Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I Acknowledge That Class Warfare Exists. Mama Bear Fights Back, Again.

If there's one thing that doesn't go over well in the Miklasz/Bechtel household (and by that I mean Craig and I, collectively), it's conformity. Placating. Fitting in for the sake of fitting in. Going along with the crowd. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Conventionality. Looking like everyone else. Moving in a groove.  Thinking like everyone else. Complying with society. We're all square pegs.

Waiting in the parking lot at Luke's Lutheran school, in my oft-dented car riddled with the ramifications of driving under the influence years ago (read: it's beaten down but not broken, much like me, and Pastor pointed out over the weekend that it looks like I need my tires rotated, which begged the question, "Why were you peering at my car in the first place? Oh yeah. The OM, Anarchy, AA & psychedelic George Harrison stickers, and "Who the fuck are Coyne and Drozd and why are they running for President?"), about to Tweet my daily "Schoolhouse Rock", of what I'm listening to in the car in the lot, when the frantic parents were once again racing with umbrellas to shield their precious babies from getting wet. (It was drizzling and THEY MIGHT MELT!!!!!)

It's bad enough that parents of able-bodied, able-minded older kids hover at the school doors so their offspring assuredly get from the school to the car in one piece. Jesus H. Christ. Luke knows what my car looks like and what his grandmas' cars look like. To date, he hasn't been plowed over in the parking lot. Little ones? I understand completely and I make every attempt not to run them over when I'm leaving. But meeting your 6th grader at the door the minute he exits the school? That puts the "mother" in "smother." I'm not used to picking Luke up from school, as I've only done it in the months I've been unemployed. Prior to that, one of the grandmas picked him up every day. (Craig works full time too.) So I don't get out of my car and socialize with the other parents. I tweet my Schoolhouse Rock and usually point out the morbidly obese woman who wears Hooters sweatpants around every day. Not that I'm putting down the morbidly obese, but I sure as hell wouldn't be caught dead with the word "Hooters" on my behind. Or "Juicy." Or "Pink" and I've been on both sides of the obesity rollercoaster. 

Helicopter parents? I can't help but remember what a moron my ex-boyfriend used to treat his daughter like, who is the same age as Luke. I'd overhear his conversations with her on the phone, and more often than not, I would engage in instant messaging with Luke on Chris' computer at the same time and report the sophomoric dialogues between them to Luke, who always got a chuckle out of them. This was a couple of years ago, but the most ridiculous put-down Chris ever voiced? In explaining that the grandpa was in the hospital and had to be quarantined, Chris actually said, "Do you know what 'quarantined' means, Lauren? Quarantined is a fancy word for being kept apart alone so that the other patients don't get sick." I almost rolled off the chair. I IM'd Luke: "Tell me what 'quarantined' means" and he gave me an immediate, correct response. It wasn't so much that I was touting my son's intellectual superiority, but more that Chris actually said the term "fancy word." Which goes back to the parenting philosophy I wrote about a few blogs ago about Luke, which was: We will never treat our son like he's a moron or of lesser intelligence than us. Chris may be financially capable of taking his daughter on fancy trips to Disney (barf) World or Alaska, where Craig and I cannot, but goddamnit, I'd never kowtow and approach my kid as if he were a toddler when he's growing armpit hair. Then again, Chris is also wasting his money on drum lessons for his daughter, which are totally unnecessary if she wants to rock it out, so perhaps he should start looking for a fancy drum kit for her. (Hey, I only met the kid once in our 3 1/2 years together, "as a friend," and I gave her her first pair of Vic Firth 7A's with nylon tips, sticks she loved, and taught her how to do a drum roll on a practice pad.)

I think it was Tatus who accused me once of being a helicopter parent myself once, in reference to something...maybe me defending my child against being bullied? Or telling Luke that I wanted to run said bully over with my car in the parking lot?  I don't remember. Anyway. Anyone who would even remotely accuse me of being a "helicopter parent" should see the parents that still walk their junior high aged-children into school in the morning, under the guise of having to do "school business" (every day?) and embarrassingly check on said kids in the lunch room from time to time. That is NOT me. 

Luke's teacher explicitly ASKED the parents to NOT walk their kids into the classroom in the morning, but some parents are guilty of, I'm told, hanging onto that bittersweet moment when they have to relinquish control to another adult for the next 6 hours.  I know that Luke is alive and upright when he gets out of the car in the morning, and he returns to the car alive and upright after school is dismissed. Apart from that, provided he's not getting the shit kicked out of him (verbally or physically) like he did today, I am confident in my child's capability of mending his own ways without me. I just shake my head sometimes. How mortified those poor kids must be, especially pre-teens. IF I happened to stop by the church/school (like to dick around with my drums or drop off something in the office, for example), and I ran into Luke, I most likely would acknowledge his presence eye-to-eye, or snidely slide my middle finger down my cheek, but I wouldn't extricate him from the bathroom line and kiss him on the cheek for God's sake. LET GO ALREADY, parents. Some other parents in Luke's class would argue that it is I who won't let go, but follow me here....

Today was apparently (not on the calendar) Rich vs. Poor day at school. One of Luke's classmates had the balls to ask him how much money his mother made last year, after Luke mentioned to his friends that I did not have a job anymore. The kid said, "How much money did you mom make when she was a nurse?" (I wasn't a nurse and Luke knows that. It's just easier, he says, than explaining that I was a "patient services coordinator" or "medical receptionist." And no, he didn't brag to his friend that his mom's studying to be a doctor. He's not one to boast.) 

Not in possession of my W2 at hand, Luke innocently answered and guessed $25,000. (That's about half of what I made, actually.) The other kid said, "Well, MY dad makes like $250,000 a year!" to which Luke probably replied something just slightly more polite than "Big fucking deal."  I (politely) texted the mother of this boy after Luke told me what happened at school today, who I had been in good graces with over the years, to please tell her son it's frankly none of his business how much money I made last year and that I thought it was most likely a gross exaggeration of this boy's father's income, which frankly is also none of her own son's business. Kids don't need to know how much money their parents haul home. 

The mom subsequently chastised me relentlessly for getting involved in "kid business," and "let kids be kids," and "Luke says stuff too," and "your kid's not perfect" and "let him fight his own battles or he'll get beat up in high school" and intimated that because I refuse to sit idly by while my son is picked on, I'm a freak and a bitch whom the other mothers inherently dislike. She said, "You do this all the time. You go off, mind your business, it's kid talk." Because I was standing up for my son, and calling her out on what her kid said, she repeated herself and said, "Lay off. You do this all the time, stop picking on kids and going after their parents..."

She did text me with the following: "Listen to me, I understand you. I feel the same way, but you have to back off. Luke has to learn to deal with things. I know it hurts for you and Luke but it will not get any easier in high school and in life, I know. We did not raise our kids to be mean, but there are days when kids just want to fit in and do and say things they really don't mean. Please, we do not want arguments. It will work itself out, but you have to learn to back off!"

She said she wasn't my enemy. The last thing I want at St. Paul are MORE enemies. I've alienated enough people by being just as different as my child. And our kids have gotten along throughout the years, though Luke has a difficult time playing with this child because they have very different personalities. I *have* backed off, and told Luke to either defend himself or tell the teacher, and it just leads to my son being bullied more regularly with kids saying to him, "Are you going to tell your Mommy on us?" Well you know what? He does tell his mom. And his mom is tired of it all. It's never-ending. If other parents feel the same way I do, why aren't they all vocalizing this to the teacher and principal that it's unacceptable behavior, no exceptions? That's what puzzles me. I've been writing blogs about bullying since my son was in 3rd grade. He's almost in 7th grade now and nothing's changed. Year after year after year.

She's not the first parent I've "gone off on." I've confronted other parents of kids who have bullied Luke, to no avail. One boy, who was playing with Luke online over XBox said to Luke, "Tell you mother to go fuck herself." (That was the kid I told Luke I'd like to run over in the lot.)  I texted the mother of THAT boy with what her son said, and she ignored me. The emotional and verbal abuse persist. At a Christian school, no less. But enough is enough. Frankly, I don't mind being the pariah parent of the school, as I, like Luke, don't conform or fit into the crowd. So we're both freaks, so what? I'm sure Luke isn't perfect and says snippy shit back at the kids, but he doesn't initiate bitchy put-down sessions. If anything, he doesn't stick up for himself ENOUGH. He's the ultimate pacifist, like his father and not a fighter, like his mom. If he REALLY wanted to, and had a different personality, he'd be physically capable of kicking the shit out of all the boys in his class. But he was raised better than that. 

But when he gets in the car and immediately starts in on how this-kid-or-that-kid teased him about this-or-that, my claws come out. I'm just more vocal and public about it than the other parents are. If that makes me the Bitch Mama, so be it. "You do this all the time," the mother said to me, about inciting conflict when she thinks the kids should sort out their own shit. That's true to a degree, but it's not their kid who's been picked on year after year for being different.  I can only handle so much when I start to fight back. That also means that the rest of the parents (or moms, I don't know) collectively have spoken about me and my mannerisms behind my back, which is really shitty when they smile and greet me when I'm at the school or church. Yes, I'm the alcoholic/drug addict/mentally ill mom with the tattoos and piercings, who used to be obese and is now skinnier than all of them. I don't plan on EVER fitting in among parents of any school, quite frankly. 

The boy who is Luke's closest friend at school joined in with the gang-up on Luke today and asked Luke why he has curly hair and not straight hair, and pointed out the texture of his hair, as if Luke had a say in his genetics. Granted, Luke's hair gets wavier and curlier the longer it gets, and I told him he needs a hair cut this weekend, but that's as ignorant a question as asking the African-American girl in class why she isn't Caucasian. I haven't broached the confrontation with this set of parents, who are also my good friends, who would assuredly yell at their son and probably wash his mouth out with soap, which would cause tension between our boys, which the boys don't need. Needless to say, I'm very disappointed that this boy, who is Luke's closest friend, would choose to conform to the norm (he dresses the part too) and not stick up for Luke but rather to spout the same meanness that the other kids did. Not cool. They have a ball together playing alone and have sleepovers and play at one another's houses, and this boy is very polite and well-behaved, but he made a poor decision to go along with the crowd.

Then the kids got into it with Luke about his choice of wardrobe. The funky shirts he wears. His jeans. His sneakers. His best friend asked him why he doesn't wear any clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch, or Aeropostale (sic?). I feel bad for Luke in a way, because if fitting in with the popular crowd meant that much to him, I'd do more to accomplish that, IF that was REALLY what Luke wanted. But Luke told his friends that he doesn't see the logic in buying a $50 t-shirt that has a brand name on it just because that's what the other kids will think is "cool." His pal said "Why don't you ask for clothes for your birthday?" to which Luke said, "I don't want clothes. I have clothes." The friend replied, "Why don't you ask for money so you can buy some clothes?" and again, Luke's rebuttal was essentially that wardrobe and appearances were of little to no importance to him as an individual. He HATES getting clothes for Christmas or his birthday, and I don't see them really as a gift. They're a necessity. He'd much rather have gadgets or Legos (more Legos? Help me Lord!) or electronics or shit he can build stuff out of.

Today, he wore a Doctor Who shirt to school, of which he has a lot in variety. (The other kids don't know anything about Doctor Who, and wouldn't get it even if they watched it.) He likes to wear t-shirts to school that fit his personality--a lot of science shirts, a vintage Flaming Lips "Yoshimi" shirt that was too big on me, shirts with walruses or pandas on them, or my personal favorite, his "Snakes on an Inclined Plane" shirt, which nobody finds funny outside of Craig, Luke and I. The other kids don't understand Luke's shirts most of the time, and they are offbeat, but that's how our family rolls.

As for his sneakers, he has a pair of rather beaten up Converse and a good pair of Reebok running shoes that I bought him for basketball this year, which were all dissected by his "friends." His jeans? My mom and I spent quite a lot of money getting them hemmed for the school year since he'd worn the bottoms out with his shoes and the school dress code got more restrictive. Since the school year began, he's grown probably 2-3 inches in height, so the jeans are admittedly starting to look like floods. (We'll address that when it's time to do the fall wardrobe.)

If the measure of street credibility is based on one's wardrobe, that's a shame. No, Luke doesn't wear designer shirts. But how many of the other kids can say they danced onstage at Lollapalooza with The Flaming Lips in front of 60,000 people when they were 6?  Or went to see Green Day with their dads? Or attended Pitchfork with a VIP pass?  His street cred might be foreign to his friends, but trust me, he's cooler than cool.

Trying to find a suitable gifted program for Luke over the summer has been challenging. He's bored in school and flies through his lessons. He needs more challenge. I have no doubt he'll be placed in accelerated or advanced placement classes in high school, but that's 3 years from now. In the meantime, his therapist thinks it'd do him a world of good to be around like-minded kids who also stick out in class because they're different. I'm starting to consider moving him to the public junior high next year because he'd likely receive a better education and it would help socially prepare him for the shell shock that will be going to a high school that's gigantic. He'd be petrified over the change, and the junior high is big and scary, and Luke's been at his school since he was 3. But those kids who are his true friends will always be and he can hang out with them after school.  Those who leave him behind weren't his friends to begin with.

It's in interesting paradox that I received an email from the school principal asking me to have Luke and I write a thank-you note to a foundation for granting Luke a scholarship for this school year, and that I had to have it turned in by May 2nd. I did as she asked, but what has she done to address the issue of my son being bullied? Nothing. I'm emailing her back with a "When can I meet you in person to discuss your supposed zero tolerance policy towards bullying and harassment?"

I vented my frustrations and concerns to Tatus and my mom, both of whom said it'd be worth it to check out the local public junior high, even though I'd prefer Luke receive a Christian grammar school education and stay with the school until he graduates. And my ex-husband has said for years, while he is also a member of our church, that Luke would receive a better education and be in a more favorable social environment in the public school system in Park Ridge. But we live in a posh town (on the wrong side of the tracks) and I'm not convinced that Luke wouldn't still be made fun of for not wearing Abercrombie shirts and sticking out in the crowd. But at least they might have programs available to keep gifted kids busy and challenged. I honestly don't know.

Starting in the giant high school after I graduated from Luke's Lutheran school was utter shell shock for me, so much that I cried when my mom dropped me off on the first day. Patti was one of the only friends I had who was going to Maine South. Sure, we both made friends early on freshman year (like the lovely and effervescent Christa!) but the transition from a tiny environment to a huge institution was brutal. It would be for Luke, too. It wasn't until I got to Knox College where I learned that everyone can fit in SOMEWHERE.  We were all hyper smart kids, with our own brands of genius. Sure, there were still cliques, but in college, finally, it didn't matter what name brands you wore, if your socks matched, or if you walked around barefooted in a skirt and were a man. It didn't matter how you dressed or what you looked like. At Knox, anyway, there was a unified atmosphere of acceptance. It was where I first learned to be ME and that it was ok to BE ME. College was so liberating, which I guess Luke has to look forward.

Yes, his Christian school has been very charitable and my mom helps out with the tuition every year, which I cannot afford solely on my own. But does that mean that Luke should receive sub-par respect or treatment, or just put up with harassment?  I don't think that's very fair, especially at a Christian school. What's so aggravating is that NOTHING has been done to stop it. The teacher's tactics haven't worked, though she's tried. She can't police them at recess and doesn't overhear their conversations. If she overheard what Luke was going through, she'd have a cow.

Anyway, I hope Luke has brighter days ahead (which I also wish for myself) and learns to either fight back for his own rights and defend his own choices and decisions without me having to get involved but in the meantime, if you disrespect my child, or your children disrespect my child, look out, because these mama bear claws are very, very sharp.

I couldn't help but think of this George Harrison song, about friendship and love vs. hate. It's called "Run of the Mill."

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