May 24, 2013

The Forgotten Girl

On Sunday, I bought Swim Girl a new dress for her National Junior Honor Society induction. She tried on a bunch of dresses and chose the one she liked.

Today, she put the dress on and took a good look at herself in the mirror. I don’t know what happened between Sunday and today, but whatever it was, wasn’t good. She started complaining about how ugly she looked, how everyone would make fun of her. The dress, a simple shift dress in greens and blues, looked pretty on her. She looked exactly like a 12-year old girl should look. . . her age. She felt it was too loose around the waist and wanted something to tie around the dress. The waist-tie to her white sweater was nowhere to be found, so with five minutes until we needed to leave, I ran upstairs and searched my closet for something that might work. I found a sweater that tied in the front and brought it down to her. I also grabbed a bunch of pretty barrettes that matched the dress, bought at Charming Charlie’s a while ago.

I helped her fix the sweater and put a carefully placed barrette in her hair. She stood in front of the mirror and said, “I’m so ugly.” She attempted to rip the barrette out but I insisted she wear it. We told her to put her chin up and be happy. This was going to be a big night for her! She moped all the way to school.

We arrived at the school, grabbed a program and found seats. Just as I was settling in, Mr. BBM says, “She’s not in here. She’s not in the program.” I scanned it myself and found her nowhere. Another Mom suggested that maybe she was put with the wrong grade. She wasn’t. I told Mr. BBM he better go tell someone. I imagined them reading names out of the program and my poor Swim Girl standing there, never being called.

Mr. BBM found the principal, told him and he was immediately off to tell the presenters to add her name. After he came back, he announced that a couple kids had been left out of the program, but that they would be printing new ones for all of us tomorrow. He speculated that these kids had turned their papers in late. I know Swim Girl turned it in just two days after her acceptance, a week before the due date.

The ceremony began and the NJHS officers were the main presenters. When it was time to read the names of the 6th graders, they called the names so quickly that the kids were practically running across the stage. When they said Swim Girl’s name, they butchered her last name beyond recognition. It’s not that hard of a last name. It’s five letters for God’s sake.

She made her way across the stage, shook the officer’s hand and waited in front of her guidance counselor for her certificate. He scrambled for a bit, looking through the pile as the presenters continued to rattle through names at warp speed. Eventually he told her he didn’t have one for her and she left the stage empty-handed. I could tell she was devastated. The girl should not ever play poker.

I felt a knot in the back of my throat. My Mom looked like she was going to cry, and I just wanted to stand up and scream that it’s just not fair.

I’m sick of my girl getting the short end of the stick. I’m sick of her being treated like a door mat by some of her supposed friends, and I’m incredulous that the school where she is subjected to snide comments by rude kids is now also the school that called her onto stage, only to send her away with nothing.

When the ceremony was over, one of my good friends came to talk to me and to hug Swim Girl. She had watched it like everyone else. She whispered something in Swim Girl’s ear which prompted a feeble attempt at a smile. As we stood there and I had to start chasing Little Man, the guidance counselor came over and began apologizing to my friend, thinking she was Swim Girl’s Mom. My friend pointed out his mistake and he turned to apologize to me. He said she’d have her certificate tomorrow morning, and I nodded and said “thanks.” I hope my non-poker face told him the whole story. I’m not happy. It’s an oversight that never should have happened, especially when you’re dealing with the already fragile psyche of a middle school girl who already feels like an outsider, the forgotten child, the ignored friend. He couldn’t have picked a worse time or kid to forget.

I’d like to tell them exactly what I think about her being forgotten. I’d like to scream, yell, and let them know how irritated and disappointed I am that they did this to my daughter. But what’s done is already done. Nothing can take away what happened, or how she felt; and there’s nothing that’s going to make it better.

I encouraged her to run for an officer position within the NJHS. That way, she can help to insure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to anyone else. But right now, her confidence is completely shattered, and that’s not going to happen unless we figure out some way to repair it.

Swim Girl has been begging me to home school her the entire year. I’ve told her “no,” on many occasions and expressed to her how important it is to be part of the school, how she wouldn’t have access to her amazing art teacher, or events like this. I just lost Exhibit B in my case for her staying there. Instead of being a night to remember, it’s one she’d like to forget.

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March 15, 2013

Bullet Proof

I’ve watched people in volunteer leadership roles get chewed up and spit out. It happens time and time again, especially where I live, where people are not known for being super friendly.  I’ve seen people resort to absolute stupidity, taking their own personal feelings about issues, and getting their children involved. A couple years ago, a good family friend of ours was President of a local swimming organization. He is a good man and always the diplomat. I listened as kids, who had obviously heard negative things from their parents, said awful things about him in front of his own kids. I couldn’t believe how nasty people could be and how low they could go.

But now I’m seeing it for myself.

This blog has had a self-imposed gag order on it for a long time. Too many people read it and know about it, and frankly, if I can’t write honestly, then there’s just no point in writing. If I have to avoid writing about the things I really want to write about, then why bother? But I’m done feeling that way.

A month ago, the board of the swimming organization I’m co-President of, made a business decision to better the club that a small minority didn’t agree with. The decision was made thoughtfully, not arbitrarily, or on a whim. Since then, the VOLUNTEER board, who spends countless hours daily making sure this club runs properly, grows and thrives (not just exists), has been attacked on a personal level. We’ve had one individual send nasty emails; we’ve had to deal with confrontations that crossed the line of appropriateness. Our friends have been confronted and attacked for supporting our business decision. And worst of all, we’ve seen our children become involved in the ridiculousness of it all.

Every once in a while, our coaches will give the kids an opportunity to end practice early. They choose one swimmer (last week, Swim Girl was chosen because her birthday is this month) to swim a 50 sprint of the coaches choice. They tell the swimmer that they have to swim their 50 in less than however many seconds the coaches decide. If the swimmer does so, practice gets out a couple minutes early. If not, they don’t. Swim Girl was chosen to swim a 50 fly and all the other swimmers are supposed to cheer that person on. I sat in the bleachers and watched as my daughter dove into the water and swam as fast as she possibly could. I couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was in the natatorium. One girl, whose mother has made it her mission to make our business decision as personal as possible, stood on the side of the pool with her arms crossed, refusing to cheer. I watched as she involved the girl standing beside her too, silent, as my daughter swam for all of them to end practice early. When the 50 sprint was over, Swim Girl had met the required time; but the coaches weren’t satisfied due to the blatantly obvious lack of camaraderie among those on deck. Practice continued. As the coaches reprimanded the swimmers about it, I couldn’t help but notice the look on the face of Swim Girl. She’s an 11-year old who swam her third best time ever in the 50 fly in an effort to end practice for all. She did her part; why couldn’t those girls do theirs?

When the coaches made one of the silent girls swim a 50 sprint immediately after, my daughter stood on the edge of the pool, cheering loudly the whole time, despite the fact that she knew the favor had not been returned. That is the kind of daughter I have raised.

Last night, I sat cuddled on the sofa with Little Man and Sassy. We were watching an intense episode of “The Backyardigans” when Sassy said, “There were some moms saying mean things about you in the locker room last night.” I sat bolt upright. “What are you talking about?” I asked her.

“I was in the showers and was talking to my friend. I was telling her that my Mom taught me how to say a bad word in French.” (The “bad word” she’s referring to is derriere, hardly a felony to know how to say “butt” in French; however, to her, it’s a bad word.”) That’s when a Mom standing at the next shower made it a point to say loudly to another mother, and directly in front of my daughter, “The person who taught her that is mean and bad.”

Sassy said she didn’t say another word. She said she wanted to defend me, but her teacher taught her that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, you don’t say it.”

What struck me then was this: my 7-year old has better manners than a grown woman.

We had a long talk about how this lady (described in vivid detail so I know EXACTLY who she is) could have assumed Sassy knew a word much worse than “butt,” and how “butt” is not a bad word. It’s actually just a body part. We also talked about how rude it was for this woman to interject herself into Sassy’s private conversation with her friend; and how inappropriate it is to say anything when you don’t know the whole story. I assured her that I am not a “bad” or “mean” person because she knows how to say a body part in French because of me, and thanked her for telling me about it. It took her 24 hours to tell me, because she was upset about it. She got all teared up as she was telling me.

Perhaps the most bothersome part of this incident is that we have done many personal favors for this woman over the past two years. Clearly, she must have forgotten about the constant allowed late payments that Mr. BBM and I personally approved and arranged. It really makes you want to help out the next person. Clearly, I am a “bad” and “mean” person.

I’ve had some awful things said to me, about me and emailed to me in the past few weeks; but involving my children because you are unhappy with a business decision that four grown adults made on behalf of a swimming club that’s been doing a pretty good job of improving and operating for the past two years, in large part because of these four individuals, crosses the line.

I can hold my own in a verbal battle, but I have chosen to take the high road the last few weeks. I have let the insults roll off my back, because I know the board has the club’s best interests in mind. What I didn’t know, was how ridiculously low some people would stoop.

Swim Girl will frequently tell me about middle school drama and how crazy some of the girls act sometimes. Last week she said she couldn’t wait until she was out of school. I had to break the news to her that the drama and craziness never really ends. Actually, it just gets worse and people get nastier. It is so difficult to take the “high road” and to teach your kids to do the same when there are so few other people doing that as well. But it’s what is right and I’ll continue to do it. I just wish there was a way to make myself and my kids bullet-proof along the way.

 

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January 30, 2013

Drive, Motivation and One Month to Go

When I was 11-years old, the most pressing things that I cared about were two-fold: one was learning how to lift the puck in street hockey so I could properly punish my dad for winning all the time (take a moment to soak that in guys), and the second (which I was most passionate about) was growing out my perm as fast as humanly possible. Although I played softball in the summers, and I was decent at it, I certainly wasn’t obsessed with becoming the best ever or anything. I pretty much played because my Dad wanted me to play and I sort of liked the smell of the ball field dirt. Weird, I know.

This is why I am constantly amazed by my girls. Swim Girl is at the bottom of her age group (11/12) and has spent this entire year clawing her way to faster times by practicing all the time. On Friday nights, when many girls are heading out to the school dance, she’s at practice (her own decision) with one of her favorite coaches. While friends are hanging out after school, she’s at physical therapy, working to strengthen her leg muscles and ease the over-use/growing pains that happen when you’re an 11-year old breast-stroker. And when she gets home from practice, she’s reading her swimming magazine and articles that her coach recommends, soaking it all in and hoping that it, combined with her drive and hard work, earn her Junior Olympic qualifying times like last year.

Last year, as a 10-year old, she spent the entire season adding additional JO QT’s to her schedule of events for the big event in March. When the regular season was over, she was qualified in 11 events. This year, when you combine the much tougher time standards for 11-year old’s with the fact that USA Swimming made the QT’s even harder this year, she has had her work cut out for her. Still, she continues to drop time and chip away at those QT’s, being just a second or two away from several with just one month to go.

After Christmas, the girls both started doing to archery. It’s once a week, but it just so happens that it falls on a night at swimming that Swim Girl doesn’t like to miss. The initial excitement of it all had her miss the last three weeks of that night of swimming. However, with a month left to qualify, she made a decision this week. She was heading off to Coach Ian’s practices for the next two weeks. We had a conversation in the car the other day about how proud I am of her for catching up and moving right on past so many of the swimmers that she thought she would never be competitive with. There are a few remaining that push her and she asked me how she could close the gap. We talked about getting enough rest, eating the right kinds of food, working on core fitness and upper body strength with some daily push-ups. And each day, since that conversation, this girl has been giving it her all and doing exactly what it takes to get stronger and knock more time off. To help her, I told her I would do it with her. So far, the only thing I’ve lifted though, is a Hershey bar to my mouth. I’m not quite sure where her drive and motivation come from, but I wish she could bottle it and give a little bit to me.

Then, there’s Sassy, who has missed maybe two swim practices the entire year. Not going is just not an option. She has competed in several meets this year and although 7-year old’s are notoriously unpredictable when it comes to times, she has continued to shock and amaze me with her own abilities. Sassy went from doing just 25’s to swimming the 100 IM (most of the time legally) and in under two minutes. Her initial time was a 2:02 and she dropped it to a 1:53 in her last meet. Sassy wrote goals down for this year and our bulletin board at the pool if filled with her completed goals. 25 fly below 30. Done. 25 fly below 25. Done. In fact, she now swims across the pool in about 21 seconds, which is about the time it would take me to drown while trying to do that stroke. She dropped her 25 back from around a 30 to a 23 and she’s just about to break through the 20 second mark for her 25 freestyle. And she’s 7 years old. Seven.

The best part about her is that she doesn’t take things too seriously. Ask Swim Girl if she’s going to the Olympics one day and you see a light in her eye, a determination to do everything possible to be the most amazing swimmer ever. Ask Sassy about that and she’ll laugh in your face, turn around, braid her one coach’s hair and ask the other to play “Rock Paper Scissors” while whispering that she has a crush on another one of her coaches. The girls certainly approach things differently, but both ways have brought pretty amazing results.

Mid-March, we begin a four week break in swimming until the spring/summer session starts. Swim Girl asked me how long the break was the other day. When I told her four weeks she got very agitated. “I only want to take two weeks off,” she said. “You have to find me someplace to swim.”

I may not have much of a social life these days, but what I do have are a few very self-motivated kids (two to swim; one to climb everything in the whole house and rearrange all my cabinets with only a diaper on). It’s been a lot of fun to witness.

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December 17, 2012

Sending my First Grader Back to School

I had a difficult time wrapping my head around sending my girls to school today. In fact, because I wanted just a couple more minutes with her, I actually drove Sassy, my 1st grader, to school today. When I arrived at the school, there were lots of other parents dropping their children off. There was also a Police SUV parked close to the entrance of the school. I felt a little bit of relief, but I’d feel even more if I knew that was a permanent fixture at my girls’ schools.

People are discussing gun control and mental illness, and of course, they are all valid things to be discussing. But personally, I’d like to see an armed police officer in every school in the country. When I taught in a Delaware public school many years ago, we had a school resource officer. He was a constant presence in the school. If there was a fight, he was immediately there and involved. If there were issues with drugs in the bathroom, he knew about it, and took care of it. He got to know the kids and the teachers and having him there was a great comfort, especially considering that I started teaching not long after the Columbine tragedy occurred.

I remember sitting on my living room floor, putting together a project for one of my last Master’s classes, and watching the news of that shooting. Those images were forever burned into my brain. They were there when I started preparing my classroom. I decorated the inside of my classroom door to cover all the glass. I made a conscious effort to always have my classroom door set to lock as soon as it closed. I had an action plan ready in my head at all times so that I could keep my students safe. Thankfully, besides a couple random bomb threats at the school, we never had to go on lock down. But if we had, I was ready; and our school resource officer would have been on the scene from the start. Our school wouldn’t have had to wait those precious 5-10 minutes for 1st responders to arrive. One was already there.

I don’t think there’s a parent out there who would mind their school taxes being increased enough to fund a full-time police resource officer at their child’s school.  School budgets are tight, but funding school resource officers should be made a priority. The fact of the matter is that just knowing that there’s an armed and trained person at a school would be a huge deterrent to someone seeking a soft target to do their evil. Imagine for one second, that an armed officer had been inside Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. As soon as the glass was broken, he would have been there to meet the shooter.

And think about this. . . it’s unfathomable for some to imagine arming our school principals. But what if we armed each principal with a stun gun? Could that have saved those 20 first graders? A principal attempted to subdue an armed attacker with nothing more than her person. What if she had some resources available to her? The story may have been a lot different.

It’s easy to look back on horrible events and say things we should have or could have done. But what we should do now is push for an armed police officer in every school. School shootings are very rare and the likelihood of one happening in my neighborhood or your neighborhood is slim; however, there are many advantages of having a police officer in schools. On the news the other night, someone suggested employing armed military veterans at our schools. So many of them are looking for work. Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to put them to work and keep our schools and children safe at the same time.

Will you join me in contacting your local schools to push for more protection for our children while at school? It’s important that we are not lulled into complacency after this tragedy. As time passes, we should not forget. We should move forward and find ways to protect our children at school.

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December 4, 2012

Loft vs. Random Craigslist Person

On Friday, November 23rd, I went to Ann Taylor Loft, trying to find an outfit for two holiday parties I had this past weekend. I found something I liked, but the pants  were a bit too short, as they always are unless I order a tall pair online (They do not carry tall sizes in stores).  I figured I could tuck the pants into some boots and “make it work” Tim Gunn style. However, when I brought them home and started thinking about it, I realized that it is ridiculous for me to own a pair of pants that I can only wear with boots. I went online, found a similar pair of pants in a tall size and ordered. Standard shipping takes 5-8 days. So, I paid $14.95 for shipping so that I’d have them on the third business day. I didn’t want to be without pants for the party, and thanks to my nursing-for-a-year body, I’m a rail right now so there are no pants that fit me in the house.

Let’s review. I ordered them Friday, the 23rd of November,  at about 4 p.m.

I emailed Loft on Tuesday because when I clicked on the tracking number, it gave me a message that said a label had been printed but that the package had not yet arrived at the UPS facility. I was concerned. Their customer service person told me I’d have my pants by Wednesday at 7 p.m. She told me if I didn’t, to call back then.

Guess what didn’t show up by Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Because I’d had the day from hell, I asked Mr. BBM to please call customer service and find out where my damn pants were. He told me it was unlikely they would talk to him because he isn’t me. I told him to tell them he was me, but with a head cold.

The phone call basically went like this:

Mr. BBM (in girl voice): “Hello, this is Jessica.”

Loft Person: “Um sir, you don’t need to do this.”

And then they pretty much told him they have no idea where my pants are. They’re pretty much Osama Bin Laden, circa 2004. While on hold with Loft’s customer service, Mr. BBM called me on my cell phone. I was en route to another mall with my Mom to try to find different pants. I answered the phone via my bluetooth van connection so my Mom was privy to the conversation. Mr. BBM started to tell me I wasn’t going to have my pants, and what happened next was an adult-sized temper tantrum of epic proportions.

“You tell them to OVERNIGHT ME a NEW PAIR of PANTS!” I told him.

“Yeah, they’re not going to do that. It’s past 3 p.m. so they couldn’t overnight until tomorrow and they don’t deliver on Saturday” he said.

I flipped out and said a lot of things my PG blog can’t handle and I’m pretty sure my Mom was wondering how she had ever given birth to this spawn of Satan who was spewing out F-bombs about pants. But I was completely done with the day and the whole situation and I just couldn’t help myself.

While Mr. BBM negotiated a refund on the $14.95 shipping and a $10 gift card (not e-gift card because I had sworn to him I would NEVER EVER get back together with Loft online-yes, Taylor Swift style), I decided to stop at White House Black Market, where they actually have pants with at least a 33″ inseam IN STOCK.

I found a new outfit there for the party and came home.

Rewind to Monday. . . I was hoping to find a stocking holder that matches the other two I have for the girls for Little Man. I happened to find one online that a woman in Virginia was selling for $2. I paid her via PayPal and took a chance she was not a serial killer or thief when I gave her my address so she could mail it to me. It arrived on Wednesday. . . before my promised pants. A random Craigslist person is a more efficient and trust-worthy shipper. Seriously.

Today is Monday, December 3rd. This morning, my $10 Loft gift card, the “apology” for not sending my pants on time, arrived on my doorstep. The apology arrived BEFORE the actual pants. If they don’t arrive tomorrow by 7 p.m., Loft will launch an “investigation,” comp my pants and send me a new pair, which, you know, if I’m lucky, might show up by July. Velvet pants are so in during July.

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