Thursday, June 8, 2017

June: The Official Month of Teacher Revenge

One thing I've noticed, the school events requiring parent involvement come fast and furious at this time of year. So I've decided to dub June: The Official Month of Teacher (and School Administrator) Revenge.

Dear Parents: Great news! Your child has been cast as_________ in the end-of-year class play! The class play will be held the day after tomorrow, precisely one hour and fifteen minutes following regular drop-off, which should be SO PERFECT for all you working parents! Please work with your child to create a woodland creature costume. As our artist in residence has not yet given me the assigned parts (between us, she seems a bit overwhelmed), I cannot advise which children should prepare which woodland creature costumes.Thankfully, this is your problem and not mine. Thanks in advance! Sincerely, Ms. Teacher

Dear Parents: We need a volunteer to bake two dozen miniature, nut-free, gluten-free muffins for the class breakfast next week. Please make absolutely sure to bake the MINI muffins, and NOT the full-size muffins. We have an obesity epidemic in our country (so, so sad!) and we want to be EXTRA vigilant about those empty calories! So, 24 MINI nut-free muffins, please! Also, we need another parent volunteer to bring in 400 Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins. Maybe 500, to be safe! Also we might need a gallon of orange juice—I'll circle back on that later today, in a whole new thread! Thanks, all! Warmest regards, the Chairwoman of the PTA Breakfast Committee

Dear Parents: I need a volunteer to bring in two dozen bubble wands (the kind that come with soap), no duplicates, please. I need a second volunteer to bring in four gallons of bubble soap (the kind that comes with the plastic bubble wands). Please DO NOT sign up for both slots. We need to give every parent a chance to contribute! All best, Your Field Day Coordinator

Dear Parents: Can you believe it? Only one week to go until our school carnival! Please be advised that our principal—he's our PAL!—has once again volunteered to take a shift in the dunking booth (BRRR!). He respectfully requests parents to remember that the dunking booth is an activity for your children ONLY. If you could help out and spread the word that our principal does NOT dictate our school budget, that would be super-duper! In advance of the fair, please remind your cranky neighbors (you know who they are!) that the school fair dunking booth is  NOT an appropriate forum for members of the Concerned Senior Taxpayers of Pleasantville to vent their frustrations. Things got very heated (well, not for the principal) last year, and we hate to expose our kids to that kind of neighbor-on-neighbor strife. Thanks so much and see you at the fair! The Fair Committee

Hola Mamas y Papas! I'm your child's Spanish teacher and I just realized my emails have gone to  your spam folders all year, because apparently the Gmail spam filter doesn't like the upside down exclamation point I have been placing before  the "Hola!" in my messages! Please note that this exclamation point is the correct Spanish punctuation and I've taken the matter up with Google. While I await their apology, please find attached the nine Spanish class newsletters you missed over the 2016-17 academic year. Gracias! Senora Spanish Teacher P.S. Please have your kindergarten student bring in his or her favorite animal on Tuesday for a very special vocabulary activity!

VIA EMAIL [Timestamp 3:23 AM EST Tuesday] Dear parents: The Spanish teacher meant please send in A STUFFED ANIMAL. Please, for the love of God, DO NOT send your pets to school. We are NOT a doggie daycare, FFS!The second grade did this activity yesterday, and the unfortunate miscommunication caused some extremely tense moments involving a gerbil, a parakeet, and an exceedingly unruly Miniature Hypo-Allergenic Pug-a-cock-a-doodle, who is now in the custody of the Pleasantville Animal Control Officer. Thanks in advance for your cooperation. Best, Your Kindergarten Teaching Team

VIA EMAIL [Timestamp 6:01 AM EST Tuesday] Dear Parents: The Kindergarten Teaching Team meant to delete the expletives and ill-considered commentary about Doggie Daycare. The Kindergarten Teaching Team respects you and regrets this lapse in their observance of OUR SCHOOL VALUES. Please remember, pets are not allowed on school grounds during school hours, per Pleasantville Town Ordinance 54(b)(18). Thanks in advance, Your Principal

Dear Parents: Your child has been assigned to our rainbow tie-dyed relay team! Please send in a colorful tie-dye T-shirt for Friday. Please, no drug references or dancing bears! Some parents have expressed concerns that tie-dye could stir depravity in our youth, but I think that's nonsense, and I'm frankly out of crowd-pleasing colors. Also the forecast calls for a low of 98 degrees in the shade, so we scrapped the black and navy teams, because heaven forbid we reschedule. I cannot believe I need to write a memo justifying what should be my executive decision on T-shirt colors, but here it is. Thanks so much, Your Field Day Coordinator (Who is retiring next week, so you can shove your OUR SCHOOL VALUES complaints where the sun don't shine! HAHA! Joking! Sorry. Not sorry.)

Dear Parents: Please return all library books by Thursday, or your child will not be able to buy milk during the upcoming 2017-2018 school year. No, we are not joking. We regret this draconian measure, but do you have any idea how much money we lose on stolen books? Thanks for your cooperation, Your Library Team

Dear Parents: We regret to inform you that Butterfly Day is cancelled, because we didn't realize we had to feed the butterflies after they emerged, so they all died a slow death of starvation. Please take this opportunity to have a difficult discussion with your rising kindergarten student about the circle of life. Warm wishes for a great summer, Your Pre-K Team

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Loose Lips Sink Ships

When I was a kid, my dad possessed an immense fondness for the old World War Two slogan, "Loose lips sink ships."

Normally, our family didn't discuss matters of national security at the dinner table. We took the quip as an admonition to refrain from gossip, and Dad repeated the line so frequently, that we inevitably responded with the standard-issue sarcastic teenage eye roll.

I haven't written much about politics recently, but five minutes ago, I hung up with a nice young man who answered the phone at my Congressman's office.

I asked him, "What else can I do to make sure we get a special prosecutor to look into  Russia-Trump collusion and Trump's Russian financial entanglements? A Congressional investigation no longer feels like enough, when we have a president who blithely compromises the lives of our agents and the lives of our allies' agents, along with the lives of any civilians inclined to help our armed forces abroad, to a hostile world power."

(Head desk.)

The young man in the Congressman's office said, "Ask your friends to call both their senators and their congressional representatives, and ask them to KEEP CALLING."

Congressional offices log constituent calls every day. Give your address. Make it clear you are a constituent, and you want your elected representatives in Washington to demand a special prosecutor. If they're already beating this drum, thank them. If they're hedging, urge them to put the republic over party.

Let's make their phones ring.

Russia is not our friend. This is not tricky math.

Russia guns down writers and political dissidents in the public streets. Russia jails protesters in Siberian gulags. Russia seizes assets of private companies whose executives piss off their dictator and then, often, Russia kills those business leaders for good measure. Russia poisons its exiled opposition leaders to try to silence them. Russia annexes land belonging to sovereign neighboring countries. Russia props up Bashar al-Assad and his henchmen, helping them gas children and bomb their country to kingdom come.

This latest aspect of the ongoing Russia Scandal makes Watergate look likes child's play, and unlike Watergate, where the Washington Post had the story months before anyone could corroborate the allegations, both the New York Times and Reuters had independently corroborated the details of the classified information leak by the president to the Russians last night.

Either the president is truly in Putin's pocket, or he's too stupid to understand the consequences of his boastful loose lips.

Either way, it's dangerous for the American people, our armed forces, and our allies. We all deserve so much better.

The traitor president's words might not sink an actual ship this time, but they could get our intelligence assets abroad beheaded, if the CIA and our allies cannot act quickly enough to protect their people.

Incidentally, I took a stab at writing political suspense once, involving collusion with the Russians, no less. I could not have made this level of crap up.

Why? Because nobody would have believed it, even in a fictional, chase caper/thriller context. What the Washington Post reported last night is just too mind-boggling to put in a contemporary novel.

So, Dad, I know you read this space. You were right: Loose lips do sink ships.

Please go call your senators and rep and remind them.

United States Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Meaning of No

If we can't teach our sons, from a very young age, that no means no, do we really expect some half-naked sixteen-year-old girl, hormones raging, to explain it better in the backseat of a car?

My friend, D., mother of an eleven-year-old, posed this question at a recent book club meeting. Everyone fell quiet for a moment as we shared one of those rare moments of true epiphany.

All of us admitted, that at least sometimes, we have let our children use our "no" as a starting point for negotiations.

We have told ourselves it's okay; they're developing reasoning and debate skills.

Meanwhile, our kids have learned that "no" can sometimes mean "maybe," and that their repeated, pleading requests stand at least even odds of wearing us down.

The flip side, of course, is that we often say give the kiddos an offhand no, when the stakes around whatever they're requesting don't matter much. Then we backpedal, when we said have said maybe, or I haven't decided yet, in the first place.

None of this is okay.

It's not okay for any kid. We all pride ourselves on being egalitarian, and we teach children of both sexes that privates are private.

However, the realities of relative physical size and strength in male and female humans (after puberty) mean it's especially not okay for parents of boys to fail to teach the meaning of NO.

Cosmopolitan published an essay in its most recent issue: How I Talked to My Son About Sexual Consent. I read this the moment I saw it last week.  So did countless other moms, because the editors blasted it out, using the creepy tagline "Every Rapist Is Someone's Son" as click bait.

I found it encouraging that at least some of us have begun, in the span of one generation, to move the conversation from, "If you love me, you will" to, "Are you sure you want to do this?"

The type of frank and honest discussion the writer recounts having with her teenager doesn't materialize from nowhere. She clearly laid the groundwork for that awkward interaction over many  years.

Which means we should start young. Like elementary school young. Maybe earlier.

There was a great British public service video making the rounds, several months ago, that explained sexual consent in the most civilized, G-rated terms possible.

The video not only explains affirmative consent and the importance of no, it also illustrates the importance of recognizing when a person is too impaired to give consent: "Unconscious people don't want tea."

Every one of us women around the table that night was once a teenage girl, who at one point or another, told some teenage boy, "no," only to be met with "please, pretty please," or "come on, don't be a tease," or the slightly more dated, "if you love me you will,"  or a pseudo-progressive variant, "but I brought a condom, so it will be fine."

To borrow from the British PSA, we didn't want tea, or perhaps we wanted more time to consider the tea.

From where the boys were sitting, they stood at least even odds of wearing us down.

Those teenage girls said, "no," and the boys interpreted "no" as a starting point for more discussion.

They heard "maybe."