I’m Not Saying There are Parallels…But

The school year for folks around here got underway this past week. Teachers and parents are teaming up to ensure the little ones receive a quality education. Or maybe they’re not.

Each year, I find myself wondering who makes the decisions when it comes to what teachers can and cannot do for their students. Seems like educators are finding their hands being tied on the most bizarre levels. I’d talked to my best friend today about how the first week of school went for her daughter. I suspected it was harder on my friend than it was her little girl – and I was right. She told me she’d spent some time helping her five year old loosen and tighten the big cap on her thermos because the teachers aren’t allowed to touch a student’s food or utensils. After I asked her to repeat it a few times – just to be sure I understood, I was speechless.

After I got off the phone with her, I spoke with another friend who also has little ones in another school zone who started school this week – one is in kindergarten and she also has a third grader. Turns out, these days, the first week of school is spent with educators and parents clashing over everything from which teacher is assigned to their little darlings to what time they eat lunch. One parent wants her little ball of sunshine put with another teacher while another parent is hell bent on keeping his own little gem out of a “stricter” teacher’s classroom. I don’t envy the teachers. Since when is being strict a bad thing – especially when it’s a child whose parents give in to their every whim – up to and including kaboozling Mom and Dad to march up to the school and demand a different teacher? And what happened to a parent saying ‘Get over it. You’re going to have a lifetime of “strict teacher” moments’?

Some of these parents have the whole community up in arms – and it’s just the first week! I always thought we

The Little Darlings

sent our kids to school to gain an education while growing into responsible adults who don’t demand changes on a whim, who act responsibly and who recognize that we don’t always get our way.

Now, far be it from me to parallel one dynamic with another – but have you heard about some of the changes in our social welfare programs? Aside from the regulations being relaxed for serial welfare recipients who find looking for a job entirely too traumatizing, there are now other changes that will only cement some folks into continuing what’s worked so well for years. – which is, well – nothing.

The traditional paper food stamps have been replaced with EBT cards and according to a new study, the monthly funnel of money added to these government credit cards is simply too tempting. In many states, these EBT cards can be used for anything – even withdrawing cash from an ATM. And make no mistake: that taxpayer money is being used for liquor, concert tickets and shopping sprees at some of the nation’s most prestigious department stores.

The study was conducted in Tennessee by a consumer watchdog group. It included a review of more than 150,000 transactions made via EBT cards. The study was focused between October and December 2011. The study found the majority of transactions were being used exactly as intended, but there were many that left the researchers boggled. Here are a few transactions “charged” to these government aid cards:

  • Tickets to tour Graceland in Memphis
  • A $500 shopping spree at the mall
  • A night out at a nightclub for $60
  • Waffle House visits by one card holder that totaled more than $100
  • $100 purchase at Dillards

As I mentioned, most welfare recipients may use their EBT benefits to withdraw cash from ATM machines. One EBT recipient made a withdrawal of $790 from an ATM at a Memphis liquor store. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services officials who oversee the program admit they cannot trace where the cash goes after it’s been withdrawn. These people are free to do with it as they wish with no accountability to anyone.

But maybe these people had parents who were willing to go to bat for them when they were in elementary school. Maybe they were allowed to swap strict teachers for those who were more lenient in the classroom.

You can see more of the report here: watchdog.org. You can see how the parents and teachers are clashing in just about any school across the country these days.

Two Quarts and a Series of Sighs

I’m not sure how my mind found this old story (I’m not sure how my mind finds any story), but it probably had

My beautiful mom about the timeframe of this conversation

something to do with this 2 quart mixing bowl I’ve had for years. I love that bowl! I’d spent entirely too much money on it fifteen years ago (it’s Pampered Chef) and I have handled it with kid gloves ever since. Anyway, I was putting the dishes away earlier and got to thinking about a phone call I’d made to my mom when I was, hmm…maybe eleven. Because the way this story evolves likely won’t need an explanation, I’m just going to throw it out there with no commentary:

(Mom answers…)

Me: Do we have a quart measuring cup? I need two quarts.

Mom: Two quarts of what?

Me: Water.

Mom: Why, Donna? What are you doing?

Me: I’m cooking macaroni and cheese and the box says to boil the noodles in two quarts of water.

Mom: It doesn’t matter. Just fill the pot about halfway up.

Me: But the box said…

Mom: I know what the box says. You don’t need to measure it that way. Just fill the pot halfway full.

Me: Well then why would they put that on the box?

Mom: (Heavy sigh) I don’t know Donna. You asked and I answered.

Me: So we don’t have a measuring cup that measures quarts?

Mom: (Heavy sigh) Where’s your daddy?

Me: He’s not here.

Mom: What? What do you mean he’s not there?

Me: He’s not here.

Mom: Is his truck gone?
Me: Noooo…geez….he’s not in the house. I think he’s weedeating. So you’re sure I don’t need two quarts for the noodles?

Mom: (Heavy sigh) Go ask your daddy.

Me: He’s not here.

Mom: Then look in one of the cookbooks.

Me: Which one?

Mom: (Heavy sigh). It doesn’t matter, Donna. I’m at work. I can’t discuss this right now. I mean it – unless you or your sister is hurt or the house is on fire, do not call me with this silliness. Are we clear?

Me: (Heavy sigh of my own now) Yes mam. I’ll just make a grilled cheese instead.

I hang up the phone and now completely pouting, think to myself, “If I was some kid that called 911, she’d talk all nice to me and ask me real nice, ‘OK honey….is she breathing?’ But nooooo….she can’t talk nice to me. I’m just her daughter.”

I feel a really strong need to call my mom now and tell her how much I love her.

MTV’s Waiting Tragedy

I started today’s post on another TV show, Sister Wives, and in fact, I finished it.  When I saw last night’s episode of Teen Mom, MTV’s reality show that follows four young girls who got pregnant in high school and how each one’s decisions affected theirs and their families’ lives, I had to lay the other article aside for now.

For anyone who doesn’t follow the show, and if you have teens in your life, you really should consider it.  It’s powerful and is probably the most realistic of reality TV found on any network.  Each girl lives her life in front of the camera at least part of the time.  There is one couple who initially opted to stay together and raise their daughter in a more traditional family unit.  Unfortunately, it’s proven incredibly overwhelming for both of them and has now

Gary with his daughter Leah

reached a dangerous point that includes physical abuse.  The couple, Amber and Gary, are both under twenty and neither completed high school.  Neither have jobs, although MTV does pay $125 per camera hour to the girls.  While this might seem significant, it’s important to keep in mind filming is only for a few months out of the year and in spurts of half days here and there.

Some of these girls are coping better than others.  Briefly, the other three girls, Catelynn, Farrah and Maci, have their own struggles.  Catelynn and her boyfriend have stayed together but opted to place their daughter for adoption.  These two seem wise beyond their years and have overcome some difficult times, including parents who are less than ideal, with the exception of Tyler’s (Catelynn’s boyfriend) mother, who has supported both of them in their decision to choose adoption.

Farrah’s boyfriend died in a car crash before their daughter was born, and she’s clearly still grieving this loss, as the episodes reveal throughout the season.

Maci is strong and has a supportive family, as does her ex boyfriend (although he has a lot of growing up to do).  She is incredibly independent and appears to be a mother whose priorities are straight.

Amber and Gary, as mentioned, are clearly struggling and while viewers have seen Amber unravel throughout this season, last night’s show was very disturbing.  She punched Gary in the face several times, kicked him in the back as he was going down the stairs and demanded he bring their daughter back to her (he’d taken the baby out of the house during a fight the day before). I’ve put the clip below, and I’ve debated whether or not to keep it up.  I think it’s important though, so up it stays.  Gary, to his credit, maintained his composure and never even raised his voice.  It’s clear he is heartbroken, even though he doesn’t have the maturity to have a healthy relationship anymore than Amber does.  And really, that’s how it’s supposed to be, right?  Who is ready at 18 or 19?

Throughout the episode, MTV aired PSAs with websites and phone numbers for those who are in abusive relationships and after the show aired, the network told viewers to go to the site for an update (and if you are in an abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  This is a powerful organization that stands ready to help both men and women who are being abused. The number is 800-799-7233 or visit the site here).  In the video update, it’s clear nothing has really changed as Amber, who initially is embarrassed and frustrated, eventually cuts Gary off and rolls her eyes several times.  Gary, in a classic tell-tale sign, keeps his eyes down and avoids confrontation with Amber.

There’s more though.  Amber is not equipped with the mindset or the patience to raise a young daughter.  The little girl, Leah, is probably less than two years old now.  She’s just beautiful with a sweet disposition, but Amber’s patience is near zero.  She has little tolerance for Leah when she cries and seems to forget this baby is in the room when she hones in on Gary.  Gary threatened to call CPS on last night’s episode as he’s walking out the door with the baby.

The truth of the matter is, many of these young relationships often end in some level of abuse.  The maturity is absent and then coupled with grown up responsibilities, such as raising a baby, going to work each day and maintaining a household, it can quickly become volatile.  Amber, when she’s not giving Gary hell, is in bed, which is part of the problem she has with Leah.  She thinks the little girl should sleep whenever Amber orders her to sleep.  Of course, anyone who’s raised a child knows that’s not even remotely realistic.

I’m not sure how this will work out between this young couple; it appears they’ve gone their separate ways.  There’s no way for Gary to know this, but this chapter of his life will affect him forever.  Ideally, it won’t prevent him from a healthy relationship in the future, but the fact is, that kind of abuse – and in many ways, the emotional abuse more than the physical abuse – stays with him.  That doesn’t mean he’ll choose the same personalities each time, but it will affect his choices, his self esteem and it’s likely he won’t even put two and two together for many years.

For now, though, he needs to get it together.  He needs to walk away from this abusive situation (if he hasn’t already), find a job and begin to make those decisions that are good for his daughter.  No one deserves to be abused; however, that’s no excuse for checking out.  He has a little girl who needs everything he can give her and he deserves far better, too.

Celebrating Imperfections – and Then Demanding Perfection

We humans are quite the complex species.  We are nothing but a bundle of contradictions.  There are TV shows that reveal the hoarders in our society and these shows are generally followed by or led by shows about those who are the epitome of perfectionists, insisting on dusting their homes countless times a day.  I have to be careful watching any these “reality” shows – I will stress over whether I have any tendencies from either side.  I’m sentimental and still have love letters from my first love in high school stored away, and yet, I also believe pantries should be organized: canned goods with canned goods and boxes of cereal with other boxes of cereal.  I sweep and then Swiffer before I mop.  I change the sheets every single Saturday – even in the guest room, but I could probably stand to clean the ovens and baseboards a bit more often than I do. Oy….it’s confusing business being a human.

But then, I take a look at the headlines, take a step back and take another look.  One headline this morning on one of the major news sites is how runway models are embracing their unique looks and opting to forego “corrective” surgery that would “perfect” them.  Jewel and Barbra Streisand have both gone on record and said they had no intentions of correcting their “imperfections”.  I say, ‘Yes! Finally!’

Right next to this article is another story about a North Carolina restaurant that’s banning restless little ones.  Quite controversial, to say the least; still, most of the comments (and I think were close to seven hundred already today) say, “Nope….we don’t want screaming babies interrupting our night out”.  Their points are valid.  One woman said that she paid a babysitter $50, paid $100 for tickets to an art show and then had to bite her tongue because of a screaming and ill-behaved five year old who ruined the night not only for her, but for anyone else within earshot – all because this child’s parents didn’t hire their own babysitter for the evening.  The parents failed to insist the child behave, and instead, allowed him to run through the art gallery.  My first inclination was, “Kids are kids – you can’t keep them at home until they’re past the temper tantrum stage”.  And it’s true.  Ah…but here’s where it gets hokey.  Ill-behaved children in public are doing exactly what kids do: they’re being themselves, in all their frustrating, adorable and patience-testing ways.  It’s their parents who fail to take advantage of the many teaching opportunities their kids are providing.  Since when did discipline become the social no-no?  This has nothing to do with whether spanking a child is acceptable or not (don’t even get me started on that one); rather, it has to do with parents who refuse to step outside their selfish circles and taking their little ones aside until a.) they’ve calmed down, b.) Mom’s put the fear of God in them (or as my grandma used to say: “It’s time for a come to Jesus meeting”) or c.) Mom and Dad call it an early evening because little Billy refuses to behave.  They don’t want to damage their psyches.  Please!  They’re not old enough to have psyches yet!  They are, however, old enough to be taught what’s acceptable and unacceptable for public behavior.  Want your kids to “be kids”?  Wonderful! Just be sure those around you aren’t punished for your bad choices.   Oh – and by the way – want to see what undisciplined children become?  Read my post last week on Paris and Lindsay.

Before I go back to my stressing over whether or not I have hoarding or perfection tendencies, I’m getting ready to do a series of reports on child beauty pageants.  Here’s the deal:  If you participated in pageants as a child or if you’re a parent of a child – either current or former – and have something to say on what’s sometimes called “kiddie pageants”, I want to hear from you.  I want to know how you feel about it now, especially if you’re a teen or an adult and participated in beauty pageants as a small child.  Ideally, I’ll get a nice mix of those who support it and those who now wonder if it was worth it. I’d also like to hear your story and opinions on the various reality shows on TV now – exploits or an open door for dreams to come true?  Drop me a line at donna@donna-mcgill.com.