TBT: Square Peg in a Round Hole

The discussion on my post about my youngest child’s recent Kindergarten homework reminded me of my daughter’s struggles that year.  So this week’s Throwback Thursday travels back eight years.

She’s nearly 14 years old now and in the eighth grade. But eight years ago, she was the bright-eyed, excited Kindergartener in our house. She had a great teacher. The teacher was highly requested, was very good with the kids, taught them a lot, and even received the district’s teacher of the year award that year. I loved almost everything about her.

What I didn’t love was a facet of what made her so good. She ran a tight ship, which allowed her to produce solid results. However, she didn’t have much room for out-of-the-box thinkers on that tight ship. And that’s where my problem lay. Because my kids aren’t good at fitting into other people’s expectations.

On the first day of school, the teacher greeted each child at the door and encouraged them to find their chair and sit down. At each place was a big glob of gray clay. She cheerfully encouraged each child to kneed their “magic play-doh” and see what would happen.

Jane looked around the room at the children who had arrived before her, all gleefully squishing their clay and laughing in delight as it began to change color. Some had red, some blue, some yellow, and so on. She glanced down at her clay and pondered it for a minute. Then, as if she had a sudden inspiration, she tore the ball of clay open to reveal the drops of food coloring inside.

With her face lit up and expecting praise at solving the puzzle, she ran over to the teacher, “Look! Look! I figured it out! See?! I figured it out! There’s this stuff inside. That’s what’s making them change colors!”

The teacher was more irritated at the possibility of the cool activity being ruined for the other kids than she was appreciative of my daughter’s skills of deduction. She gave a quick “That’s nice, Jane. Now go sit back down.” before turning her attention to the newcomers. This left a bad taste in my mouth but I chalked it up to new-mom-pride on my part, bothered that the teacher didn’t seem to find my child as impressive as I did.

Several months later, it was time for “brown” show-and-tell day. They had gone through a series of colors, shapes, and letters over the previous weeks, each one being the criteria for choosing a show-and-tell item. Jane had been growing increasingly frustrated with a boy in her class who always tried to figure out what everyone else had brought. She wanted her item to be a surprise.

So for brown show-and-tell, she came up with the perfect solution – many days or weeks ahead of time, actually. She was so excited when she told me how she was going to bring her hair for show-and-tell: “Because that way, he won’t be able to see what I have because it’s my hair!”

I was excited for her on brown show-and-tell day so as I tucked her into bed that night, I asked her what her teacher had thought of her brown show-and-tell item. Her face fell.

“She didn’t like it.”

“What do you mean she didn’t like it?”

“I didn’t get a ‘good choice’ Kissable.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you do something good, she gives you a ‘good choice’ Kissable.”

“And you didn’t get one?”

“No.”

“Did everyone else who brought something for show-and-tell get one?”

“Yes.”

I was flummoxed. The best I could come up with was that the teacher thought Jane had forgotten her show-and-tell item and had chosen her hair while sitting at the table, waiting her turn. I thought a letter to the teacher would surely clear things up.

In the letter, I explained that Jane said the teacher hadn’t liked her show-and-tell item. I explained that Jane had not forgotten, that she had been planning it for some time and was very excited about it. I told the teacher that she had done it so the boy couldn’t guess what she had and that we had been proud of her problem solving.

The return note surprised me. First, she showed an inability to understand that children can tell when adults don’t like something even if the adults don’t explicitly say they don’t like it. “I never told Jane I didn’t like her show-and-tell item,” she said. As if withholding the treat for participation did not say it clearly enough.

Continuing, she said, “I told the children that they were to bring an item from home. Her hair is not an item from home. If I start letting them use their hair or eyes or clothing, then pretty soon we won’t have anything to show and tell about.”

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I will concede that the teacher had considerably more experience with Kindergarteners and thus her concern was probably reasonably well founded. My problem was not that she didn’t appreciate Jane’s contribution (although taking the time to understand why she did it would have/should have caused her to appreciate it). No, my problem was how she handled the situation.

She didn’t need to shame Jane by denying her the same reward everyone else got. She didn’t need to hold her accountable for a very strict interpretation of “an item from home.” She could have achieved her objective of stopping the impending snowball of non-item show-and-tell presentations by simply saying this:

“That’s very creative, Jane, thank you. But when I said I wanted you guys to bring an item from home, I meant one that you don’t bring to school every day already. So let’s everyone keep that in mind next time. Here’s your Kissable. Joseph, you’re next.”

That night, I had one of my better parenting moments when I comforted her. I told her about how all my friends, some of whom were teachers, simply loved her show-and-tell item and her reason behind it. I told her I thought it showed tremendous creativity. “But that’s not what Mrs. Smith was looking for. And now that we know what she’s looking for, we’ll be able to meet her expectations next time, won’t we? I love you sweetheart. Good night.”

What I didn’t do, and now wish I had, was contact the teacher again. Then again, I had already explained the motivations of my child’s choice. All that was left was to tell her how she could have done her job better and that seems like a dangerous area to enter into. Maybe it’s best that I let it go.

But sometimes, looking back, I wonder how much the push to conform has changed my children. Are they as creative as they would have been if people hadn’t kept trying to force them into a shape that didn’t fit?

Age is Relative

At dinner last night, Hal told his older brother that he had figured out why he (Daryl) was so mean to him (Hal) when Daryl was hanging out with his friend Tony.  Now, I already know why.  No one likes their little brother trying to hang with them – especially when that little brother is five years younger.  Hal pretty much hit the nail on the head:

“It’s because you are acting like a teenager.”

Jane jerked her head up, correctly interpreting that she, as the only teenager in the family, had just been slighted.  But it got her to thinking.  “Wow.  You know when Hal is a teenager, I might not be living at home anymore.”

“You better not still be living at home!” her dad said.  “I’ve got plans for that room.”

“But when Hal’s a teenager, I’ll be…”

“Twenty-one,” he finished.

“I could be attending the local college still.”

“But hopefully not living at home.”

Hal looked up from his Daddy’s lap and gave him a big hug.  “When I’m twenty nine, I’m really going to miss you.”

“Well, honey, you don’t have to miss me.  We can visit each other.”

“You mean you’ll still be alive then?!”  He sounded surprised but hopeful.

“I sure hope so!” Daddy responded.  “I’m turning 40 in a few days and my parents are still alive.”

“Mommy,” Daryl cut in, “You know that lady at church?  She’s got short gray hair and wrinkles?  She’s only 37.”

“Who are you talking about?” I asked.

“She always helps with the potlucks.  She’s only 37!”

Figuring out who he was talking about, I responded, “Um, honey, she’s older than 37.”

“But you look younger than her, Mommy!”

“I am younger than her, sweetheart.”

“But she said that if I kept doing what I was doing that one day that I’d make her older than her 37 years.”

“It was a joke,” Jane responded.  “She was joking.”

“Oh.”

Age is such a tricky thing for kids to get a handle on.

On The Way To Work

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These cows caught my attention on my drive to work this morning. They were investigating the watermelon near their salt lick. I was bemused by the presence of the watermelon and suspected that they were too.

As I drove by, I thought, That would be a pretty cool picture.  How often do you see cows eating watermelon? I turned down the next road and thought, No, really. That’d be a cool picture. You should go back and take it. So in a rare spark of spontaneity, I did.

Now, I may live in rural Texas such that I drive by these fine bovines every day, but I’m not really a country girl. I stop and take pictures of things I think are cute. That’s not something my neighbors would do.

And it was my neighbors who caught me taking pictures of the cows. I hopped out of the truck, hoping not to be seen, but there was the couple that lives in the corner house, drinking coffee out on their front porch. I waved and sheepishly told them I thought the cows looked cute with the watermelon. I motioned with my phone and indicated I was just going to take a picture.

They weren’t their cows. They didn’t care. But I’m sure they thought I was odd. Especially since I had turned around and come back to take the picture. I was beginning to feel foolish.

As I got closer to the fence, I heard the man on the porch call out: “Hoooooo-weeeeee!!!!! Here they come! They think you are going to feed them!”

I looked up from my camera in time to see the other dozen cows that had been nowhere near my two subjects running toward me. One was even kicking her back legs up in excitement.

I apologized to the cows. I nodded to the neighbors. I got back into my truck. And drove my city girl butt to work. And tried not to think about just how silly I looked.

A Matter of Interpretation

I was looking through Hal’s papers that came home from Kindergarten recently. I took a special interest in the following paper:

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I wonder why he didn’t write an M next to the man… I thought to myself. Then I turned the paper over:

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Huh, I thought. Why an M next to the ball?

So when he came into the room, I asked him – as nonchalantly as possible. First I pointed to the ball and asked, “Why did you put an M here?”

He looked puzzled. “Next to the marble?” he asked, as if the only explanation for my question was that he didn’t understand which picture I was actually referring to.

“Oh!” I said. “I see. I thought it was a ball.” After turning the paper over and pointing to the man, I asked, “And why not one here?”

He began to look concerned about either my intelligence or my education. Perhaps he was thinking I should take some make-up Kindergarten lessons.

“Because that’s a Daddy,” he said.

“Oh, ok. I think maybe it was supposed to be a ‘man’ but I like your thinking. Daddy, it is.”

There were no red marks on his paper. I’m not sure whether this means the teacher didn’t grade the paper or whether she took the time to ask him about his discrepancies and then accepted his answers. I kind of hope the latter. I think perhaps we adults don’t typically take the time to ask kids about why they did what they did. The answers can be quite illuminating.

How to Win the Argument Every. Single. Time.

I have conversations with people in my head all the time. It might be more accurate to call most of these conversations “confrontations.” And to anyone who knows me, that goes a long way to explaining why they take place only in my head. As someone who prefers a peaceful and friendly co-existence with people, I shy away from confrontation.

But people do upset me. And when they do, I tell them all about it. In my head. It’s the safest place to have these discussions because… I. Always. Win. I make my case brilliantly and flawlessly. My opponent either makes a weak attempt at retort or is struck dumb by my logical brilliance. They have no chance against my mighty mind.

Many things can create these worthy one-sided debates. It could be an argument online that I chose not to engage in despite having strong feelings on the subject. It could be in response to a friend’s remark that caused me to bite my tongue in silence. It could be imagining an upcoming discussion among the church elders in which I know I hold the minority position. It could be an encounter with the people at work who just went behind the scenes and stole my funding without including me in the decision making. The interesting effect of having these conversations with only me is that it reenforces the notion in my head that I’m right. It solidifies my argument. It makes me feel more confident… without risk.

This was on my mind today as I pondered a link I saw a friend share on Facebook. It said “10 Things to Ask Liberals.” I didn’t bother following the link, having seen many things like it before. 10 Ways to Prove Atheists Wrong. 10 Things to Ask Conservatives. 10 Things to Throw at Evangelicals. The list goes on. Every camp has their pat arguments that they think settle the issue.

One problem I have with these lists is the labeling. “Liberals” was not used as a usefully descriptive term for a person’s political position. It was used to denigrate and insult. Whether list makers and their readers want to admit it or not, the fact is that we have all lived our lives under different circumstances and with different experiences. We all have different personalities and interests. Different priorities. Different beliefs. Just because someone else has come to different conclusions than you doesn’t make them less than you. And it doesn’t make them wrong. They could be wrong but not have the experience to understand why. Or you could be the one that’s wrong. Or neither of you. Or both.

Most of us are ok with the notion that some people just don’t like dogs and other people feel likewise about cats. We are ok with different styles of dress, different reading interests, even – to a limited extent – different parenting styles. But as soon as those differences roll into religious belief or what we think our priorities should be as a society, the differences are no longer respected. The word “idiot” is thrown about all over the internet to describe the other side. No one is actually listening. Everyone is just shouting.

Which brings me to the other problem I have with these lists. People actually think they settle the issue. People think using them wins the argument. It’s just like the arguments in my head. They’ve started from their own point of view, built their argument using their own assumptions and values, maybe even shown it to a like-minded friend, and declared it the perfect assault on the wayward, misguided, idiotic other.

It’s like all the times I’ve heard Christians justify their position to an atheist (or any other non-Christian) with “The Bible says…”. Guess what? They actually don’t care what the Bible says. It holds no weight for them. You are going to have to make your case differently if you want to win them over.

But sometimes I wonder if these lists are really about winning people over. I don’t think they are actually about changing anyone’s mind at all. That would take time, patience, understanding, give-and-take, a willingness to listen, compassion, and the ability to consider the possibility that oneself is the one actually wrong. How many people are up for that?

No, these lists are about making other like-minded people feel good about themselves. To solidify their notion that they are right and the others are fools for not seeing it. To rally the troops. To win – if only in their heads. And I should know. I’m an expert at winning there.

TBT: An Ugly Car and Cloud Gazing

I’ve told a couple of stories from my past recently, one verbally to some friends and one in a blog comment.  Both times, I received such a positive response that I thought I should write them up as blog posts.  And that made me think that surely I have more stories from my past that would be entertaining to at least a few souls.

So I’m embarking on my first ever “feature” on this blog.  We’ll see how long it lasts.  Taking a page from Instagram and Facebook, each Thursday, I hope to post a story from an earlier time period in my life for “Throwback Thursday.”  As they are stories I remember well, I suppose they very definitely qualify as “bright spots” in my life if their memory is still shining bright after all these years.


My husband and I were High School Sweethearts.  We met somewhere around the start of our Junior year.  His best friend had a crush on me that summer and talked about me in such a way that my future husband was fascinated and interested in meeting me.  The start of the school year saw me dating his best friend and he dating mine.

One day, my best friend and I met up with him to go to a party.  He had spent the day polishing his not-yet-operational-again ’57 Chevy with a bottle of Windex to show it off.  We drove up.  He stood proudly by his car and asked what we thought.  I was doing my best snotty teenage girl imitation and told him I thought it was ugly.  He was crestfallen.

Within a couple of years, I’d be using a manual to rebuild the master cylinder of that “ugly” car in the band room after school.  I’d ride in it to prom.  I’d later retrieve him from it when it threw a rod through the oil pan on our wedding night.  I’d chastise him for driving it in a torrential rain storm that swept it off the road while we were in college.  I’d willingly have it towed to Texas when we moved.  It’s still sitting in the backyard now, waiting for our time, money, and interest to revive it.

Anyway, the car was not operational at the time and he was not 16.  My best friend was to drive us to the party.  I very snottily told him that I was riding in the front; he could sit in the back.  We stopped at an ATM and my friend and I went in to get some cash.

When I came out, he was sitting in the backseat with his head leaned all the way back so he could gaze out the back window.

“What are you doing?!” I asked.

“Looking at the clouds…” he said in a drawn-out, dreamy voice.  I remember very distinctly thinking that he wasn’t a very good match for my friend and that he would be a better match for me.

There was no motivation to steal him.  There was no emotion, no burning heart thumping in my chest, no desire.  Just an observation of fact.  I remember nothing of the party or anything else we did that day.  But I remember that young man gazing out the back of that window and making that comment like it was yesterday.

Within a couple of months, she had dumped him and his best friend had dumped me.  He had migrated through another girlfriend (who he confided to me he thought he could marry – I still don’t let him forget that remark).  While he was with that girl, I was growing to realize just how much I liked him.  Again, clear as day, I can remember my reaction to his writing that he wanted to marry her in the note we were passing back and forth at a Latin Club event.  This time, I felt the burning feeling in my chest and a profound sense of disappointment.  That feeling of loss was followed immediately by a firm decision that I wasn’t going to react.  That I really liked this guy and if I couldn’t be his girlfriend, I certainly wanted to be his friend.

She dumped him a week later.  And we began to date a month or two after that – after a drawn-out note-passing courtship that we were enjoying but was driving my friends batty.  And I became the first girl in his life to not dump him.  I never have and I never will.


Interestingly, this wasn’t the story I set out to tell.  I set out to tell the story that got my friends smiling last night.  I was just trying to set the stage when this story fell out instead.  Funny how that works.  Well, maybe the other one will come next week.

 

What If They Just Stand Around?

One of the girls on Daryl’s Destination Imagination team is having a birthday party this weekend and he is invited. This is a semi-rare event since, as fifth graders, they’ve been conducting mostly single-gender birthday parties for at least a couple of years now.

Despite the rarity of the opportunity, attendance seemed like a no-brainer to us. Her mom is simply amazing and throws great parties, the girl is smart and fun, and Daryl loves hanging out with her slightly younger brother. And the planned activities are right up his alley. This is just proof that we, as parents, have no brains though because he wasn’t sure he wanted to go.

He finally reluctantly told his Dad that he would go. His Dad said, “Good, I think you’ll have a lot of fun.”

“But what if there are only girls there?”

“I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”

“But what if it’s all girls?!”

“I’d be very surprised if her brother wasn’t there. Besides, they are going to be playing Dodge Ball and Capture the Flag. You love that.”

“But what if they just stand around? Girls do that. They just stand around.”

“I really don’t think anyone would pick games for their birthday party that they don’t enjoy playing. It’ll be fine. Seriously. It’s Dodge Ball and Capture the Flag.”

The things our kids get hung up on. I’ll refrain from making any comments about gender roles, conformity, or how our society shapes us in stupid ways. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. But, seriously? It’s Dodge. Ball. And Capture. The. Flag. Get out there and play, kid!