Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Mom, the Advocate

In honor of the 13th year of my mom's passing this week, this one's for her.

My mom and I didn't have a lot. She was blindsided by my dad's request for a divorce when I was 5ish, before I started kindergarten. Little did she know he'd actually disappear, leaving her to shoulder the burden of running a household and raising a child alone, with no assistance whatsoever. My childhood memories include a lot of staying at other people's houses, staying with my grandparents, wanting her to come to school events, when there really wasn't the time in the day, but she'd try her best to make the time.

One thing my mom was, far and away, was my advocate when I went to school. She trusted and respected my grade school teachers, but she didn't take their word as gold, and she always, without fail, stood up for me if she thought it was in my best interest.  I've tried to model my own dealings with my kids' teachers after hers. Yes, this meant being a "squeaky wheel" when administrators expected her to be quiet and do what they wanted. There was definitely a reason I was known BY NAME ON SIGHT by not only my teachers but the principal, the secretaries, just about everyone. My mom had a way of making people listen and follow her directions.

Probably the biggest throw down of my academic career I remember was when I was in 5th grade. I was in the only split class, which meant a class of 4th graders with only six 5th graders in the room. There was some selling competition, I think candy, but maybe I'm wrong. What I do remember is the other two 5th grade classes were getting to go to Great America with their proceeds. The six 5th graders in the split class had to go to some play with the 4th graders. My bffs then were in the other 5th grade classes, of course. My mom, when she found the arrangements out very early on, asked the teacher if we six girls couldn't go with the other 5th grader classes instead of the 4th grade trip. She was told no. She asked the principal if there couldn't be an exception made. She was told no. She devised a plan.

My mom volunteered to be one of the three parents to chaperone the 4th grade trip. She then told me she was taking me out of school the day of the Great America trip, and we would go be with the other classes on our own. I had the BEST day, hanging with my friends, going on rides, generally having a blast. While I hadn't told anyone, someone, somewhere must have squealed like a pig, because when I returned to school the next day, the teacher, in open class, asked where I had been the previous day. I told her I was absent. She again asked me where I had been. Since I'm my mother's daughter, I asked why she hadn't asked the two other people who had been absent where THEY were yesterday. She replied that she KNEW where I was, with a smug smile on her face. I then asked, if she knew where I was, why was she wasting class time with questioning me. Yes, I was newly turned 11 during this exchange, and she persisted in doing it in open class, thinking I'd back down. Had she MET me?

It was at this point she sent me to the principal's office because I was misbehaving. I think it was probably so she wouldn't flat out smack me, as I'm sure she had the desire to. I walked into the principal's office with my slip of paper saying I'd misbehaved, first time ever, and the secretary did a double take. I insisted she call my mom. She actually did. A short conversation ensued, after which my mom asked to speak to the secretary. I learned later my mom told the secretary to make sure the principal didn't go anywhere, to get that woman who is my daughter's teacher down to his office, and we were having a meeting once she arrived from work. The secretary started to brush her off, and my mother told her not to make her repeat herself. They had a meeting, alright.

My mom, I could tell, had been working on her piece on the way over. She told them she had tried to go the nice route, but people were snotty and rigid, so she made a decision about her own child that didn't affect anything, because I'd done all my homework, there were no tests that day, and truly, I'd been teaching myself with this split class nonsense where the teacher came in and checked with us less than an hour a day. She tossed around words like "prerogative", phrases like "parental vs. educator influence" and then the magic one "school superintendent". See, in 1st grade, the superintendent had been our principal, and my mom had gone to bat for me over something else--maybe I'll tell that one tomorrow--and he told my mom after it was all settled he respected the heck out of her involvement for the sake of her kid, and when he was moving into his new position told her if she ever needed anything, give him a call.

Everyone was sent to their neutral corners, but not before my mom told my teacher that if she heard one syllable about her treating me in a mean or different way, she'd be back. And she was, because she'd been one of the three parents to volunteer for the other trip the following week. If my teacher's eyes were lasers, my mom would have been a pile of ash in the first five minutes, but they weren't, and the day went along as planned.

I have yet to have need for such a throw down over my kids, and I hope the day never comes. But there are those times when I've had to remind some teachers and administrators that they need to relax a bit, the kids aren't leaving 3rd grade and heading for Harvard, and I've also had to remind them that my kids are individuals, and I won't do anything to quash that, even if it would make class time easier for them. I do know, though, deep inside, I've got the ability and the genetics to Mama Bear out if the need should arise.

No comments:

Post a Comment