We had a pretty earth-shattering experience in our household since the last time I posted.
No one died. (Knock on wood)
We fought minor Post-Mardi Gras Krud without any trips to the doctor. (Thank God!)
I didn’t get asked to sing for The Runaways reunion tour (though I totally would, if anyone out there is listening, and maybe y’all should reunite – at least for one show since I was too young to ever see you live)
Cleo got her library card.
Oh, I know, it’s just a library card, but not in this house and not to Cleo. No, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime, I’m-the-luckiest-girl-in-the-world, I-need-you-to-buy-me-a-wallet-now moments.
We dressed and got ready to go to the Latter Library sale as we do most Saturdays. I had been doing some research on books I wanted Cleo to read along with her homeschool curriculum. We are tackling the Little House on the Prairie series as apart of school, and I wanted her to see some authentic Pioneer Days stuff and get some pioneer-ish recipes for us to make so she can appreciate how hard those that came way before us had to work and could see exactly how far we have come (whether good or bad I leave that for you to ponder) and I thought it would be a good time to go into the library. I have not seen Cleo light up like this since she caught her shoe at the Muses parade during Mardi Gras. And then when she got Tumbles the dog at Christmas. For Cleo, this was a serious deal.
“Um, excuse me, Ma’am,” Cleo said in her little voice – the one she uses when she is trying to be super polite, but talking to a stranger who has something she wants. I think she was afraid that they would turn her down if she used her big voice.
“Yes, baby, what can I do for you?” the boisterous librarian said behind her librarian desk.
“I would like a library card, please! How many of my coins do you need?”
“I don’t need any of your monies, baby, all you need to do is apply for one.”
“Like you apply for a job?” Cleo asked.
So, Papa Bear took care of applying for Cleo’s library card and I took care of making sure Papa Bear had all of Cleo’s information right, not trusting him to because he is, after all, a boy and boys aren’t always that great when it comes to important things like birthdates. (I assure you there is no bitterness or glares in that statement)
And off we went. We went to the children’s section and by the time we and worked our way down the first row, Cleo had nearly fourteen books that “looked interesting” or “could probably teach her a thing or two.” I sat her down and explained that we didn’t have to get all of them at one time, that we could find the ones we need and return them to the library near our home, but that simply wouldn’t do. The library by our home didn’t use to be a mansion and she HAS to go to the Latter Library because it WAS a mansion. More important, though, is it has a carriage house and she just KNOWS that the horses that used to live there had to be incredible horses so we need to there to HONOR the horses majesty. Yes, she said the word majesty and the emphasis was hers.
Needless to say, after she had the library card in her hand, she was happy.
“Mom, we can go to the library every week BECAUSE I HAVE MY OWN LIBRARY CARD!”
“Mom, we should go shopping. I need a wallet BECAUSE I HAVE MY OWN LIBRARY CARD!”
“Mom, I don’t need you to teach me anymore. I can teach myself BECAUSE I HAVE MY OWN LIBRARY CARD!”
Somewhere, we lose that as adults – the need for only the simple things and the simple things meaning the most. It is like a sweater that we outgrow and we throw away. In thinking about it, it made me a bit sad, the fact that at one time I used to appreciate every single little thing so much and now, well, I’ve been having a case of the grumpies lately – a combination of a lot of things- and have felt so…unhappy.
I decided to try to see the world through the eyes of Cleo, a tough cookie who has been through her own hard times that some cannot even imagine, and try to see how much power is there in the little things. I’m trying…. I’m trying….
“Mama, do you think I will get a shoe?” Cleo asked as we were making our plans for the Muses parade. I had been told by so many people that the Muses parade was THEE parade that I certainly did not want to miss, so despite my apprehension of navigating around the city at night, without my husband, in an area unfamiliar to me, I knew that this was the one thing I needed to do if I did nothing else for Mardi Gras.
“I don’t know, baby, maybe!”
“Mom, you said baby and maybe and they rhyme. Are you trying to be a rapper?”
“Yes. I am MC Hurry-UP- Let’s-Get-Ready-to-go,” I said, giving Cleo the look I promised I would never give, the same look my mom gave me and the exact same look I had seen my Grandma Bea give my mom.
We put on her dress and her wings and she asked for some make up, a night to play dress up and receive gifts from the gods for her and a night to challenge myself and the fears I had developed for me.
We arrived a couple hours early, setting up a picinic, me reading Augsten Burroughs, her reading Captain Crankypants or Underpants or whatever it is that she devours and laughs and tries to mock the pictures of. She spread out on the blanket, her head on my lap, me caressing her hair, her looking up at me and smiling. A Kodak pictures in our mind that we never will forget.
It was finally time for the parade to start and she took it all in, waiting and waiting. She caught bead after bead, refusing to place some on her neck, partly due to being weighed down and partly due to wanting to share with her mom. It was our night, My Girls’ Night, and I was spending it with one of my favorite girls.
The parade came to an abrupt stop and we sat down, waiting to see what had happened. We had struck up conversations with the people next to us, an older couple visiting from Michigan. We talked about the Mid-West, about New Orleans, and about the transition of moving down here. They chatted with Cleo about books and art. After forty-five minutes and the temp dropping, we decided to head home. The parade was still stopped with no start in sight. We walked the half block to the parades beginning intersection when we saw movement, so we quickly ran back to our spot, and thankfully the Michigan couple welcomed us in, vowing for our previous parade placement when a couple of college kids became upset that they were going to have to compete with a child for beads.
Cleo held her sign up high as each float passed by.
One of the women on the top of one float pointed at Cleo, making eye contact with me, and tossed down to me the coveted Muses prize, a hand decorated shoe. These shoes are hot commodities, with women of all ages holding signs asking for the shoes to be gifted by a generous rider. Cleo’s eyes lit up bright, she gave me a thumbs up, and screamed, “YES!”
“Mama, we can go home now! I got a shoe!!!” she said, jumping up and down.
“Let’s watch the rest of the parade and then we will go home, Ok?”
We repeated the same routine as each float passed by. Cleo received a few stuffed animals, which made her happy since next to just about anything, stuffed animals are her favoritest thing in the world. She has a trunk full of Bratz dolls that go unplayed with, but her stuffed animals have homes made from cardboard boxes with Cleo’s artistic flair added.
And then another lady signaled to me. Another shoe, this one orange in color – Cleo’s new favorite color.
More beads. More stuffed animals. More smiles. More laughs.
“Does she have an octo yet?” asked the little boy near us.
“No, she doesn’t.”
“She can have this, “he said, handing it to her, causing both of them to laugh, smile, and blush.
And at last, the last float of the parade. Cleo did her same routine, jumping up and down, holding up her sign, screaming, “Throw me something Missus!”
The eye contact came. Along with another shoe. The light in Cleo’s eyes was so bright. In that moment, she was so happy. The difficulties that she faced this past year were erased all she felt was pure joy. Mama’s heart was smiling.
“I need to make sure I bring one of my shoes to Miss Elizabeth,” Cleo said.
And that did it. In the middle of the lights and the crowd and the Mardi Gras joyfulness, I broke down in tears, looking at my daughter, with such a big heart and so considerate of others. That’s my girl.
The next day, we took the shoe that Cleo picked out for Miss Elizabeth over to her bookshop. We took the other shoe to Cleo’s Miss Ellen, the woman who has worked miracles in Cleo’s life. The remaining shoe is proudly displayed on her bookshelf, so she “never forgets our best date out”, next to her Octo and her Elvis scarf she was pinned with by one of the motor scootering Elvi.
This is the Mardi Gras I chose to remember. This is the Mardi Gras that should be reported on NBC, ABC, and whichever other national channel that wants to mar not only Mardi Gras, but New Orleans – a city that is trying to do the best that it can with what it has. A city that care may have forgotten, but not a city that has forgotten to care.
This afternoon at 3:30, my family packed up the car and headed to Magazine St. to park the car and have a picnic while we waited for that night’s festivities to begin. This is our first Mardi Gras and. unfortunately, my husband has to work for much of Mardi Gras in the French Quarter, so this was really our only chance to spend Mardi Gras together as a family. It was one of those special days that create memories that you will always carry with you, sharing the story with your children’s children, and with anyone else that will lend you an ear to listen.
Cleo and I spread our blanket out, brought out books we were reading, and spend our time basking in the beautiful February New Orleans sun, watching as preparation for the festivies began. People walked passed us, wishing us a Happy Mardi Gras, and police officers made small talk as they were preparing to take their stations for the parade. We watched as people made their way up Magazine Street, returning to their homes from work or driving to meet up with friends to partake in the Mardi Gras celeration together. My husband wandered around Magazine Street, looking for a Daquari chain for me, with no such luck.
People next to us, a man named John, was up from Belle Chase with his two boys, Logan and Joshua. Cleo joined the two in a game of catch. He offered made small talk, shared his experiences of living in Southern Louisiana his whole life. Emily met another little girl and they played sidewalk games together, dancing around the cracks that are infamous in the New Orleans sidewalks and playing an impromptu game of hop scotch without the traditional number grid. The parade began and we watched in anticipation, Cleo holding up her sign declaring herself a novice minion of the Krewe D’ Etat, hoping to get something that lit up the night sky in alternating flashes of light.
As D’Etat reached their mid-parade point, we met a couple named Karen and Dave, who split their time between Colorado and Louisiana. Dave and Karen split their time between Louisiana and Colorado. We shared with them that it was our first Mardi Gras, told them about moving from Wisconsin to New Orleans, and talked about Cleo. Karen and Dave were so full of life, welcoming us into their Mardi Gras experience. Karen held up Cleo’s sign that declared it was her first Mardi Gras. As the floats passed by, we would make as much noise as possible and before you knew it, Cleo had learned the coordination needed to catch the beads. Dave gave Cleo some beads, telling her that if a boy gives you beads, you need to give him a kiss. Cleo got a kick out of that, and gave Dave a kiss on the cheek.
During our time at the parade with Karen and Dave, I forgot about how much pain I was in earlier in the day. I forgot about everything I was worried about just a few hours earlier. I forgot about what I was doing this time last year and just how difficult the year had been, one plagued with disturbing revelations, familial drama, and the lethal combination of worry and stress. Karen and Dave showed us what being a New Orleanian really is about. They laughed, they smiled, they enjoyed life. They didn’t just enjoy life, they really lived life. Their kindness, not only to Cleo, but to The Viking and I, was unbelievable. I felt so fortunate, so lucky, to have had this experience – an experience that came after dealing with rudeness and greediness – to instill in our whole family is that looking out for one another is what New Orleanians do, more so here than any other place, because the people here in New Orleans have learned what the important things are, and how to be grateful for the blessings they have, not angry about those things that they don’t.
The Viking works the rest of Mardi Gras. Today we are taking a much needed break away from the parades and festivites. Tomorrow we may meet up with Dave and Karen again. Whether we do or not, they really presented us with an amazing gift. Thank you, Dave and Karen, for showing us what carnival season really is about.
“What can I do to help?” my husband asks me, seeing exactly how much pain I am in when I attempt to walk from the couch that I have made my home to the bathroom, five feet away.
“Take me out back and put me out of my misery, ” I respond, thinking of how we took care of ailing livestock back on the farm in Wisconsin.
“There is nothing you can do, honey, just help me.”
Unfortunately, in my life, this exchange takes place quite frequently. Sometimes it takes place daily, sometimes weekly, but it is a constant in my life.
For me, it is apart of living with fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is so much apart of my life that I have a nickname for her, Fibro, just like I call my husband Papa Bear or my daughter Pumkin or Peaches or Baby Girl. I don’t have the affection for Fibro like I do for my family, but the thing it has in common is that it is just as much apart of me as they are – it is always here, even when I wish it would go visit somewhere else.
Fibromyalgia affects different people differently. For me, when Fibro is at full flare up, I am essentially immobile. To walk from the couch that becomes my marked territory during these days to the bathroom, a whole ten feet, tears are in my eyes and I am crying because it hurts to even walk. This isn’t an exaggeration. Every step I take causes a shooting, burning, and electric pain to course up my legs from the time that my foot lands on the floor to take a step until I attempt the next step with my other foot.
There have been times when I have walked and my legs completely give out from under me and I fall. This is especially inconvenient when you are out in public and you fall down hard on the cement. This also leads to a plethora of fire trucks and EMS trucks being dispatched to your location, to make sure you are ok, and you have to look at them, humiliation on your face, and tell them that you are just fine, that your legs just gave out for a minute and you will be ok.
For me, Fibro means planning my days and activites on a day-to-day basis — needing to know exactly how i am going to feel that day. It also means not being able to work outside of the home — I obviously can’t get a labor job (although I LOVE labor jobs), sitting for extended period of times causes my tail bone great pain, sometimes my arms hurt so much that lifting them is nearly impossibly, and then there is that whole walking thing. This means that our family’s survival lays firmly on the hands of my husband, who although he has a law degree, hasn’t been able to find a regular job. So, on top of the pain that I feel, I have a whole hell of a lot of guilt, too.
Aside from the pain with my legs and hips, it is rare day when I am not plagued with a headache. I pop Advil and Aleve like it is candy. I lay down at night and I can feel my head throb. At times I ask my husband if he thinks that I have a brain tumor or if you thinks the thing that will get me is a brain aneurysm. I know it is all apart of the Fibro, but I worry. A. Lot. I also experience non-cardiac chest pain, which is good when you want to go out and live a normal life with your girlfriends. The looks you get are horrifying, though you know they aren’t horrified by you, but worried about what this means and what they should do.
I am thirty-two years old. I should be going hiking. I should be out wandering around this city.
Instead, I am living in pain almost every single day. And nothing makes the pain go away, it just fades into the background and pops up at the most unappropriate times.
Oh, and if my words get confused, or I am having difficulty understanding something that you say, it isn’t because I am a thick person. It’s because “the fog” and memory loss comes with Fibro too.
I went to the Krewe of Muses parade last night with Cleo. I had been told by a variety of people that this was THEE parade to go to and I would love it. All day, I rested, suffering from foot and leg pain, hoping that staying off my feet and taking a nap may dull it just enough. I forced my body to go, even though it was begging to just stay at home. A few hours later, after I arrived safely home, I could hardly walk. The pain was horrible. And here I am, trying to get the pain to a level that I can do it all over again tonight for the two parades rolling. Tonight, luckily, my husband is home so I won’t be doing this all on my own. Thank. God.
It’s hard, being 32 and experiencing this level of pain. It’s harder being a mom and not being able to take my daughter to do everything I want to because I am afraid of what will happen or the pain is just to much or my husband happens to be working that day. It’s hard not beating yourself up. We would be in a much better place financially if I didn’t have Fibro. We would have a much more active life. It’s hard not thinking that your husband deserves much more than a woman that is broken, him having to play caregiver some days.
A day with fibromyalgia is not a fun day. But it is a day. And at least I have one more day. Alone or not, I have one more day.
“Mom,” I shouted, “we need to hurry up!”
I looked at the clock, growing impatient. I had never driven to Stillwater from Barron before, and knew how important it was that Zachary made his appointment. The day before he had his first surgery to repair his cleft lip. He was required to wear an obtainer, essentially a retainer to cover the split in his palate, and since he was sized, his mouth had grown and shifted. When they tried to put it in place, it came free, causing me to panic. The surgeon gave me a disapproving look when I didn’t know what to do, removed the obtainer from his mouth, and told me to get him to Dr. Donna immediately the next day. And that is exactly what I was doing.
“Mandy, we will make it in time. You worry too much, ” my mother said, putting a few slices of bread in a plastic bag, something she did to always be prepared for the chronic tickle that would strike her throat. She looked over at me, her eyes softened, remembering what it was like being a mother for the first time.
“I just.. Mom, it’s really scary.”
“He looks so different,” my mom said, looking up at me as she leaned over, doting on him. This is something that she did multiple times a day, unable to hold him due to being chronically ill, but refusing to not love him just the same. She started cooing at him, a smile breaking across the faces of them both, him answering her back. It always made me giggle, these conversations they would engage in.
“We really need to go,” I said again, calculating time and distance in my head.
“You are going to go see Dr. Donna today and she is going to get you all fixed up,” I said to Zachary as I held him in my arms, playing with the head of hair he was born with. He looked up at me with his dark blue eyes and smiled, as if he understood what that meant.”You are such a good boy. Mommy loves you Zachary, oh yes I do!” I pulled him in closer to me, hugging him, never having felt so many emotions at one time, but mostly felt love. There were a lot of things I wasn’t good at, but being a mom wasn’t on that list. In fact, it is one of the only things I really felt I did well, funny since having children wasn’t something I ever even considered for my future.
As we pulled away, my mother to my right and my son behind me in car seat, the day seemed so hopeful. The sun was brilliant, autumn was foreshadowing its arrival, and Zachary had made it through his surgery without incident. We drove, listening to Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Hank Jr, exploring new roads and new routes. As we drove up Highway 63, woods and changing leaves surrounding both sides of the road shaded the anxiety I was feeling about getting lost, making it on time, and Zachary’s obtainer getting finished that day. I pulled over to the side of the road, an easy task with the little traffic out that day.
“What are you doing?”
“I just want to check on him.”
“Oh, Mandy! He’s fine!”
“I just want to make sure,” I said, exiting the driver’s side door, moving to the back seat, seeing my little boy looking up at me and smiling.
“Maybe I should move him facing front. I know you aren’t supposed to do that, but I can keep an eye on him that way. Never mind, he will be fine,” I debated and decided, then leaned in and kissed my little peanut on the forehead. He looked up at me, coo-ed, and gave me a big smile. It was different, him smiling at me now, after surgery than before. I remembered that smile, remembered how perfect it was, even though it was pretty perfect before.
I had never been to Stillwater before, though I recognized the name from an exit off of I-94 going into Minneapolis where Zachary’s plastic surgeon was based. Because I had never been there or driven this route, I didn’t know that when I had pulled over, we were only ten minutes from our destination. I looked down at the clock on the radio was was relieved that not only did we make it in time, we were early. I liked being early, and tried to make a general rule of arrive fifteen minutes beforehand for nearly everything.
I went to get Zachary out of the back seat and something was different, odd.
“Mom, I think something is wrong.”
“You always think something is wrong,” she quipped at me.
“No, Mom! I’m serious! Something is wrong!” I said, knowing that this was different than my normal worries. Zachary looked different, not right, not himself. I reached in to grab him and his body was limp. His mouth had an eerie blue gray color around it, sort of like when it is a clear day and storm clouds come rushing in out of no where. I put my hand to his mouth. Nothing. I put it to his nose. Nothing. I put it on his chest. It wasn’t rising and falling.
“He’s not breathing!!!!” I screamed, scooping him in my arms and running into the pediatric center where his orthodontist had her second office.
“My son’s not breathing! My son Zachary is not breathing!” I shouted at the receptionist, panic and fear now controlling everything I said, everything I did.
The receptionist ushered me and Zachary to the office across the hall, where I was met with a waiting room of children and their parents waiting to get vaccinations, physicals, and have that odd rash checked out. Immediately they took Zachary from my arms, and I told the receptionist to go help my mom come in. I ordered her to go help my mom. I needed her right now.
I sat amongst the pink dresses, pony tails, blue jeans, and buzzed haircuts when a little blond boy with a bowl haircut pulled at my pants.
“Your angel is going to be ok,” he said, looking at me and then his mother before going off to play with the Lego set that sat abandoned in the corner. I burst into tears, beginning to upset the children, and was taken to Dr. Donna’s office to reunite with my mom.
“We have to call home, ” my mom said, trying to remain calm and strong while I was falling apart.
I dialed my sister’s number, told her what was happening and heard the phone drop. Her husband picked it up, asked what happened because his wife had just fainted.
The nurse from the pediatrician’s office told me they were going to send Zachary to the hospital by ambulance and after I spoke with the police, we could meet them their. The police? I had to speak to the police? A bad lifetime movie began running through my head. A whole series of young girls killing their children had started to spring up across the country. I knew they thought I did this to him. I knew they were going to arrest me for it. I knew that I was be convicted of killing my son unjustly when all I was trying to do was get him to his orthodontist appointment. After talking with the officer, who just wanted to know what happened, I was able to convince myself that maybe they wouldn’t be making a TV Movie-of-the-Week about me, and was even more reassured when the officer offered to drive us to the hospital, given the state of shock we were in.
We were ushered to a private waiting room. The smell of the ER, the sanitized and disinfected smell, was making me feel nauseous. I had to leave, had to escape, and went outside and found salvation by inhaling deeply on a Marlboro Menthol Light 100. I tried to wrap my head around what was happening, why he had stopped breathing. I knew he was going to be ok. Zachary was a fighter. He was born a fighter. They said he wouldn’t gain his birth weight back, and he did. They said he wouldn’t gain weight, and he did. They said that he could potentially have slowed development, and they were wrong. He was going to be ok. He was.
I went back into the waiting room, pacing, crawling out of my skin. A young nurse, dark hair and just as dark framed glasses, asked my mother and I to follow her. Doing as instructed, we were ushered into a different room, being met by a plethora of medical staff, green scrubs and white jackets surrounding me, suffocating me. It was quiet. Everyone was looking at everything else, anything but me. A nurse with short blond hair came in, looking at me, then looking at everyone else.
“Did you tell her?” she asked to someone, but no one in particular.
“You mean you saved him! He’s ok!” I said with a smile coming on my face. Why else would they create this dramatic moment if it wasn’t because they had saved him and my little boy was ok.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but your son died.”
I looked up at the clock. It was 1:58.
I remember the day that my husband and I loaded up our car and moved South. Both of us had been entangled in really bad marriages previous to one another – his dealing with a manipulative gold digger – mine dealing with an abusive control freak. His ended years before mine did, mine ended soon after my mother died, when I fled my former family home with nothing but a garbage bag with clothes in it, staying from couch-to-couch for a few weeks here and there, until I found a very, very modest apartment that I could afford on the minimum wage salary I was making, a consequence of being a stay-at-home mother for far too long to be taken seriously in the workforce.
We left Wisconsin on a hope and a dream, planning to reclaim our individual lives, planting the seed of what would become our collaborative life. We loaded our little car up with all those things we cherished – books, photos, music, a kick ass sound system, and our clothes – and hit the road for a twenty-two hour car ride, without stops, to land in New Orleans. This had been one of the most impulsive decisions I have made in my life, one necessary if I were to ever have peace from the demon that haunted my life for a decade. We stayed in a boarding house, not wanting to have an obligation to a lease for a house in a neighborhood that we knew nothing about, and shortly we moved into a house, furnishing it little-by-little, until we made it a home. When the children joined us, as planned, the rebuilding of our life was complete. A little piece of that was swept away, however, when it was ordered in Wisconsin that my youngest two would have to split time between New Orleans and Wisconsin with a father that placed a call once every few months, but who had an attorney (and his future father-in-law) that was not only of the state of Wisconsin family law committee, but also the Godfather to the Court Commissioners oldest child. Add into that equation the refusal to hear Louisiana-based testimony, and you have a situation bound to cause heartache.
We adjusted, though, my oldest daughter enjoying becoming an only child for most of the year. We got involved in her school. We laughed. We cried. We went through really hard times. We dealt with my health issues, an intrusive mother-in-law a few beads short of a full necklace, and my daughter’s Asperger Syndrome. In many ways, it has been an adventure, really starting out as a young couple, ready to conquer the world. In many ways we are still that young couple, with my husband searching for a job that utilizes his law degree, and me waiting patiently to take the Para Pro test to get a job in the RSD as a Teacher Assistant, and then, one day a teacher.
Those who know me tell me how strong I am, amazed at the things I have lived through to talk about, proud of holding my head up high, not allowing myself to be a victim or to make excuses, but accepting life for what it has been, and always holding onto hope. They have given me credit for my emotional strength, the quiet grace I hold myself in when things seem the darkest. They have admired that when life has demanded it, I have rallied and fought, winning in one way or another.
I’m not exactly sure of the answer so early this morning, as I ready my daughter to begin another day at public school, a school I wish she didn’t go to, but am thankful it is one of the better ones if she has to. I wonder if this is my failure or if it is a testament to my naive-nature, simply being happy with what I have and not longing for a whole lot more. It is an attitude instilled into me at a young age by my Irish father and my English mother, something they wanted to appear in their only American-born child, so she never forgot where she came from, so she never became like the children of their friends – spoiled and thankless, feeling entitled, forgetting the importance of family.
I sit here on the sidelines of my life this morning, after experiencing a truly traumatic event, and wonder if it is really that I am strong, or that I have done what I have needed to do to survive. Is it really that I am content with the little things, or am I merely complacent as to not have any hopes dashed to the floor when they are not realized by life, only little longings in my mind? Or perhaps I am simply thinking too much this morning, a direct consequence from experiencing a violation in the place I escaped with high hopes and dreams for a different life, a better life, a happier life and little to no sleep.
Recently, I spent an extra day volunteering in my daughter’s classroom. I arrived and nine and stayed until school dismissal, helping with the lessons of the day, explaining new vocabulary words, trying to correct bad habits like “We be doing this lesson, Mrs. M”, and generally observing. I love my time in the classroom with the kids. I really do.
That being said, while wondering the halls and inside the class, there are a few observations that I made that were disturbing to me. I know if I have observed them, others have as well. If others have observed them, why aren’t they as shocked as I am?
1. I observed teachers text messaging while walking their students down the hall, in the middle of classes, and while students waited to ask their teachers questions. This didn’t happen in the classroom I was in, as the teacher felt the same way about this as I did, however it was happening enough for me to notice and to be highly annoyed.
2. I heard one teacher share personal information with the class about one of her students. The door was open, so anyone passing by could have heard this as well. It dealt with the children confessing to abuse at home, and now the police were getting involved. This should be a good thing, right? Well, according to this teacher it is not, and she instructed her students to not tell anyone anything that happens at home because you could easily be taken away from your parents. (I. WAS. SHOCKED.)
3. I heard various teachers yelling throughout the day at their students, cutting them down, asking “What is wrong with you children?” and singling students out. I saw a few students reduced to tears, then scolded for showing any type of emotion.
4. I witnessed a mother, a school employee, come into the classroom when her son was completely out-of-line and smack him across the back of the head, telling him to answer a question, threatening that if he didn’t she would embarrass him in front of the whole class. (Granted, this child was being a discipline problem, but did that really have to happen?)
5. I witnessed a volunteer from one of the colleges disrespect the teacher during a discussion on slavery, telling the teacher that she was absolutely wrong, and that black people did have a write to be angry at the white people in the United States because we took advantage of them. The teacher was trying to explain England’s role in slavery. It should be noted that the volunteer does not come in to volunteer in class, but to serve as a reading buddy for one of the students, and is only at the class door while waiting to get the student and while bringing the student back to class.
6. I witnessed a teacher become so angry at a student that he threw a project that he made across the room, breaking it, telling the student that he was now going to get an F, when the student did amazing on the project, the teacher was just at his wit’s end for the day.
7. I witnessed the amount of supplies that teacher’s buy for their own classroom, everyday supplies, that the school does not reimburse them for.
8. I witnessed the sub par offering that RSD considers a decent hot meal for lunch. Every lunch, with the exception of two served occasionally, consists of something over white rice. Still trying to figure out if that is a regional thing or if that is a way the RSD tries to save money.
9. I witnessed four fights. Each boy trying to prove how hard he was to the other. Each boy targeting a much, much smaller kid.
10. I witnessed a social worker really get through to a kid by relating to him on his terms. I heard the whole conversation from the hallway, however, instead of meeting the kid in private where they could talk about what was really going on.
11. The granddaddy of them all, to me anyway, is when my class was getting their science homework. The workbooks were passed out, mostly because the students do not have room in their desks with all of the LEAP textbooks and workbooks they are given, and they were discussing the homework as a class. One student raised his hand and when called on, he told the teacher his workbook already had writing in it. The teacher responded, “We didn’t get new books this year, so you are just going to have to ignore their answers.”
Call me naive. Perhaps maybe I am a bit to the workings of an inner city school, but can’t they at least provide the children with workbooks each year so they can actually learn? I understand the importance of the LEAP test and what the data means for the school, but do we really want our children to fall further behind in things they should currently be learning because “We didn’t get new books this year?”
Anyway, some observations made that were odd enough to impact me for the day.
Like a superhero transforming from Joe Dirt to Captain Crankypants in a telephone booth, every Wednesday and Thursday, for an hour and a half, I transform from Amy to Mrs. M. I don’t become a superhero, not in the traditional sense, but I become a teaching assistant – volunteering my time to my daughter’s classroom, helping students, helping teacher, and helping myself. I first suggested this when I saw how daunting the task of public school teacher was in the New Orleans public schools. I wanted to help. I wanted to be involved. My daughter’s teacher graciously took me up on my offer and for the past semester I have been explaining, teaching, leading, and caring. Sometimes I help with group projects, other times I correct papers. Once in a while I get in front of the class and lead.
It can be frustrating at times, don’t get me wrong. I have broken up a couple of fights. I have had to raise my voice and do the countdown that, at home, means trouble is brewing and mom has gotten in touch with her Irish side. I have had to stare down a boy that told me he was grown and could do what he wanted. And a few thought they could get away with things, not realizing I was always a step ahead of them. There were a few times I cried, like when I saw a mother punch her son in the chest in the hallway when she came to pick him up. Sometimes I have felt that whether I was there or not didn’t make a difference to the kids – some were past the point of breaking.
And then today happened.
For the past two weeks, I haven’t made it to assist in class. I was dealing with a lot of really heavy issues, along with some chronic pain that crescendoed to being unbearable and left me stuck in bed most of the week.
Today was the first day that I had picked my daughter up from school, trudging up the stairs to the entrance, then the stairs to her classroom. I waited patiently outside the classroom door, not wanting to be one of those parents that felt that since I was there to pick her up, instruction automatically ended. Finally, it was time for class to end and I popped my head in the door. I was greated with a chorus of “Mrs. M!” “Mrs. M!”
“Hey Mom!” my daughter greeted me, handing me a yellow envelope.
To: Mrs. M
From: Ms. S and Class
I checked in with Ms. S quickly, letting her now that I would be there on Wednesday and was feeling pretty good.
My daughter and I walked down the steps to the exit, then the many of steps until the sidewalk, chit chatting about her day, what she had to suffer through for lunch, and the homework she needed to do before I would let her finish reading Charolette’s Web when she asked what was in the card.
I opened the card up, read it, and tears instantly fell down my cheeks. Those who know me well will tell you I tear up, but not often do the tears actually fall. This was one of those rare moments.
“You are in our prayers daily, in our hearts hourly, in our thoughts always,” the card read.
It was when I turned the card over that I began to cry.
I hope you get better soon – Michael
I hope you get well so you can come visit – Kamesha
I hope you will be ok – Love, Eboni
I hope you get well and I wish you a happy new year – Jotavia
I hope you will be fine – Sydney
I hope you feel better soon – Ronell
I love you because you help us well – Dante
Thank you – Terry
Thank you from all of us and I hope you have a good recovery – Israel
I love you for helping us – Sheldon
I am very glad you help us. Thank you – Janari
I hope you get better – Denver
I hope you feel better – Azlynn
Get well soon. I think about you! – Keyanna
I hope you get well. I miss you – Ashley
Feel better soon – Lyric
Thank you for helping the class. – Trey
I hope you re feeling better soon – George
Mrs. M come back soon! – Harold
I hope you get better and can help me write my basketball story – James
It was in that moment, my decision was made, I cannot leave this city. This city, those kids, they need me.
I love New Orleans. The REAL New Orleans. The New Orleans that you don’t see on Girls Gone Wild Mardi Gras or any snapshot taking by a bunch of sorority girls on Spring Break hitting up Bourbon. I love the New Orleans that represents strength, pride, tradition. I like the New Orleans that fosters creativity, that holds the Audubon Park and Zoo, that makes up City Park. I love the shotgun houses, the slave shakes, and the fact that on Fat Tuesday, every single business is closed. I love the New Orleans that represents good people, hard working people, people who love and live.
Unfortunately for me, I don’t see much of that New Orleans right now. This is probably my own fault, still adjusting to life in the Big Easy, life away from my small pond in small Wisconsin where I was a rather big fish. It is really different. Very different. And, unfortunately, I haven’t fully allowed my roots to plant deeply in the ground, wander too far away from my home Uptown. And I allow myself to read nola.com – the comments, the stories, the articles – and it makes me very, very afraid. This isn’t to say New Orleans is a bad place to live. Again, I love New Orleans – it just scares the hell out of me.
Maybe it is because I haven’t allowed myself much time to really get to know New Orleans outside of my comfort zone, to meet people, to make friends, to get involved. Maybe it is becaus I don’t know how I get involved or where to even start. I would love to be able to feel comfortable going out for the night with my husband, hanging out at Carrollton Station or Maple Leaf Bar or adventuring out to some other part of town and taking in a play or seeing an art exhibit. What stops me from doing this? Well, I can count on my hand the number of people I know in this city,not related to my occupation, and I couldn’t ask any of these people to please watch my daughter for the night. It is a cycle for me, you see, and one that I find plenty of excuses to keep running in circles.
Maybe it has to do with being mugged at 4:00 in the afternoon, walking my daughter home from school on Carrollton Avenue. Or maybe it has to do with going to bed, looking out the window, and seeing someone on my porch, attempting to still my plastic lawn chairs that I bought for $4 each at Dollar General. Or maybe it is the comments made to me when I pick my daughter up from her publis school. Or maybe I am just not cut out to live in the city, any city. I have developed the coping skills for living in a city, especially this city. But I love this city. I really do.
Do you see the battle that is constantly raging inside of me?
No, let’s not.
Yes, I need to get out of here.
No, you don’t – this place is your home, remember how you felt driving into the city with your possessions packed in your car, excited?
But that was before the crime.
Crime is everywhere.
But not like this!
In some places it is worse, you don’t know what you are getting into.
Someone was murdered near my home.
Her son did it.
You can’t count on the police.
Avoid situations where you need the police.
People die in the jails here! People are beaten!
I can’t argue with that. That is very true.
It is like having two people inside my body- one going to the right, the other to the left – ripping me entirely in half. In some ways, it feels like being locked away in a prison, almost afraid to leave your home, no matter at what time of day.
Am I being over-dramatic?
That is entirely possible. It really is. I am from an unincorporated town in Wisconsin. I milked cows, fed chickens, and took care of rabbits growing up. We left our doors unlocked. We rode our bikes after dark. Our neighbors knew one another, looked out for one another, and cared when things happened.
So, New Orleans, how do I embrace you – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and fully bloom where I am planted, without the whispers in my ear of Hammond or Robert or Baton Rouge? How do I walk outside, not afraid, and explore?
Probably one step at a time. Courtwatchers. Maybe a book club. Perhaps starting a writing club. Something. Anything.
New Orleans, I so want to call you home, but at what cost?
My piece-of-mind? My daughter’s education?
I really don’t know the answer, but feel much better saying it out loud than keeping it buried inside.
My heart is in this city, but it is held prisoner by the thug mentality. In that respect, the fear of my safety and that of my child, they win.
They fucking win.