Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A pretty good lesson

Some new fancy arts-focused private school is opening up near us next year. My immediate reaction when I read the news was, hmm wouldn't it be cool if Katie got to go to an arts-focused school. For shits and grins I checked to see how much the tuition at this new school is. $10,000 per year. Katie will be in sixth grade next year, so if we enrolled her in this private school through high school we would have spent $70,000 BEFORE she'd head off to college, where, more and more, I hear you can barely get a degree without going about that much into debt.

It pisses me off that kids with wealthy parents get to attend whatever school best suits them, while those of us who live paycheck to paycheck pretty much have two options: our neighborhood public school or homeschooling. I don't have the personality to homeschool well. I'm not good with routines and plans and anything higher than fifth-grade math. I like variety. I like new ideas. I like librarianship. I like kids. I like singing storytime songs with preschoolers. I try to sing with my fifth-grader. I'm lucky if she rolls her eyes at me. It means she's looked up from the screen long enough to acknowledge my presence.

Plus, I like the idea of public school. You're guessing I'm a fan of public school because I myself went to public school? People tend to gravitate toward the known even when the unknown might be better. But I had a shitty public school education. I'm not blaming it entirely on the school. I was at the worst point in my life, emotionally-speaking, and my teachers and parents just did not understand me. I could have benefited from twice-weekly therapy sessions with a wise, trusted Judd Hirsch-type shrink. Instead, I sat on the sofa under covers, sick day from school, watching "Ordinary People" for the hundredth time. I've seen a handful or two of therapists a dozen or so times from the time I was diagnosed with anorexia at age eleven until the last one I saw after my brother died five years ago. I stuck with none of them longer than a month or two, tops. Again, I'm bad at math. What it adds up to is this: my high school experience could have been better had I not tried to deal with my PTSD by drinking bottles of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill with my equally self-destructive misfit friends and, instead, had I gotten professional help for my mental illness.

Anyhoo, I try not to let my past ruin Katie's future. Just because I had a miserable experience in public school doesn't mean she has to. So we're giving it a try, public school. I like the idea of staying where you are and making your surroundings better just by being there, doing your little bit. Instead of paying a private school ten thousand dollars for my one kid, I'd rather send that money to public schools so the entire community of kids has the opportunity to flourish.

And I get it. I want what's best for my kid. I want my kid to grow up healthy and strong and empathetic. A critical thinker. I want her to be a good citizen. A good spouse. A good parent. Someone who makes this world better just by her being in it, doing her little bit. I want her to be curious about the world and question the hard questions and focus on the details that matter and find herself by losing herself in creative expression. I want an education for my child that best suits her. I wish I'd had that kind of education. But I didn't. So I want it for my child.

Instead of a great education, I had the library. One good thing my parents did was take me to the public library at least once a month, often more. My mom and dad both read. Mostly mysteries and entertaining reads. I like the heavier stuff. More emotional. More philosophical. More suited to me. I read self-help books by wise women such as Harriet Lerner and Linda Bacon. I read fiction about dysfunctional families by amazing healers and creative thinkers such as Alice Walker, Anne Tyler, and Alison Bechdel. I've muddled through. I take medication. I treat my body well. I do what I'm passionate about. I worry less about what others think of me and more about how I can leave this place in better shape than I found it.

But I can't afford to send my kid to the best schools, tailored to suit her best. So we make do with what we have.

I bring her home library books. Will teaches her sciencey and life skills lessons just in their day-to-day interactions. We give her lots of time to explore her own interests. We listen to her. We laugh with her. We send her off to public school where she has her good days and her not so good days and we hope for the best.

Last night Katie and I went to the public school board meeting to show our support for the speakers addressing the superintendent and board members about the safety pin issue. It was a great education. As we left, Katie said, "It's nice to see so many adults sticking up for us kids, trying to make our schools the best they can be."

Several times during the board meeting the speakers said, "our children are watching" and when they would say this Katie would raise her hand and shake her head yes.

"I'm glad you got to witness it. We can do that anytime you like. If you ever want to talk to the leaders about ideas you have for ways to improve the schools, we can always go to the board meetings and you can talk to them, or I can talk to them for you if you'd like," I said.

"Thanks, Mom," Katie said. "Mom, you know what I like about my school? I know that the Blue Valley schools have more money and stuff. So they can have gifted teachers in every school. Instead of having to bus their gifted kids to one school that has the gifted teachers like they do with me. But you know what? Us gifted kids have to come up with ideas for ways to improve things with what we've got. And that's a pretty good lesson," my wise fifth-grader said.

I think her public education is working out just fine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

An open letter to the Shawnee Mission School District regarding safety pins in the classroom

I am the parent of a student in the Shawnee Mission School District, a taxpayer, and a PTA member. Our daughter is in the Enhanced Learning program, Y Club, and choir. My family has been active, attending and making treats for most class parties and participating in after-school programs. I volunteered every Friday morning for Ms. Sharp's kindergarten class as the Reading Helper. I've been a parent helper on numerous field trips. Our daughter is in fifth grade and has attended the same school since kindergarten: Apache Innovative School.

My husband attended Comanche Elementary, Westridge Middle School, and Shawnee Mission West High School where he sang with the Madrigals and won numerous awards. I attended Milburn Junior High and Shawnee Mission North High School. Needless to say, we are proud Shawnee Mission School District alumni and parents. Many of our friends have moved south so their kids can attend the better-funded Blue Valley School District, but we have chosen to stick it out with SMSD. For the most part, we are happy with that decision.

I have a concern about something I read in The Shawnee Mission Post regarding the ban from teachers wearing safety pins: http://shawneemissionpost.com/2016/11/22/shawnee-mission-move-to-ban-teachers-from-wearing-safety-pins-after-election-causes-swift-backlash-among-parents-57992

I wholeheartedly agree with district parent Jennifer Howerton's statement:

“It’s a statement that the wearer will stand up against anyone who uses the election as a validation of their white supremacist, or misogynistic, or racist, or homophobic feelings and acts upon them,” Howerton said. “The wearer is a safe person (hence safety pin) who can be relied upon to help. The district clearly lacks willingness to understand this gesture. This is a slippery slope, where uninformed parents can complain to the district, and the district makes a decision not based on facts.”

There are many great things about educating our gifted child in the Shawnee Mission School District. We could homeschool her, or send her to private school, but I think it's important for our child to learn how to get along in a world full of different people. I am a librarian, so I could easily bring books and videos home for our child to consume, but sending our child to public school gives her a broader education. She learns from teachers with multiple viewpoints and interacts with a wide array of people whose experiences enrich her life. One of the things I like so much about her school is the diversity of our daughter's peers. Our daughter is white, middle class, and Presbyterian. She has friends who are biracial, Latino, African-American, and Asian. Some come from families that are more lower class than our family, some more upper class. Some are mainline Christian, evangelical Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and some are irreligious. All of them are kids I have grown to love as my own, many since they were little five year olds reading to me in Ms. Sharp's kindergarten class.

I am concerned that as our children grow they will begin to feel lost, misunderstood, and alone. Especially kids who come from historically marginalized groups. Our electoral college will vote for Donald Trump--a man who is on record bullying the disabled, Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, people in the LGBTQ community, and women--to be the President of this great nation. I am a sexual assault survivor. I live with PTSD, and the election of a man who brags about grabbing women by their genitals triggers my anxiety in ways only others who have experienced sexual assault can fully comprehend. If I were still a student in the Shawnee Mission School District, I would find comfort in the subtle sign of safety that is a teacher or custodian or principal wearing a safety pin. I would feel like I could trust them. I would feel like my experiences and concerns about the world are valid and understood. 

The purpose of a great public school education is to raise citizens who think critically and who are ready to get to work to make our community the best it can be. I encourage you to rethink the decision to ban educators from wearing a simple safety pin. Our children, all of our children, deserve to feel safe at school.

Becky Carleton 

Voice your opinion at the next board meeting:

Board of education meetings
fourth Monday of every month at 7 p.m.
next meeting: Monday, November 28 at 7pm

McEachen Administrative Center board rooms
7235 Antioch Road
Shawnee Mission, KS 66204
(913) 993-6200

"The board values maintaining communication with all constituents. The public is urged to contact board members..."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Do I live in a bubble?

Take this quiz before you read further. It's pretty fascinating. It's called Do you live in a bubble? A quiz

Bubbles have been on the brain ever since Trump won the Presidential election in one of the biggest political upsets in history.

According to this quiz, which was published by PBS, I live in an upper-middle class bubble. At first I wanted to argue that no I don't--I'm just middle class, just two generations off the farm--but the fact that I even took a PBS quiz in the first place makes that argument pretty pitiful.

My quiz results: "A first-generation upper-middle-class person with middle-class parents."

Honestly I thought I'm more second-generation middle-class. I just happen to be a big honkin nerd who prefers to read and geek out on the internet over watching TV and mainstream movies. Less classy, more nerdy. I'm a paraprofessional librarian. No MLS for me. Just a love of lifelong learning and a passion for institutions that help educate and enrich people's lives.

Which is harder than you'd think. It challenging to help ALL SORTS of people. Rich and poor. Black and brown and golden and peachy. Pissed off and joyful. Readers and video gamers. Often the same person. You just never know who the person is that's going to ask the next question and you have to be prepared to help them if they're a business man in a suit or a two year old with a booger in his nose.

Once a patron called Telephone Reference and asked something about The Big Bang Theory, meaning the TV show, which I had never heard of, and so my answer had to do with The Big Bang Theory, meaning the origin of the universe, which he had never heard of. We were both so confused! Two bubbles collided on that day.

But the more I think about it, maybe I am upper-middle class. I do loathe Walmart. I tolerate Target, but my favorite place to buy my clothes is this thrift shop near an affluent neighborhood. Rich folks donate the best stuff. I've found some amazing pieces from Talbots and Lands' End there at a price that doesn't break my frugal librarian budget. When I'm desperate I do buy from Lands' End online--if it's on sale. It's like, I don't have the money to be "upper-middle" but I have the taste of someone in that category. And I don't mean to put positive connotations on the word "taste". Taste schmaste. I wholeheartedly believe people should ignore fashion trends and what society says is proper attire and wear what they love because they feel great in it.
"Refuse to wear uncomfortable pants, even if they make you look really thin. Promise me you’ll never wear pants that bind or tug or hurt, pants that have an opinion about how much you’ve just eaten. The pants may be lying! There is way too much lying and scolding going on politically right now without your pants getting in on the act, too." --Anne Lamott
From what I've been reading the main difference between lower-middle class and upper-middle class is education level. I am not the most well-educated person if what you consider to be well-educated is a college degree. But I've always been a big reader, a deep thinker, and a person who questions authority. An autodidact with an attitude.

I have an associate's degree from the community college. Between that, my hard work and experience I landed my cushy children's librarian gig. I am incredibly lucky to have worked for the same public library for 23 years--virtually my entire adult life. But because I don't have a bachelor's degree, let alone a master's degree, if I lost my awesome job it would be difficult to find another one as good and as decently paying as the one I have now. I can't just pick up and move to San Francisco on a whim, so here I am, living with my man in Kansas.

I married a man from a lower-middle class family. He didn't go to college (even though he's one of the most intelligent people I know) but his brother did. His mom drives a forklift and his dad is a retired manager of a pizza chain. (I knew who Jimmie Johnson is because my father-in law is a huge NASCAR fan.) My husband has an open-mind, a quick wit, and he's deeply curious about the universe and all that makes it tick. He reads, but not textbooks. Mostly Fantasy and Science Fiction, but occasionally a nonfiction book about a man who escapes a detention center in North Korea. He watches things like Parks and Rec and Metalocalypse on TV in his free time when he's not fixing our dishwasher or retiling the roof. He's a renaissance man. I dig him a lot.

I have a funny family history, class wise. A big mix of lower-and-upper-middle class. My maternal great-grandfather was a doctor (a chiropractor) who loved Victor Hugo so much he named one of his daughters Jean Valjean, only they pronounced it Jeen Valjeen. My maternal great-grandmother was a stay at home mom who lived in the country and baked the best lemon meringue pie according to my mom. My maternal grandfather was a plumber who read, both fiction and nonfiction, incessantly. He probably would have gotten his PhD had he not been orphaned at age 11 and kicked out of school after eighth grade because he couldn't afford the textbooks. My grandmother was a stay at home mom until her kids left home and then she owned a beauty salon. My mom was a stay at home mom until she divorced her first husband (a salesman) and married my dad (an office manager/accountant) who got laid off in the seventies and so my mom went back to work as a dental assistant, a sales clerk at Wards, and later as a bookkeeper for a dental company. No one in my family, except for my great-grandfather and one of my five siblings has had a college education. Well, and me, with my little ole two year degree that took me eleven years to get around to finishing.

My dad's side of the family is much more cut and dried. My dad is a first-generation middle class man from a working class family. His dad grew up on a farm, the oldest of 10 kids, and he moved to the city (St. Joseph, MO) to work in the slaughterhouse. His wife, my grandmother, grew up on literally the farm next door to my grandfather. She was the oldest of twelve and she moved to the city with her husband and one-year old son, my dad. She was a stay-at-home mom, but their family struggled to pay their bills, especially since my grandfather struggled with alcoholism.

My dad got drafted into the army, and when he got out he used the GI Bill to pay for an accounting certificate from a local business college and went to work for a truck line. After twenty years, he was the office manager and made $20,000 in 1970, enough to support his first wife and daughter, his second wife and kids, and have enough to buy himself a bitchin Camaro when his mid-life crisis kicked in. Then he got laid off and my mom had to work to make enough money for us to afford our mortgage payment. I think deep down my dad felt ashamed. Men of that generation took far too much pride in their occupations and not enough in being a kind, decent man.

I married a guy who makes less money than I do, but he does way more housework and upkeep on the house. We split child-rearing about fifty-fifty. Maybe sixty-forty, but only because I'm a tiny bit more of a helicopter parent than he is.

So, what class am I?

My favorite restaurant is Cafe Sebastienne. It's local, and located inside the Kemper Contemporary Museum of Art. Definitely upper-middle.

My second favorite restaurant is Elsa's Ethiopian restaurant. Also local.  Located in an up-and-coming mixed-use, affluent neighborhood. More upper-middle.

But the first time I ever got a pedicure was a month ago when I had to take my eighty-nine year old dad in to get his nasty ass diabetic tough as NAILS toenails trimmed and I thought what the heck, why not. Plus, Dad paid. Frugal!

I get my hair cut about once a year at Great Clips. Definitely lower-middle.

I shop at thrift stores (lower) but I buy Talbot's and Lands' End (upper).

I read incessantly and stay well informed of current events. I hate watching TV. It bores me to tears. Unless it's Futurama or Portlandia or Bob's Burgers (upper, upper, and more upper.)

I want my kid to go to college because I think she'll love learning ALL THE THINGS, not because I want her to train for some high-wage job. I'd rather she be broke and work with Doctors' Beyond Borders than get a business degree and make a living by making a profit off of other people.

I love art, and philosophy, and political science. I hate shopping, and beef, and reality TV. But I also don't mind hanging out with smokers and drinkers and people who place more value in authenticity than wallet size. I don't think that having a college degree means you are necessarily smarter than someone who lacks a college degree. When my blinds broke I didn't hire someone to replace them. I hung blankets over the windows and appreciated the light streaming through the colorful fabric.

I'm a blend. I'm more than a label. I'm a mixture. I'm me.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Swept under the rug

This is why I'm still grieving. It feels like the issue of sexual assault has been swept under the rug, just as I was getting excited to see so many women speak out about their abuse. I'm afraid survivors will stop speaking out for fear that no one will believe them, or worse, nobody cares. From the article:
"For many women, the presidential campaign had an emotional dynamic that was more immediate and uglier. One in six American women has been sexually assaulted...In day-after interviews, women who voted for him said they didnt believe his accusers or weren’t bothered enough by his sexist remarks to vote for Hillary."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Feelings are substantive

"You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."
I've been uber chatty online this week. Under normal circumstances I'm an opinionated badass activist, so I'm prone to many social media posts per day. Sharing my feelings and thoughts on important issues is the most therapeutic way I've found to stave off the panic attacks and depression I've lived with since I was a child.

The election of a man who brags about grabbing women by the pussies has upped my anxiety and depression, and therefore increased my social media rants. To the dismay of one of my closest family members, who sent me this message:

" Status updates. I had 34 from you today.  I quit reading the last twenty for now. All they said was how you felt.  Sorry to be so mean but I'm doing less Facebook now.  I do read your substance ones."

This is my response.

Feelings are substantive. I have learned as a sexual abuse survivor that when I share my feelings with others I feel less alone. I've had so many people I've lost count reach out to me and tell me how the feelings I share on social media have helped them feel less alone. I will not let anyone silence my voice. If you don't care to read about my feelings, unfollowing me will turn off notifications when I make a post. Or, simply block or unfriend me on Facebook and we can go back to having our conversations in person, on the phone, and via email.

You once told me that I have your permission to write anything I want about you, and I appreciate that. I also intend to write anything I want about myself. I don't expect you to be my audience or my fan. You are my family and I love you. But I won't stop sharing my feelings on social media because I also love myself.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


As a champion for underdogs, the results of any presidential election in favor of a republican usually upset me because it's generally not the party of social justice. But I didn't feel panicky when Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984, just pissed off. Neither did I feel panicky when George HW Bush or George W Bush won their elections, just super effing annoyed.

I was pissed and annoyed because it meant I'd have to work harder at being the badass social justice advocate I am, but I didn't feel panicky because, for the most part, I was an ally to the underdogs I championed rather than the direct recipient of the social justice causes I was fighting. As a white, middle class, cis-gender person, my fight to elevate kids out of poverty and to achieve racial and ethnic harmony didn't feel particularly personal, just like the righteous thing to do. I've always been a fan of how Jesus stood up for the least and I felt called to follow his lead.

As a woman I've always been drawn to feminist causes, just as by being bisexual I've felt called to act for fairness to all people in the LGBTQ community. But because of my whiteness and my middle-class status and my ability to pass as straight, I rarely felt terrified of my racist, classist, sexist, homophobic brethren. I felt pity for them. Anger. Sadness. But not terror.

But this election is different. Millions of my fellow Americans voted for a man who trash talked women who didn't live up to his standards of beauty, calling them fat dogs and worse. I'm a fat nonstandard beauty, so Trumps words against women stung. Still, I didn't feel much more than disgust. Not terror. But when I found out that Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussies, I felt terror. Panic. Flashbacks to when I was a five-year old girl getting my pussy grabbed by my older brother and our neighbor.

Yes, I am angry and sad about the results of this election because of what it means to the Muslim families that will be broken up because the person with the most power in our nation thinks that they don't belong here. And the LGBTQ families. And the Mexican-American families.

But as a sexual assault survivor, the election of Donald Trump is terrifying. The fact that so many of my friends and family and neighbors voted for someone who brags about sexual assault is terrifying. Triggering. Traumatic. It feels like my country has told me to shut the fuck up. Silenced into submission.