Saturday, December 9, 2017

Not You. (But Also a Little Bit You.)

The #MeToo reckoning of the last few weeks has turned out to be quite the unexpected rabbit hole for me. Somewhere between Louis C.K. and Al Franken, I had to pull over and think about whether I really wanted to pursue that particular rabbit any further down. Because I was pretty sure that at the bottom of it, all I’d find would be a blazing inferno of my own suppressed rage, ignited long ago by the twigs and sparks of little indignities swallowed over years upon years. How could I face such a fire without completely succumbing, becoming endlessly and unforgivingly one with the rage? I had IEPs to write, lessons to plan, emerging young men to guide with love and empathy away from the crimes of the fathers.

You know how rescuers will blindfold horses to lead them safely out of a barn fire so the horses don’t freak out and run away? That’s what I’ve been trying to do for myself. I didn’t want to see that fire. I just wanted to get myself safely outside.

But the fire, my friends, it is everywhere. Let’s go ahead and extend that metaphor and recall the relentlessly smoky skies that hung over my beloved Seattle for most of last summer. That’s realistically closer to where I’m at. I’ve only endured the low-level “something’s not quite right here” hazy effects of devastating fires raging elsewhere. Nothing traumatic, thankfully. Just low, slow, steady doses of toxic smoke and muted sunlight.

You know. Boring stuff, like when they stop being friends with you as soon as they know that sex is definitely not going to happen. When they devour your respect and admiration like a platter of holiday party appetizers, but will disappear for months at a time if you dare utter even the slightest criticism against them. When you can’t even go to the store or have an office job or walk across campus without being evaluated – are you worthy of their desire? (And if you’re not, then how dare you even show up being so unenjoyable to look at.) When we're heartily encouraged to see our disappointments through the filter of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”  

Or…when they send you texts admiring your writing, confess to a boyish crush and then, before you've even had a chance to smile and ponder over it, request nudes and declare “You think too much” when you say no. Turns out they admire an awful lot of writers besides you and have quite the collection of boyish crushes. PS – those other crushes are hotter/more talented/just overall better than you. PPS – would you spy on some of those crushes on social media for him since they’ve all blocked him?    

Boring, everyday stuff, really. Who hasn’t had some version of any of those things happen, like, this week? But I’ve been so afraid to say any of it out loud.  

For one thing, saying it out loud is a sure way to end meaningful friendships that I’ve been laboring so attentively to maintain. Not all of them, of course. Some of these guys (like the “send nudes” guy) can go jump in a lake. Others, though. In spite of their endless mountains of male angst bullshit, I have loved them all so much that I’ve agreed to be complicit and breezy, swallowing every last complaint so they don’t disappear in a puff of smoke. Finally giving voice to all this? They’re already gone. I’ll miss them.

Saying it out loud makes me vulnerable to the obvious criticism: WHY would I even bother with such friendships in the first place? Hey. Okay. You got me. I like friendships with men. I still occasionally get sweet crushes on men. I am attracted to men, and this is what being attracted to men is…so it’s kind of my fault for putting on the football helmet and getting out on the field in the first place and then “whining” that somebody pushed me in the mud.

Saying it out loud makes me vulnerable to this criticism, too: Hey Lady, maybe the problem is you, with all your intensity and negativity and wanting people to like/respect you as much as you like/respect them. Men have more important things to do than sit around talking to you. Put out or go home. And either way, shut up about it or else you’re “psycho.” (They love to call us psycho, don’t they?)

Saying it out loud makes me vulnerable to the chorus of female friends who stick up for these guys. There are more of them than not. You know it. I know it. They’ll post on social media all day long about Louis C.K., but wait until someone in their own friend group pulls something like that. Then see how much they’ve got your back.

So, yeah. Now that I’ve pissed off and alienated pretty much everybody, I’ll just say this: I loved our friendships. I’ve missed you when you’ve been unofficially absent from my life with the faint promise of someday coming back, and I’m going to miss you even more now that I’ve broken the unspoken agreements and conveyed my disappointment and need so publicly. 

So…if you’re so vain that you probably think this song is about you, please consider the following:

(1) I don’t want or need your apology. I wanted you to never do this stuff in the first place.

(2) I don’t need your explanations. But if you feel so compelled, you can go ahead and try to explain yourself anyway. I know I haven’t told the whole story here. I know I’ve only focused on the things that hurt my feelings and lasted over the years. Tell me all about it if you must. I’ll read it. I’ll listen. I’ll try to be fair.

(3) Think twice before posting outrage at the bad behavior of celebrities and politicians on social media as if you are somehow superior to these dudes. Maybe you didn’t do anything quite that bad. But you’re not so clean that you couldn’t use a good long look in the mirror. Have you ever made a woman doubt her own logic, reasoning, beauty, intelligence, or basic need for self-respect? Did you use the other women who admire and adore you as ammunition against her when she tried to argue? Have you worked as hard as she was working to maintain a friendship, or did you just breeze in and out as it suited you, entirely on your terms?  

You know, just…think twice about all that. And tread a little more lightly around that glass house. 

Friday, July 7, 2017


Three things I’ve learned during my transition from special education parent to special education teacher:

1.      My family’s journey, as painful and soul-shattering as it was, is not even a little bit unique.
This is the rule more than it is the exception: A wily bright-eyed 5-year-old full of reckless intelligence and raw spirit shows up for kindergarten and can’t make the cut. His sensibilities get tweaked and twisted hither and thither, out come the behaviors, out come the adults’ baggage as they respond to those behaviors, throw in a diagnosis and a few dance numbers and in a year, give or take, the child is in a special ed program – maybe a program specializing in emotional/behavioral disabilities (EBD), maybe in a different school entirely. From there, it can get better or worse. Or both, from year to year. There’s no school or system alone that will wholly sustain a child. What matters, always, is how engaged and flexible and empathic are the adults in the classroom. But children are resilient. They can and do emotionally leapfrog a successful path across the adults who “get” them, sailing safely over the ones who don’t. It’s true, people. One person absolutely can and does make a difference in this respect.

2.      The discrimination I always suspected when I was just a parent is not only there; it is thriving and unapologetic.
The stories I could tell. I think what hurts most, though, is my own persistently na├»ve assumption that if you just reason with people, they will see the light and say “Thank you very much for the constructive criticism” and enroll in a series of trainings. Yeah. That doesn’t happen. I don’t know what the actual correct answer is, but I have learned the hard way that simply speaking up and shining a light in the dark ugly corners is definitely NOT the way if you want to survive in this biz for very long. But there are like-minded people here too, good people who’ve been at this a lot longer than me and have learned some wise and stoic ways around and through. Someday, I hope, I’ll find authenticity and effectiveness in navigating the cracks as they have.   

3.      My family’s experiences of 1 and 2 are the 5-star easy-peasy white privilege version.
Anything I’ve seen happen to white children with ASD, ADHD, or trauma is a trip to Disneyland compared to what happens to children of color with the same disabilities. Bias runs deep. I don’t have much more to say about that, because it’s not really my story to tell. But I’m constantly working to learn and unlearn and, most of all, to listen.

And now…

A change is coming. My whole career thus far has been me in the cracks, working simultaneously within and against The System to catch and strengthen any of the kids who slipped down there. I have, for the most part, found my strength in opposition. Standing by my students when they’ve been misunderstood or unfairly punished. Amending behavior plans that were little more than a laundry list of complaints about the student’s deficits. Empathizing with families, hearing and validating their complaints, helping them find their own voice and empowerment. I’ve kept my students company on those chairs outside the principal’s office, sat by them under tables and in corners of the hallways, struggled through inscrutable paper/pencil assignments with them, staffed “stay back” rooms during field trips and school dances they weren’t allowed to attend.

And now I’m moving on. A brand new school that’s opening in the fall chose me, in part, because of all these things I’ve done and stood for. This school aspires to be different. Its leaders and staff are driven by similar passions and sense of justice that drives me. Which means, in theory, anyway…no more cracks.

Welcome to the surface.

How very strange. Suddenly, instead of hunkering down and finding sneaky ways to thrive within a system, I’m standing with and for a system in broad daylight. How intimidating, really, because what if I’m terrible at it? What if all I really know how to do is fight? And then the fight gets taken away and….well….all that’s left are my own little shaky-legged inadequacies?

That’s the fear, anyway. And as fears go, I suppose the fear of being terrible at teaching is a pretty easy fear to have. Because, let’s face it, on some days we just are, and it’s never the end of the world. Just, you know, keep swimming. Keep working. Keep learning. Try new things. Try other new things. The Boy’s best teachers, after all, are never the ones who are unyieldingly The Best. They’re the ones who can flow and reflect and expand and absorb and change. As a parent on the verge of enrolling my then-2nd grader in his very first special ed program, I wrote:

But ultimately, what I want is something you can’t really legislate. I just want autism to be accepted from the ground up and build from there. And nobody officially does that. They either have it in them or they don’t.

So, you know. I have it in me, at least. This might not be easy, but it just might be the best year yet. Onward.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

On This Day

I didn’t think I would cry. Or that it would be my students, some of the only people who’ve been keeping me sane and happy during these dark and dangerous times, who would be the ones to tip the scales in the direction of weep-fest. My 6th graders, joyfully returning from a walk-out organized by the neighboring high school to protest the dark and dangerous times. My 6th graders, bragging that they’d ditched the march and gone to 7-11 instead.

And then immediately taking it back upon seeing the disappointment on my face.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, because OF COURSE they ditched the march for 7-11, being basically children and all...children who no longer get recess or much of anything beyond endless paper/pencil tasks and ample opportunities to feel bad about themselves; children whose teachers pull me aside in the hallway to scold me for being such a bad babysitter (where are the consequences? how are they being held accountable?! ); children whose case manager teacher is sitting motionless at her desk, staring into the computer screen while the tears stream and stream and stream; children whose new president, the one they were supposed to be protesting while they were sneaking off to 7-11, is about to appoint a leader who doesn’t even want this teacher here protecting them from 15-day suspensions and a grading system that punishes – sorry – holds them accountable – for their disabilities.

“You’re giving me a negative vibe, Ms. Floor Pie!” scolds a student, not wanting to hear anything more about freedom equaling responsibility, and storms out of my classroom to play with the other kids cutting class in the hallway. And that’s the tipping point. Here come the water works.

The principal shows up and is thankfully, surprisingly, supportive. Looks into the kid’s face, the kid who’s surely going to give me playful hell on Monday for calling the principal on him, but who still needs to hear that principal say THIS teacher will fight for your education when no one else will! And you want to mess with THIS teacher?

Finally I’m able to sniff and apologize. “I’m sorry you had to see that. But now you know that teachers aren’t robots. We have feelings too, and our feelings get hurt just the same as anyone else’s.” They get it. Because kids, in general, are simply better human beings than adults are much of the time.

Earlier that day, I’d spent my prep period on the phone with the school psychologist who’s doing The Boy’s 3-year reevaluation. She’s beyond amazing, this woman. The school psychologist I’ve been waiting for. She’s got some harsh truths and concerns and hypotheses for me, but my Zod she sees the nuance, too. She sees what I’ve been seeing all along, what I’ve tried to express to blank stares glancing anxiously at their watches around too many conference room tables over the years. Not this time. Even his classroom teachers have written complex, nuanced, frank-but-strength-based whole paragraphs about him in the drafted reevaluation. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Then, as if to underscore the hilarious absurdity of my work/life balance these days, my classroom door opens and in walk three of my boys, my “high flyers” as we say in the biz, deep in conversation with each other while I continue to talk to my son’s school psych as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. A moment later, an administrator comes in, radio in hand, urging them to return to the cafeteria where they’re supposed to be. All four of them vanish as quickly as they appeared.  “Isn’t it great that they felt safe coming to your classroom?” asks a colleague as we laugh about the absurd situation over a small Special-Ed-Supporters-Only happy hour. Yes, I think. It is.

We say our goodnights, I turn on my cell phone, and there it is all over my social media feed like a bitter orange cherry on top, marching into power to gleefully piss on my very livelihood and everything I’ve ever cared deeply about. And I’m crying again, silent and stoic, seemingly endless cascade of tears down my face.

Today, though, my social media feed is all pink hats, ferocity, and inspiration. Driving Little Grrl to her Japanese class this morning, the streets of Seattle are packed with freedom fighters of all descriptions, waiting at bus stops, walking, biking, gathering for group photos before heading off to the march. And when I pick up my phone again it’s full of texts from various pink-hatted family members – not just the ones who live in DC but from all over the nation, taking a stand.

I’m finding this all incredibly encouraging as I plod through my usual Saturday routine of trying to catch up on paperwork while special education is still even a thing. And I’m reflecting on the brightest moment of my teaching yesterday…first period, right after the principal’s lengthy announcement detailing the rules for participating in the walk-out.

“The United States of America is still a free country,” I told them. And even though they’re not supposed to get this information until 8th grade, I drew the Three Branches of Government triangle on the board. “He’s not the king,” I explained, to many students’ relief, and I wrote the names Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell, and Pramila Jayapal on the board under the “Congress” point of the triangle. “You don’t have to be 18 to call and email these women,” I said. “Tell them what YOU want from your country. It’s still your country, too.”

And I saw their faces brighten just a little.

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