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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Because Mamabear.

Last night, I left work for a couple of hours to attend my very first school board meeting.

My kids' teacher asked me to go speak about the transportation issues we've been having all year -- I haven't detailed those much here but occasionally have brought them up on Facebook and certainly in person if you've managed to have the pleasure of running into me shortly after one of the district's snafus, mostly regarding Kiedis (although Tova has not entirely been exempt).

"You're educated and well spoken. We need parents like you to speak up," she had said in a stage whisper one day in her classroom, as I deposited a child into her care.

So I worked it out so I could leave my shift and come back, and I drove the whole hot three blocks to the administrative building for the district, and I sat in a room where I was eyeballed with curious disdain.

And I didn't refrain as bitchface set in, even when I ran into Second Wife's wife because she now apparently works for the district, and when I approached a former compatriot of Kyle's and, under Kyle's direction/blessing, hardcore played the role of dutiful wife, as the last name is still recognizable in the district and he was once well respected by the people I laid in wait to take to church.

I fretted about what to say all day, finally writing a short piece only a couple of hours earlier to read before the board that I hoped lived up to the expectations of woman who not only has completely changed the lives of my children for the better, but become a dear friend throughout those same years. I sent it to her, and to Kyle, and to Adam, and my boss, hoping that it made sense and was eloquent yet direct and concise. Everyone encouraged me, and said it was very well done.

If nothing, I am my father's daughter when it comes to strongly-worded letters.

And when it was my turn to speak, though I shook because I've always had tremendous stage fright, I did not hold back.

I thought I'd share (with some edits because personal identifying info and such).

Good evening Ms. Superintendent, Mr. President and boardmembers. My name is Tabatha W------ M---------, and my children attend K----. Before I begin, I would like to state that I come from a substantial lineage of teachers, educators, and administrators, from my mother, [her job], my uncle, [his job], and my grandfather, [his job]. As well, my husband (ETA: I had put "children's father" but he thought this would be more powerful, and as it stands it's not entirely untrue, so) was the [school year] Teacher of The Year for [old high school], chair of his department, and served for [number] years on the [teacher licensing committee]. It is my belief that you would be hard pressed to find someone as understanding and sympathetic to the plight of the public schools and it's educators and administrators as I.
That said, I am also the mother of a special needs child for whom transportation is a vital component of his individualized educational plan, commonly referred to as an IEP. My child's specific needs require him to have a period of transition between home and school in order for him to achieve a mindset conductive to learning, a statement that has been consistently supported by the exceptional group of educators and administrators at K---- each school year when his IEP is updated. And this district has failed to provide this service consistently to my child, therefore sabotaging the very purpose of sending my child to school at all, as well as violating the legally binding contract that is a state approved IEP. Since the beginning of 2015, at least once each week I have received notification from the school that my son does not have transportation home in the evenings, a situation that frightens and confuses him each and every time, as well as impairs my ability to consistently arrive at my place of employment on time, as I work evenings. I am fortunate to be employed at an understanding and gracious company that allows these transgressions, as many others would not.

As well, I have received numerous automated phone calls erroneously informing me of a lack of transportation either to or from school, causing excess stress and confusion upon my child as his routines, which are tantamount to his success both in and out of the classroom, are disrupted and increasingly unpredictable.

I also feel it worth mentioning that there was an episode in the fall where my child could not be located while on a Dayton Public Schools bus upon which he was mistakenly placed, and not without incredible effort from the staff of K----. Dispatch could not be bothered to answer any calls from myself or the school. I literally did not know the location of my five year old child for over 45 minutes, as directly conflicting reports about his whereabouts came in as I sat in the K---- office. Were it not for a gentleman from this building overhearing my situation and making contact of his own, I would have been chasing down my child - an autistic kindergartner - for the greater part of the evening. I applaud the efforts of the K---- staff that evening, but I will never find the ineptitude from the transportation department permissible.

For both of my children, the wide range of inconsistent pick up and drop off times, as well as the multitude of the events and situations I have already mentioned, not only inconvenience me as their parent, but it disrespects them as students and people. They are more than just a test score or a state - issued allotment of funds. They are the future of this community, and the legacy of this school district.

As I mentioned before, I am deeply empathetic to the issues of public education. I have been patient and forgiving as I have watched my children begin to fall through the cracks of this district and I have fought, as any parent would do, to bring them back up and onto steady ground.

I implore you to do the same, to do better by them, because my children, and the children of this community, are worth more than you are currently providing them and that, boardmembers, is absolutely no longer acceptable.

Thank you.

I was one of five parents who spoke about these same issues, these same instances. Three of us spoke specifically about our special needs children. And off the record when the Board began to address that we had spoken at all, I reminded them that our kids, our special kids, are the most vulnerable population within their district, with the highest incident rates and likelihoods of being abused, abducted, assaulted, or otherwise harmed if exemplary care and consideration are not practiced at all times. Our children cannot be left alone in a world that was not built for them. We trust the district to care for our kids with that in mind and that trust cannot continue to be violated.

Higher ups from the Transportation department spoke to me after the meeting, and I'm not sure that anyone was actually listening, despite the gasps as I read my statement. A gentleman kept saying "we hear you" over me as I spoke and I finally looked him dead in the eye and dropped all pleasantry, clearly and simply responding.

"I genuinely hope so." I shrugged and smirked at the white-haired man old enough to be my grandfather, palms open to the fluorescent lights and drop ceiling above me, head tilted just slightly to the side in a faux-passive, decidedly aggressive gesture.

"I'm an involved parent, sorry."

The snark was heavy enough I saw a glimmer of the realization that I would not be quieted easily.

I mean, I did help shut down a charter school and send a crook to jail, after all. I'm not afraid of the big bad inner city district.

Because I'm a mamabear. And no one messes with my kids and gets away with it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Secrets Can't Keep.

{I originally posted this last week over on BlogHer, and then on Medium, dancing around putting this in my central online space. Then the magnificent Jasmine posted a piece not unsimilar to this and we chatted and her courage sparked mine. So. Here's to honesty and vulnerability. Please be kind.}

There is something to be said for keeping secrets.

It can be intoxicating, to know the things that others don't. To have something safe to your heart that only you know about. The tingle of anticipation of being revealed can provide a rush like no other, to be sure.

But eventually, secrets bear weight. They steal your breath. They hold you rooted in places you no longer want to stand. They make you pick sides. They indebt you, indenture you, enslave you, dehumanize you. You become the secrets and the secrets become you and the two things are irreconcilable without the other to the point you're not sure you ever were without the secrets at all.

And you come to believe that you were only ever the secrets you carry and nothing more.

The secrets become titles, monikers, identifiers. You begin to wear them like scarlet letters on your very skin, across your cheekbones and furrowed brow and that unavoidable dip in your clavicle. You are defiant in the face of the truth-seers and you are convinced you are surrounded by people who can see clearly through your paper-thin coating for what you are, for the things that you carry in your guarded, guilded heart.

You meddle your fear of being known with something akin to righteousness and for one glorious moment or two, you almost have it all under control.

Congratulations, you have accomplished a self-gaslighting unlike any other ever foisted upon you by an outside force or being.

But we both know it cannot, will not last. The weight grows heavier and throws off your inertia. The brazen redness across your face no longer flatters, instead highlights the scars you try to camouflage. The looks of outsiders, unknowers, pierces you, each glance feels persercutory, scathing.

The gaslight extinguishes, revealing a blackness that formed inside of you, and if you're lucky, you'll realize in that bleakest of moments, you have a choice.

The secrets can consume you whole and leave a tarred and sullen shadow of who you once thought you were in your stead to shuffle through this world broken down by a game that was never meant for winning.

Or

You can open your mouth, expel the brewing blackness with a force not unlike exorcism and show who you are underneath all this weight and turmoil and try for once in your godforsaken life to step towards something that looks like decency, like wholeness, like light while remaining unapologetic for the way the secrets will ooze onto everything and everyone you touch -- a putrid Midas tainting his kingdom for a fleeting glimpse of some sort of twisted beauty.

You hope it washes clean, someday, and with it you will finally have a chance of being absolved.

Because hope is all you have left to cling to, once the secrets no longer hold you.


For the sake of these purposes, I will call him Adam.

And I am the blackness consuming him whole.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Decade Of Years And A Million Lifetimes Ago.

I've kind of purposely not written about either of my children's most recent birthdays.

Sure, if you go over to Instagram you may see photos of the festivities and whatnot, but when it's come time for me to sit down and write some gushing soliloquy to my children on the day each of them exited my body and became people of their own ... I falter.

Maybe I'm too emotionally drained from the breakage of the family I fought so hard for, for them. Maybe it's the stress of single parenthood, working parenthood, school-age parenthood. Maybe it's the lack of support from where I thought I could count on it and the quick bursts from the places I didn't that leave me spinning, trying to keep up and say thank you and stay gracious without just giving huge pieces of myself away in the process.

I don't know what it is.

But I'm okay with it.

I find myself, in my regular life, craving more face to face contact. I have stories to tell -- so many stories -- but I want to tell them, my hands in motion not over a keyboard, but in the air around my body. This is partly because I find it incredibly easier to open my mouth and let the words pour out than I do to commit fingertips to keyboard buttons and stumble about. There is no misinterpretation of tone or cadence in speech; the humor will keep the timing I intend and the ebb and flow of the emotional state of my monologue will be clear and precise and direct.

Because lately, I feel betrayed by my words.

Which is part of why I stopped writing them at all.

Because I knew, if I left them unchecked, they'd release all the things I've been fighting so hard to hold back, all of the stories only told in person in hushed corners or late-night whispers, because that's the irony of a life lived online -- what once was your safe haven and place of open and honest release (because you couldn't trust the people you were around all the time) has flipped on it's head and your measured words all come at a consequence in your social media spaces and it's only in person you can get away with expunging your deeps and darks because the Library of Congress isn't archiving your shallow breaths or your tipsy giggles.

Unless your phone is secretly recording everything anyway. In that case, we're all just screwed six ways to Sunday.

But I guess this is what I know, to a point. Despite the prying eyes and the backstabbing gossipers and the enemies yet to be discovered alongside the long standing known nemeses, this space and this sound of clickety-clickety-click and this white, blank screen with a tiny vertical line dancing across it in stilted, staccato movements ... like it or not, this is my home.

This is the house that I built, before husbands and babies and quite so many cats, over a decade of years and a million lifetimes ago.

And I don't have a clever quip to keep that metaphor going at present. I'm here. That's about all I've got.