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The mantra of my tribe is that Depression Lies. You may recall a post a few weeks ago about a young woman who committed suicide, a friend of my daughter. I have thought of her often, and of the culture in which our teenagers grow to adulthood (as if any of us every REALLY become adults – I still maintain that we’re all just playing at being grown-ups, and some of us are just better at it than others.) I would never blame a parent for a child’s suicide. I have nothing but the utmost, heartfelt compassion for what they must feel. Since I have personally contemplated suicide and self-harming behaviors since I was young, I feel I want to share my perspective on it now as the parent of a teenager.

It’s very difficult to judge your own capabilities as the parent of a teenager. You think you are encouraging your child to work harder, to achieve more in school, and somehow she interprets that message as “I am a disappointment to my parents,” even when you are conscious of telling your teenager how proud you are of her. And if a teenager is suffering from depression, that sense of being a disappointment becomes not just overwhelming, but seemingly unconquerable. Sharing those same feelings with their parents just makes teenagers think that they are even more of a failure, that their parents won’t believe them, or won’t understand, and their world starts to spiral out of control, through behaviors such as excessive drinking, cutting, or drugs, and sometimes with unthinkably horrible consequences – such as choosing to end their own lives.

I have consciously tried to not push my daughter too hard in school, and she has been an excellent student since kindergarten. And yet, in her eyes, I am constantly nagging her about her homework and her grades, despite the fact that she has proven to me that she’s got this – she’s proven it by her grades. These difficult few months, combined with the fact that she’s taking much harder courses in her senior year, two of her grades aren’t aligned with what her grades usually are.

One very cold night, as I was waiting for a ride at a bus stop, we talked about it on the phone, both of us in tears. I realized what she needed to hear – and what I told her – was that SHE was not the sum of her performance in school. That she is an amazing, intelligent, compassionate, talented, beautifully unique human being, and that’s what matters. Not – at this stage of the game, as she is trying to find her future – how well she did on a Calculus test. I told her I didn’t care about her grades anymore. And I meant it. It seemed to take some of the pressure off, and I am truthfully telling her now that I am proud of her when she is trying her best, and proud of her no matter what. I remember what it was like at her age, struggling with workloads, priorities, time management, work, socializing, and just trying to figure out my future. Remembering that is great help when your teenager is in the same place.

I have not chosen the “friend, not parent” role, though we are friends. I tell her when I need to say “mom stuff”, like having a conversation about the availability of drugs when she goes to college, and the dangers of drugs now versus what was out there when I was her age. I know she’s done things that I don’t want to know about, even though I thought she was telling me everything. She wasn’t. That happens when teenagers are trying to find their path to independence. We, as parents with seemingly open relationships with our children, need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that this will happen, and short of locking your teenager in her room for four years, the only thing you can do is be supportive, vigilant, protect your child-woman as best you can, arm them with as much information as you can, and hope that, if they do not feel they can share with you, that they can find someone trustworthy to share their feelings and confusion with.

My daughter was fortunate enough to have a counselor at school who, while she often gave her the same advice I did, was not me. She is a stronger and wiser soul for having had that counselor at her disposal, and having made that close connection. I was sad to see politics make her counselor leave the school just as so many students were recovering from their friend’s suicide. But that is the way of the world, and at this age, there is no sense in sheltering our soon-to-be-adults from it.

I’m probably rambling a little. I’m trying to help with my words. I’m hoping some parent will see themselves in my words, and think about what they are pushing their child to do, how they are pushing, why they are pushing, and have an awareness of how their child might be perceiving what the parent thinks of as gentle pushing. Let’s try to see our teenagers as more than just students or ultimate players, but who they are, which is so much more. We can offer guidance, but not make the horse drink. We can offer to listen, but cannot expect to be told the whole truth. We can be aware of signs of depression, but must understand that we may not see it.

These are the people we love more than anything else in the world. And as my mother always said, we are all doing the best we can with what we have at the time – both us as parents, and them as teenagers. Let’s just hope it’s enough to keep our children here in this world, instead of thinking that leaving it is the best or only choice they have.

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Kelsea had her first choir concert of the season last night.  The 7/8th grade choir is pretty good  (and the 6th grade choir is awesome).  She was in the first row, which was nice for us parents.  The choir instructor decided to add a little choreography in the form of  pointing arms, which wound up being flailing, flapping arms.  Kelsea only went to the wrong direction once, but she did smack the kid next to her in the stomach.  Oops.

As I was watching her, almost 14, up there on stage, singing under the lights, I was remembering her, just 4, up on a stage at the Louisville Public Library, singing with her preschool class.  She was so cute, sort of singing distractedly, looking around, waving her arms, occasionally picking up the hem of her little dress-thing (she was wearing leggings, so no undo exposure occurred).  She was  white-blonde back then, her face rounder.  She doesn’t really look a lot like she does now.  And interestingly, I know how she looks now is very different from how she’ll look in 10 years.

It was a sweet thing, to see her evolution, as she stood apart from me, under the stagelights.

And I really liked this kind of spooky picture I took of the concert.

As a society, we seem to be schizophrenic – or at least inconsistent – about our attitudes around touching each other these days.  

Teachers are not permitted to hug students – even a comforting hug for a crying kindergartener can be misconstrued, turned into something suspect.  Elementary school kids are not allowed to touch each other at all.  No poking, tickling, shoving, hitting, patting – nothing.  That’s actually a good thing, I think, on the whole. 

In the workplace, any physical contact is either unprofessional or risks a sexual harassment charge.  You make friends with the people with whom you work (if you’re lucky), so I don’t agree with that hardline stance.

But then, there’s the other side.  Take pregnant women, for example.  The fact that you have a baby in your belly seems to say to everyone that your stomach is now public property.  I was always amazed at how total strangers would pat my belly when I was pregnant.  It’s the same amount of me, the same belly (well, less of it), that I have now.  Can you imagine coming up and patting my belly NOW?  Now that it’s just a normal, run-of-the-mill, doing-nothing-but-digesting belly?  Hell, no!  If you tried it, you’d find yourself short a hand.

The same public property principle seems to apply with Kelsea’s hair.  It’s at least two feet long when it’s in its daily braid, and that braid seems to have an irresistable appeal to her fellow students.  Everyone touches it, plays with it, pulls it, flaps it.  It makes her INSANE.  She absolutely hates it.  She’s told them in no uncertain terms to STOP.  And she’s entirely within her rights.  It’s part of her body.  Again, if it were another part of her body that was different from everyone else’s – say a deformed arm – it would be completely unacceptable for everyone to be touching and poking it.  But because it’s pretty and because it’s hair, it’s fair game.  That’s wrong.  The day after school ends, she’s donating 10-inches to Locks of Love – that way, her hair will be easier to care for over the summer, she’ll be doing something to help others, and it will grow back enough by the time that school starts that everyone won’t make a fuss about her cutting her hair.  If the hair-harassment (hairassment?) continues next year though, I may say something to the school-folk about it.  (After she punches someone in the face.)  It’s the principle of the thing.

And what’s more, the school seems to turn a blind eye to middle-school bullying, which includes punching, throwing things, and shoving.  I can only imagine the challenge of trying to administer appropriate protocols in a large middle-school, but the offenses which are noted and punished seem to be minor – and seem to be identified haphazardly.  Again, where’s the consistency?

Is there a solution to this quandary?  I’m not sure.  Maybe we all just need to relax?  Or maybe we’re all too far down some self-destructive pattern of evolution for us not to be paranoid about appropriate touching being misconstrued?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers.  I’m just here to ask the questions.

Perhaps this is more of a Mom-Rant…I don’t know.  I only know that I have some rants (or peeves) and it’s high time to express them.  So, let’s start with the pick-up/drop-off lanes at Kelsea’s school.

Why, why, WHY is this such a cluster **** every morning???

The horseshoe-shaped drop-off zone has “Hug and Go” signs from one end of the horseshoe to the other.  The door to the school is in the middle of the horseshoe, about 20 yards from the curb.  The first car that enters the horseshoe should pull up to the far end, keep the motor running, give their child a kiss, let him or her open the door, get his or her backpack, close the door, and then the parent should drive away.  Sounds so simple.  (See the picture of the horseshoe drive below?  This is Kelsea’s actual school.)

BUT…and this is a big but…

That’s not what happens.  Parents drive up to the exact center of the horseshoe so that their child will not have to walk any more than the absolute shortest distance to the school door.  And then they obviously discuss in-depth philosophical issues with said child for about 5 minutes prior to child exiting the vehicle, which in itself requires that the child open all car doors AND that the parent shut the car off and exit the vehicle to assist the child, OR (as occurred this morning) to CARRY the child’s backpack into the school WITH the child.  Additional discussions between parent and child once both parties have exited the vehicle are also required.

Once the child has turned towards the school door, the parent (if not physically accompanying the child into the school)  MUST re-enter the vehicle, watch the child until he or she enters the school and the door closes firmly behind him/her, then check their cellphone, put on make-up and deodorant, shave, adjust mirrors, start the car, wait for it to warm up, and then immediately pull back out into the horseshoe without looking to see if any cars are in the (theoretical) driving lane of the horseshoe.

Other parents are behind, jockeying for the next closest post position, or just sitting, waiting until it is their turn to pull up to the primo spot and perform the aforementioned ritual.

I seem to have some time warp issues with getting Kelsea to school on time.  We’ve discussed it.  We’ve tried all kinds of things to resolve it – leaving earlier, getting up earlier, packing up the night before, you name it.  It’s just a maternal failing that I freely own up to.  So we usually pull up to the horseshoe with minutes (or seconds) to spare before she’s tardy.  I’m sure the front office can tell when she’s staying with me vs. her Dad, just like her friends can tell based on the quality of her packed lunches.  (They take pity on her and share their lunches when she’s been with me.)

The dialogue (or soliloquy) in our car in the morning goes something like this from the time we approach the turning into the school parking lot:

Me: Why are you going so slow?  WHY are you going 5 miles an hour?  This is a 20 mile per hour zone.  And it’s NOT a four-way stop.  Don’t be so polite! Quit waving everyone else in!  Maybe YOU don’t have to be someplace else but I do!  ****** idiots!  GO!  GO!  MOOOOOVE!!!
Kelsea:  It’s okay, Mom, I’m already late.
Me:  It’s not okay!  Why do these Rock Creek moms have to be such idiots?  This is stupid!  It’s not that complicated!  You just puuuulllll up, there you go, allllll the way up, there, see?  This guy knows what he’s doing!  He’s doing it right.  Now see, I’ll just pull up behind him.  Look, what a good drop-off parent – wait, oh no, no, he’s getting out of the car – what?  He’s going into the school – he’s just LEAVING the car there! Now I’m blocked in.  **** him!!  ******* dumb-ass!! I’m going to ….
Kelsea:  Bye, Mom, I love you!
Me:  Bye, honey, have a great day.

So by the time I do get out of there, my blood pressure has soared, steam is coming out of my ears, and (depending on the day) I’m close to tears.  I will say it distracts Kelsea from her customary morning grumpiness, so that’s a minor blessing. 

And we just have to look for the little blessings in all of those things we can’t change, now don’t we?

 

Eldorado

I’ve watched Kelsea’s education with an interested, inquisitive and critical eye for almost ten years now.  It continues to be a journey, one that has brought up many memories of my own education.  As  a parent, you find yourself having to help with homework, and trying to remember things that you learned 35 years ago, and have now forgotten.  Thank the Gods for Google – it’s a great mind-refresher.

The questions that Kelsea keeps justifiably raising are, “Why do I need to learn this?  When am I ever going to use this?”  Well, I provide the standard maternal responses – “We all have to pay our dues.” “You never know what you’re going to wind up doing with your life.”  But inside, I’m saying, “She’s right!  When is she EVER going to have to know about Elodea leaves and what happens to their cells when you put them in salt water??  And when is she ever going to have to use negative numbers?  This person wants to be a paramedic.  She wants to work in a bookstore in Hay-on-Wye in Wales.”

Our academic system – the whole “no child left behind” and C-SAP testing – may (and I say MAY) support children who are at a disadvantage in one way or another, but for the majority of children, it doesn’t seem to teach them anything useful, anything that will actually help them develop their identity and the skills they will need for whatever profession they choose, unless that profession is academics.  A friend told me that all of the things they are teaching her really boil down to teaching her different ways to think.  I support THAT, if that is so.

But even if that is indeed the case, why is it not possible to make the entire academic experience more engaging?  It feels as if we are training our children that they must get up at a certain time and go do something that bores them until they are “freed”.  Sounds like a lot of our jobs, doesn’t it?  Are we just conditioning them into the same monotonous, choice-free way of life that the majority of us now experience?  Why is it not possible to foster a culture of free-thinking entrepreneurs among our youth?

I understand and appreciate that there are academic standards that need to be met — that all students need to be measured by some bar that indicates their level of competency.  What I don’ t understand is why it has to be so dry.  There are teachers out there who have very creative and engaging ways of educating, but who are stifled by the regimentation of the system.  Typically, those teachers are beloved and remembered by students, not because their classes were slack, but because their classes were inspiring and fun, and subsequently, their subject matter is remembered.  But these are the same teachers who are challenged and reprimanded by principals and school boards (and by parents who fear non-conformity.)

When children are in the lower grades, creativity and fun are emphasized in the learning process.  Make the child love school.  Why do we abandon that at the higher grade levels, when children are once again changing, and need to be helped to love school again?  Kelsea used to cry when she was unable to go to school because she was sick.  Now, it’s like pulling teeth to get her enthused – and she’s smart, social and has good grades.  Imagine if she were none of those things.  The challenge for both her and us would be magnified to the nth degree.  (To her credit, when Pat and I both wanted her to take a mental health day not so long ago, she employed her own ethics and decided it wasn’t the right thing for her to do – even though she had begged us to not make her go to school on previous days.  I was proud of her.)

Yes, it might take a little more work to come up with interactive and interesting ways of getting core information across.  But wouldn’t it be more interesting, rewarding and challenging for the teachers and the students?

While I have been evolving this opinion over a number of years now, what really heightened my awareness was my introduction to the grammar texts of Karen Elizabeth Gordon:  The Deluxe Transitive Vampire and The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager and the Doomed.  Both books teach all the core concepts of grammar and punctuation, as well as some valuable nuances, using examples that are entertaining and memorable.    Since the English language can be a toy, of course it’s easier to make English textbooks fun than to make an Algebra textbook fun, but by gum, I’m certain it can be done, and there are no doubt geeks or academics who would be more than willing to take on the challenge.

And about school start times….physiologically, kids in the teen years don’t have their melatonin levels raise until late in the evening.  They’re not ready to go to bed early and they’re not ready to get up early.  Everyone’s lives would be more pleasant and productive if school didn’t start until 9:30 or 10:00, and get out at 4:00 or 5:00.  What’s the rationale?  An 8:40 start time does not allow parents to get to work at 8:00, and a 3:30 release time does not allow them to work until 5:00.  (Not that I am in agreement with an 8:00 to 5:00 workday either.)

Who among us adults, even now in our 40’s, does not have those dreams of going to a class and realizing you’ve missed the entire semester and are now here for the final?   Or of not being able to find the classroom for the entire year?  Why do we still have nightmares about school when we are well-established professionals?  I think it speaks to the angst and trauma that the current academic system instills in us on a level of which we are unaware — unaware because we are following a formula that is incompatible with our core.

Make classes have a more global focus.  Make them more interactive.  Make them fun.  Make school a comfortable and welcoming place to go.  Respect our children’s native intelligence.  And our children will learn and be hungry to learn more.  It’s that simple.  Then perhaps our children will not be subject to our nightmares later on.

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August 2019
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