On Saturday, as we drove to Patience's soccer game I noticed the two schools we passed on the way to the fields were decorated merrily in red ribbons. I might not even have noticed, had it not been for my two sharp-eyed lookouts, who catch everything and catalog it for me. Over. And over.
"Look Mama," Persistence cried happily, "Wed wibbons! All ovah!"
"Wow, so there are, red ribbons, how pretty," I answered absently, scouting for a parking spot.
"Wed wibbons!" she squealed.
"Umm hmm," I replied, guiding the car into a spot.
"Wed wed wed wed wibbons!!"
And so on.
On Monday, instead of our usual power walk to school---aka the 'we left too late to saunter and oh well it burns more calories woo hoo!' walk---we were running so late that I had to drive. This annoys me. I feel ridiculous. The weather is great for a walk, everyone benefits, and we live close to the school. And yet, here we were, driving, in order to not be late.
As we approached the school, six eyes observed the same thing: red ribbons covering our school, and every other conceivable surface.
"Well well well," I muttered, sensing a theme and immediately employing my "on guard" attitude.
"Hey look Mom!" Patience cried, "Red ribbons, just like at Maggie's school and the big kid school!"
"Wed wibbons, wed wibbons! More wed wibbons!" Persistence chanted.
"What are they for?" Patience asked, "I know! For Halloween!"
"Hmm," I said, carefully, "I don't think so. It's usually orange for Halloween," I added, "Red is more for Christmas. But they couldn't promote or celebrate that anyway. So I don't know. This must be some sort of..." I bit back "out of line dumb-assed political statement."
"Some sort of what, Mom?" Patience asked.
"Some sort of special event I wasn't notified about," I said, not a little sullenly.
I dropped off Patience, and returned home where I unloaded the dishwasher-vacuumed the kitchen floor-exercised-showered-dressed-got myself ready and got Persistence ready (again)...all in slightly less than an hour. I too cheerily dumped her as fast as possible in her classroom and hustled to the grocery store, where I got our weekly allotment (in budget) and all of the makings for goodies for the Halloween party our cul-de-sac is hosting (well over budget). Rush and do, rush and do and before I knew it, time to pick up Little P, run by bank, get her to sleep (in car, of course, necessitating another car ride to school) and pick up Patience.
Patience's old gymnastics coach, now a teacher at the school, helped her in to her booster seat. We waved goodbye, and I turned to briefly greet my daughter. She smiled back and connected her seatbelt. I eased off the brake and we headed away from the school.
As usual, I used our car moment to interrogate Patience about her day, "So sweetie," I trilled, "Tell me your best and worst."
"No worst, well D went to a haunted house and got chased by guys with guns and knives and he had to run so fast! It sounded horr-i-ble, they had guns! Knives! I did not know they could chase little kids with guns! and Knives! in Haunted Houses. I think I might have to be eleven before I go! And he's seven and his mother lets him walk all by himself to restaurants and he gets cookies and sodas! He walks by himself to school too!" She stopped abruptly.
I am momentarily stunned by the sudden and immediate silence.
"Umm," I said trying to gauge whether a response is called for, and if so, how to do so without questioning the friend's veracity or mother's sanity, "So how would you feel about walking by yourself to a restaurant or school?"
"I could do it!" she cried.
"I believe in you, yes," I said carefully, "But umm would you feel safe? Or scared? Would you rather be alone or with Mom and Dad."
She remained silent for a minute, "I'd be okay by myself. But maybe you better keep walking me for now, so I don't get lost or stolen."
I exhaled my relief. She wants to be that independent but recognizes she isn't quite there yet.
"Okay so what was best?"
"We can bring a stuffed animal to school tomorrow. I think I'll take my unicorn, the one with the flower wreath! Oh and even better than that? T is my very, very best friend! I mean, all my friends are good, best friends but T is my very, very best one. The bestest."
"She seems like a really sweet girl," I said, "I'm glad you made some nice friends. So what did you learn at school today."
She got quiet.
"Nothing? Well what seat work did you do?"
"Just stupid letters, Mom. No big deal," she said, irritation creeping into her tone, and a definite sound of a door slamming, especially when she said, "It was fine. I knew the words."
Great," I said, really, really missing her regular kindergarten teacher. Patience used to come home so enthused about things she was learning. Since her teacher has been on maternity leave, she has shown little interest in her lessons or in advancing to the next level. Is it the substitute? The substitute she is tight-mouthed about, saying only, "Fine," in reply to any questions about her? Or is she just past the honeymoon period of starting school? A little of both?
I'm getting a little worried because I don't think this teacher explains the lessons very well. She certainly is out of communication with me, the parent. But the assignments Patience brings home shows a slight lack of comprehension of what she should have done...and this teacher makes no helpful marks of suggestion or correction.
Not to mention, I'm hearing less and less about healthy snacks and assignments and more and more about candy and television shows and movies..yes, in the classroom, yes, regularly. Also, I'm seeing more and more agitation as soon as we get home, incomprehensible meltdowns and tantrums from an overstressed child. A child who hasn't been overstressed by school until very recently. The regular teacher was in good contact. I haven't had a word or note since she went on leave.
I pulled into our driveway. Persistence was still completely sound asleep. I gathered her backpack, my purse, her sneakers, my book (something to read in the car while waiting in the car rider line---not idling for the record), and finally, the heavy sleeping child. Patience suddenly turned churlish and whiny, "Moooooomm, this is huurting me! Take it off!"
Persistence stirred on my shoulder. "Shhhhhh!" I hissed, "I'll take care of whatever it is when we get inside."
This is unacceptable to Patience, who let loose a wail of frustration. In a case such as this, she wants my attention and care now, not after I take care of her sister and set things down and close doors and then turn to her needs. I hear the cry for nurturing attention for what it is, and recognize she chose a time that was bound to fail. She knows the going-inside routine. None of this knowledge helps.
Keeping my tone as even and low as possible, I said, "Patience, when. we. get. inside. I will gladly take care of you. But not until then."
I marched in, climbed the stairs, settled Persistence into her bed, and returned downstairs. Patience was sulking outside under the tree, on top of the flowering plants she trampled and killed two weeks ago.
"Hi honey," I said nonchalantly, ignoring the sulk, "Come on in, let's have a look at what the problem is."
"It's this bracelet! It hurts my arm," she said fiercely, running to me in relief, grateful to have a Way Out of the sulk without losing face. "But I'm not allowed to take it off all week! But it hurts! But if I take it off I'll be in trouble." Her lower lip quivered. She tucked it into her mouth to hide that weakness.
I lightly held her arm and squinted at the red bracelet tightly encircling her wrist. It's like a club bracelet, or a hospital ID bracelet: tough, red plastic, snapped and locked on. There are tiny black words on it. I squinted harder.
Ahhh. The red ribbons. The red bracelet. It's an anti-drug message.
I rolled back onto my heels boggled by the fury that flooded me, flushing my face.
"Mommy?" Patience inquired.
"It's the kind that locks on," I said, "Locks on! I can't figure out how to pop it and it's on so tight we can't get it over your hand." My anger is upsetting her again.
"It huuuurts," she cried, escalating agitation to near panic, "Get it off!"
"Wait here," I told Patience, and I strode to the office to get scissors. She looked calmed by my resolve.
As I moved away from her, I swallowed rapidly. My heart was racing. I was furious. I am furious. I wanted to strip off that tag the school locked onto my daughter without my permission. I wanted this bracelet---this crap bracelet, this ridiculous symbol representing the wasted effort in the war on drugs, and all that bothers me about this country right now---off my baby's arm.
I'll handle the drug issue. I'll handle the sex issue. I'll handle the morality of my child and family. How dare they. Not even a blasted note, nothing. No heads-up. Nothing to let me know this is coming, to let me prepare so I can handle what will inevitably come home with my child: fears, confusion, concerns, worries. Nothing to ask me, or tell me.
Just my child, arm hurting from a tight red bracelet locked on her arm with anti-drug messages, locked on for one full week without my permission, with threats to not take it off because she must wear it all week (and she heard an "or else you'll get in trouble" loud and clear whether it was said, or not, which tells me something about the atmosphere there). She must keep this bracelet on for the full Red Ribbon week to remember that Drugs Are Bad. She is supposed to endure a week of discomfort to remind her of this anti-drug message. My child, my scared child who doesn't want to get in trouble doesn't understand what drugs are or what this bracelet has to do with them or why she has to wear somethign that hurts her so that she'll remember the lesson they demand she learn.
And the horrible thing for me is that it's not so much the message---I plan to take a hard stance about illegal substances, as complicated an issue as this is for me---but that they are telling it to a sensitive and impressionable five year old, using these scare tactics, without even letting me know. It's not even the first time, just the most recent, and so far the worst.
So there we stood, her in the kitchen, me in the office trying to get a handle on my temper: the two of us in this bind of not being able to sneakily remove this infuriating pain-inducing bracelet but Patience hardly able to bear the feel of it on her wrist, her hyper-sensitive wrist, which is already red and chafed.
My hands shook in anger as I opened the box the scissors are hidden in. They were still shaking when I returned to Patience. She saw the scissors and shrieked, then cried out, "NO! NO SCISSORS! No cutting! If I take it off I get into trouble, I have to leave it on all week...it reminds me drugs are bad, Mommy, I have to remember!"
My fury moved down my arms into my lungs as I draw in a shaky burning breath. I drew in another, and another, until I felt calm enough to say, without upsetting Patience further, "I won't cut it off unless you want me to. But there are only two choices: leave it on or cut it off."
Patience hesitated. She wanted that bracelet off, but she wanted to Not Get Into Trouble more. I watched as her decision crossed over her face. "Leave it on I guess," she mumbled.
I drew in three more shaky breaths. She sensed my agitation and was confused by it, worried it was about her.
I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and said as lightly as I could, "Hey it's up to you and I'm fine either way. What do you say we look at your schoolwork, hmm? See what you are learning this week?"
"Okay," she said, suddenly switching from dark to light as quickly as only a child can, "And I'll get my unicorn for tomorrow. I can draw a picture of the unicorn!"
I smiled tightly and nodded. She skipped off.
In the end, I see that it is not my child I am worried about fitting into the public school. It is me, and the person I want my child to emerge from school and be.
Slight update: Patience told me this morning that the bracelet still bothered her, but she said uncomfortable rather than hurting. I think it's just loose enough to still move on her arm but just tight enough to chafe. She said it woke her several times last night. Patience is one of those texture sensitive kids. I had to cut out all her tags (or buy Carters, which is tagless) and flip her socks inside out. I know this is high-maintenance, and can't expect the school to know or accomodate every kids' every quirk---and I don't. But. Still.
I decided to send a note to the school (to the teacher) after much discussion with my husband, who is also upset but concerned about how the school will respond and react, especially to our daughter, especially after the great Truant Incident (aka us taking her out of school for our trip, which prompted some stern commentary to us, and sadly, also to Patience, about, and I do quote, being absent without an excuse). I am a little worried about the note and its reception. I was unable to be conciliatory or ask questions, but I was able to (I hope) not be critical or rude, and simply come across as a parent who was surprised and taken off guard by a pretty significant school program but who wants to work constructively with the school. It was a full page long. But it was also as brief as I could make it and get all the salient information included. So...fingers crossed.
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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