If It Happened to You

Increasingly, I have seen more news articles regarding a student getting in trouble at school for the way they look. From haircuts to exposed collarbones, students are being brought to task for being “distracting” to the other students. So, I began to think about how I would react, if this were to happen to my child.

Just reading the articles, I have been outraged by the stories of girls sent home, or made to wear “shaming” outfits, that spell out their dress code violation. Some of the outfits depicted would have been the most tame in my high school in the ’90s. It all reads very much like The Scarlet Letter – girls made to publicly shame themselves, because their all too alluring legs, cleavage or even collarbones are distracting their classmates. I just can’t fathom how this become something that is really happening in 2015!

I count myself lucky to have all boys. Until you see children being reprimanded for having mohawks, military style buzz cuts or for items printed on their t-shirts. (It’s weird that boy’s collarbones are not deemed too distracting for the classroom… hmmm?)

On top of this, my son’s junior high school has a dress code that only permits khakis, dress pants, button down plain shirts or plain polo shirts. Not even stripes are allowed! (These kids are easily distracted if stripes will do them in!) The initial investment into sound pieces at the beginning of the school year seemed more than worth it to not have to deal with arbitrary “distracting” styles dress codes. Just purchase what is on the list, in the colors allowed, and you can’t go wrong.

So, assume that you, as any normal supermom would, have put a lot of thought into what your child will and will not be allowed to wear. You have approved their haircut, and deemed their school wardrobe as fit for an educational setting. Then, the phone rings and the school has taken issue with your child’s style. What now?

Your first step should be to find out all the details of the school’s complaint against your child’s style. You should definitely request the school’s complaint in writing. If you are asked to come and pick up the child, be sure that you get all the facts before leaving school grounds. It always seems that facts can be muddled after the fact, so be sure you have the issue given to you in the most specific way possible. In my son’s school, students are not allowed to tie their shirts around their waist, so the issue may not be the clothes you bought, but how your child chose to wear it.

Misunderstanding of this nature can be clear up by explaining the dress code to your child again, and asking them to not alter their outfits in a manner not keeping with the dress code. But what if the school staff is not specific about the problem. All too often schools are getting away with reprimanding a student for being “too distracting”. How can you work with such a subjective complaint?

The answer is documentation. School administration tend to be some of the more litigation leery people to interact with. We trust them with our most precious children, and people expect a lot from our educators these days. Sometimes, documentation is all that is required to clear the problem up for school administrations. If you send a letter discussing why your child’s style is important, and should not be excluded from the dress code, they may drop the issue. Parents of the 7-year-old with the mohawk sent a letter from their tribal leader, discussing the haircut as traditional for Native Americans.

I think that in some of these cases, you have to stand up for your child’s right to express themselves and not be censored. If you can not win against the school by making your case with letters and supporting documentation, you may have to get the law on your side.

If your stance is going to be your child’s constitutional right to free speech (via their hairstyle or clothes) here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The courts recognize a student’s rights to free speech. However, they also back the school’s right to control behavior by way of a dress code, so long as they have not set the guidelines for the purpose of censorship.
  • Your child’s expression cannot cause a disruption in the educational process. On the flip side, the school policy can not overly restrict the student’s freedom beyond what is required to meet the educational interests of the school.

If you have questions about whether or not your child’s school policy infringes on your child’s constitutional rights, you may wish to consult an education attorney that can advise you on the specific laws in your state. Keep in mind that there are specific forms of discipline that have been banned in schools in the U.S. These include humiliation and demeaning forms of discipline, like the dunce cap or writing repeated sentences. Some could argue that the dress code sweatpants are akin to the dunce cap.

Contacting an attorney may seem like a leap, but you should always know what your (and your child’s) rights are. That’s what I would do, if it happened to me.

You Are Enough

What does happy look like to you? Right now, you may be thinking of things that you need to get done and goals you want to accomplish. I remember when I was younger, thinking that I would be happy when… queue list of unobtainable standards. Once I looked like Cindy Crawford, I would be happy and could enjoy life. Once I had that car in the ad, my life would take off with possibilities. Until then, I would not allow myself to enjoy anything. Achieving your dreams is hard work, right?

I’m glad I dumped that way of thinking. It took the pressure off myself and it opened up opportunities I couldn’t see when I had my blinders on. I saw that I could obtain personal health, but I would never look like Cindy, I quit worrying about my status symbol car, picked up a $500 Chevy and was off to new places. Not allowing yourself to be happy while in pursuit of your goals is toxic.

Then I wondered if I’m still thinking the same way – only now, my unobtainable goal is being a supermom, and I have a million excuses why I am not or can’t be one.

Look around the internet and there is always a group that states their way is better and you’re doing it wrong. Some may be satirical (and hilarious!), but in the end, you have set the standard for yourself. For me, being a supermom means being pretty close to perfect. Since I feel nowhere near perfect, it perpetuates my view of my self as not yet supermom – a person who is striving to get there, but hasn’t quite met the criteria.

I do this to myself.

Part of my goals in writing this blog is to see all the effort I put into being a parent, so that I can have a more realistic view of how I’m doing. As I start to look at myself more objectively, I see that I expend an enormous amount of energy being a mom. When I’m physically present, actually caring directly for the kids, or when I’m on my break at work, and I’m looking for experiences we can enjoy as a family, I’m thinking about how to give them a childhood that will give them a leg up in adulthood.

Yesterday I told my husband that I’m not perfect. He immediately protested “Yes, you are!” and just that simple statement made me realize I am perfect, in a way. I’m the perfect person to take care of my family.

So whether the pressure on you comes from within or without, please realize that you are enough. You are the perfect person to care for your children and family. The fact that you are striving to be better shows how much you care.

In writing this post, I stumbled across #endmommywars, a movement to stop spreading judgement amongst moms and bring support to a group that needs it – parents. I also found this great post by one of the panel members, Erika Bragdon, you can find here. These are great tips to help with insecurity you may feel as a mother.

Remember to be kind to yourself. You are enough.

Also, add supermom to your dictionary:

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The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Preparing for Junior High School

Transitioning from class-centric format of grade school, into the realm of period scheduling is a big change and one that can be overwhelming. Kids need to make it to their next class on time, carry with them the supplies needed for their next class, remember locker combinations and handle the expectations of several teachers. But they can do it, and here is how you can help.

These practical skills will prepare them to be organized, independent and successful students in high school and on into college.

Study location: Designate a table or desk where your child always completes their homework. They will need a hard surface, so that they can complete their work neatly. Some people use their kitchen table, and that is fine, but I made sure that my son’s room had a small desk in it. It’s great for him, because he is easily distracted when around others, so the kitchen table may have too much stimulus for him to concentrate fully. Also, if homework time runs into dinner time, then your child has to put away their stuff, so you can eat at the table, and get it all back out afterward.

Schedule: Help your child to prioritize and plan their study session. To encourage your child, you can start with the easiest homework, leaving the hardest for last. This can backfire though, as your child grows more weary, the harder assignments become almost impossible. I worked with my son, and we came up with a great plan that works for him. Math first, as it’s his favorite subject, but is also the most time consuming. We leave his 30 minutes of reading each night for last, in fact, he normally takes his shower, crawls into bed and then does his reading. It makes the reading more enjoyable.

Staying on task: As I mentioned before, my son gets easily distracted. To be fair, our family isn’t really very conducive to studying right now. We have the 17 month old, who adores his older brother, wanting to play with him, and knocking on his door, something he’s just learned to do. Dogs that want to play in the evening, dinner time, chores to be done. It can be really distracting! You can use a timer for your child, is that visual will help them. I simply check on him while he studies. He uses his iPad for parts of his homework, so it just can’t be taken away, but he doesn’t need his phone, so I take that. I also take the headphones, so he doesn’t sneak and listen to music. To encourage his focus, I make sure that when he gets home, he doesn’t do homework first. He’s been in class studying all day! He takes the dogs for a walk, plays with his brother, plays his guitar, but he is not allowed to watch TV or play Xbox, as those activities can be huge time sucks!

Support: If your child has difficulty completing an assignment then reread the directions with them, and go over their class notes with them. My son’s school encourages our texting crazed children to use that technology to ask your classmates how they did the assignment. In the end though, if they tried for 30 minutes, and still are unable to complete the task, I simply send a note saying that my son tried, had difficulty, and probably needs a review. This is encouraged by his teachers because they want to know if something is going over their student’s heads. It is more important to get a good night sleep that to stay up late stressing!

Finally, just a word about school supplies. Children today have so much to carry around. My son likes to keep everything in his bag, that way he doesn’t forget anything and always has what he needs for class. Alternatively, if he can’t find it in his bag, he knows it’s good and lost. But I caution you to check how heavy your child’s bag is getting. Just because you bought a ream of paper for your kid for the year, doesn’t mean they have to carry around the whole ream. Only put into the binders the paper that is needed for the week. Keep folders and binders organized. Also keep pens, pencils and other supplies at home, so your child has less to lug around. I helped my son divide up his supplies, so that he has what he needs in his bag, and it’s not too heavy. I have encouraged him to organize his locker.

At some point, you just have to let them go forth and work it all out for themselves, but your guidelines will give them a starting point. have a great school year!

Sending Mixed Signals to Your Child

I was mad, and I was going to show it. “What I actually said was…”

I never got to finish what I was saying because just as my voice grew louder, aggravated by my husband’s inability to hear what I was saying, the baby decided to mimic me: “Argh-a-dada-ba-da!”

That is what I probably sounded like to my husband too. If I wasn’t so ashamed, I would have had to laugh. I just stared at the baby, who was unaware how his mocking me had affected me. He simply was copying what he was hearing, and what he heard was my yelling.

I have been more aware lately of the messages we are sending to our youngest family member. At just 17 months old, he is starting to pick up our ways of interacting and speaking to each other. I hardly want the baby to think it is okay to yell and scream at people. Lesson learned. For all of us. We keep our tone more docile now, and it’s nice that we aren’t all hollering to each other all over the house. Growing up, my family was like that. Someone would start a story, someone else would think that their story was better so they would interrupt the first person, being sure to speak more loudly to be heard. Before long, our nice family dinner would be all 6 of us talking as loud as possible with no one listening. This is a trait I never noticed about my family, until I left home for college and met other families, that conversed in a more civil manner.

I had a conversation with my husband about other poor habits we may be instilling in our little one. My husband loves to rough house with the boys – and we are a rowdy house of boys to be sure. One night, when my 10 year old stepson came to stay, the baby was so happy to see him, he swatted him in the face. I understand that I’m the lone girl in a house of boys, however, what happened next dismayed me. My husband and 12 year old son laughed. The baby thought it was great so he hit him again!

It may be easier for your older children to distinguish the nuances of these interactions. It seems ridiculous that such a sweet cherub would a) be vicious and/or b) hurt anyone with his baby smacks. But the baby doesn’t know why you’re laughing, he just knows he likes it. And he will see no reason why it wouldn’t bring laughter from you again – say at the park. With someone’s child. So, we all know the golden rule, if you don’t want your toddler to hit, don’t hit. If you don’t want them to yell, don’t yell. You also can’t laugh when they go off on their tirades of baby language gibberish, or swat at someone.

With that being said, are there mixed signals we send to the kids, that maybe aren’t so obvious? Normally, we think about this when children are small, since they seem to mimic all of our behaviors. What about older children? When I was growing up, my parents never drank coffee, instead opting for tea, as they were used to doing in Ireland. By the time my younger sister was entering high school, my mom had a cup a day, which she normally picked up from Dunkin Donuts. I don’t drink coffee, not ever. My sister, who moved to the West coast, now regularly gets Dunkin Donuts coffee sent to her via mail. Wherever we go, she is always on the hunt for a good cup of coffee.

Now maybe drinking coffee isn’t a big deal. If anything I feel freakish amongst my office mates when I divulge that I don’t drink coffee. But what about driving habits? My father taught all of us how to drive, including my mother. But we rode in the car with my mother the most. So, despite being taught very technical aspect of driver from a CDL license holder, I drove like my third-time-is-the-charm driving test flunking mother. Several speeding tickets in my youth and huge insurance rates finally broke my poor driving habits, although I still yell at other drivers, just like my mom.

As the children grow older, they become more attuned to your daily habits. Do you workout? Or are you a card-carrying member of the couch potato club? Do you make poor choices when deciding what to eat? Do you spend money frivolously? Do you take time to read? Really, it can be any habit – good or bad – that your child will pick up from you. There are many articles about smoking parents are more likely to have kids that smoke. I don’t think that I have ever seen a parent that would wish for their child to start a smoking habit.

When debating the role-model parenting style, many people wish to point out that some actions are things that adults do, like drinking alcohol, and are not meant for children. Therefore, as an adult, you should be free to do as you wish. I disagree for the main fact that even the adult things I do, I still try to be a role model. My parents drank socially, and many of my drinking habits come from what I watched them do as a child. I don’t drink alone, I don’t drink and drive, and I don’t get wasted. These come from distinctive childhood memories, seeing my parents drink responsibly.

Children can also learn a lot for you messing up, and when you do mess up, own it and apologize. So, instead of launching a much deserved tirade at my husband, who doesn’t listen, I apologized, lowered my voice and repeated what he hadn’t heard, several times. Maybe the baby will mimic my sweet apologetic tone when he get older and messes up.

In the meantime, I’ll just do my best supermom act, until I make it to supermom status.