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Thursday, May 26, 2016

I Hope You Dance

Still blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

            This week is a make up/free week.  I was going to make up a post I missed a few weeks ago, but something else is weighing on my mind.  So, I’m going to write about that, instead.

            I’ve mentioned before that my 12 has autism.  Most of you know that we haven’t been super lucky getting help (known as “services”) from the two school districts with which we’ve been involved since her diagnosis at age 9.  We fought our last school district for a year and a half to even get her an IEP (her own educational plan, including services like time with a social worker, math help, etc.).  Our first year in Tennessee was much better; they transferred the IEP and gave Grace more services than she needed.

            This year?  Did not go so well.
            About six weeks ago, I realized they were not giving Grace her math services.  I started asking questions of her math resource teacher (and her homeroom teacher) and got some really unbelievable answers.  Answers like, “I don’t take attendance,” and “It’s her fault for not showing up.”  Stuff like that.  I saw the writing on the wall and started calling educational advocates.  A law school friend told me to contact the Federally funded disability advocacy/watchdog group for Tennessee.  Sadly, they took our case.  I say “sadly” because this means my daughter really was getting shortchanged and we really had a problem. 

            This past Tuesday, we had a meeting with the resource teacher and some other school officials about the missed time.  To say they were unwelcoming would be a great understatement.  Try unreasonable.  Try defensive.  Better yet, try nasty.  Try hostile.  Try “how dare you challenge us.”  Try try try.  And then bite holes in your tongue as you maintain your civility while they do not.

            Here’s where I want you to close your eyes and pretend you were there with my husband and me.  Listen to your child’s resource teacher call your child a liar.  Listen to her blame your child (the one who is 12, the one who has autism) for the resource teacher’s own mistakes.  Listen to her voice fill with mild disgust as she makes a comment under her breath about the number of last names in your blended family.  Even worse yet, listen to your child’s homeroom teacher – the one your child loves so much, she wanted to buy him two end-of-year-gifts; the one you met with repeatedly during the year; the one you helped out in class on the day he taught the kids about arguing the other side of something – deny the contents of a conversation you had with him about missed services.  Feel your heart break.  And then feel it absolutely shatter when you have to tell your daughter about the meeting and she specifically asks you if her teacher backed her up.  Tell me how you feel. 

            I will tell you how I felt.  I felt drained.  Defeated.  Unbelievably sad.

            Now imagine the next day, when you receive a phone call from the head of special education for the district, and he tells you that they are going to give your daughter some math assistance over the summer to make up for what was missed.  How do you think you would feel?

            You all know I am an attorney.  I have won “cases” before.  I once won an outright reversal on an appeal; that happens in very few cases.  I’ve been on teams that earned NGs in a jury trial (“not guilty” – also rare).  Those victories were sweet.  We celebrated.  We felt good.

            This victory?  Felt incredibly hollow.  At no point did it feel like a “win,” even though in a sense it was, as it was adversarial, it was us against the school district.  Yes, we got what we wanted, without even filing an administrative complaint (the next step).  I felt relief, felt glad we would not have to engage in a protracted battle.  But I did not feel victorious. 

            Now I want you to imagine later that day.  Your daughter – the one who needs the extra assistance – is graduating from the school.  You spend an hour and a half in the gymnasium staring at the principal (who was cc’d on all the emails with the resource teacher and never once stepped up to help), staring at his assistant (who was downright nasty during the meeting), staring at the homeroom teacher (who had just betrayed not only your trust, but that of your child).  Put your hand over your mouth to stop yourself from laughing aloud when the guest speaker (the one who used to teach at the school but left to become a realtor) talks about the importance of taking ownership of your actions, of apologizing when you make a mistake.  Take those feelings and mix them with your feelings about watching your daughter graduate, the same ones every parent has, plus the extra ones you have because she has had a higher mountain to climb.  Feel the lump in your throat.  Because there was one in mine.

            Listen, now, as they give out achievement awards.  Realize as they announce the awards that, at the most, your child could possibly qualify for one – Most Improved.  Know that she will not win that award, because she did not improve.  Know that because of her challenges, she will never win the Academic Award (because her math grade will always pull her down) or the Citizenship Award (because her social skill struggles will always make her seem aloof and sometimes even unfriendly).  Try to imagine an award she could earn and hope to God or the Universe that someday, she will at least have the chance.

            Now, watch the video someone put together showing highlights of their last year of school.  See snippets of your child here and there, in the classroom, on a field trip.  See even more photos of that one group of girls who are always together – the group your child was never part of because of that social skills thing, even though you know she tried.  And while you’re at it, try to tune out the song playing with the video, I Hope You Dance, because it always, always makes you cry.  Because your daughter always chooses to sit it out while the other girls always choose to dance. 

            Push down all those feelings and head out of the gym.  Ask your daughter if she wants a photo with her homeroom teacher.  Watch her struggle, because she really does but she also really doesn’t.  Tell her that she might regret not taking one, because someday the positive memories might actually outweigh the negative.  Say that to her even though the last thing you want to do is look at her teacher, because you know you cannot speak your heart, not now. 

            Take the photo, anyway.

            Go home and try to wrap your mind around the past few days.  And then remember what the guest speaker said, not the part that made you laugh, the other part.  The part about gratitude, about being thankful and grateful for what you have.  Remember that your child is not winning an Achievement Award, but she is verbal and able to attend a Gen Ed school.  Remember that she has to work harder and you have to work harder, but that you have the love and support of family and good friends and a kind advocate from the Federally funded advocacy organization to hold you up and carry you through.  Remember that you are sitting in an elementary school gymnasium, and not in a cancer hospital. 

            Remember, then, that you have won, no matter how much it feels like you haven’t.
            Remember . . . and then close your eyes and hope that someday, your daughter chooses to dance.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Kind of Magic

Still blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

            This week, I chose the topic, and I asked everyone to write about either a physical or personality trait you find attractive in other people. 

            I came to this subject in a bit of a round about way.  Lately, I have been on a major Queen kick (the band, not the woman).  I’ve been listening to their music and watching documentaries and videos.  In my indulgence, I stumbled onto the video of a live show put on by the band’s drummer, Roger Taylor, several years ago, in his barn.  He’d put together his own band, made up of men many decades younger than he, and performed a mix of Queen songs and his solo work.  He broadcast it across the world (I cannot recall what year, but Google “Roger Taylor cyberbarn” and you will find it easily – I’ve included the link here to save you some time).

            I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for ol’ Roger, even in this video, where he’s nearing 50 and little resembles the almost pretty young man he was back in the day.  I like his voice – it reminds me of Rod Stewart – and I really like his percussion work.  And, so, I watched.  Roger alternated between playing the drums and singing and just singing at the front of the stage.  Towards the end of the 45-minute set, Roger was at the microphone, leaving the drumming to his young backup partner.  And then, quite quickly, he did this thing where he counted up on his fingers and moved his hand, signaling the band to make the switch to the next verse. 

            I was really impressed with that moment, and it didn’t take long for me to realize why.  What I saw there was a combination of the most attractive traits I find in other people.  In moving his hand that way, Roger showed that he was both confident and competent.  He owned that stage; he commanded that band.  And he did so with the fluidity and confidence borne of an uber successful career that has now spanned four decades.  I doubt he even thought about the move when he made it, so second nature did it seem. 

            In just a simple, literal, flick of his wrist, Roger Taylor showed that he knows exactly what he is doing, and that he knows that he knows.  In that flick of his wrist, he showed all of us, too.

            That competence and that confidence are extremely attractive to me.  As Fitzgerald penned in The Great Gatsby, Almost any exhibition of complete self sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.  Indeed, here is something so appealing about someone who knows what he is doing, who does it well, and who has no doubts as he attacks the task at hand.  Confidence and competence seem hard to come by; I don’t know too many people who exhibit these qualities on a regular basis.  But I do find that they tend to go together.  If someone is competent and he knows he is competent, he will feel confident.  That confidence will, indeed, show in the way he carries himself:  the way he speaks, the way he walks, even the way he gestures.  A flick of the wrist means much more coming from someone who is truly, truly good at what he does. 

            There are few times that I feel either competent or confident – and even fewer where I feel both.  The feeling arises slightly more often now that I am older and have “practiced” certain skills for a longer time.  For example, I would never call myself a great attorney, but I’ve come to see that at least as to certain legal skills – legal research and writing, for one – I am a competent attorney.  For that reason, I am confident when I do a research project or author a legal brief or memo.  But that feeling was a long time coming, more than a decade and a half.  And it doesn’t carry over to all legal skills, either.  Am I competent attorney?  Sure.  But you’re better off asking me to write a brief than to try an entire case alone.  Could I do it?  Perhaps. But I would not appear confident – because I question my own competence in that less-than-comfortable setting.

            Just this week, my kind friend Alex introduced me to someone via email.  In doing so, she described me as a skilled writer and competent attorney (among other complimentary language).  I wanted to tell the recipient, Hey, Alex is exaggerating!  More often than not, I question my own competency in most areas, and I do not feel that I exude confidence.  Hell, I’ve been a parent for two decades, and I still say I have no idea what I am doing.  I fake it, of course; can’t let the children see you sweat.  But inside, I feel the sinking doubt in my stomach while the second-guessing commences in my head. 

            I wonder whether I will ever achieve the competence and confidence of dear ol’ Roger, whether I will be able to stand before a huge audience of sorts and merely move my hand and know that I am in control, that the call I am making is the correct call, that I have got this.  I’d like to think so.  But, in the meantime, I’ll leave it to the masters:  the Roger Taylors and the Jon Bon Jovis and the other skilled professionals who have worked hard to hone their craft, to raise it to a true art form.  Gives me something to focus on besides their pretty faces. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Keep Your Nose Out of My Pants

Still blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

Merryland Girl chose this week, and she asked us to talk about the transgender bathroom controversy.

            Sigh.  I believe all of my Five Loyal Readers already know where I stand on this issue, given previous FB shares and memes and comments.  I’ve been so vocal, I almost don’t see the point in elaborating here, especially since, as I sit down to write this, I am filled with anger that this is even an issue.  However, it is, and I do have a lot to say, so I’ll sum up my perspective on this ridiculous “issue” in ten points:

            (1)  I do not give a single care about who is using the bathroom stall next to me.

            (2)  I would rather pee next to a transgendered person than a close-minded, uninformed bigot. 

            (3)  I have walked this Earth for many decades, and in that time I have used many, many bathrooms.  I’ve used bathrooms in some “edgier” places, like hole-in-the-wall clubs on Hollywood Boulevard and questionable truck stops across the U.S.  Statistically, it seems more than possible that in the many years I’ve been alive, I have used a bathroom alongside a transgendered person.  I have never ever, not once, not ever, been bothered by anyone in a bathroom (except with a request to share toilet paper). 

            (4)  I do not need any lawmakers to protect me in any public bathroom.  I can take care of myself, and I can take care of my daughters.  I do not appreciate being victimized in this way.  Ignorant lawmakers:  do not blame this on me or my gender.  Want to help us?  Make sure we earn equal wages for equal work.  Make insurance companies pay for our birth control.  And stop telling us what to do with our bodies.

            (5)  I know of zero convictions of transgendered people who sexually preyed upon women or children in a public restroom.  Zero.  To the contrary, most sexual crimes against children involve people the children know and trust.  This includes a subsection of the priests I regularly interacted with when I attended more than a decade of Catholic school (thankfully, none of the priests I encountered were ever implicated in this travesty).

            (6)  When I ask myself why, why, why anyone would fear a transgendered person using the restroom associated with the gender with which s/he identifies, I come up with only this:  there exists in our country a group of people who associate homosexuality and transgendered with depravity.  The logic is simple, really.  If someone is gay, s/he is a pervert.  A pervert will behave in a perverse way; i.e., s/he will go into a different sex bathroom just to inappropriately touch someone, especially a helpless child.  Because, clearly, gay and/or transgendered equals pedophile.  

            (7)  I have been fortunate enough to know a transgendered person.  We shall call her Jenny.  Jenny is an attorney.  She is divorced and the parent of one child.  When I met Jenny, she was in the process of transitioning from male to female.  To do so included many, many steps, some physical, many more emotional and interpersonal.  Jenny changed her name; she used to be David.  She told her ex-spouse about her plans, but even more daunting, she told her then teen-aged daughter.  (It did not go well, at least at first.)  She called all of her clients to tell them of her transition.  (She is fortunate; many of them remained clients.)  She began the physical transformation.  She started wearing clothes marketed for women.  She bought a water bra and began wearing that.  She had her teeth filed down (ever notice that men’s teeth are larger than those of women?) and her Adam’s apple shaved.  She experimented with make-up and chose some heels.  She started taking hormones and saving up for the surgery that would allow her “parts” to match the gender she had been, inside, her whole life. 

            Jenny told me that, even though the transition was emotionally difficult, it was never really a choice.  She could no longer live what had for so long felt like a lie, no matter the consequences.  I welcomed Jenny into my home; hell, she even used my bathroom, the same one used by my daughters.  And we lived to talk about it!

            (8)  This issue seriously angers me.  It also saddens and scares me.  Because underlying this drive is the same feeling that underlies racism and other forms of hatred:  fear.  People fear what they don’t understand.  It’s the true definition of ignorance.  But instead of learning, of getting to know someone like Jenny and to maybe even like her, these people channel their fear into hate.  And that hate leads to what we are seeing now:  movements to ban transgendered people from using the damn bathroom.  Much like back when the color of someone’s skin determined where s/he could sit on a bus, which bathroom s/he could use, which drinking fountain was available.  I truly see no difference. 

            I have worked hard to raise my children to be tolerant and understanding, to avoid the easy out of fear and to accept people as they are.  Perhaps being the mother of special kids has really brought this issue home; after all, there was a day not long ago that kids like mine were locked in insane asylums, their differences viewed as deficits, their actions misunderstood and thus feared.  Again, I see no difference as to the fear and ignorance here.

            (9)  I’m ashamed to say that my now-home state came close to passing a law forcing transgendered people to use the bathroom matching the sex listed on their birth certificate (how they would enforce this, I neither know nor want to know).  Progressive Nashville stepped in to save the day, with musicians and business owners and even the producers of the show Nashville warning that such a law might drive them away.  I am sorry it took economics to change the state’s mind (for now; the law was merely tabled).  I am also sorry that people have chosen to boycott Target for its position on this issue.  More stuff for me, I guess, as I have happily used my RedCard several times since the Target announcement.

            (10)  Let me end my rant with a story.  I know the attorney Jenny because she represented my ex in a child support dispute.  I hired my own attorney, an extremely kind and competent man named John.  Before the first hearing, I mentioned to John that Jenny was transgendered; I did so not to gossip, but to let him know Jenny’s previous name.  I spoke to John after the first hearing, to see how things went.  He laughed as he told me that he did not notice that Jenny was a transgendered person, that he completely forgot what I had told him until another attorney he knew pointed it out to him that day.  My point is this:  Jenny does not want to stand out.  She works hard to not stand out.  Jenny wants what we all want:  to be accepted for who she is -- a parent, an attorney, a friend, someone who was born in a body that did not quite match who she knew herself to be. 

            I would gladly share a bathroom with Jenny.  I would gladly allow my daughters to share a bathroom with Jenny.  And I wouldn’t even think twice about sharing a square.