In re Baby Girl K.

In our house, Halloween is more than just Halloween.  Try telling that to an amped-up 4-year-old, who has chosen this morning to go all Faye Dunaway-Joan Crawford in her refusal to help us get her ready for school.

Of course, had things turned out differently, the difficult morning my wife and I had today wouldn’t have happened.  I guess we have to be thankful even for the minor technical difficulties.  In order to understand why, we’ve got to climb aboard the time machine to a time when mornings such as this one didn’t seem possible…

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In re Baby Boy V., B187823, COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT, DIVISION ONE, June 26, 2006,” blinked the Google…

Hmmm…let’s see…where’s the court’s finding?

Alleged father was entitled to presumed father status under Fam. Code, § 7611, subd. (d), even though he did come forward until eight months after the child became dependent, because it was undisputed that he came forward at the earliest possible moment after learning of baby’s existence and that he was non-offending and financially responsible.

Dammit!  Not good…discovering this case after six hours of research.  The clock said 11:30 pm.

I could hear the wife finishing up in the kitchen and heading for the living room.  Calling out from the other room, “do you have the case summaries ready for tomorrow?”

Yes”, with fatigued emphasis added…

“Don’t snap at me.”

“I’m not.”

“Yes you are,” frustration rising, “you may not realize it, but that’s how it sounds.  I’m just trying to make sure everything is ready for tomorrow when we meet John at the courthouse.  I’d prefer you not to be digging around to find the papers to give him.”

“Fine,” I responded testily.  I was distracted, trying to concentrate and digest what I was reading.   Do I tell her about this case?

Meanwhile, words are shooting back towards me from the living room. “Stop snapping at me—I’m exhausted, I want to get to bed…”

“Yes, I’m sorry…(sighing)…everything is basically ready, and I’ve put some of this stuff on the flash drive also.  You are going to have your laptop with you, yes?”

Gaining Amber’s acknowledgement that she would, I tried to defuse the rising tension aleady between us as I tried to get her to go to bed.  Katelyn, our foster daughter, all of 10 months of age, was already fast asleep, and Bailey, the dog, was in his crate, an early evening victim of his Beagle need to stick his nose into every batch of laundry in the house, clean or otherwise.  Neither Amber nor I had had the patience to deal with the dog and now I wanted to be left alone in the office with everyone and everything else down for the night.  I needed to read this court case, which was already telling me that we might be in a bit of trouble.  Up until that instant, even in a worse case, I had some sort of foolish confidence that we might get out of this in one piece—that Katelyn, technically and legally our foster child, would be ours to adopt, regardless of the DNA test.  I had believed the court would find in our favor, and keep in place what we had had in our home since our little girl had been 3 days old.

But now, I wasn’t so sure, and I felt like I was indirectly lying to my wife through the omission of this contradictory information.  The 2-year-old case of Baby Boy V. was nearly identical to our own, with the exception of the DNA testing, which the appeals court had ordered, and which ultimately caused the child to be removed from the home of the prospective adoptive parents.  Realizing that I needed to, at least, leave some sort of valedictory to the possible ending of my hopes to remain a father, I called up an earlier e-mail from my best friend, Kent, who was wishing us luck tomorrow.  1:00 am in the morning…”Hey Kent,” I began, briefly sharing out my fears in reply before pushing myself away from the computer to stumble to bed.  While Baby Boy V. was not a case I would place into my bag for the next morning, I would still be carrying its baggage.

Tolstoy wrote that every happy family is the same but each unhappy family is miserable in their own way.  Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park has to be some sort of the Ninth Circle of Family Hell —the place where you see the body count from broken family relationships.  Despite earlier visits to this courtroom, nothing can ever prepare you for what you see on a daily basis in this place.  Edelman seemingly exists more for rendering a broken family than repairing it.    As you sit in the worn seats, remnants of failed relationships play out in front of you, full of raw emotion and unedited language.  Anger, fear, denial, shock, and, nearly always, some form of tears.  Now, it was our turn.  Our supposed “low risk” attempt at adopting a child was now spiraling out of our control, and with an alleged father now in the picture, Amber and I had dreaded every day since late November dreading what might result this morning in the courtroom.

Katelyn had entered our lives thanks to a phone call from our social worker in late May last year.  Picking her up from the nursery at the hospital where she was born, her mother had left Kate behind at 3 days old.  Since the birth mom had previously lost another child to social services, our own social worker essentially guaranteed to us that Katelyn’s adoption would be a mere formality, and, indeed, in early July, the court had set a date the following January to officially terminate parental rights, our first step in our journey to become Katelyn’s adoptive parents.  But, embodying John Lennon’s notion that life happens while other plans are made, an alleged father had stepped forward to Social Services after he was told by the birth mother that he was the father of her child, our child—Katelyn, in other words.  January didn’t see parental rights terminated after all, and, instead, I found myself in mid-February taking the baby to get her cheeks swabbed for the DNA test that would prove paternity, or not.  Today, March 3rd, we would find out the results.

After an anxious and frustrating drive up to the Eastside to the courthouse saw little attempt on either mine or Amber’s part to hide the tension already boiling up inside both of us.  Arriving at last, we began a tortured vigil outside our 3rd floor courtroom, looking at, and then looking for, any potential man who could be her father.  Is it possible, I thought, to despise a man whom I never met?   When I meet him, what do I, or can I, say?

Enter the lawyer, stage left.  Our attorney, John, had not been inspiring all of the confidence in the world.  With sunlight beginning to pour itself through the high windows behind our seats, Amber and I tried to do all we could to stay busy while we waited for him to appear.  All along I kept thinking of him and associating his tepid reassurances with the crappy kid who you would stick in right field and hope no one would hit the ball his way.  But I did feel John was doing his best.  That would have to be enough.  Snapping back to the present, with the first groups of people walking through the waiting area towards their assigned courtrooms, our counsellor spied us as he moved down the hallway, turned towards where we were sitting, and as he approached us, summed it up when he met us by noting that the day would be nothing if not “interesting”.

By this time, as John walked back towards the courtroom door to check in, Amber, a school principal, turned away towards her e-mail browser, resuming distracted curses under her breath at something going on at her school in her absence.  Left to myself, and ignoring the homework I had brought to grade, all the while I found myself looking at people who might or might not resemble the baby.   At a certain point, I locked on to several possibilities until I acknowledged to myself that almost anyone could look like Katelyn.  Is that him?  Could that be the baby’s grandmother with him?

Icy feelings shot through my hands, and even with the sun hitting my back through the window, not even the typical county building air conditioning unit could account for how cold my hands felt.  I was afraid.  Baby Boy V. was never far from my thoughts.

Except for the DNA test part, which was, in that specific case, not immediately ordered, this was almost our situation.   I knew that if we had to argue the merits of keeping the baby in our home, we had the “best interests of the child” argument down cold, but the alleged father had what was called the “liberty right” to not only have his paternity proven but to argue that he should be considered for reunification. Had that happened, our only hope was to grind out the process through a protracted battle of legal briefs, semantic word play, and court dates.  There could be no guarantees at that point.  No, there couldn’t be, as Baby Boy V. appeared to trump what flimsy arguments we could muster up on our own end.  A good attorney for this guy could have cited that case as overwhelming precedent.   I didn’t feel that we were going to pull this out…then, worse, slumping forward and looking towards the ground, glanced at my left leg…

“Is that a stain?” I thought.

F-in’ A…at this point, losing my focus about my daughter over a sartorial slight appeared to be more than a just punishment for robotically grabbing what appeared to be clean slacks off the chair this morning.  I lost myself in that thought, muttering about “just desserts” and Catholic ideas of guilt and punishment.

At around 8:45 am, our attorney returned to our end of the floor.  John had been moving around to the various court rooms (he had several cases throughout the building that day).  After a few moments, he came out of the courtroom’s scheduling room with a smirk on his face.   I didn’t really know what this means…was that a look of disgust, or satisfaction?

John reached Amber first, as she had been standing in line to check in with the bailiff.  Lightly taking her arm, he walked her over to where I was sitting.  I got up and headed towards them.  John brought the wife and I together, then spoke:

“0% probability.  He’s not the father.”

Uhhh…

A negative test.  By the skin of our teeth, we had escaped.  This guy was not Kate’s biological dad.  For the first time in my life, I spontaneously started crying.

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POSTSCRIPT:  Our March court date on that day, 3 1/2 years ago, finally set us firmly onto the path towards finalizing the adoption of our little girl.  But today, Halloween, marks the 3rd anniversary of her official “Adoption Day”, which took place in that same Family Court courtroom where the above hearing had taken place the previous March.   It is a special feeling and one in which the wife and I took time yesterday to acknowledge to our daughter and to each other.   Every Halloween since that time will forever now be something a bit beyond candy and dress-up for our little family.  

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Everything I Ever Learned Came from 30 Years of Following Cal Football…

“Wear your Oriole cap,” quipped the wife.

I was sadly trying to figure out what cap to wear on an early morning trip to Walgreens over in a part of town where it would be generous to describe the clientele as wholly unable to even spell “UCLA”…and it was bad enough that the alma mater had fallen so far from grace in less than a week that I had to turn to my even more bottom-dwelling baseball team for a choice in headgear.

The Cal football team decided late yesterday afternoon to turn its road game against UCLA into a trip to a Haunted House, getting embarrassed 31-14 to a Bruin team missing 6 suspended players, and with a coach, Rick Neuheisel, whose job seemed seriously in jeopardy until around 6 pm last night.

Words escape me.

But even if Cal coach Jeff Tedford is reluctant to turn last night’s debacle into a legitimate teachable moment, I am not so reticent.  If the Cal football team won’t learn from its own disastrous failures doesn’t meant that I can’t use the team’s own failures to teach my own kids.

(Also, for anyone who has followed Cal football, the team’s history is chock full of teachable moments. Even for those will little unfamiliarity with the program’s legacy, telling you that the team hasn’t been in the Rose Bowl since 1959 ought to tell you enough…)

To wit:  My class did surprisingly well on their first Math test of the school year a couple of weeks back.  Now, with the second Unit test of the year on the horizon early this coming week, I am legitimately worried that the early success of the first test might lull the kids into a complacency not unlike Cal last night–in other words, the team was “supposed” to play well against a seriously depleted Bruin team.  Then, they didn’t.

I can already sense that something similar might be happening to my students with respect to this current Math unit.  So far, they’ve appeared to make a nice transition to a new Math program my site has begun to use.   Nevertheless, with only one test result, it’s not like we really have a consistent sample size to go by.  I know disaster could be around the corner; much like my sinking suspicion about Cal’s chances last night (i.e. this win appeared to be too easily gifted to actually believe that we were actually going to win.), I can see this group of kids not mentally prepared to raise their game for this next challenge.

I’ve got enough football fans amongst my kids to enable me to turn last night’s debacle at the Rose Bowl into a teachable moment.  Given what is at stake (that they at least need to somewhat match their performance on the first test), I fully intend to do so.

For a quick glance at the year’s first Math test results, click here:  NSandOUnit1TestChart

Gotta Do Something About Where We’re Going…

“The basic thing nobody asks is why do people take drugs of any sort? Why do we have these accessories to normal living to live? I mean, is there something wrong with society that’s making us so pressurized, that we cannot live without guarding ourselves against it? ” – John Lennon

On page 2 of this morning’s LA Times, Sandy Banks seems to address Lennon.  She argues that, in many respects, even Michael Jackson was trying his hardest, seeking “a simple fix to the complicated problems of high-pressure living.”  She continues:

In our hyper-competitive world, it’s easy to feel like a failure: A parent who can’t afford college tuition; a middle-aged woman surrounded by Botoxed friends; a downsized exec who can’t find a job and has to trade in the Lexus. For me, a Blackberry with a blinking light is a constant reminder of all the people I’m tethered to, all of the messages I’ve yet to return, all of the tasks I don’t have time to do. There are so many ways to feel slammed these days, it’s not hard to see the lure of a quick pharmaceutical feel-good.

I finally was able to muster up something to tell my students other than what sounds like the canned speech that I hear back from kids, that winds up sounding not unlike this exchange from South Park, especially when we shove a microphone in their faces and ask them to read from a script:

Chef: I just want to tell you that drugs are bad.
Stan: We know, we know, that’s what everybody says.
Chef: Right, but do you know why they’re bad?
Kyle (like a robot): Because they’re an addictive solution to a greater problem causing disease of both body and mind with consequences far outweighing their supposed benefits.
Chef: And do you have any idea what that means?
Kyle: No.”

Already raw from a day designed to poke fun at nerds, I first had to hear that the idea behind such a celebration was really to give the teachers “an excuse to dress up”.  I, of course, had been under the impression all along that it was meant to focused upon drugs and alcohol.  The district had mandated observance of Red Ribbon Week, but what was emerging was a bizarre mash-up of actual federal law and a day which, at its essence, poked fun at students who wear glasses.  At my wife’s school, many of her students were honestly unaware as to why they were being allowed to dress up, they just remembered the dressing up part.  Certainly very few of my kids, when pressed on the topic, couldn’t adequately articulate the connection between dressing up and Red Ribbon Week.  (If they did, at best, they sounded much like Kyle, above…)  The wife finally set me straight–the district likely wants Red Ribbon Week observed, and federal law mandates a drug/alcohol/tobacco awareness curriculum in place that speaks to the issue of its unlawful use.  Often, said curriculum comes off sounding a lot like this:

 “I’m here to tell you about drugs and alcohol and why they’re bad, mkay? So, first of all, uh, smokin’s bad. You shouldn’t smoke. And, uh, alcohol is bad. You shouldn’t drink alcohol. And, uh, as for drugs, well, drugs are bad. You shouldn’t do drugs. Okay, that about wraps up my introduction, now uh, are there any questions?” –South Park

And I doubt that any of this is meant to spend a day poking fun at a type of person–especially since we already have a school curriculum that seeks to minimize bullying.  Nevertheless, two students yesterday wound up heatedly arguing over who looked “nerdier”.  Nice…

Finally, walking back to the classroom from the days’ Red Ribbon skit, I managed to find my voice.  A few of my kids asked me what the connection, if any, there was between the skit’s premise about wizards and Red Ribbon Week–ostensibly it was a skit about school inundated by drug dealers.  It hadn’t been made clear that the “bad” wizards were drug dealers put down by “good wizards” who had just said “no”. (Except why did the head wizard allow circumstances to go so far before intervening?  Anyway, I digress…)  Relating this anecdote to my wife, her reply was immediate and pointed:  “Oh, so the message to kids is that you need MAGICAL powers to stay away from drugs?”  In answering my kids’ question, I had been a bit less direct than she had been.  Nevertheless, internally frustrated, and desperately trying to bite my tongue, I finally told them to think about what the conditions were at the school in the skit to have caused drug dealers to have appeared on that “campus” in the first place.  I also then segued into my theme statement of the week–that beyond saying “no” (or “yes”), a huge, unaddressed point to consider was to understand what created the conditions of drug abuse in the first place.  These conditions are far more complicated than RRW had made them seem.  Ultimately, I view my role as a teacher to teach the kids ways to learn to work together to create a community wherein people wouldn’t feel compelled to have to turn to substances like drugs for an answer to their specific problems.  (And, if they did, to not unilaterally condemn them as “bad people”.)

‎”No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the sources of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.”
-P. J. O’Rourke

When I opened this morning’s paper to see how Sandy Banks had outlined the understory behind the Conrad Murray trial, Michael Jackson was, in the end, no different than we might be:

In the world of legal meds, Jackson was at the top of the food chain. If you hurt, you might get Vicodin; he got routine shots of Demerol. If you can’t sleep, you take Ambieninsomniac Jackson got propofol. But to dispatch him as nothing more than a doomed and driven drug abuser doesn’t do justice to the issue:

Like so many people, he was searching for a simple fix to the complicated problems of high-pressure living.

Can you blame him for wanting an escape inside a dreamless sleep? It seems to me that’s a universal hunger in this plugged-in, amped-up reality that passes for normal society.

What Jackson had that most of us don’t — unfortunately, it seems — was a $150,000-a-month private doctor willing to help him push past rational limits.

Understand, please, that I’m no fan of Michael Jackson per se. (I can though, acknowledge his place in music history.)  But not only is Banks’ point pertinent to the discussion of what needs to come into the discussion of Red Ribbon Week–legal drugs are as dangerous as their illegal use–but in Jackson, whose “Thriller” is a staple of not just my school site’s Halloween show, but elsewhere across the country, we’ve got the poster child for someone for whom “just say no” was easier said than done.

And sadly though, if one of the week’s memes was about “having better things to do than drugs”, we’d also inadvertently singled out a group of people who had found something better to do than drugs.  Walking to the parking lot with a close friend and colleague, apparently this was the same discussion that had been taking place in my own conscience during RRW.  I was pleased that it wasn’t just me for whom “Nerd Day” seemed like unnecessary piling on. On the other hand, this was cold comfort.

I get it though–in order to cut through the din in our students’ lives, having something pithy and simple, like “Just Say No”, is designed to be an easy slogan for a complicated issue. But doesn’t even the simplest of messages get lost when it’s couched in nerds, wizards, and Manny Ramirez Dodger jerseys, awash in a sea of red?  I had to sardonically note that even while “just say no” was shouted into school microphones yesterday, even the simplest of messages can get drowned out by unintended mechanical distortion.  (The volume on the microphone’s speakers had been set far too loud.)  Thusly, it had come out unintentionally sounding like even more noise to the students.  Despite my own reticence about the RRW skit, I felt bad that you couldn’t even clearly hear the idea to “just say no”.

But what about those factors that demand saying yes, the societal factors that cut through any sort of distortion and confront our students as soon as they get home from school? What then?  California already has 25,000 inmates incarcerated for drug-related offenses alone, with 10,000 of those having been busted for simple possession of either marijuana or another controlled substance.  And, sadly, the all-or-nothing attitude of most of the Red Ribbon Week materials used by schools have unconsciously sewn a good chunk of the seeds of the funding crisis faced by schools.  Too many people have said “yes”, and our only response has been to throw them into jail.  In the late 1970s, California was spending nearly $2 billion on the CSU and UC systems, over twice as much as they spent on prisons.  Meanwhile, fast forward to this past fiscal year, and the numbers have been reversed–UC/CSU are getting nearly $6 billion, but prisons account for nearly $10 billion of the state’s budget.  This time frame roughly mirrors the time spent fighting the War on Drugs.  Is this coincidental?

Yet schools are federally mandated to teach an anti-drug/tobacco/alcohol message even while being held to task for testing accountability and annual student progress.  Can Red Ribbon Week even be declared a success when quite a few of us all suspect that, in the long run, it really isn’t working?  Even more interesting, if you do a Google Search on “unsuccessful Red Ribbon Weeks”, you never encounter a school that admits to having an unsuccessful Red Ribbon program.   You can find this entry, however, which points you to this piece of evidence against Red Ribbon Week programs:

Joel H. Brown, Ph.D., director of Educational Research Consultants in Berkeley, told NewsBriefs, “Perhaps even the most advanced drug education programs believed to be effective in the United States were not.” Brown said that although there is a perception of variety in drug education programs, there is actually only a narrow range of programs because federal law mandates that all drug education be zero tolerance or abstinence based. “The no-substance-use message contributes to drug education program failure.” Brown said, “Youth believe the information they receive is inaccurate and misleading” because the programs equate substance use with abuse and do not reflect the students’ actual observations and experiences…[b]ased on the research, Brown said the programs are “harmful” and “have an effect counter to what is intended” because students who believe the programs are dishonest may do the opposite of what they are told. Children most in need of drug education are the first ones removed from the programs. If children take drugs, they are not receiving information to reduce the harm because of the zero-tolerance mandate.

I would like to think I have a solution.  Sadly, I do not, especially when legally, hands get tied–by 1980s “my way or highway” philosophies that have repeatedly been shown to have been failures.  We therefore do a disservice to our kids by not being more honest and open about drug and alcohol abuse, legal or not.  Even then, in a cause/effect scenario, substance abuse education focused solely upon the effect, is a losing hand.  These students aren’t dumb.  Too many of them already know how Michael Jackson died, or Amy Winehouse.  Several of my students have heard the stories about Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) and his connections to opium.  Next month, when I begin to start to teach poetry, the popular works by Edgar Allen Poe will inevitably bring about conversations about his relationship with opium and alcohol.  Each of these artists said “yes”.  But even more “role models”, including some of the students’ own have also said “yes” and did not suffer the tragic consequences of Jackson or Winehouse.  In this latter instance, among these people are you and I.

This debate is in desperate need to be reframed and refocused.   Saying “yes” is not a predetermined ticket to self-destruction.  If the supports are in place, it need not end badly.

Just like Peter Pan, who was once the inspiration for a previous year’s RRW skit, it comes down to growing up.  The German philosopher Goethe noted that:

“If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

If RRW is to be something beyond a necessary evil, if it is to be something beyond an excuse to let teachers dress up, educators have to aspire to something beyond simple half-baked platitudes.  We ask our own students to show us their depth and complexity; when it comes to our efforts in educating about drugs, alcohol and tobacco, we should do the same.  Rather than making kids fearful of controlled substances because of our own fear of speaking the truth in our classrooms, we can have the honest, grown-up conversations with them about a life filled with knowledgeable, smart choices–knowing and admitting to them that going forward means the occasional step backwards.  Then, maybe, just maybe, instead of what I wore to school yesterday, that will be the real lesson that our kids will remember 20 years from now.

Avenging the Nerds

“…because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.” — John Green

Just wondering out loud, on a sleepless night:  if you spend an entire school week trying to get kids to find better things to do than drugs, why, then, would you have a day making fun of those kids who might have very well found something better to do than drugs?

Just askin’…

Jackie Robinson Crosses the Thin Red Ribbon Week Line

As a multisport star at UCLA, signing with the local Los Angeles Bulldogs was part of open trend of signing African-American players long before the National Football League was convinced to do so.

This is the part where I play the hypocrite about things I find hypocritical.

Time for a confession:  while some consider Red Ribbon Week a black and white issue, I’ve already shared how I feel it’s more of a gray one.

I made myself a promise to lie low during Red Ribbon Week and try not to openly participate in the “events” planned for the week.  That way I didn’t have to get into a longish explanation for my reticence about the entire concept in general (and in particular).  The events were meant to be entirely voluntary, and to that end, I wore blue to school yesterday.  (Being a Cal grad and wearing red is also a consideration—it ain’t done!)  But today, given the Sports Day theme, I was in a quandary.

It’s always interesting to watch students dress for Sports Day.   While a number of kids wear their jersey for their local youth league teams, it is always fascinating to see the number of Ben Roethlisberger Steeler replica jerseys (not so many this year, if at all), or, given the local angle, Kobe Bryant.   My favorite today, given that it’s Red Ribbon Week and all, are the kids wearing their Manny Ramirez Dodger shirts.

Therein lies the mighty contradiction of today:  Sports might keep you away from drugs, but staying away from it doesn’t necessarily lead someone to make good choices.  And, truth be told, going through my closet last night, I debated just wearing a dress shirt and tie. I truly did not want to wear a jersey, specifically because it seemed like such an empty gesture.  But as I was searching for something, I found it.  It was my throwback Jackie Robinson Los Angeles Bulldogs’ jersey.  Now it made sense.  There was a story to be told.

The Los Angeles Bulldogs were the first of Los Angeles’ professional football teams. Created in 1936, with the hope of joining the National Football League the following season, the Bulldogs lost out on joining the league to the Cleveland Rams (who themselves would eventually move to Los Angeles after the end of the Second World War). Robinson played only briefly for the Bulldogs, who, as a part of what is known as the second American Football League (AFL), were also the first professional football franchise, in 1937, to finish a league season undefeated.  The team itself existed in various forms either independently, in the AFL, the American Professional Football League, and, finally, the Pacific Coast Professional Football League.  This latter group was the first organized league to bring pro football to the West Coast of the United States.  In addition, unlike the National Football League, which barred African American players from participating, the PCPFL, allowed African Americans to play.  As a result, Robinson, along with fellow UCLA alumni such as Kenny Washington and Woody Strode, was as much a pioneer in professional football as he would later become in Major League Baseball.  Even more stunning, is the reality that when the Rams finally moved from Cleveland to play in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, the Coliseum Commission stipulated that only an integrated team would be allowed to play in the stadium, and, just like that, the NFL’s restrictions on African-Americans was lifted.

Ultimately, my love of history trumps the need for ideological consistency. This is the story that I tell my students this morning.  I think my students need to hear it. Several have heard of Jackie Robinson’s name but others have no real knowledge of what he means, not just to me, as a personal hero, but to American popular history as a whole.  I already have plans on introducing him even further to the students a bit later on in the year.  In addition, having been a former 4th grade teacher, I know it’s also a story I would have told these kids had they been mine in a 4th grade class.

So as I type in this entry, I feel like a hypocrite.  But I also, I feel, seized upon a teachable moment in the tunnel vision of Red Ribbon Week.  For that, I think I’ve earned myself a tall cold one.

Cheers!

Appreciating Brooks Robinson

Norman Rockwell's painting, "Gee Thanks, Brooks", was the only Rockwell work to feature a Major League Baseball player.

Fifty years from now I’ll be just three inches of type in a record book.” — Brooks Robinson

Up on my classroom wall sits this months’ featured Meet the Masters project:  Norman Rockwell.

While the students got their fill of Rockwell’s famous Saturday Evening Post covers from their MTM lecturer earlier this month, one painting was noticeably absent from her slide show on the famous American painter, “Gee Thanks, Brooks!”.   Painted after Brook’s performance in the 1970 World Series, where the Oriole third baseman batted .429 and won the series’ Most Valuable Player in leading the Birds to a series win over the Cincinnati Reds, Rockwell met the third baseman for a portrait commissioned by the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company for a magazine spread.

Brooksie, along with Johnny Unitas, quarterback for the erstwhile Baltimore Colts, was my first real sports hero around the time I discovered professional sports.  Yesterday, in downtown Baltimore, outside of Oriole Park at Camden Yard, a statue featuring the immortal Oriole, was unveiled.  The ceremony was attended by over 1,000 people, including Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, well as Emmy-nominated actor Josh Charles (The Good Wife). Notably absent was Baltimore Oriole owner Peter Angelos:

It may seem only slightly odd that it does not sit on Camden Yards proper.

Nobody asked the question, nobody spoke of the ironically absentee local owner, a man who prides himself so much on his civic philanthropy. Angelos has now owned the Orioles since August 1993. Starting with the first full season of his tenure running the O’s, Angelos and his management have a record that is pretty dismal at 1,310-1,536. They have had just two winning seasons during all that time, 1996 and 1997.

That’s a pretty sad record, but that’s not what defines Peter Angelos. What’s even more sad is that he didn’t see fit to celebrate this great moment of his team’s history and the history of the city he professes to love so much. That is his loss, and it’s why he has become such an increasingly lonely and isolated figure.

You can find information about the statue on the Orioles’ own website, as well the key reason as to why the Orioles beleaguered owner might have seen fit to blow off the event:  the team’s own plans to honor the franchise’s Hall-of-Fame players next season, as part of their ballpark’s 20th anniversary.  As a sports town, Baltimore reveres its sports icons:  Johnny Unitas, Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken, and, of course, Brooks.  So it’s amazing to me that while likely unintended, the Orioles made it seem like it can only honor Brooks Robinson a single time, all while honoring its other Hall-of-Famers: Ripken, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, and Earl Weaver.  Not to take away from the accomplishments of his fellow Orioles, but Robinson, in his way, is the Oriole to whom the others are compared, not the other way around.  Angelos’ absence says far more about him than it does about Brooks Robinson, or the hundreds of Oriole fans who, despite a beaten down franchise, chose to come back to honor a valued city legacy.  It’s far too easy to beat on the team’s owner, but it’s even easier, and far more worthwhile, to instead praise the statue’s subject himself.

Much as Angel fans of a certain age name their children after Nolan Ryan, in Baltimore, it’s not surprising to see any number of boys named Brooks, after their parents’ childhood hero.  I always thought it funny that while I became a Colts’ fan before becoming an Oriole fan, childhood drawings of mine pretending to be a football player always had me in a “#5” uniform.  #5 was Brook’s number.

While it currently sits in storage at my parents’ house, the first autograph of any note I ever got was Brooks’.  He was nearing the end of his career, in the mid-1970s, when the Orioles came into Anaheim Stadium to face the Angels.  Back at that time, Anaheim Union High School District used to offer free Angel tickets to its schools’ Honor Roll students, so I was able to go to quite a few Angel games for only the cost of the junk food my friends and I would inevitably buy.  While the tickets were View Level (upper deck) seats, they were between the baselines, and given the small crowds that came to Angel games at that time, we had a virtual free run of the stadium.  This meant that getting autographs from players enabled us to have a virtual free run of the stadium.  While the Angels of that era were notoriously stingy in giving out their signatures (Dave Chalk is one I remember for being a jerk about NOT signing rather than any positive contribution he put out on the field), a number of Orioles would gladly sign, and one evening before an Oriole/Angel game, as the Birds were finishing batting practice, from our perch up on the View Level, I could see Brooks coming over to sign for a group that had been waiting patiently for him to finish warming up.  I signaled my group that I was on my way down.  We tore down the stadium ramps, through the field level concourse and down the aisle towards the field side closest to the Oriole dugout.  There was a line, but Brooks made no effort to leave until he had signed something for all the willing autograph seekers.  Of course, this was a time before autograph seekers were looking to have anything signed, with hopes of scoring big in on-line auctions.  So it mattered little that all I had for him to sign was an Angel souvenir scorebook.  Despite having to run from the upper deck of the stadium, I was still able to take my place in the queue, and no more than 5-10 minutes later, I was standing directly in front of him, in absolute awe.  I thanked him, and walked back up to my seat, enthralled at my incredible good fortune.   I can’t even recall whether or not my Orioles won that night.

Until I got Cal Ripken, Jr.’s autograph many years later, it remains a treasured memory. When I got Ripken’s signature, all I kept thinking was how much I felt like the tween getting Brooks’ autograph, despite the generation of time that had passed.  Reading the recaps of yesterday’s event, I feel that way again.  I just hope I wrote more than 3 inches worth of type.

Hypocritic Oath

I see red when I see you

Fan belts break at 3 am

I get mad, drinks get spilled

A 5 past 2 I don’t feel sad

But then I see you and I see red

X, “I See Red”

If you believe the hype, it would have you understand that Red Ribbon Week is a “unified way for communities to take a stand against drugs and show intolerance for illicit drug use and the consequences to all Americans.

In a week where President Barack Obama declared that the War in Iraq was over, it is important to see that Red Ribbon Week are schools’ ways of keeping alive yet another of America’s long-running wars–the War on Drugs.

For forty years, the United States has engaged in this long-running enforcement and propaganda campaign as part of quixotic belief that, somehow, the trafficking and use of illegal drugs in this country could somehow be eliminated–either by simply saying “no”, or, if you didn’t say “no”, trying to deny someone the drugs you would have to say “no” to.  It is a war that iconic newsman Walter Cronkite, who once famously declared the War in Vietnam “unwinnable”, declared unwinnable also:

Amid the clichés of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we’ve become blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too expensive, and too inhumane.  But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs has failed.

Of course, asking the majority of politicians, from either party (and I’m a loyal Democrat, mind you), to take a courageous stand is as quixotic as hoping that the United States could have a rational discussion about the War on Drugs.  While I am not doubting the sincerity when someone, like Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, says:

‘”Look,’ she says, starting slowly. ‘This is something that is worth fighting for because drug addiction is about fighting for somebody’s life, a young child’s life, a teenager’s life, their ability to be a successful and productive adult.'”

I get it.  But just a cursory glance around the internet for information about the War on Drugs yields this summary, from a 2009 commentary in Time:

It’s a war without a clear enemy. Anything waged against a shapeless, intangible noun can never truly be won — President Clinton’s drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey said as much in 1996. And yet, within the past 40 years, the U.S. government has spent over $2.5 trillion dollars fighting the War on Drugs. Despite the ad campaigns, increased incarceration rates and a crackdown on smuggling, the number of illicit drug users in America has risen over the years and now sits at 19.9 million Americans.

From the same AP wire story that included Napolitano’s concerns, we find that over the course of the past 40 years, American taxpayers have spent:

— $33 billion in marketing “Just Say No”-style messages to America’s youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have “risen steadily” since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

Ah yes, “Just Say No”, a 3-letter-phrase that social conservatives have insisted could not only save America’s youth from drugs, but also premarital sex, and violent acts.

During a 1984 appearance at an Oakland, Calif. school, then-First Lady Nancy Reagan was asked by 10-year-old Angel Wiltz what to do if someone offered her drugs. “Just say no,” replied Reagan. Within a year, 5,000 “Just Say No” clubs had formed around the country, with Soleli Moon Frye, (Punky Brewster) as honorary chairperson. The Los Angeles Police Department’s 1983 Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) school lecture program, grew into a national phenomenon that, by 2003, cost $230 million and involved 50,000 police officers. Partnership for a Drug-Free America launched a similarly memorable campaign in 1987 with an abrasive television ad featuring a hot skillet, a raw egg, and the phrase, “This is your brain on drugs.”

Catchy slogans are no match for chemical addictions, however, and study after study showed that programs such as D.A.R.E. — no matter how beloved — produced negligent results.

While it would be easy to simply dismiss the $33 million figure as a necessary number to beef up a morally centered campaign in America’s schools, considering the overall cost of the War on Drugs taken as a whole, and in a country whose budgetary concerns are causing itself to implode, it starts to make you wonder if it is still a justifiable cause to keep sending good money in after bad money.  But it’s also ripped apart South American countries, and many of my students over the past several years can attest to how the War on Drugs is eating Mexico alive.  (One of my former students shared with me that her summer visit to Mexico had a travel itinerary that included having to account for those areas specifically impacted by drug violence–and avoiding those areas.)  Lastly, one of the biggest obstacles to stabilizing Afghanistan (yet another war that’s bleeding our country to death) will be somehow dealing with its growth in heroin production, making the Afghan poppy fields even larger than the areas in Latin America used for coca production.  

It would also be easy to just dismiss the entire idea of a War on Drugs as a budgetary sinkhole.  My own thinking on the subject drastically changed when I first saw the Steven Soderbergh film Traffic:

As I noted earlier, when you factor the sheer cost of the war, the amounts are staggering–and given that I work in an industry wherein even a few hundred dollars can mean something, it’s also depressing.  If you go here, you can see how the costs escalate exponentially.  At $500 per second last year, I could pay my car off long before I ever finished this blog post!  Sad, no?  (Yeah, about budgetary waste, and my wish to pay off my car…)

Anyway, time has brought me to a place where began to openly think of my own place within this larger Drug War.  It is Red Ribbon Week for most schools over the next several weeks.  My history with the event is checkered, to be honest, in that, as someone who is a former adviser to my school’s Student Council, I had a front row seat for the preparations involving Red Ribbon Week.  At first, I had little problems with the grunt work behind the event, getting to school early, decorating it, putting up the banners, shoving red cups into the school’s chain link fence to spell anti-drug messages, and even marching students down to the local park to show solidarity with the city’s anti-drug push for the specific week.

Over time, however, the week began to take a mental toll, as our school’s PTA became less involved, and more and more of the event’s burden fell upon the Student Council’s shoulders.  My co-adviser, and good friend, was there to help, of course, and most years served as the event’s spearhead.  But life got in the way for both of us (our respective marriages, and the beginnings of families), and for a couple of years, the burden fell solely upon me.  I didn’t do so well.  My teaching suffered during that week, I became even crankier than I normally am, and, quite truthfully, I really wanted to drink heavily by week’s end.

I eventually learned how other schools had spun off Red Ribbon Week into its own adjunct duty, and I pushed hard for that event to become one such type of duty.  It’s not that I wanted Student Council to not participate, I just began to see that it was all too much, even after my co-adviser was back from her maternity leaves.  I wanted someone else to step up and run things, but I would gladly coordinate the student help and get this new person the bodies they needed.  That never happened, although our school’s cheerleading group did take up the cause briefly.

Even for me however, Red Ribbon Week began a journey of self-reflection.  I am not an alcoholic, but the stress of the week easily made me start to glimpse how pressure could turn a person into one.  But the realities were even greater.  Over the final years my co-adviser and I worked on Red Ribbon Week, we changed the focus of the event, the “Just Say No” part, and instead tried to choose slogans more along the lines of “I’ve got better things to do than drugs!”.

Truth was, I hadn’t said “no”, at least to the “alcohol” part of the “anti-drug/alcohol” message of the week.  And neither had any number of my colleagues at the various schools they taught–especially when the month of October often saw the staff plan a Happy Hour at the local TGI Fridays.  (I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to a Happy Hour to drink a Diet Coke.)  On a meta-level, as I type this, I am surrounded by our wine collection.  My wedding was themed around our mutual love for California wineries.  Heck, last night I enjoyed a nice glass of Tempranillo with my dinner.   I believe that one bottle of Newcastle on Pizza Night while sitting with my little girl can positively punctuate even the toughest of weeks.

I use, but I don’t substance abuse.  Many others do the same.  Yet, here I was, during Red Ribbon Week, telling my young charges to absolutely say “No!”  I felt like a hypocrite.  I felt dirty.  The question I wanted to pose was “What do you do when you say Yes?”

One of my little girl’s Ninas, a former student of mine, told me a story years ago about one of her classmates, a former student at my school whom she still saw around her neighborhood.  This boy was a favorite of our principal at the time, a GATE student, and a child of the school’s PTA president at that time.  The way the story goes, was that he got drunk at the prom, and wound up crashing the family car.  Luckily, he got through that, but it occurred to me (and still does) that his status as some sort of “golden child” didn’t make him immune to the behavior that might be commonly associated with “bad kids”.   He had said “yes”, but then had no place to go once there.  A teaching campaign that only concerns itself with saying “no”, leaves no way for adults to impart upon kids that the learning process involves falling as a way of learning how to pick one’s self up.  This is not to condone the mistake, but what do you do once the mistake has been made?

For all the kids who will somehow feel like they’re “fighting” drugs this week by participating in the day’s themed behavior, statistically any number of them will also say “yes” at some point.  Where’s the component of supposed teaching that dressing up in red will provide to them once they say “yes”?

I feel like a hypocrite telling my kids to “say no” when I myself have said “yes”.  I feel like a hypocrite because I call myself a teacher over this coming week when I am not really teaching anything.  I feel like a hypocrite because life is not an “all or nothing” choice. When you mix black and white, you clearly get gray.

And gray matter is what every teacher wants their students to use.

Turtleneck Weather

The wife’s cousin’s husband is posting on Facebook:

The least attractive article of clothing has to be the turtleneck. Anyone care to disagree?

For whatever reason, even with a warming trend this weekend, it “felt” like Autumn today. Digging around for layering, I find a mock turtleneck to wear underneath my school polo shirt.  Being in a trailer classroom, the weather tends to run more on the colder side on cold mornings like today, so despite my cousin-in-law’s obvious distaste for the turtleneck, I plan on being comfortable today.  It felt like Fall, and, when I got to school to boot up my MacBook, the OK from the boss to print my progress reports marked an even more definitive statement that Fall had arrived.

Normally, progress reports can produce an elevated stress level, depending upon a particular class that year.  Complicating matters is the progress report that is provided with the version of our electronic report card that has been provided to my school district.   While the trimester’s report cards that will go out at the end of next month are on the 4-point scale, the progress report only allows for 3 possibilities.  This means that for students who might be a “2” or “1” on a given subject on the report card  (with a “3” meaning a student is producing at a grade level standard, and “4” being above (my interpretation)/advanced (district’s intention) performance of a grade level standard), they will be marked as “below expected performance”.  This distinction can often lead to great concern on parents’ part, given that a student marked “below” might not be that much below where he or she needs to be by the end of the trimester next month.  Depending upon the level of stress that I wanted to bring down upon myself, I often had to determine whether or not I fudge a borderline student up, simply because I didn’t want to freak out a parent when they saw the progress report.  I honestly knew where the student should be, but given the limitations placed upon me by the progress report, I had to make decisions that often meant peering into a crystal ball, hoping that a student for whom I gave the benefit of the doubt, could raise their game enough to merit the confidence boost I hoped to give them on the year’s first progress report.  If you think about frustration levels, it was disappointing when I had to head into parent-teacher conferences with a student who should be performing far better than they’ve shown.

But that brings us to today, wherein I sat in my aforementioned turtleneck, folding and getting the envelopes ready.  (I would be lying if I didn’t think each time I do this about that classic Seinfeld episode “The Invitations”…)  As I glanced through the lion’s share of the progress reports, I began to realize that I needn’t worry a great deal about parental reaction to this first batch of progress reports.  With only a few exceptions, they were overwhelmingly good.  Thinking back to my earlier post this week on frustration, I mentioned how my class performance on last year’s district benchmark gave a misleading perception over how I felt my class would do on the state tests.  My most immediate worry as I was sealing the envelopes was whether or not I was being lulled into a false sense of security.  I say that knowing that I felt at the time last year that my class would likely underperform, despite the improving benchmark results, while this year’s class has, on the whole, gotten off to a fast start and has me thinking that good things might be on the horizon for this group of kids.

But I am, by my nature, a skeptic and a pessimist.  This is definitely too good to be true.  Is it?

For now, I will pass the progress reports out tomorrow.  It is a snapshot of this moment in time–a moment that will be gone just as soon as the parents see their children’s progress reports.  And like it was cold today, the weather is expected to warm up nonetheless. Today I had on a turtleneck, tomorrow, probably not…

Accomplice in Frustration

I thought I recognized the reactions and the emotion behind it.

It wasn’t good.  And it was the enduring image of a weekend that hadn’t even started yet.

Normally, Sunday mornings in the Fall, such as yesterday morning, involve trying to recap the events over the college football Saturday, and generally reflect on how the week ahead will play out against next week’s opponent.  In this, I’m no different than any other college football fan.  As a Cal fan however, reflections on this topic most recently have generally been as welcome as a case of acid reflux:  Cal’s 3rd straight loss, yet with each loss marked by more successively and more disastrous results and consequences for the football program both this season and beyond.

Not surprisingly, Cal lost to U$c on Thursday evening, continuing an annual set of frustration that had begun in 2004.  But the manner in which Thursday night played out, the team’s turnovers, the poor decision-making of its quarterback, Zach Maynard, as well as its best players, and how the team looked like a rudderless boat.  All of which played out in front of a national television audience on ESPN, wrecking homecoming, throwing the fan base into chaos, and, after a long while of repressing the thoughts, unlocking the first real signs of alumni dissatisfaction with head coach Jeff Tedford.

What stayed with me however, was Tedford’s open frustration.  As I noted above though, I could recognize the frustration he must of felt.  3 events stood out:  first, yelling at wide reciever Bryce McGovern, when he came into the game for a play, and, then, once in, missing a key assignment that the play needed to succeed.  Then, the look of utter disbelief that Tedford gave to special teams coach Jeff Genyk, when a fake punt was called on 4th and 7 in the Cal side of the field.  The fake failed when punter Bryan Anger was tackled a few yards short of the first down marker, but even more so, the television camera did miss Coach Tedford’s turn towards his ST coach with a bewildered look and a mouthed expletive that I could definitely make out as “What……………..that?”  But lastly, and most pointedly, was the final television outburst.  As the 4th quarter was under way, with Cal finally showing signs of a pulse despite being down 23-9, the Bears forced the Trojans to punt.  As the punt neared the Cal goal line, Marvin Jones, the senior wide receiver who shares punt return duties, settled under the ball, signaling for a fair catch.  This is a common move, but being so near to the goal line, usually the returner lets the ball bounce into the end zone, giving the team a touchback on their own 20-yard-line, provided no one from U$c gets to the ball before it reaches the end zone first.  It is not advisable to field the ball so close to the goal line, nor is it suggested you fair catch the ball, simply because of how disadvantaged the team would be, trapped so deep within its own territory.

But that’s exactly what Marvin Jones did.  Apparently, he lost track of where he was on the field.  First and ten, Cal football, on its own 4-yard-line.  As the offense run on to the field, Tedford followed them out, directing his invective at Jones for his error.  Jones turned and walked away from his head coach.  Clearly, the frustration had boiled over on both sides. Even worse, 8 plays and only 32 yards later, U$c had the ball back, and eventually, after still another Cal turnover, they clinched the 30-9 win.

This post could easily be about the state of the Cal football program, in exile for the year in San Francisco, as the team’s home in Memorial Stadium is refurbished to reflect 21st Century realities.   Or it could be about how it wasn’t necessarily a case of a U$c win, but more of a Cal loss for last Thursday’s televised mess.   Again though, I recognized something in Jeff Tedford’s frustration.

The frustration itself.

As coach of the team, Tedford undoubtedly feels compelled to take the blame for his charges’ performance in a game, but as much as it could be understood as growing pains, there are times when the amount of frustration boils over when faced with a truly bad turn of events.  I’ve felt it myself.  Not to the extent that my own frustration boils over on a national television broadcast, but I have to be honest about those times when working with youngsters can reach a critical mass wherein you keep seeing the same errors again and again, and there’s no apparent movement up the learning curve.  But just like Tedford’s struggles are reflected in his won-loss record, particularly most recently (5-7 in the 2010 season), test scores have also most recently begun to be seen by some as a touchstone of my teaching effectiveness.  So the margin of error in a pressure situation such as that can amp up the anxiety level beyond normal.  My school district has also begun to add benchmark assessments to the mix as well, with the nominal idea that it might provide some insight into the expected performance on the state tests;  given the 15-20% disparity in scores though, such a competition easily lends itself to a comparison of a team with an easy non-conference schedule suddenly running into problems when real conference play begins. (And, not surprisingly, Cal went 3-0 in its nonconference schedule, with one win coming at the expense of a program in Division 1-AA)

It also begs the question:  I taught it, why aren’t the students getting it?

My wife would suggest that if the kids didn’t learn it, maybe I didn’t teach it, I just showed it.

Some times players don’t develop and it is nobody’s fault but their own. It is such a cliche to blame the coaches for when a player doesn’t develop, and even the coaches will blame themselves. But the dirty truth is that some times it is not the coach’s fault. Fans don’t like to believe it could be the players’ fault because they prefer the cleaner belief that the head coach is ultimately responsible for anything and players are never at fault. But at some point players have to take responsibility for their own self. This is reality, believing [pl]ayers are never at fault and coaches are always at fault isn’t reality. Some players don’t develop because they don’t have the work ethic and determination. That’s the most common answer. I’ve seen it myself working with the team. Some guys slack. Some guys give 100% all the time. The guys that give 100% all the time are those who more likely to start and go to the NFL. I’m not sure if my explanation is the case for all of Cal’s QBs who haven’t developed but it’s a possibility. Even (former Cal QB Kevin) Riley himself admitted he wasn’t giving things his all until his junior year or so. — Commenter, California Golden Blogs

While not an exact match for what I see in my classroom on a daily basis, I can vouch for those kids who were “100 percenters”, who, by their own efforts, improved beyond what I could have hoped to see.  One child, in particular, finished Below Basic on her first benchmark last Fall, moved up to Proficient by the 2nd benchmark, Advanced by the third, and wound up scoring Advanced on the California Standard Test in May.  I can’t take credit for that.  It wouldn’t be right.

I’ve also seen students do less with more.  I know I’ve possibly got at least one potential student who might fit that profile in my current class, but I hope that’s one prophecy that’s unfilled.  Because it’s still early.  But, I also know that I might be sharing Jeff Tedford’s expressions come report card time–even if I am going to be internalizing it.  Either way, there’s work to be done, both on my part, and with Cal’s coach.  The season ain’t over.  If both of us are back at our respective positions next year, the work will begin anew.

The Andromeda Pain

Given how much she talked about it on the ride home from school the past couple of days, suffice to say that Katelyn definitely internalized this week’s lesson about germs.

Ideal segue to my usual annual preparations to make sure she got her flu shot (in addition to myself, naturally).  These things are easier planned than done.  Now I had to tell her.

Anxiety…suffice to say, the stress level was increasing as both Amber and I had to break the news to the girl that today was the flu shot.

Oh yeah, the news did not go well.  Lots and lots of talk about being brave.

Still, armed to the teeth with incentive fruit snacks, with bravery boosting stuffed dolls, and the required Disney Princess bandaid, we set off.  Traffic on the trip south, while mild compared to the weekdays, was somewhat clogged, thanks to construction, but mercifully, there was no line at the doctor’s office the way there had been two years ago during the H1N1 scare.

Kate and I signed in at the desk and waited.  She amused herself with the office aquarium, while I sat and stared at whatever I get to read on my Droid.  She fish watched.  I people-watched.  And people heard…

A mother behind us, talking to her kids.  Apparently, she’d watched Contagion way too many times.  She is chiding her kids to keep their hands away from their faces, to not spread germs, to not get sick–because there were sick people all around them in the office!  

Frustration wells up in me.  This is the shot clinic.  Kate can’t get her flu shot if she was sick.  I had to wait until this weekend in the first place thanks to a cough that took hold inside Katelyn in late August and lingered only until this past week.  My daughter is not sick, nor, does it seem to be, anyone else, or their kid, in the office at this point.

That doesn’t stop this mother from continuing to run her mouth about getting germs from her kids’ hands.  Katelyn is done with the fish tank and wanders back to me to play with a waiting room table toy that the woman’s daughter had only just finished playing.  Meanwhile, Mom is angry with her girls.  They have not touched their faces, one has touched Mom’s face.  She promises time out and loss of privileges when the girls get home.  I try to steer Katelyn away and back to the fish tank, especially when Katelyn overhears the words “germ” and wants to share all that she learned this week.

The mom goes on complaining to her daughters about their dirty hands, whining now about how no one will take care of her if she gets sick because she takes care of everyone else.  I am fighting the urge to say something, even to point out that the doctor’s office has a “well” waiting room for people who are not sick.  Then I think of something worse…

For a moment, the imagined scene–I turn to the girls and remove my Cal cap:  “Girls, if you touch your face too many times, THIS (pointing to my head) will happen!”.

But I do not.  They call Katelyn’s name for her turn as I dismiss the guilty pleasure.