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Tie a red ribbon 'round my daughter's wrist...and tell her the discomfort is there to remind her drugs are bad

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.



I waited.

"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!"

Magic words.

"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 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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Sunshine said…
One of mine is in Kindergarten this year and the ol' Red Ribbon week was more about accessories for her, I don't think she absorbed anything whatsoever about drug-free anything.

At our school they give the kids little red ribbons pinned to their shirts, not bracelets.

We have routinely taken our kids out of school to go on trips. This year they missed 5 days when we went to Arizona to visit the inlaws (who winter in Arizona) and took our older two to the Grand Canyon. Letting kids miss a bunch of school for nothing substantial is one thing, but they will rue the day they ever argue with me about taking my children to see and spend time with their family. Teachers have always been very supportive and helped the kids catch up but travel is a learning experience that can't be duplicated in the classroom. Stand your ground on this one!!!
Hi Julie,

I am so impressed that you were able to stop yourself from cutting that thing off. I think I would have, despite my child's pleas. You did the right thing, letting her make the choice.

I would be furious, too. They need to inform you first. Also, isn't Kindergarten a bit young to be starting this? Maybe that's ignorant, but what is her understanding of 'drugs'?

thailandchani said…
I am also impressed that you were able to stay so cool-headed about it. I'm a real hothead about some issues and that would have been one of them. :) The bracelet would have been cut off and the school would have been dealing with an angry parent.
Aliki2006 said…
I admire you too for NOT cutting that thing off.

Liam's school has red ribbons, and they're optional at least. I would be livid if they took away the choice to wear these.
Gwen said…
I can't even get my children to understand what "drugs" are, so we kind of shrug around the drug free campaign here. But our school is also a lot lower pressure, I think. No one balked when we were gone for 2 1/2 days a few weeks ago; none of the drug stuff is forced. A bracelet locked on a five year old's arm seems more than a little extreme. Good luck with the communication thing.
Suz said…
Brain, Child had a good article a couple issues back about this very thing - drug education in early elementary school - making many of the same points that you make so well here. I've never been the type of person who fits in well, especially as far as authority is concerned, so I really hear your feelings and emotions surrounding this incident.
Anonymous said…
Wow. I guess God is going to keep my kid off drugs, because, as far as I know, our school is not doing anything with red ribbons. Although last night Fiona did ask a question about hospital bracelets, now that I think about it.
S said…
Had that been Jack, I would have been LIVID.

Scratch that.

I am livid. On Patience's behalf.

This story represents, to me, EVERYTHING that is wrong with our country.
Kellan said…
I have 4 kids and 2 in high school. I have been through quite a few red ribbon weeks and all that goes with it. I have to say that I am a big fan of this "intervention" program. All my kids - all of them - all constantly referencing something they have learned or heard through this program. I can use all the help I can get to help my kids stay away from drugs. It is one of my biggest fears - that they will fall into something that I can not pull them easily out of. Great post, Julie - see ya.
Mad said…
WTF!!! I would've cut the bloody thing off and been on the phone to the school in short order.

You know what? If I see another ribbon of any colour whatsoever I may scream. Let's kill the ribbons period. Even the pink ribbons for breast cancer have been severely co-opted by the corporate sector.

Thank bloody heavens we don't have a red ribbon campaign against drugs up here.
Gina Pintar said…
I am for an age appropriate anti-drug program in schools. However, I don't think these bracelets are appropriate for 5 yr old. My son, and the first grade, gets mostly self esteem guidance talks right now.

I think you should have been informed ahead of time about this program and the bracelet.
Julie Pippert said…
Suz, I had to go find that article (of course).

Stunning. Yeah, that's my thoughts, exactly.

That author shrugging off her own fears? Oy that hurt how much it resonated.

"Frankly, all this stuff made me squirm. But I tend to overcomplicate issues that seem perfectly straightforward to normal people, and I knew there was no way I could lodge a complaint with the school about this. I could just picture the hurt, shocked look on the counselor's face if I questioned her efforts. "But we're only trying to keep your children off drugs," she'd say. "Are you saying you want them to take drugs?" So I held my tongue."

Yep...that's about it.

I don't know too many people (outside of most of the commenters here) who understand my concerns here.

It's not the idea, it's the message, the approach. I DO NOT prefer a negative, simplistic, punitive scare tactic approach. And whatever so-called fun this week is supposed to incorporate? I haven't seen any of it reflected so far in MY kid, who like me, tends to think a lot.

If we have to oversimplify it to the point of being untruthful then maybe we need to consider whether this really IS age-appropriate.

I do like the "build my esteem and work to my future" positive motivators.

But again, I'm squirming here.

A lot.

Anonymous said…
The first thing I thought of was the brain, child article too. It's a great magazine. I've subscribed since Frances was a baby.

I'd be angry too. Good luck. Kindergarten is just too young for this stuff. What can kdis that age possibly get out of it except fear and a sense of taboo?
I would be absolutely furious too. I'm impressed, however, that you were able to let her make the choice.

But oh how my fingers would have been twitching with those scissors in hand.

We had to suffer through a lot of those anti-drug campaigns with my stepkids. I hated, hated, hated them.

One involved sitting in an overheated auditorium for a 2 1/2-hour program on a Sunday afternoon. They had the kids sing and perform so you were guilted into attending. I fumed the whole time.
Jen said…
I'm sure your letter was perfect.

This made me so angry - I would have wanted to snap the damn thing off, too.
Snoskred said…
This is precisely why I can't be a parent. Not only would I have cut off that bracelet, but I would have told Patience that she didn't have to worry about getting into trouble because she never had to go back to that horrible place. Seriously. What right do these people have to do this to innocent kids who don't know anything about drugs?

It is bullying - by a TEACHER.

Unacceptable, Julie. Completely unacceptable. When combined with the fact that you say she has been overstressed by school lately, this is utterly unacceptable.

And when you said that she decided to leave the bracelet on for fear of not getting into trouble?



What is next? Honestly, what is next? Bullying them into wearing bracelets to remind them things are bad? WHAT THE F**K IS WRONG WITH THIS WORLD?

I can't believe this. I am fuming, absolutely fuming.

It may not be socially acceptable, but I would have been turning up at the school the next morning to SCREAM AND YELL at the principal for as long as possible. At least until the police escorted me from his office.

But what is worse is - do the management of the school even know? Is this just for her class or for the whole school? I truly think this is an issue on which you should confront the principal - it may well be this is an initiative by the teacher. Often the higher ups have no idea what is going on in the classrooms.

Kyla said…
You know, I grew up here in public school with the whole red ribbon hoopla. I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought because of that. But the fact that they've scared poor Patience into wearing the damn thing to avoid punishment irks me to no end.

Brings to mind the Seinfeld AIDS walk episode where Kramer wouldn't wear the ribbon. I think there is a Seinfeld for every occasion.
Christine said…
red ribbon week here was ok but they did send home a big scary cartoon sheet about crack and cocaine and why it is bad. WTF? my girl is six. I know, i know we need to teach kids about drugs, but talking about crack to my 6 year old without telling me about it is NOT ok.
ALM said…
Wow. You showed some pretty good restraint there. I'm sitting here thinking what satisfaction I'd get from cutting that bracelet off & sending the two pieces back to the school...

Let us know what happens with the note!
Ally said…
Your writing is so good, Julie, I felt like this was my child and I was you going through this. I am seething with rage right with you. What a stupid way of dealing with this issue, with no notice to parents, with 5 year olds, the whole thing... ridiculous! I'm glad you wrote the letter and I hope the school responds appropriately. Oy!
Karen MEG said…
I just popped into your blog so as I was reading through your post and seeing how outrageous it was getting, when I got to the part where you mention your daughter is in Kindergarten - I was totally stunned! Kids are impressionable and easily confused about authority and rules as it is, and at this young age they don't really need to be making decisions between physical discomfort and leaving the thing on so they don't get in trouble. My son freaks out when I try to give him his water bottle every day - which was a mandatory item last year in Grade 1, but apparently this year is banned from his Grade 2 classroom.

And that is difficult that they gave you such hassle for taking your daughter out for vacation. I've done that a couple times already, no issues. We figure it's OK as long as they're young enough not to miss too much homework or major learnings.

You have every right to write a novel to voice your concerns. I bet a lot of other parents have similar issues but haven't had the courage to raise them.

Good luck with everything!
jeanie said…
I agree with a previous commenter - why is it okay in modern times for your child to be bullied by the school?

Over here, there is an education campaign starting in Prep about all aspects of health including drugs - and parents are invited to visit the Life Education Van before the kids have their time to discuss what is going to be shown to each age group so there can be reinforcement at home.
Maisy said…
How would Patience have felt about a swap: cut the red plastic wrist strangler off and replace it with a soft, moveable red ribbon, combined with an explanatory skin sensitivity/band too tight explanation to the teacher?

Anonymous said…
Motherfracker! I would be so ticked off.

What kind of a message are they sending? You must do the same thing as everyone else even if it's bad for you or else you'll get in trouble and you won't be like everyone else. Conform!

Kind of contrary to the "don't fall for peer-pressure and do drugs" message, isn't it?
Lawyer Mama said…
Oh. my. god.

I admire your restraint, Julie. I would've cut the damn thing off over my child's protests b/c I can never control my temper about stuff like that. I'm so furious for you and for your daughter.

And a lecture? About taking her out for a trip? Oh. my. god. That would seriously piss me off too. What the hell is it that seems to make them think they know better than you about how *your* child should be raised? That attitude of entitlement just pisses me off. Working for the public schools does not make you god. That attitude is exactly what frustrated my parents so much with my brother and is what scares me about public schools here too.
Julie Pippert said…
Jenny, yep, you nailed one of my biggest concerns: group think.

I prefer the individual approach, which I realize is at total odds with the assembly line education at public schools, but the truth is, I believe in public education (in theory) and know many teachers who are AWESOME and really dedicated.

It seems to be when it is something widespread, such as district wide or state or national that things get really well squirmy for me.

Ali, I offered a VARIETY of options, including going into the classroom with her the next day and explaining and/or asking for a new one not so tight. She was SO FRIGHTENED she said no to all.

Did I not blog about the school's reaction to my trip?!?!?!

Oh it was freaking NICE. (<-- That's being sarcastic AND facetious.) I can't believe it. I've definitely chatted it up in real life about it. Guess my wires get crossed at times.

Ally, thanks!!

You know IS a form of bullying, isn't it. Bullying to Go Along With the Program or ELSE!

You guys have made some awesome points that really helped me coalesce my objections into coherent thought

painted maypole said…
wow. I would have cut that thing off!
Magpie said…
Damn. I'd have cut it off too.

Another point that Brain, Child piece made was that those programs do nothing, don't have any effect on drug use.
TwoSquareMeals said…
What an amazing bit of parenting you did there. I would have cut the bracelet off right then in a fit of rage that would have scared my child even more. My husband was homeschooled when young because he was so overly sensitive that his mom worried about his getting other kids, not the teacher. My mom is a first grade public school teacher, and I had a great public school experience. But the more I hear about public schools these days, the less I want to send my kids to them. I think you are right that it's the programs that come from above the local school level that cause most of the problems. Good teachers left alone can be a great resource and influence. Let us know how your letter is received.
b*babbler said…
I'm amazed you didn't just cut it off. You have way more self-restraing than I do, that's for sure.

I've never heard of this type of program before, and for a five-year-old? Ridiculous!
PunditMom said…
That is incredibly scary. I'm furious just reading it. And with kids that young and no notice!!! I wonder if the school board knows about it. If they approved it, that could be an issue to raise when they run for re-election.

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