Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Back To School Night

I enjoy waking up in the morning, walking Katie to school, and returning home to write until it's time to go to work at the library.  I generally sit at my laptop with a cup of coffee, scanning the news headlines to see what's going on in the world before it's time to tune it out and enter the inner recesses of my brain.  Some days the news distracts me from my writing projects.  Some days it gets me fired up and ready to rant on my blog.  Today is one of those days.

Stories like this one about the Republican National Convention attendees who pelted a CNN camerawoman with nuts and made a sick joke about feeding the animals ruin my good mood from last night.

I'd had such a wonderful time at Katie's back to school night.  Seeing my Midwestern suburban community turn into a diverse and more cosmopolitan town excites me.  As I looked around at Katie's classmates' moms and dads, I noticed we all represent a full spectrum of shades and hair textures.  And there's not just racial diversity but other subcultures are more thoroughly represented by parents today than when I went to school.  Harley Davidson Dad and Biker Bitch Mom, Metalhead Dad and Smartly Dressed Black Yuppie Mom, Mom Who Still Wears Mall Bangs and Mom In The NASCAR Shirt And Mickey Mouse Socks, Biracial Brown Skinned Mom Who Showed Up Looking Like She'd Just Walked Here From a Phish Show In Her Twirly Skirt.  Sadly, I did not wear my twirly skirt.  I had worked at the library that day so I showed up wearing my grey slacks, navy polo shirt, and brown Keen sandals.  Will represented our family's underground side better by letting his freak flag fly, his beautiful, long, dark-blond hair, normally worn tucked up in his hat, hanging down below his shoulder blades.  And also by his wearing a wrinkled, faded Edward Scissorhands tshirt with cargo shorts and his Reef flip flops.  Katie favored both our styles by wearing a business casual brown jacket atop a long, pink rose covered boho skirt and her black high heeled boots, all hand-me-downs.  Her hair was messy like mine, yet shiny and flattering like her Dad's.

Despite the varying senses of style, I noticed too that there were way more dads at Katie's back to school night than when I went to school.  And with marriage rates way down, I bet many of the couples who showed up for their kids that night did so in separate vehicles, carrying around mutual grievances that were shoved to the back of their trunks for the night for the sake of their kids.  Good for them.

I had all-around good feelings about this bunch of parents.  It helped when Katie's teacher ended her speech about the expectations and organization of the school year with this statement:

"Before you leave, I just want you to know how much, already in our short time together, I'm really enjoying all of your kids.  They each have such great personalities and I'm really looking forward to working with them this year."

It's nice to hear our children are objectively likable, that our fond feelings for them are not clouded by our blood relationships.

I like her teacher.  But I'm also impressed with what's happened to the school district.  When I went to school in this same district thirty years ago, if my parents had bothered to go to back to school night, which they often didn't, as many of my friends' parents did not, they would not have noticed the same things.  I was the first kid to show up at my junior high with blue hair.  My cosmetic statement was not warmly received in the conservative, mid-Eighties, suburban Midwest.  But decades have changed the hood.  Needless to say, there were no moms in my class on back to school night sporting pink streaks in their black Betty Page bangs like the mom in Katie's class last night did.

Parents didn't just look more traditional when I was a kid.  They held more traditional views of parenting.  Many social conservatives today speak fondly of traditional family values, but they don't mention those of us who grew up in traditional homes and are subsequently doing what we can to encourage more enlightened forms of parenting.  When I think of traditional family values, I picture Mom doing the dishes, me doing my homework, and Dad watching TV.

My mom might have come to back to school night but Dad emphatically refused.  Once, when I was in seventh grade and we had just moved, yet again, to a new school district, the one Katie is in now, I asked my parents if they wanted to come to back to school night.  We were at the dinner table.  My father didn't bother to finish chewing before he answered, bits of soggy cornbread spewing from his mouth as he assured me that the only thing he intended on doing after dinner was sitting in his chair and watching TV.

"I'm too damn old to be your father," Dad said, ending with a snortty sort of laugh.  As if punctuating such meanness with that sound coming from his mouth would subtract a few points from his asshole scorecard I kept in my back pocket until I finally got kicked out of the house when I was eighteen.

The parents at Katie's back to school night, of varying degrees of wrinkles and baldness indicating some are even older than I, and some of them so fresh cheeked looking I could easily be their mother, all seemed glad to be there.  The room was full.  I didn't even catch anyone checking their phone during the teacher's talk.  Do we have some sort of special community, or do these types of stories just not elicit the same sensationalistic response as reports of racism at big fancy political brouhahas do and therefore they do not attract the same amount of attention?

When I read news stories like the one about the racist, ignorant people booted out of the RNC, I worry about the state of humanity.  Why have the progressive values so many activists have been fighting for over  forty years--my lifetime--been ignored by so many people?  When I read the news I sometimes feel like going back to bed.  Why bother working for peace and social justice if people will continue hating each other and fearing more integration?

But not at Katie's school.  I'm here to report it.

Are my glasses just too rose colored for me to see clashes in my own community?  Do I just want to live in a peaceful community so much I make it so?  As Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world".  Am I being the change or just daydreaming the change?  

As Katie showed us around her classroom, I couldn't help but smile.  I love looking at all the kids' art projects.  They took plain white paper plates and wrote their names on one side.  On the other side they colored faces of various shades and cut and pasted paper strands of hair, from yellow to brown to black, onto the edges of the plates to create these masterpieces of self-portraiture.  These heads were then hole-punched and hung in front of the window, the setting sun softly shining upon them.

The children in Katie's class are evidently not just learning about themselves but bovine culture as well.  On one wall was pasted a bunch of decorated cows, again, each with a child's name printed on it.  Katie lead us to hers.  Will and I looked at it, looked at the other cows, looked at each other, and smiled.

"Why does yours have a heart on it?" I asked Katie while still smiling at Will.

"Because I drawed it on there."  Katie explained, like "duh".

"But why did you draw a heart on the cow's chest?"  I prodded my calf.

"Because that's where the cow's heart would be, Mommy."


It's easy to not worry about humanity's future at Back to School Night.  We should invite those people kicked out of the RNC to Katie's school for some education in the awesomeness of loving all living beings.