Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What price an apology?


I read an article today about a man who spent over 30 years looking for his teacher, to make amends for a slight that had troubled him ever since. But why? And was it right? It's an amazing story.  

39 years ago, a boy named Larry asked to leave a well-liked teacher's class and did not offer a reason. The teacher, Mr. Atteberry, was gay during a time that this could get a teacher fired. Some students suspected his homosexuality, and teased Larry, who was often praised in class for good work. The teasing escalated to bullying, and Larry thought if he left the class and never spoke again to the teacher, it would stop. So he left. Then he regretted it ever after. He kept trying to find the teacher to apologize, and nearly four decades later, he did, through a news article. That's where the article I read, "A teacher, a student and a 39-year-long lesson in forgiveness," began. 

It's incredible what weighs on us, causes shame. This troubled this man for so long, and it's something I bet many would not even recall. How neat he kept trying and ultimately made amends.

But why...why did he pursue it for so long? What made fixing this so incredibly important in his life?

I tried to think back through childish mistakes I made, and to my shame, I imagine most of the hurts I caused fell into that "clueless and oblivious" bucket. I was probably hurtful to people, thoughtless, or lily-livered. I recall spending a lot of time thinking others owed me amends. Many times, I was wrong. A lot of times, I was right.

Sticking to the school example, I thought of Mrs. Morini, my senior year AP English teacher. She wore her hair like Frankenstein's bride, and (probably handmade) dresses cut in a straight, fitted Mad-Men style (think more Peggy than Joan -- not that fitted). She had a dozen or so of these dresses and she wore them in different colors, every day, with tall black heels. She was extremely petite, and, had anyone asked, probably self-identified as one who did not suffer fools gladly. 

She decided I was a fool and treated me as one all year long. She derided my interpretations, points of view, written perspectives, and, worst of all to an aspiring writer, my writing. She told me I wasn't very bright and wouldn't likely make much of myself. As the end of the year and graduation approached, I survived by looking forward and ignoring as much as possible where I was. I applied for the AP tests to place out of the "weeder" undergraduate classes. Mrs. Morini withdrew my application and did not tell me. When I tried to take the tests, she triumphantly told me she'd pulled my paperwork, and added that it had been done to spare me humiliation, because I simply was not smart enough to take the tests.

My fury was meaningless to her, and I remained unapologized to, uncompensated and unrequited in my quest to fix it. To fix her.

I took the placement exams and ultimately started college as nearly a sophomore, with a solid A average. And yes, I graduated in four years. If it ended there, it would seem as if fate (and my test taking skills) had righted the balance of the unfair universe. But that's not all; life isn't in a vacuum. What she did, that one act of vandalism and cruelty, set in motion a series of unfortunate events.

Because I was unable to take the test, I was set back in my college "graduate in four years" plan. My father required no more than four, and I had to achieve it. I knew money would be tight, too. So I'd need to work summers, versus take classes.

I checked into alternatives. I could take a couple of courses at the local community college, but this would force me to cut back work and earn less during the summer. I signed up for one, and tried to live as frugally as possible.

This also forced me to move to college two weeks early and spend hard-earned summer cash to take placement exams. I lived, alone, in the private dorm, lonelier and more lost than I had ever been in my life. And I am one who can stand to be alone. I met other stragglers, but it wasn't a good tale of bonding and unlikely friends.

If I hadn't gone to college early, it wouldn't have given a jealous classmate back home the opportunity to pursue my boyfriend, and put bugs in his ear about me being unfaithful. He wouldn't have forced an angry confrontation and ultimatum that lead me to give him his marching orders...away from me as fast as possible.

If I hadn't been so upset and so lonely and lost, I might not have turned to a good friend for comfort, shifting something nice into something romantic. He felt more than I did and I lost a best friend.

If I hadn't arrived early for the exams, I would not have met that odd girl, the punk one, who, because I am like that, I was friendly to and got to know. And not really like. Because she was sort of as prickly as the safety pins lining her clothing. Then I learned she was even pricklier than that -- she was knife sharp. The day I finally gathered my courage and told some pretty sorority girls to quit being mean to her became the day I learned some people can be even more vicious to those who try to help than to those who hurt. As I stood, silent and humiliated in the hallway, with the cruel words of the girl echoing in my ears, even meaner than the taunts of the sorority girls to her, I felt a wash of hate. 

I hated her. I hated the mean sorority girls. I hated being at college early. I hated missing my friends. I hated being so confused and lost. I hated this college. And I really, really hated Mrs. Morini, who, at the time, appeared to be the catalyst to it all. The one who ruined my life.

What she did was truly unforgivable -- not that she ever asked my forgiveness. But what came from that was all me. And probably, in there, a lot people -- mainly me -- owed others apologies. I had the chance to do so in some cases, and I took it. 

In the end, I learned to live with all that happened. Had none of it happened, I might not have what I have now, be who I am now. I might not have made friends with a girl I met at the French placement test, who introduced me to a girl from her dorm, who introduced me to the man I am married to now, and with whom I have two amazing kids. It all happened and it all lead to here.

But what would I think, now, if Mrs. Morini came to me with an apology?


What would someone from then think, now, if I came to them with apology?


What if I did someone some harm, even incidentally, but maybe they didn't realize, and I revealed it while begging forgiveness?


I often wonder about the value of an apology, when it is positive and when it is self-serving, when it does more good and when it does more harm. When you have to make it and when you have to take it. I wonder about the making of amends. There has to be a lot of wisdom in it, and I'm not sure many of us have enough of it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

We are the tardy people...don't hate us

My kids are tardy, frequently.

It is a source of daily stress and distress. I start every single day unhappy.

You are going to judge me. Tell me it's rude and disrespectful. It disrespects the school, the teacher, the class, the other kids, and my own kids' access to learning. Tell me it is undisciplined. A necessary life skill, failed.

You think I do not know this?

You are going to assume I do not know what to do or how to fix it. You are going to tell me about sticker charts, incentives, punishments, egg timers, consequences, school talks, how you fixed it (therefore you understand but you also know it CAN and SHOULD be fixed), how your neighbor's mother's cousin's daughter fixed it.

You think I do not wish I had the magic fix?

You are going to think you know what our deal is. You are going to suggest I put my kids to bed earlier or wake them earlier. You will tell me we ought to make lunches the night before. Create schedules. You may offer websites, books, magazine articles, or what your child's teacher told you.

You'll express some kindness, maybe, try to get at what is happening, how and why it is not working. You'll suggest that perhaps expectations are too high or we're trying to do too much. You'll offer advice about shifting this and that and altering the schedule.

You might dissect us. Tell me how this is open rebellion on my kids' part, a reflection of something inherently wrong in our family and relationship or in the school or life in general. You'll figure this is a symptom of a bigger problem. You'll let me know how this is reflective of my own lack of discipline or how I am doing it all wrong or how my kids have been let loose to go awry.

You think I do not want to understand why it happens, no matter what?

Trust me. I've heard, seen, read, had it said, and been told it all. At least four times.

There is nothing you can say to me that is worse than what I have already said to myself, and to my kids.

Whatever you are thinking is the solution is probably something I've already tried. At least twice.

And yes, I did it right.

I have tried sticker charts, incentives big and small, consequences minor and dire, egg timers, shifted schedules, buying lunch, making lunch the night before, organizing charts, talks by the school and so on and so on and so on.

We've been dealing with this for the five years of school.

We've tried something to work it out constantly.

Each time we try something, it works for a bit and then the kids backslide. So we try it again and it fails, so we try something new.

We don't like it. We know it is rude. We know everyone hates tardy people. We know everyone thinks poorly of us. We hear it all the time, in general. Not to us directly, but about late people, in general.

I am tired of hating myself. Hating my kids. Hating time.

I wish we fit better into this construct.

But we do not.

Enough.

All I want you to know is...you do not know, not really, all that we do; but we do try, hard.

All I want to know is...you do not hate me, or us, or judge me or us, and that you think that being late is not the worst thing a person can be--there is much, much worse a person can be. You know I try.

But somehow, something always happens on the way to the forum.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What to Read for Earth Day 2012 (Sunday April 22, 2012)

It's almost Earth Day!

What are you going to do?

Turn out the lights for an hour? Plant a tree? Go green? Start a compost pile?

Excellent.

How about also...read a book!

If you know me at all you know how much I work to get my active on-the-go kids to sit and read. I found two earth day friendly books they liked!

My oldest is a big "how stuff works" fan. For her, we found she liked this:

With a LEED certified architect dad, she enjoyed the look at structures that are earth friendly. Also,this book is heavy on call-outs and factoids. It begins with a look at the roles in building. Then it talks about elements of structure and building. Next, it highlights some incredible examples around the world of earth friendly structures. Throughout it offers some great ideas of DIY projects kids can do at home. Today I get to go buy more pipe cleaners to complete the cross-bracing experiment (page 13).

Last night we got a string of jokes. Did I mention there are funny jokes throughout, such as, "Why did the hole go to the dentist? Because he needed a filling!" lol

The best part for both me and my daughter was on page 53 -- which included a pros and cons debate "To Dam or Not to Dam." She just joined the school's Debate Club so this book and in particular that page gave her a great weekly topic.

For my younger, she liked this one:

Her one complaint was that it lacked monkeys.

However, what it did have was a lot of great illustrations okay for "big kids" and short text sections. I did find that some of the vocabulary was beyond beginning reader (K-1) and I had to help her a bit with an average of 3-4 words per paragraph.

She enjoyed checking out the experiments, and she tried one with cucumbers (page 44). She really grasped the idea of osmosis. She also liked the new facts she has and can share.

We're well situated for Earth Day and also for the summer (with plenty of experiments - most of which kids can do on their own with minimal supervision and assistance).

As usual, I got these books from Kids Can Press. It's a rich resource for fun, and good to know and enjoy books for kids.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Frog went a' courtin' and he did right...by Stevie Wonder

Last night, as I tucked in my oldest and sat with her for a minute, we listened to the frogs. It's spring and rainy so it is time for them to find their happily ever afters.

Every night, a plethora of them call to each other. I always imagine they each have their own song, like Happy Feet.

It used to bother me, the crazy racket. Then we put in a pond and the frog songs amplified from racket to live concert level loud. You'd think we could have foreseen this but no, we did not. We thought only of managing mosquitos and happily watching koi.

So last night, my daughter and I lay in her bed and listened to the frogs.

"What do you think they are saying?" she asked me.

I paused, wading through the truth, which in my head sounded heavily open air market-like but in a vaguely "Good morning Vietnam-ish," with a little "Dear penthouse..." thrown in way.

"They are singing love songs to find their loves," I told her.

"What sort of song? How does it go?" asked my little popular music aficionado.

I told her I thought it might be a little like Stevie Wonder's "Hey Love." This morning, she demanded I queue it up on the iPod. We all listened for a minute, and finally she declared, "Yes, oh yes, I can really see this is like the froggie love song."

And, forevermore, I will imagine little muppet frogs singing and dancing to this song, 60s beach blanket bingo style, little bouffants bouncing, webbed feet and long tongues flashing as they sway.



Monday, April 02, 2012

Rhymes, Poems and Things: Good for kids reading during National Poetry Month

The truth is my younger daughter, aka Persistence, prefers to be on the move and we joke she has two speeds: stop and go.

So getting her to sit and learn to read has been a challenge. We had to find subjects and books that would really engage her. Unlike me, neither of my kids are "read almost anything" simply for the pure pleasure of reading. They are more like their dad. That means I've had to reshape my image of a future wherein my girls and I happily share books the way I always have with friends and family. That also means a lot more backend work.

One thing both always loved was Dr. Seuss. Silly, and rhyming. Catchy. Entertaining, with a solid plot and purpose. They loved parsing the secret message. Poetry, FTW!

Still, anyone who knows me knows I am always on the hunt for things that engage my kids in language arts. When I got this press release in my inbox and I was so excited about it I put my kids on the computer immediately. The 7 year old was engrossed. I had to pry her off about two hours later. She loves Martha Speaks and Arthur, and they've been studying writing poems in class.

Persistence used the fun game "Martha's Rhyme Time" and loved seeing her poem performed by Martha. She got really caught up in that. She also liked Fern's poetry tool, which we had somehow missed until now on the Arthur site. She's already asked to do it again today.

I am a big fan of poetry, for sure, and believe it really builds skill in interpretation and comprehension of what we read. I'm definitely happy to have the kids engaged in this.

Let me share the details so you can try it too -- let me know what you do! And share a poem!

New Games Highlight Poetry and Creative Writing Online at pbskids.org!
Kids are invited to read, write, and share poetry online with Martha’s Rhyme Time at pbskids.org/martha and Fern's Poetry Club at pbskids.org/arthur.

In Martha’s Rhyme Time, kids can create rhyming couplets for Martha to perform. Building each from six different sets of words, there are—mathematically speaking—a bazillion combinations to create. Kids also can customize the performance stage and create a printed version to color and stick on the fridge. And, of course, with Martha being Martha, she'll introduce and explain many new vocabulary words along the way!

Fern’s Poetry Club is a long-running, popular poetry feature on the Arthur website that encourages children to write and share their poems online. Fern's Poetry Club contains information to help kids understand what poetry is, a description of different types of poems, and tips for kids on how to write their own poems—plus an archive of poems submitted to the site over the past 10 years. To celebrate National Poetry Month, new features will be added, including poetry-related video clips from Arthur. Kids will now see Fern, Arthur, and all their friends enjoying this wonderful form of expression!
The episode of Martha Speaks featuring Billy Collins airs today!
The Poetry Foundation and WGBH are teaming up to invite kids to celebrate National Poetry Month with Martha Speaks and Arthur.

“Children who are exposed to the joys of poetry at a young age are most likely to become lifelong readers of poetry as adults,” adds Stephanie Hlywak, Media Director of the Poetry Foundation. “How better to create a new generation of poetry lovers than to enlist the help of Martha, Arthur, Billy Collins, and Jack Prelutsky?”

Airing Monday, April 2, 2012, PBS KIDS will premiere the brand-new Martha Speaks episode “Billy Collins Speaks” (check local listings). In this episode, Billy Collins writes great poems about dogs, and Martha thinks she knows why. Obviously, the former poet laureate must be a canine himself! When Martha meets Billy Collins, she’s in for a few surprises...as is he. Tune in to learn words like poem, poet, prose, imposter, and metaphor. Then in the classic Arthur episode “I’m a Poet,” Arthur and his friends are challenged to write a poem for a contest—to be judged by inaugural Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky. Though intimidated at first, everyone comes up with a poem that reflects his or her own unique approach.