disallowing teachers to instruct in the area of their minor – to allowing non-college graduates and even non-high school diploma earners to teach. Teach. Like teach students. Impart wisdom to the nation’s youth. Minus any kind of degree. Then you saw the new graphic emblem on the website of MDE and thought – well that pretty much sums it up.

Get Involved

What brave new completely freaking insane world is this?

Part of the fault certainly must be placed on the myth that teachers are priceless. That teaching is the most important job. The shining jewel of all altruistic careers. Therefore it doesn’t really matter how teachers are treated or paid. Teachers went into it to change lives after all. This is the rationale of the educator exemption from the new federal overtime law. Teachers could never be paid for overtime because… well because… you are such amazing people. You love your job so much that we could never put a price on that.

You, teacher, need to disavow this myth. You do have a price and you are not so arrogant as to claim your worth is immeasurable. You know that the doctors and nurses and all the support staff of the hospital down the road do work equal in value to yours. Society could not function minus their efforts. And they should be treated and compensated accordingly. The courthouse across town is filled with lawyers and clerks and public defenders all of whom are ensuring that justice prevails. Society could not function minus their efforts. And they should be treated and compensated accordingly. The farmers who grow your nutrition and the truckers who deliver it – pretty important people. Firemen and police. Gas station owners and clerks and electric company employees and the people who make sure water is clean (or are supposed to) and those who handle the flow of money through the banking system. The construction worker who paves roads on which buses deliver children to their place of learning is just is vital to society as you educator introducing fourth graders to long division. All of humanity is or should be working altruistically for the betterment of society and it does you no favors to place yourself on a pedestal looking down in scorn upon other laborers as being less than. You are a professional who has studied long and hard and has experience and knows your trade and you deserve to be paid and treated accordingly.

It is time for you to say this has gone far enough. You want your school district to be controlled by the community that knows it best and has elected officials to oversee it. You want to be treated with respect and fairness when it comes to compensation and to have the right to negotiate work conditions and salary with your employer without interference from Lansing bureaucrats who know nothing about your district and its priorities. You want your years of training and experience to count when pedagogical decisions are made for your students. Not the opinions of the fine people of Massachusetts. For the love of Bloom, Piaget, and Vygotsky can the testing and data collection of every pencil move, keyboard stroke, and eye blink of each student stop? Just stop. Let appropriate assessment guide appropriate instruction the way it has effectively done for as long as there have been educators, athletic coaches, and music instructors. You need to have the freedom – and time – to actually teach.

And you will teach. Despite it all you will teach – because I know you. You are right now in a college classroom frantically highlighting and jotting notes and are wild with ideas you can’t wait to implement. Your nightstand is overflowing with professional books and articles that you will devour by September. You have enlisted your whole neighborhood’s help saving enough Gatorade bottles for that super cool Word Work center you’re creating. You know the location of every garage sale this week, have budgeted $15 for rainy day recess games but will likely shell out $40, and are praying someone is getting rid of graphic novels appropriate for sixth graders. There’s a box where you throw all your empty paper towel spools because the music teacher needs 124 of them for 2nd grade rain sticks. You have a baggie of Box Tops and are crossing your fingers that enough will come in to fund a Buddy Bench for the playground. There’s a half painted bookshelf in your garage that your spouse better have finished by the time you get home from class because you can’t wait to start labeling its shelves by genre.

Because you are a Michigan Public School Teacher. And you are amazing.

With love,

Another Michigan Public School Teacher

Dear Those Outraged Over Harambe’s Death

Dear Those Outraged Over Harambe’s Death,
I’m a bad mom. I found this out when my firstborn was an infant and the mom gig was new to me and I accidentally buckled her chubbadorable leg into the snap of her carseat belt. Her eyes widened in pain and after a split second of shock, her lungs discovered octaves yet unexplored. I hurriedly released her and in a desperate attempt to pull her into my arms of comfort, I smacked her head on the rim of the car door. We both had a good cry and she spent the next few weeks sporting a welt on her leg and a bruise above her eye.

We took same child around same time on a road trip to see grandparents. We transferred the car seat in and out of various vehicles during our stay depending on who was driving. We returned to Michigan from New York – a 10 hour road trip – with our precious baby safely strapped in, rear facing, mirror in the window to prevent a rare case of car SIDs, playing (torturous) lullabies from a CD case that promised to dramatically increase her IQ, and providing sensory stimulation by dangling educational toys above her. Upon arrival and unloading, we discovered to our horror that each thought another had anchored the seat into the car but no one actually had. We had traveled for ten hours on busy interstates with the seat not actually attached to the car.

As we got better at parenting, we added a second child. And then because we were stupid, we added a third. Three kids. That makes the child to adult ratio 3:2. We are outnumbered. That means if one parent has all three children, which does in fact happen, there is one too many hands to hold. We bought the double stroller. That piece of surprisingly heavy machinery is fun to lug out of the back of the minivan. Opening the stroller is basically Twister: Parent Edition. Right Hand red pull release handle, Left Hand push grey tray out, Right foot kick down and lock wheel connector, Left Foot stub toe on wheel. By this time one child has pooped his pants, one has just fallen asleep which means transfer to stroller will completely ruin her life, and the eldest is furious because she will be wearing *a leash* consisting of a cute little stuffed puppy who “hugs” the child in a tender embrace. The leash then connects to the parent’s wrist and if leashed child tries to get away from herculean mommy – who is using all she remembers about leverage from 11th grade physics to heave double stroller up inclines – leashed child falls on her tushy and cries. Or on her knees and the earth momentarily stops spinning as mommy lets go of stroller (preferably after Left Foot kick down brake) to deal with: Blood! Screaming! Tangle of leash! Epic meltdown! Search for bandaids! No, not Doc McStuffins, I only wear Barbie now!

Which is why we ditched the monstrous stroller and leash and discovered that *Free Range Parenting* is totally a thing. A very trendy and liberating thing. Parent like your own parents parented. Parent like a caveman. Kid climbing on roof of car? Free Range Parent knows kid will learn that what goes up must come down, metal gets hot, and concrete is not a great landing zone. Kid will only climb roof of car once. Teachable moment. Kid eats french fries left on McDonald’s floor hours ago. Free Range Parent knows that immune system has just been strengthened. We totally heart Free Range Parenting.

We took our three to *Disney on Ice* as a Christmas present when they were ages 6, 3, and 2 months. Because we are stupid. One of us jiggled baby on hip and held tickets.The other parent gripped the hand of the 6 year old – who graciously cooperated in the hopes of seeing Cinderella – and the hand of the toddler who was angry because he didn’t want to see Mickey he wanted to see Grandma and in protest turned his body to jello to force the embarrassed parent to drag along a limp blob of passive-aggressive three year old. We entered the arena and followed signs corresponding to our tickets. However, there were other people seated in the places our tickets designated as ours. Hands were released and tickets compared. Other family apologized and climbed out to look for their correct location. Correct dad, mom, baby, six year old headed into the seats and discovered three year old was no longer with the group. Huge arena. Perfect venue for stranger danger, which is of course a calm parent’s instant thought. Everyone knows child predators lurk in frigid arenas filled with 10,000 children, 9,000 of which are dressed like Elsa, and 8,000 are tearfully begging their parents to buy a $12 snowcone in the shape of Olaf. While frantically scanning rows, we noticed a single small brown head alone in a sea of empty chairs. He had gotten bored during the ticket summit and found himself a better place to sit. As we exited the show a couple hours later, hands were gripped tighter. Regardless, three year old caught a glimpse of the escalators and no power on earth could hold him back. He pulled away and ran. Dad dropped six year old’s hand and dashed after and with the help of an observant bystander, captured the escapee.

Same child became four and left the dark tree climbing area at the Cincinnati Children’s Museum where it’s impossible for parents to see anything their child is doing. Parent looked and looked and panicked and looked and then overheard another mom griping, “Some little boy is unattended and is in the water feature splashing other kids.” The lost had been found. “Parents these days!” I said loudly and disapprovingly in solidarity. And did my best SMH before sneaking away to rescue my soaked cherub.

The thing is, we are all bad parents. My parents went home from an evening service at church sans small son still sleeping on a pew. We have a farmer friend who – no joke – was bumping down a farm road in a pickup truck and her kid fell out the window. The last time we went to a water park, we suddenly noticed we had one too many toddlers in our group and went searching for a frantic family who had just discovered they were short by one head. There are just too many of them and too few of us and they suck our energy like three foot tall vampire bats.

And it is not a new phenomenon. Have you read the Little House books recently? Mary and Laura are always one banana peel away from a prairie grave. I was recently reading a Bobbsey Twins book to my six year old and Bert asks if he can accompany the police in searching underground for a hardened criminal who had stolen $100,000. Because what cop wouldn’t want a 12 year old assistant? And Mrs. Bobbsey says sweetly, “All right Bert, go ahead. But please be careful.” Mrs. Bobbsey rocks the free range parenting like no other. There’s a whole chapter in *Cheaper by the Dozen* devoted to kids accidentally left behind – in gas stations, restaurants, on a ship. Par for the course when you have 12 kids. There’s bound to be some collatoral damage.

Which brings me to zoos. We have a zoo membership to the Toledo Zoo, which gives us access to the Columbus and Cincinnati Zoos as well. We’ve taken our children to all three. Don’t waste your time calling me out for endorsing the imprisonment of *animals who are people too* because… well, they’re not. They are animals. Most of them were bred in captivity and would not survive if dropped back in their native land. Zoos serve an important purpose in promoting conservation, educating children, and giving parents yet one more venue for purchasing $12 snowcones.

Zoos today are not your grandparents’ zoos. The small cages have been replaced by large open areas designed to resemble the animal’s country of origin as much as possible. There are frequent demonstrations in which children can pet snakes and let spiders crawl on them. You can now walk through the actual kangaroo enclosures and the kangaroos hop right around you. Go into the butterfly display and have butterflies land on your head. Wipe tears from the child who was ignored by landing butterflies. Playground equipment is scattered between animal exhibits. Train and boat rides take you through rainforests and savannas. Everything is advertised as up close, encounters with nature, experiencing the animals. Near the Toledo primate village is a splash pad where kids run barefoot through water. Obviously there is no expectation for parents other than to sit on a bench taking pictures of their offspring to share on the book of faces, so that other parents feel like bad parents because their children are engrossed in screentime instead of frolicking at the zoo.

Zoos can’t have it both ways. They can’t expect and encourage parents and kids to be all hands on the animals and free range one minute but then around the corner have relatively few preventative measures to keep Johnny from wanting to likewise experience a four hundred pound gorilla up close. They can’t advertise how important it is for children to explore nature for themselves and base the majority of the zoo design on kids being able to roam, then expect parents to know to have a death grip on their child one exhibit later.

There have been a lot of nasty comments aimed at the stroller pushing mama whose four year old got away and fell into a gorilla moat. I’ve seen death threats, calls for the parents to be shot, suggestions that the child should have been left to die, and apparently you can now sign a petition demanding the parents lose custody of their child. There are protests going on for Justice For Harambe! What exactly would this justice look like? I don’t think the protesters themselves even know. Protests are just the thing to do when someone is mad about something. Without outside interference, I’m pretty sure the parents aren’t taking their kids to a zoo anytime soon, the public will mourn the loss of a truly magnificent animal, and zoos across America will reexamine their exhibits to make sure they are even more secure. It was an accident. It could happen to any of us bad parents and the fact that it hadn’t happened before in the 38 years of the exhibit was either dumb luck or a miracle, depending on your religious persuasion.

Let’s leave this family alone. And wow do some people need to calm down the perfect parenting piety in the comments. No one believes you suefromseattle that your children have never once gotten away from you. We can be sad that Harambe is gone without crusading for a child – whose mom took him on an educational outing – to be torn from his family. Or for his parents to live in prison or poverty after being charged with criminal behavior. We can call it what it was – a tragic, freak accident. And be willing to acknowledge that but for the grace of God, that mama could easily be this bad mom.

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Dear Mrs. Concerned About My Parenting

Dear Mrs. Concerned About My Parenting,

I just wanted you to know, my daughter is turning out fine.

She’s eight now. Straight A’s in school. Piano lessons, basketball, rides her bike, hangs out with her friends. She’s confident, tender, loves Jesus and Sunday school, alternates between playing nicely with her siblings and fighting with them, and still believes in Santa and that the Elf flies to the North Pole and back every night.

She was four when you had what was not your first conversation with me about the subject of princesses. Disney Princesses to be exact. You were against them. More importantly, your daughter, the perfect parent, was against them and she would never allow her daughter to have anything Disney Princess themed so please don’t buy any for her. Ever. There are so many reasons. Body image, sexuality, reliance on a prince for rescue, commercialism, and little girls being convinced the world should cater to their whim.

At the time, my daughter was in love with Cinderella – and had been from the time she could say her first words. I will go so far as to use the word obsessed. Princess clothes, shoes, dolls, toys, books. It was all princesses. Any time she was asked what she would like for her birthday or what she was saving her money for – princesses. By this point we were all growing weary of princesses. So when you again launched into another monologue on the pitfalls of parents who princess, it made me think.

What if you’re right? How will I know? What are the signs our daughter is growing up princess flawed? Singing and dancing as primary form of communication? Expecting small woodland animals to clean her bedroom? Speaking to her mirror? Do I take her to therapy? Are there psychologists that specialize in Disney?

She happened to be nearby the final time you condemned princesses. Her eyes grew wider and wider and I could read her thoughts – my mom is going to box up my princesses and I will never see them again. But just then, as you began to segue into why a woman in your church doesn’t let her daughter have anything Tinker Bell (again, I plead guilty), my four year old spoke up.

“I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t love princesses,” she said. “God is a King and He’s also our Dad and that makes every girl a princess.”

Well there wasn’t much to add to that argument. Discussion complete.

I’ve waited and watched and worried. Don’t all moms? When my son was four and his sister was away, he asked if he could play with her Barbies. I said yes and began to ponder how to handle gender confusion. A few minutes later I heard him calling, “Help! Help!” in a high pitched Barbie voice as he systematically ran each one over with a Tonka truck. Lovely. I’m apparently raising a sociopath. My youngest daughter is now three. She lives for Jake and the Neverland Pirates. She can turn any object into a sword, continually commands her siblings to walk the plank, and refers to people as “me hearties.” I don’t even blink anymore. Whatever.

A few months ago my eldest told me she thinks she’s getting too old for princesses and can we please redo her room. Hot pink and black. An unfamiliar ache as I forced back tears. I knew this day was coming. I had noticed the dresses and matching hairbows were getting pushed to the back of the closet. I was no longer asked for help getting ready in the morning, since a messy ponytail with a grungy T-shirt and jeans has become the new uniform. Books about how to be a princess (controversial advice like being kind and remembering your manners) have been replaced with Who Was? biographies, the Little House series, and “I Survived…”

A couple weeks ago she packed up some princess toys to give to kids that don’t have many things to play with. She picked out some to hand off to her cousin. She neatly boxed up ones she doesn’t play with but isn’t ready to part with and slid them under her bed. She’s counting down the days till she turns nine, which is when she gets the birthday present of a room renovation.

While she was at school today I looked around her bedroom. She decorated her Christmas tree yesterday and reminded me this will probably be the last time she uses princesses on it. I take in her wall – coloring book pages I colored and framed for her when we were dirt poor hang over photographs of her with each princess at Disney from when we weren’t. Soon it will all be gone. Replaced with garish hot pink and wild zebra stripes. And as we work on the new look, I will recognize that this too is temporary and the pink will one day turn to posters of bands whose music I will hate and school colors and makeup and smelly sports uniforms. And I will ache and fight tears.

While I was writing this, my eldest called me from her dad’s cell phone on her way to piano lessons to tell me that she and her kindergartner brother (the sociopath) both had their names on the announcements for reading the most books in November. She’s excited about a play she has a solo in next Sunday. She can’t wait for Christmas vacation because she wants to sleep in and have some “free time to watch cartoons.” Her Christmas list has nothing princess on it. She’s hoping for a tablet (nope), stuff from Bath and Body (sure), an American Girl doll (maybe) and for her brother never to be mean to her again (wouldn’t count on it).

So thank you for your concern. It was duly noted and fretted over. But you can relax. My daughter is turning out just fine.

Sincerely,
A good (enough) mom

 

Dear Fifth Grade Girl Who Fell at the School Assembly

Dear Fifth Grade Girl Who Fell at the School Assembly,

There you were, seated with the rest of the fifth graders at the end of trimester awards assembly. I didn’t notice you at first although you stood out. Taller than the rest. Wild mane of red hair. Attempting to be fifth grade cool in the presence of the younger kids who revere your place of honor in the back row. There’s a fifth grade arrogance and you try to assume it.

The third graders got their awards. Perfect attendance. Honor roll. Top AR points. Then fourth. Then fifth. Then the reading teacher was at the podium. She gave a short speech about the kids in her program and how much they had improved.

There had to be a little part of you that said oh crap when you saw her up there. Reading improvement awards are the suckiest* of all awards. That’s a word I don’t allow my students to say but there’s no appropriate equivalent so let’s call it what it is. The award means your reading sucks. It just sucks a little less now that you go to the reading teacher. It’s the you don’t suck at reading as bad as you used to award. I know these things. I’m a reading teacher.

Sure enough, your name was called. You tried to stand and wondered why gangly fifth graders are still forced to sit criss cross applesauce on a hard gym floor. Your boots that this morning you were so proud of failed you. You didn’t just stumble. Or trip a little and recover. Nope. You skidded to the left and then took three hops to the right, then a knee, elbows flailing, then a last desperate wobble of a foot trying to gain traction, followed by a full on face plant and whole body skid in front of 500 people. It was the most glorious fall ever. Spectacular, even. You easily spanned 15 feet of floor and had third graders on both sides ducking for cover.

You picked yourself up. You limped to the front. The reading teacher made a joke about you being excited to get your award. She was trying to help, but it didn’t. You accepted your award and let your hair fall over your face to cover the tears in your eyes and stood in a row with other improved sucky readers while parents snapped pictures. You returned to your seat and criss cross applesauced.

I’ve never met you. But I know you. I wanted so desperately to climb out of the bleachers where they stick all the parents – who are far too old to sit with knees in each other’s shoulders and no back support – and wrap my arms around you and talk to you from my heart.

Honey, you’re gonna remember that moment for the rest of your life. Even if you’re 92 and in a nursing home your thoughts will return to the time in fifth grade when you fell in front of everyone. And a little part of you will still be wilting. But there’s so much more to the story than that – the most important being that you picked yourself back up. I know that sounds corny, like it should be on one of those dumb motivational posters your teacher purchased with Scholastic points and hung on every wall of the classroom. It should definitely be up there, lettered over a completely unrelated picture of a field of wildflowers -“When you fall, get back up.”

Regardless of how trite, you did get back up. You had a couple other options. You could have fled the room and found refuge in a stall in the girls bathroom. No one would have blamed you. Or you could have stayed right there and pretended the fall was part of a larger problem. Like a rare fifth grade heart attack. Just stayed perfectly still or murmured how dizzy you felt and left in a blaze of glory on an ambulance stretcher, envied by every kid in the room. But you didn’t. You got back on your feet and received your award.

It’s possible that some kids said rude things to you later, once they were away from their teacher’s warning glare. They probably did. That’s because some kids are jerks. Some grownups are jerks too. For that split second when they see the red return to your cheeks they feel powerful and the longing they have for control overrides their conscience reminding them to be nice. But there were kids around you who leaned in and whispered to you with concern when you sat back down. And a teacher quietly tiptoed over and asked if you were okay and for a moment kept her hand on your back, letting you soak in her comfort and strength. There are more people like that in life than there are jerks. I promise.

What you didn’t know was if you could have listened in on the thoughts of all the grownups behind you – the voices of those who are farther down life’s path – you would have heard story after story. The boy who peed his pants in sixth grade because his teacher wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom is the bald man seated next to the blond woman who was once a seventh grader who forgot the words to her solo in the talent show. Behind him is a tall guy who just got fired from his job even though he worked as hard as he could and two rows ahead is an old lady who got the brake and gas pedals mixed up and her daughter took her keys away for good. The fact is, we’re all walking on banana peels and each of us has been the sprawled and know we will be again someday.

And in the middle of the crowd is a reading teacher who is not at work. She’s there to watch her third grader claim her awards and to clap and take pictures. But that’s not the reason she’s not at work. She’s in the middle of one of life’s glorious 15 foot sprawls and face plants. She’s fighting disease and depression and anxiety and the unknown and trying desperately to get back on her feet. And you showed her the way.

You showed her that she needs to relocate her footing as gracefully as possible under the circumstances. Walk forward and face the crowd, hair covering tear filled eyes when necessary. Return to her tribe for love and support. Let God’s hand rest on her back for comfort and strength. Cry a little – or a lot – once the crowd is gone. Know that this season of life will be remembered as failure and always wilt a little in the recalling, but make peace with it. Pair the memory with the one of climbing back up.

Fifth grade girl who fell during the assembly, you showed us all how it’s done. And I am grateful.

With love,
A teacher who knows the best lessons are taught by students

 

*I hate the word sucks. It is not part of my vocabulary. It’s the only word that seemed to fit here. Acknowledging that this may be offensive to some.

Dear Planned Parenthood – Somewhere Inside, We All Know

Dear Planned Parenthood – Somewhere Inside, We All Know:

We each have our minds made up. I am unashamedly pro-life. For ethical purposes, I’m not 100% sure when life begins but in my own decision making I prefer to err on the side of conception. I don’t know at what week a fetus feels pain, but I’ve felt the panic caused by silence on the Doppler at a 12 week appointment and the rush of relief minutes later viewing the steady pulsing of a kidney bean shape on a fuzzy screen.

Those ultrasounds change you. At first they make you nervous. You glance at the screen and squint and try desperately to make sense of the image and worry you are nurturing a seahorse-alien hybrid – calling into question your maternal instincts. But then there was that day around 20 weeks where it clicked and I saw her. And him. And her. One was sucking her thumb. One covered her face with her hands. One was waving hello. The ultrasound tech declared our first baby a girl and was promptly tackled in a hug by my mother who was sobbing and screeching, “Thank you! Oh thank you!!” Really mom? Which proves you’re never too old to be embarrassed by your parents.

The first picture in each baby book is a black and white image of a little body curled around a big head and my five year old says, “That’s me? When I was still in your belly? Before the doctor cut you up and took me out?” I had c-sections and he’s a boy so this is extremely cool. And he doesn’t know how to say it exactly, but he’s proud of the picture and his grin says, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” He tells people – random strangers – “My name is Matthew because that means gift from God and I’m a gift from God.” You have no idea, kid. A total surprise gift from God as He chuckled at our belief that natural family planning was a legitimate form of birth control.

I do not doubt anyone’s intentions. The statement that a woman has a right to control her own body is truly a beautiful thought. We all find it appalling to know around the world there are millions of women who have zero say in what will happen to their bodies tonight. Where we disagree is on a point of time – do the options for the mother, the host, the one who will be sustaining this little one, end at the moment of conception? Implantation? When the baby can experience pain? At viability? At birth?

I think for many of us the problem with Planned Parenthood is the callous conversation over wine. The nonchalant attitude. Discussing body parts with the same tone of voice used when scrolling through Craigslist looking for the best used couch, preferably from a pet-free, non-smoking household but a few small tears might be acceptable at the right price. When I was in early pregnancy for my third, we were at an appointment with 4 year old Elisabeth following up on surgery she recently had on a defective kidney. Because the condition was congenital, I asked the surgeon when we should have the new baby checked. He said, in that same nonchalant tone, “You should be able to tell on the 20 week ultrasound. That’s not too late for termination.” Termination? Elisabeth’s surgery was a stressful ordeal but termination? That same horror. Recoiling. I felt it when each video was released. I get that they were edited. I get that Planned Parenthood does some noble things. But deep inside, we know. I think somewhere inside we all know.

When I was 23 weeks along with Emily my doctor called. She said those words all mamas carrying little ones inside fear most, “I have bad news for you.” Somehow, a fluke, no one really is sure how these things happen, it’s not your fault, your placenta tore. And then these words of hope, “You need to pray for your baby.” (And get in bed. Don’t get up except to use the bathroom. And I will see you first thing Monday morning.) Monday morning came. By then I had exhausted all the medical resources the internet had to offer.

My doctor was compassionate and also matter of fact. She told me we needed one more week. If we could make it one more week we would have a chance. Back to bed. We made it one more week. She said at some point the placenta would tear further, at which time I would need to get to the hospital immediately. She would do the c-section and the baby would be sent via Life Flight to a NICU. My husband would follow the baby. A friend was on call to come be with me.

Here’s how valuable that little unborn life was. Valuable enough to make me stay in bed for the majority of the next 16 weeks. Valuable enough for my insurance to cover weekly non-stress tests and frequent ultrasounds. Enough for my doctor to see me every seven days to check things over and give me pep talks. And go to war with me over my reasoning that lying on a raft in the pool is the same as bedrest – we had negotiations about number of hours allowed out of bed intense enough to shame those hammering out Middle Eastern peace policies. Valuable enough that countless family members, friends, and coworkers brought meals, took the other kids on summer excursions, did laundry, loaned stacks of books, bought Preemie clothes, and frantically texted whenever they heard Life Flight overhead. So why? Why was that life so valuable while still in my womb? How does society decide?  Is it because this baby was wanted? Desirable? That path of logic has some frightening ramifications.

As a side note – the whole “My body my choice” is a farce. At 36 weeks – 13 of which there was nothing to do but watch TV and eat casseroles from neighbors – I was an elephant. I started to worry I was going to be the 6:00 news story where the ambulance crew dismantles the door frame to wedge me out of the house. I was bored and in pain and had heartburn and couldn’t breathe and just So. Over. Being. Pregnant. I had received the shots for the baby’s lungs. Armed with a packed suitcase and documented research (from the internet of course) suggesting that both Emily and I would be safer with her out of my ever expanding belly, I demanded my doctor perform an early delivery. I returned home and waddled back to bed for more daytime talk shows and cheesy potatoes. My body my choice is a total lie. When is anyone’s body their choice? My choice would be to be hooked to a morphine drip during staff meetings. I can’t even legally choose how fast I drive my body down the road or whether or not to strap myself into a seatbelt. There are laws all over my body. Yet we let that statement stand unchallenged. To disagree with this hallowed mantra is to deny our womanhood. To forfeit our feminist credentials.

At 39 weeks, two days before my scheduled c-section, Emily was born. My obgyn, bless her, cheerfully chirped, “See, I told you she’d be early.” Through countless prayers and by the mercy of God, we had a healthy baby girl whose Preemie clothes could not stretch to cover her.

Three blessed babies were protected, nourished, and sustained by my body. Three souls that convince me we can do better as a society. And when we can’t turn away from the video quickly enough and we catch a glimpse of that dismembered little one, we know. We all know.

God have mercy.