Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Chewing Gum

I would really like to support my local school system. I know a lot of teachers who dedicate their lives to teaching our children and helping them grow as individuals. There are a few bad apples, but I try to teach my kids that we have to learn how to deal with frustrating people, so going to school provides an opportunity to practice that skill. I am also sure that there are school administrators out there somewhere who genuinely try to provide a good environment in which kids can learn. Unfortunately, I have not met any of those administrators in the Little Rock School District (LRSD). (Although there was one assistant principal who smiled and talked in a syrupy sweet voice as she wrote my child up and assigned in-school suspension for terroristic threatening because he had a battery in his backpack. I guess Mary Poppins taught her that trick.)

Today my fourteen-year-old, Eric, came home and told us that he had to go to detention tomorrow morning or he would be suspended. I was already having a stressful day, so I might have lost it just a little bit. Translation: I screamed, "What the...!?!?!?!?!", started crying, and mumbled something about chocolate and my failure as a parent.  After I calmed down a little bit, I learned that this threat was made by the assistant principal because Eric had not served a previously-assigned detention. Eric admitted that a teacher said she was going to write him up one day last week, but she never gave him the behavior document. When he asked her about it the next day, she told him she wasn't going to turn it in. He heard nothing more about until he was threatened with a 2-day suspension.  Oh yeah, the original offense that started all of this: chewing gum.

I believe Eric.  I believe him partly because he hasn't hidden detention assignments from us before. I also have heard other stories about this teacher's inconsistencies, and the chain of events Eric describes sounds plausible. I also know that LRSD loves to throw around big punishments for minor offenses while far too many of their graduates can't complete remedial coursework at the local community college.

We called the assistant principal responsible, but he was busy with an after school program and would have to call us back. I used the waiting time to scour the LRSD handbook and the Mann Middle School handbook. The two handbooks contradict each other (Surprise!), but the Mann handbook states that "In all cases, the LRSD Rights and Responsibilities handbook takes precedence over the Mann handbook," so I focused on the LRSD rules. According to the notice I received, Eric was being suspended for "Failure to D-Hall within the time frame" (I didn't know D-Hall was a verb. Did you?) "Failure to Serve Detention" is Rule 6 of the Category 1 offenses. However, the notice then explains that not D-Halling (Is that the right conjugation of this new verb?) is a violation of Category 1-Rule 2: "Failure or Refusal to Follow Reasonable Directives of School Staff and/or School Rules and Regulations".  Either way, according to the LRSD handbook, Category 1 offenses are not punishable by out-of-school suspension.  Even if they were, can he be guilty of not serving detention if he was never notified it had been assigned? 

By the time the assistant principal called back, I was armed and ready. I opened by explaining that we try to follow the rules, and we have made arrangements for Eric to serve detention in the past and punished him according to the severity of the crime at home.  I expressed my concern that my son was being suspended when he was never properly notified of the detention in the first place. Here's how the conversation went down:

Mr. L: "Well, chewing gum is an automatic D-Hall."

Me: "Really, what page of the handbook is that on?"

Mr. L: "Well, I don't know if it's in the handbook, but your son has been going to school here for three years. He knew he was chewing gum, so he knew he had detention."

Me: "Let me get this straight. You're saying that chewing gum is an automatic detention, so every student who chews gum should report for detention automatically; no behavior document is necessary."

Mr. L: "Well, no. But if he'll come to detention tomorrow, I'll forget about this whole thing."

Me: (Taking several deep breaths.) "I don't think you understand how this is going to work. Eric was not properly notified that he had detention. According to the Mann handbook, he has five days from notification to serve his detention. If you would like to notify him properly, we will make sure he shows up for D-Hall within five days, but I will not be bullied into dragging him in tomorrow. I will, however, be happy to show up first thing tomorrow morning to compare the contradicting LRSD and Mann handbooks and look at Eric's file to see if the paper trail of behavior documents corresponds to the escalation of discipline."

Mr. L: "Well, go ahead and count this as day one. He's got five days." (Eric will show up for D-Hall the day after tomorrow.)
We continued to talk about the contradictory handbooks, and his comments made it obvious that he hadn't read either one of them. I explained that I have another child who has two more years to go there, and I want to figure out what the real rules are so I can follow them. He told me I would have to talk to the principal about that.

Here's what really aggravates me about the whole thing: Used condoms litter the football field. Security guards religiously scan the kids' belongings for drugs. These students are being taught how to answer questions on the yearly standardized test, not how to think critically. But they are worried about suspending my child, in essence, for CHEWING GUM?!?!?!?!

Before we hung up I said, "I am very concerned. If chewing gum is such a problem that you need to set an automatic detention policy that is enforceable by suspension, it must be causing a lot of trouble. I know that teenage pregnancy and drug use are bothersome, but I think we should nip this chewing gum issue in the bud. I would like to personally set up a task force to deal with this problem." He told me I would have to talk to the principal about that, too.

I just might.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


We're stuck between two worlds, he and I. My sixteen-year-old son has one foot creeping into the land of being an adult and one still firmly planted in the world of being a kid. The former 8lb. 3 oz. bundle of my purpose in life is now an almost-man whose five o'clock shadow grazes me as he kisses my cheek and says, "Good night, Mommy." He discusses scripture with a soberness of mind and purity of heart that almost erases his age from my awareness--at least until the word "duty" wanders into the conversation, and he giggles, reminding me that he is not yet above laughing over a bathroom-related pun.

I, too, feel torn because as he ventures into his own life, separate from mine, I feel my own existence enlarged just by vicariously experiencing the territory he explores. At the same time, he begins to mark boundaries and move far enough away that I cannot--and I should not--go with him. As he does, I feel him take little pieces of me with him, pieces that I freely send so he will always remember what I have taught him, or at least what I hope I have taught him, but pieces of me are missing nonetheless.

Today I got a vision of what our future will be. The family piled into the car, and we drove to Arkadelphia for Alex to receive his patriarchal blessing. As his mother, I have spent every day with him trying to help him discover his God-given talents and his purpose in this life. Hearing what the Lord had to say on the matter confirmed some wonderful things I already suspected about this equally wonderful boy, but it also proved to me that I could never have imagined the kind of blessings Heavenly Father has planned for him--for any of us, for that matter. The blessing spoke of Alex's future as a missionary, a husband, a father, and simply as a man of God. As I imagined my son growing into his future, I felt him slip away just a little. Then when the blessing was over, he gave me a big hug, and I smiled. Later, I cried.

I have a feeling this pattern will become familiar in the coming years.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Power of Orange

Last fall I decided to completely clean out the front flower beds and start over. Only a burgundy daylily was spared, and I ran to Lowe's to find new flowers. We rented for several years after moving back to Arkansas, so I had forgotten how quickly the bill adds up when you want to fill a bed to overflowing with colorful blooms. As I calculated the damages in my head, I began to remember why it took me about five years to get the perfect combination of perennials and bulbs to create never-ending color in my Utah gardens. I finally settled on some spring bulbs, a few mums that had been marked down to 50 cents but that still looked salvageable, and a couple of flats of yellow pansies, which I hoped would gradually fill in the big dirt rectangle that I had so rashly cleared out.

I chose all yellow pansies for a couple of reasons. First of all, I am horrible at combining colors, so I decided sticking with one color was safe. I also have a side of me that craves order and symmetry and control, so imagining a blanket of orderly yellow flowers calmed that inner control freak.

Little did I know, however, that a rebel lurked in the dirt. When I first bought the pansies, only a few of them had blooms, so I just had to trust that they were all yellow.  But there was one--only one--who dared to be different, one who had the gumption to interrupt my wave of cheerful yellow with...ORANGE.

I know, I know...it sounds like I'm overreacting.  (Maybe I am, just a little bit.)  But you don't understand how I had worked so hard to have predictability in just one little part of my life only to have this silly plant stick its tongue out at me every time I walked out my front door. At first I thought it was a fluke, so I pinched off the blossom. After all, the buds looked just as yellow as the buds on the other pansies.  Pinching it back just made it grow more enthusiastically, and I swear each new bloom was more orange than the last. The botanical brat had spunk, that's for sure, and I started to grow fond of the little plant.  In fact, I started to identify with it.

You see, this pansy had leaves and stems and roots and blossoms just like all the others. It followed the laws of nature, but it followed them with style. It didn't care that the other pansies in the bed were all yellow; it was going to bloom its heart out with a vibrancy that expressed all its joy and happiness and desire to give and love and be. (I know that sounds like an awful lot of emotion to attribute to a single plant, but trust me, I've been hanging out with this flower for a few months now, and this is a spirited set of petals.) 

Sometimes I feel kind of like that pansy. Sure, I'm a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister--but I also don't bloom quite like everybody else. I have to admit, however, that I haven't reveled in my unique color palette the way my little pansy in the front yard has. For years, others would pinch back my blooms, trying to make me conform, and I put all my energy into trying to bloom yellow.  It left me feeling lifeless and lost and unlovable. Only in the past few years have I started to embrace my orange-ness.

I've learned to accept that I live life to the extreme. I overdose on something new until I'm sick of it. For example, I may turn my entire house upside down trying to make the perfect cake truffle...

Only to make so many flippin' truffles that I never want to see cake or dipping chocolate again.

And I've learned to accept that I'm a nerd and always will be. If I combine nerdiness with religion, I become somebody who could spend eight hours a day reading scriptures and still want to order out for pizza at day's end because I'm not done yet. All of this means that when I was asked to teach early morning seminary (and get up before the roosters to do so)...


I was ecstatic even though most of the people at church offered me their sympathy. Getting up at 4am makes me feel like I constantly get a two-for-one special. Each day is so long, it actually feels like two days rolled into one, and most of the time that turns out to be a good thing.

And maybe the craziest sounding way that I am blooming to my own palette right now involves my children. My boys are 16, 14, and almost 12. When most mothers are enjoying having offspring who can fully bathe, dress, and feed themselves, I am dreaming of having more babies. If I look at the situation logically, I understand why people think I ought to have my head examined, but it just feels right.  At least the steps we have taken so far to make that possible--getting my tubal ligation reversed--that feels right. And even going to Mexico to have that done, which made all the naysayers cluck their tongues and shake their heads, that felt right, too.

Dr. Diaz, Dr. Levi, and me the day after surgery

I have no idea what will happen next. I don't know if we will be blessed with another baby or if this was all a lesson in being willing to do what seems crazy.  All I know is the older I get, the more comfortable I am with blooming however I bloom, even if I don't match any of the other flowers around me. My little orange pansy obeys the laws of nature, and everything else is negotiable. As long as I follow the laws of heaven, I figure I can bloom the brightest orange my little petals can muster, and I will turn out just fine, too.