INSTEAD OF WORRYING ABOUT WHAT THE K-12 SCHOOL IS TEACHING YOUR KIDS, WORRY ABOUT WHAT IT ISN’T

It is a cold October afternoon in 1977. I have just drained the fat off of ground beef that I have browned in a frying pan. I carefully dump it into the casserole dish on top of the cooked and drained elbow macaroni, add in shredded cheddar cheese, a bag of frozen cut green beans, and Mrs. Capcovick’s special sauce. I stir gently, cover the dish with foil, and slide it into a 375 degree oven. In 40 minutes, when my father and brother are home from work, it will be ready for my father, older brother, younger sister, and me to eat for dinner. My mother is already at her job at the Bell Tell switchboard, and will not be home until 1am. My sister is home from school and playing in the living room. I am watching her while I cook. I am 12 years old.

That memory, and that yummy casserole that my family ate many times, was brought to me by my 6th grade home-ec class.

Are you worried that your children are being taught about things they should NOT be taught about in school?

Give it a rest.

Are you worried that your kids will find out that the US was once full of white people who owned slaves, like founding fathers Jefferson and Washington? They already know.

Are you worried that your kids will find out that white racism did terrible things to Black people, and, far too often, still does? They already know this.

Are you worried that your kids, if they are white, will feel badly that white people are sometimes awful to other people because of racism? I am a white person, and I feel badly about this, and I share with my non-white daughter often how ashamed I am of these behaviors, and how imperfect I am at my own reckoning with race. She still loves me, and it’s not bad, feeling bad, and owning that, as a white person, I have a duty to do better. No, I never lynched anyone, and I don’t think anyone in my either immigrant or coal-miner ancestry did either, but I do know that, sometimes, as poor and uneducated as they were, they felt superior due to being white, and said and believed racist things. And for this, I carry shame and sadness, but I still get through my day in a successful way. The fact that I am a product of white people and share the history of racism has not ruined my life. Seriously, all kids know this anyway. Hello, YouTube. If you’re making a mountain out of this molehill you’re both waisting your time, and teaching your kids the wrong thing:

“We don’t look at hard stuff in our pasts (and present) because it makes us feel bad.”

Yeah, don’t teach your kids that. TEACH YOUR KIDS TO DO HARD THINGS. Give them strength and resilience.

AND, give them Mrs. Capcovick.

In 1977, in my middle school, I had math, and science, and English, and social studies, just like my daughter has now. I also had art, and music, and choir, and band could be in there too, and home-ec, and French (or Spanish), and woodshop, and typing, and CPR and first aid, and metal shop, and the dreaded gym class, and guitar lessons, and square dancing, and mechanical drawing, and sewing, and photography, and theater arts, and we also still had recess, and I know there were probably other courses throughout my junior high school experience that I cannot remember. In 1977, between the overlap from when my mom dropped off my little sister with me and went to work, and when my dad and brother came home from work, I made dinner. And often it was Mrs. Capcovicks’ casserole, which I learned in her class in 6th grade. She also taught me to make fettuccine with Alfredo sauce with bacon and peas.

My daughter, in the Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware has math, language arts, social studies, science, band (or choir… kids have to choose 1, and only 1) and, of the 4 quarters in the year, first quarter, gym, second quarter, art, third quarter, health, and fourth quarter, keyboarding. Yup, that’s it.

That is all she is doing.

My daughter is missing out on learning real life skills, like cooking, and having a peek at other things she may have an interest in or aptitude for. All they are doing in the Cape Henlopen School District is teaching the bare minimum to get kids through the standardized tests, and the only after school enrichment they offer is various sports teams.

As a parent, this IS something you should be concerned about.

First of all, these classes that my school district is not teaching are usually hands-on, fun, and engaging. These are nice breaks from the “sit in your chair and think” academic classes. Secondly, these classes offer windows into a world of career possibilities that kids won’t even know about unless they are exposed to them. With a second language you could become an interpreter. With typing you could become a court stenographer. With woodshop you could go into construction. With mechanical drawing: architecture. With sewing: fashion design.

Why aren’t our schools offering these other classes anymore? Have you asked your school district this question?

I also remember, for you parents worried about sex ed, that Mr. Baine, I wanna say, I think it was Baine, taught sex ed. He was super cute and fit, and I had a crush on him, and I remember what he told us about male anatomy. He stood there, with his trim body straight, and put his hands together as if in prayer, and turned that point of the hands down to the floor, and he said, “The penis hangs there like a loaf of Wonder Bread, just hangs there. Unless it is excited.” I was mortified. There were boys in the room too. Mr. Baine said the word penis, and compared it to Wonder Bread. And that is absolutely all I remember about sex ed. Of course, by the time I got into his class, I already knew all about sex, because my mom told me in second grade when I asked. I knew, from second grade on, all about sex, and I never was a pregnant or promiscuous teen. Imagine that.

Wonder Bread, People. Imagine that!

Seriously though, is your school district just getting by, or is it really teaching your kids all about the world, and not just about the basic 4 topics? Ask, and get involved in that. That is something that actually matters. That is something that your kids are losing out on. If you don’t demand it, you will never get it.

Stop shutting down education, and ask for more. Your kids are worth it.

DEAD PEOPLE SHOULD NOT VISIT

Do you know the words to the Pink Panther theme song by the great Henri Mancini?

The words are, “Dead aunt, dead aunt, dead aunt dead aunt dead aunt dead aunt dead auuuuunt de-eh-eh-ed aunt.” And so on.

At exactly 3:08 pm yesterday I heard my dead aunt say my name.

My dead aunt, when she was alive, had a habit, throughout her life, that I was not fond of. She was a practitioner, nay, even a master, of the pop-in.

She was my mother’s older sister, significantly older, so she seemed to feel she had the right to do certain things, one of which was to pop-in.

And, as my mother never kept her door locked, and never would have turned her sister away anyway, my aunt could always pop-in.

This usually meant that whatever was happening at home, from cooking dinner to eating dinner, from hanging laundry on the line, to playing a game as a family, to being about to leave to go to a movie, or to the beach for a week, whatever it was, it had to stop, immediately, and wait until my aunt decided the pop-in was over. And, frequently, my aunt showed up to complain about her very emotionally cruel husband, or just to be vague and ask all of us a lot of questions to try to make some conversation as she was bored, her husband was cruel, and her kids had gotten the hell out of there as soon as they could, so she was lonely, and alone. I knew it, and I loved her, but geez, she had bad timing. As an example, she refused to come to the baby shower my friends threw me for adopting Sophie; she didn’t cotton to the whole adopting from another race and country thing, but she didn’t mind showing up just when we were about to leave (I was home from CA and staying with my mom) and making us all an hour late. We were literally on the front step when she pulled up, and my mother, who had the only car at the time, turned around and marched back into the house and sat down, clutching her keys so that we knew we were not escaping without her. My aunt slowly lumbered out of her car, up the drive, and into the house, and I had to make everyone tea and get out cookies. My aunt spent the hour or so dropping little hints about the adoption not being a good idea, was generally unencouraging and moody, and, I think, handed me a 50 dollar bill before she sighed a long sigh and left. Boy, was it fun driving to that shower with my mother after that (as my mother always thought her sister knew best because she was older, and she had married very rich), because now my mother was also in opposition to the adoption plan, and anxious about being so very late to a shower where my father’s girlfriend was also going to be, and where they all had been kindly and awkwardly waiting for us for over an hour by the time we arrived. My other aunt, my mom’s best friend, showed up and was a lot of fun. Here’s to dearly departed Aunt Peg, who I enjoyed enough to almost be willing to see while she is dead.

I want to pause here and say that we all have a birth-family, and a childhood family, and they may or may not be the same family, but when you get your very own, grown-up family (GUF), that you put together out of your chosen combination of spouse, kids, friends, pets, etc., your GUF should come first, people.

OMGosh. Do I really need to write that?

Yes. I do.

“I’m so sorry; we’re just headed out the door. I will call you_______” when I’m not headed to the movies with my kids for the last showing of (movie) that if we don’t leave now we will miss. SERIOUSLY.

When my aunt popped in she would open the front door, stick in her head, and say, “Dianne?” emphasis on ANNE, with a slightly louder-than-usual, slightly aggrieved-sounding voice.

That is what I heard yesterday, just when I had finished my long to-do of household chores, and, very hungry, was going to make a sandwich. I heard what sounded like the front door swooshing (my front door, not the one in the house where my aunt used to visit my mom), and my name, said in the same way (I am, unhappily, named after my mother.), “Di-ANNE?”

The chills.

Lets face it, there are people I knew who are dead who I would love to see again for one last chat, except that, for all of them, universally, they’d be dead.

Dearly departed please don’t visit.

Dead people should stay dead and not visit.

No one has ever accused me of having a spiritual side. I do not believe in an afterlife, or a divine whatsit, or prayer, or past lives, or karma, or karma-chameleon, or zen, or chanting, or whatever. Nope. That dog don’t hunt in my worldview.

And so I knew that it was not my aunt yesterday, but just a trick of the milieu of house noises + hunger.

I do not believe my dead aunt was suddenly thinking of me, or that she died, years ago now, at exactly that moment, or that she wants to tell me she’s glad I got the child, or still recommends against getting the child, or that I should call my mother, or that she’s hanging out with my brother and he’s okay, or that the money she always meant to give me is hidden in the samovar, or whatever. And, in truth, for those who espouse such thoughts about their own lives, it sounds to me not unlike a tropical fruit that people have been known to slip on.

The sound I heard sounded like my aunt, but, of course (do I need to write “of course?”), it was not my aunt. But it did once again reaffirm for me that, no, no, no: dead people should not visit, and, in my view, it’s the thought of them being able to visit that makes horror so horrifying. And not because they’d be zombies or ghosts, but simply because they’d be back. And dead, and probably smell.

Dead aunt, dead aunt, dead aunt, dead aunt, dead aunt, dead- I think Mancini must have felt the same way as me.

DRAW YOURSELF

At UMES, where I teach creative writing, I am trying to get my students interested in participating in a play about body positivity by (hopefully) writing or performing an individual piece.

To do that, I modeled:

#1. Drawing a picture of yourself, and then labelling your features (that is me, above)

#2. Writing a paragraph explaining your labels.

#3. Cutting the paragraph up into verse.

Did it go well for them? I’m not sure. So far no one has spontaneously volunteered!

It did go well for me. I have a whole new poem that I will attempt, in the coming months, to publish. Boy, that publishing thing is a slow process. My sympathy to those who ask me to publish them, and have to wait for me. There’s just not enough hours in the day.

In any case….

If you were to draw yourself, how would you label yourself, and why?

Poem with me, won’t you?

PS: I was wearing a mask when I did this drawing, but I drew me without it because it was an important part of who I am to show that I am waaaay toooo happy, all the time. It’s weird. Masks aren’t. Take care of each other. xo

TOO HAPPY (Holland Taylor is the best!):

POEM WITH ME

Whenever possible I have a little fun with my creative writing classes with Magnetic Poetry.

This semester, while cleaning up from our play-day, I found some nice word combos, and isn’t that the point of Magnetic Poetry?

So, c’mon, poem with me…

Comment with your creation!

No, you don’t have to use them in that order…. 😉

MRS. P.! Can you help ME make MYSELF do my schoolwork?

This is a question I get ALL the time.

And, I guess, I am not the wrong person to ask because I made myself do my schoolwork through 3 college degrees, another college program that I took for two semesters, and a whole ton of teacher-related continuing ed crap that was as boring as it could possibly be. So, yeah, I can make ME do MY homework.

Can I make YOU do YOURS?

This is the answer I just sent to a student:

I understand how hard it can be to make yourself do schoolwork. The first thing I want to suggest is that you not make it a black and white situation:

Either schoolwork gets easy and becomes something I want to do NOW, or I will quit this forever!

The second thing I want to say to you is that there is no one on Earth who can say the thing that will make you want to do schoolwork. It has to come to you, from you.

For every human our jobs are always a priority, because we all need money, and with money we get food, shelter, and etc.

School… doing it on our time off from work, it can feel very difficult to motivate ourselves to do that. Some folks will find a way and some folks will not. And that is why many more people begin college than graduate.

My own thoughts on that are that 

to do the things we want to do, we all have to find a reason that is meaningful enough to us so that we will push past the reasons that we do not want to do it. 

In other words, what will happen in your life if you do not pass a class, or even if you do not pursue college? 

Is that better or worse than what will happen if you do pursue it? 

The reward you get from a college degree:

a career instead of “just a job”

a higher pay rate

those things are not things that you get when you finish a homework assignment.

They are future things, and they can seem like dreams that will never be reached because they are farther away.

And yet, so many things are like that in life. 

For example, saving money to buy a house, we can put $50 into a bank account and tell ourselves to leave it there so it can build up to enough money for a house down payment, but saving enough for the house could take years, and spending that money today would make us happy now, so why save it? 

Well, some people do save the money to buy a house, so they are able to find a satisfying answer to the question,

“Why do something hard (painful, difficult, boring, etc.) today that will not bring me any happiness (pleasure, relaxation, reward) for many more months (or days, or years)?

And so that is our question if we try to go to school, save money, exercise, etc.

So why are you doing something hard and boring and tiring today (going to school) that will not bring you any reward for a few years?

Can I (Mrs. P.) make homework easier for you to do?

My best suggestion is to try to approach work for college in two ways:

  1. Set up a time each day that you will spend 20 minutes on college, whether it is doing some homework, or reading assignments, or checking emails. Set an oven timer, and when the 20 minutes is over, you have permission to be done if you feel sick of it.
  2. Offer yourself a reward after the 20 minutes. You can look at your face in the mirror, and tell yourself you are proud of you. You can take your dog for a walk and enjoy the nice fall weather. You can have a snack. You can play a game on your phone.

What a lot of us do when we do not want to do something that is “good for us” is that we just avoid it. 

We play on our phone, but not as a reward, as a way to avoid.

We need to understand that there is a huge difference between:

  1. avoiding college
  2. setting up a time to do a little bit of work at a time, as I just suggested
  3. or simply saying, “I am done; I chose not to go to college.”

If you do as I suggest (2), and spend a little time each day on college with a reward after, you are controlling your life. You are the boss of you.

If you decide (3) college is not for you, and make a decision to stop going, and stop going, you are controlling your life. You are the boss of you.

BUT, if you (1) just avoid it, say “I know I need to do it/I know I should do it, but I don’t want to,” and just avoid taking control, 

either to do the work or stop the work, 

you are not being the boss of you, and it can make you feel like a victim, which can lead to feelings of sadness or being unsatisfied with who you are, thinking of yourself as a loser, when none of that is true.

A friend and I were in college at the same time, and we both worked full-time in “just jobs,” and my friend was a waitress. And she hated doing schoolwork, and she loved waitressing. After two years of school, she decided that she was not going to go to school anymore, and she stayed a waitress, and she is now in her 50s, and still waitressing, and still happy with it, and still my friend. 

There is no problem to know yourself and know that you want something different. 

For me, as I am the only college graduate in my family, knowing I wanted something different meant going to college even while my family was against it. 

I also didn’t like doing homework, but I knew I didn’t want to waitress for my life-career, and it was important enough to me for me to stay up late, work on my days off, and miss out on fun nights out, etc. to do it. 

My friend felt the other way, and that is fine too.

So the best advice I can offer you is to consider yourself, think about who you are, and what you want, and see if you’re willing to begin by setting aside little bites of time, 20 minutes each day, no matter how tired you are, to do something for school. 

If you do it, you have to be fair, and tell yourself that you did a good job, and that you only have to do 20 minutes and then you are off the hook.  

~ (1) And if that 20 minutes isn’t too terrible, and your goal (a better job, home ownership, whatever it may be) is compelling enough, you learn to motivate yourself to keep choosing school.

~(2) If the 20 minutes is too terrible and is too much, then you may want to consider your goals, whatever they may be, and ask yourself if there is another way you can achieve them that will suit you better.

I just want to suggest that you choose #1 or # 2, and not simply avoid making a choice, because just avoiding college’s work/homework and waiting to fail or waiting for some other situation that takes the decision out of your hands, this will make you feel like a failure, instead of like an adult making choices about his/her own life. 

And then I went on to talk about some personal issue the student had raised, and the all-important tech-support too.

FOR PARENTS OF K-12 KIDS THE THING I WANT TO SAY TO YOU IS:

Are you teaching your kids to have stamina? If you give your child music lessons, do you expect, demand, require daily practice (5 days a week; we all need weekends) of 15 minutes or more?

Are you teaching your kids delayed gratification? “You want the phone/iPad/Kindle? Well, you can have it when you fold these clothes and put them away nicely.”

Are you, parents, playing through the pain? “She is screaming and I want her to stop! I will just put on the show she wants to see. He is throwing a tantrum! I will just let him stay up until he falls asleep on his own!” 

How many times have I said to my husband, “Our job as a parent is to listen to the screaming/crying/begging, and still say ‘No.'”

YOUR CHILD WILL NOT SUDDENLY BECOME GOOD AT THIS WHEN HE OR SHE GOES TO COLLEGE IF YOU DON’T PLAY THROUGH THE PAIN AND TEACH THEM THAT CERTAIN BORING OR PAINFUL OR LOOOOONG OR SLOW THINGS MUST HAPPEN IN LIFE

AAND THAT THEY WILL HAVE TO HAVE A WAY TO COPE.

You gave them life, in most cases, but that ain’t enough. YOU MUST ALSO GIVE THEM STAMINA AND RESILIENCE AND SELF-CONTROL AND TEACH THEM HOW TO HANG IN THERE AND DO LONG, SLOW, BORING, ETC. THINGS.

If you don’t know how to do those things yourself, you can, I think, blame that on your mom and dad, but blame and then change. You owe this to your children. NOTHING ELSE you can give them will make them as successful in life as stamina, and the ability to be motivated for delayed gratification.

We are all work in progress on this, but every hard thing is easier to learn when we are young. If your kid is putting away his laundry when he is 3, it will be a no-brainer when he is 23. If your kid is going for a daily walk with you when she is 2, it will be a no-brainer when she is 22.

WE DO THINGS EASILY THAT ARE EASY FOR US TO DO.

Things become easy for us to do when we have done them a lot.

It doesn’t happen that kids go to college and magically become good at doing homework.

YOU have to set up the expectation when they are in kindergarten that WITH SCHOOOL comes homework, and EVERY day after school you do some homework, together, whether ii is actual homework, or reading a book together.

If you want your kid to practice her piano or his trumpet, you sit there and you watch them practice, and you smile and act interested, and you do it 5 days a week, for 15 minutes. YOU SIT AND WATCH THEM DO IT each day, for 15 minutes, and you teach them that there are not days off (most of the time) and that you value it (you sit and watch) and that you are proud of them (you offer praise), and that they can live through it.

WE DO THINGS EASILY THAT ARE EASY FOR US TO DO.

Things become easy for us to do when we have done them a lot.

I am trying to give myself the gift of an exercise habit now, in my 50s. If my parents had given it to me when I was in single digits, damn. Can you imagine?

They didn’t, and I still want it, so I am trying to get it now.

And so, as a person in my 50s, the thing I want to say to myself, when I do not exercise in the morning like I “want to” and am “supposed to” is that it is okay to have a day where I fail at my motivation and my goal, as long as I find a way to do it the next day. And if putting on my running clothes and running seems too hard, can I throw a hoodie over my pajamas and ride my bike? Can I put on my running clothes and run for 5 minutes? Can I leash up Oliver and walk? 

Am I making a choice to either exercise or not, or am I avoiding the situation, and waiting for the hands of fate to choose for me?

The important thing is to make a conscious choice.

Your fate is NOT in the hands of fate.

Your fate is in your hands.

If you failed at making your kid do his homework or making your kid practice her instrument today, can you try again tomorrow, can you suffer through the pain of the tantrum, or etc., to give your kid that gift? Can you suffer through your own internal tantrum (talking to myself now!) to give yourself the gift of fitness, or whatever goal you want to accomplish?

Remember, Mrs. P. has no magic wand for making school easy, or making green vegetables taste good, or making exercise like watching Netflix and eating chips. If I did, I’d be too rich to be doing this! 

Good luck out there. Give yourself some love today. 

 
 
 

“Is it Work If You Do it From Home?”

Wow. I hope Nadja doesn’t mind me pointing you to her blog.

This post is just so on point.

I absolutely get her, as I sit here stealing a few minutes to write while Sophie is in an Outschool class.

Man, I wasn’t making it through the last year of homeschooling without Outschool.

And I was just thinking, yesterday, on a walk with the dog (who, since the pandemic, demands several each day, but, hey, how freaking boring is being a dog? I get it, my handsome Oliver.), how there were about 3 times over the last year where I had a “come to Jesus” meeting with my husband and daughter over homeschooling. Sure, Sophie loved practicing her instruments, taking art classes on Outschool, or doing science experiments with Dad. But math or grammar with Mom? Ho, oh, oh, no. “It’s not fair!” I whined. Yet, looking back on it on the walk yesterday, I think that, all-in-all, we did okay.

There’s something about motherhood though; a lot is expected of motherhood, and little is given in terms of respect for it. It’s like “Do the best freaking job at this of anyone, anywhere! And we’ll tell you how much more important what we’re doing is, and, if you screw up even an iota, we’ll tell you that too.” *sigh*

On the other hand, I feel like I am generally doing okay at raising a really nice kid who is truly dedicated to music and art, and can and will practice both independently. As, when I was a child, I wouldn’t practice anything independently (besides hiding well and reading), I think I’m doing a better job than my own, always angry, mother. It’s funny to call it a job, though, isn’t it? It both is, and isn’t, a job.

And I love every minute of being with my daughter, and I also want some minutes without her.

In any case, Nadja did a wonderful piece that I think will truly resonate with you, and her other writing ain’t bad either, as you can see in this piece.

FROM MY TEACHER, ABOUT TEACHERS

A wonderful piece from my very first poetry teacher, Chris Buckley:

Chris Buckley

Teachers

Feeling nostalgic. I had a wonderful time working with Chris. He taught me to like other’s poetry, in addition to writing my own. And I believe I had, at the time, a terrible horrendous perm, so he was extra nice to work with me.

Ahhh…. the past.