Bowl of Cherries Syndrome

Okay, so this little elementary school student in Toronto brings home a report card with all “Cs”. The parents are livid and complain to the school. Then the kid enters a spelling bee and DOES NOT win! Now the parents totally freak out! They start writing nasty notes and letters to the school about the school’s alleged discrimination against their son. The school tries to explain the situation as best they can in this face of total lunacy, but their reasonableness cuts no mustard with the parents.

So then the crazy parents enlist the aid of a couple of friends and the four of them start an all-out campaign of harassment against the school and all the people they think are responsible in the school for their son’s less-than-stellar academic achievements. They send death threats. They print up and distribute posters threatening to blow up the school. They threaten to shoot three of its staff. As a warning, they shoot out the school’s windows with pellet guns.

The school hires extra security, transfers the threatened staff members to another school, installs a security camera and has police patrols on the school grounds. Eventually charges were laid against three of the four idiots.

I thought this was an interesting article because lately I’ve read several blog posts by parents who are upset about something that’s happened to their child in school or camp or daycare. (Not that I’m equating these way OTT people with normal parents who are just looking out for their kids)

I’ve been in situations many, many times over the last 16 years where I’ve felt like marching into a school or into a day camp or over to some other kid’s house and giving them some hell.

Because, dammit, these are our precious kids who we’d love to wrap in cotton wool and who we want to protect from any unfairness or harsh words or sadness or hurt or disappointment. Our hearts break when they come home all weepy and tell us that everyone hates them. Or that they didn’t get picked to be Student-of-the-Week…again.  And we’re as furious when our baby worked really, really hard on a project and is so damned proud of herself and ends up getting only a “B” and other kids, whose parents obviously did the project for them, get an “A”. Or when some puffed-up summer day camp counselor won’t let your 6-year-old go to the bathroom for an entire afternoon because it isn’t “convenient” for her.

We don’t want our kids to learn the “life sometimes sucks” lesson because we can’t bear the helplessness of not to be able to make everything perfect for them. We desperately want to fight all their battles for them. But we can’t.

Of course there are times when we have to step in – when our child is in physical or emotional danger. But the rest of the time, I, personally have found it best to let my kid decide.

She comes home and tells me whatever horrible thing happened. I ask lots of questions (Because most of the time there is a lot more to the story than the initial headline). I commiserate with her and make sure she knows I’m on her side. Then we figure out what to do about it.

In cases like the camp counselor bitch, this is a good time to reinforce the “standing up/speaking up for yourself” credo. If you have to pee, by god, you tell her you have to pee and then you just go. If there are consequences, send the bitch to me.

In other cases, after we’d finished talking about things I’d ask my daughter what she would like me to do. Should I send a letter? Should I go talk to someone? Make a phone call? I’d explain what I would say or write and what I’d hope to accomplish and 99% of the time my daughter would then say, no, it’s not important. Or she would decide she’d go and talk to the teacher or kid or whoever herself. As long as she knew I had her back, she felt pretty good about fighting her own battles.

In 16 years I think I only stepped in maybe 3 or 4 times and those were almost always times when someone else’s parents had already stepped in and my kid was outnumbered.

So, although there’s a hell of lot of stuff kids have to deal with these days that we never did; in some ways they also have it a lot softer than we did. We failed classes and even entire grades (gasp). We got detentions and lines and were made to stand in corners and some of us even remember The Strap. Other kids could bully, tease and harass us mercilessly and we’d have to suck it up. Other kid’ parents, the neighbours, shop keepers, teachers, prettty much anyone older than us was allowed to give us hell and even a good smack sometimes. Our playgrounds were made of steel and concrete. We had no helmets for anything. We wandered around alone until the street lights came on. We never had “play dates” and would have gotten beat up if we’d suggested such a thing. We had to do our projects with a pencil using the dusty, out-of-date Encyclopedia Britannica.

And when any adult gave us heck or did something to us we thought was unfair or mean and we were silly enough to come home and complain about it, we’d get another dose of heck from our parents and then we’d be forced to go and apologize to the other adult.

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26 responses to “Bowl of Cherries Syndrome

  1. We’ve really taken the position that 95% of this is Part of Life. Part of learning how to be a human being.

    We moved in part to get our kids into a better school district, one where they weren’t learning about drugs and porn in first grade, where the school didn’t have a busy team of volunteers who were trained in how to remove a child from a classroom who was threatening to hurt him/herself or others (this happened nearly weekly in my daughter’s 2nd grade class).

    Now we’re in a school where tag has been outlawed, and so has everything else that is potentially fun, so my now-3rd grader comes home frustrated and full of pent-up energy every single day. It’s almost beyond her to sit still all day with no way to work out her energy.

    I think the new school is nuclear crazy OTT. Sometimes I come really close to wondering which one was better.

    We also had this “you can’t go potty now” problem and I had to take three changes of clothes to the school before I said, “next time, you just GO. Don’t have an accident. If they try to punish you, you tell them to CALL YOUR MOM. I draw the line at not being able to use the restroom.”

  2. I agree most heartily. Most people are doing a huge disservice to their kids by building them up so much. Some of the young kids who wait on me in stores act so hurt when I don’t praise them up one side and down the other for simply breathing.

  3. Yep, life ain’t fair. Personally, I think it’s a good lesson for kids to learn. Nobody’s going to get down on their knees before them in the real world. Unless being a dominatrix is their career of choice.

  4. What! You had steel and concrete playgrounds? Sheer luxury.
    We’d have thought we had died and gone to heaven if we had a playground of any kind.
    We had to keep any adult intervention in our discipline secret from the parents.
    I also found out though that my dad would, and he could, thrash anyone who actually harmed me. He was the sane parent, no one who ever crossed my mother survived.
    The most important thing they said to us was no.
    It didn’t come as such a shock then when other times in our lives we were dissapointed.
    Fights among kids were solved by kids and no one was knifed or shot.

  5. Life isn’t fair. I learned that. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but thankfully I was able to deal with it and whatever losses happened along the way, made me a stronger person.

    Or so I’d like to think…

  6. Wendy – No tag? Why? I wonder what they think will happen? They’re not allowed to run, but they’re supposed to hold their bladder all day? Things have got to turn around soon back to a happy medium between some of the nightmares kids had to live through in the 50s and 60s and the complete insanity today.

    Dr. Monkey – I’m surprised the parents let them take such a menial job as store clerk! Aren’t the little darlings all movie stars or rocket scientists?

    Jazz – Ya, the expectation of having people going down on their knees for them is a whole other blog post (unless you’re not talking specifically about high school boys??). It’s really too bad that life isn’t fair and it’s something that makes me feel like throwing myself on the ground kicking and screaming sometimes, too, but I think the species needs some natural selection to keep it healthy.

    Bandobras – So, if a teacher gave you a whuppin’ would your dad go give them hell or would he give you hell? And ya, knives and guns really put a damper on good clean playground shenanigans.

    Chris – I’m not sure it’s a lesson we ever fully learn. I think we still like to believe that if we’re good people and work hard that good things will happen to us. When that turns out not to be the case, we still get mighty upset and disappointed, don’t we?

  7. That story was bloody ridiculous-Crazy people: Your kid got C’s and failed the spelling bee-GET OVER IT! Rather than act like a complete moron, why don’t you, oh I don’t know, help your kid with their homework and/or hire a tutor?
    Some people are too stupid for words.

  8. That kid who brings home C’s…..

    Funny how it never occurs to the parents that maybe Junior’s not that bright. And/or dosen’t work hard enough.

    Guess not.

    Apparently school should be like one of those lame-ass educational games, where EVERYONE WINS. 😉

  9. In all fairness, I didn’t see anything in that article that came close to being proof that the people who were charged were actually responsible for the threats. (Maybe that is described in another article, but I didn’t see it in any that I read.) Being charged is not the same as being guilty. (And let’s face it, even being found guilty isn’t always the same as being guilty.) From that article as well, it seems the concern the parents had was not that her son got Cs and didn’t win the spelling bee, but that he got those Cs because he was being tested at levels she felt were way above his grade. (None of the articles I read really explain what the spelling bee issue really was.)

    It’s a little weird to me to see that most of the news articles, while using “alleged” and purporting to unbiased, seem to have already condemned the women as have some of you. I’m not saying they’re innocent — we won’t really know what they are until the actual evidence comes to light in the coming days/weeks/months — but you seem to have convicted them before they’ve even been tried.

  10. This reminds me of your troll a few days ago who brought out that well-worn chestnut about Beethoven, and gee, aren’t we glad we didn’t abort him.

    Fact is, for every one amazing musician, we have ten thousand morons in droopy pants and huge shoes thinking they’re Slash because they made the next level in Guitar Hero.

    For every Mother Teresa, there’s a hundred thousand crack whores.

    For every kid who brings home a perfect report card, there are hundreds who can’t even muster a pass, let alone a “C”.

    Let’s face it. Statistically speaking, your child is AT BEST average. And so are you.

    Get over yourself already.

    (as I re-read this I find I must add that I’m not talking to you, XUP, at the end… but to parents like you mentioned in your story.)

  11. That’s a scary story in the paper.

    When Leah has problems at school, which fortunately haven’t been many, and haven’t been anything severe, I took the same tack as you. We talked about it, about what she could do, about what I could and was willing to do, and let her decide the course of action. In all but one case, she decided to handle it herself.

  12. Hannah – yup! Now they’re all surprised and sad because they’ve been charged. And did you see how old they are? You’d think they’d know better.

    Friar – C is pretty much the lowest mark schools are allowed to give and in my experience if your kid is bringing home a C report card this shouldn’t be a surprise to you because the school would have contacted you a thousand times already to tell you your kid didn’t do his homework or didn’t do well on a test or doesn’t pay attention in class.

    Louise – You’re quite right. They’ve only been charged. Not convincted. I suppose it’s possible that some other random person has been making the threats. Anyway, the post wasn’t so much about these guys – it was more of a springboard for a post about this sort of behaviour in general.

    Susan – Don’t worry, I didn’t take it personally because, of course I KNOW me and my child are way above average – even if other people can’t see that (ha hahahahahahahah ha ha)

    Alison – That always seems like the sanest thing to do and the best thing for your kid’s social life, as well. It used to drive me nuts when the kids would have some sort of falling out or something and next thing you know I’d get a call from the school that some other kid’s parent had called in to complain that my kid said something mean to the other kid. Before all the parents, teacher and principal even had a chance to have a meeting to “discuss” next steps, the kids were all fast friends again. Remind me to tell you about “Matthew” some time.

  13. My parent’s had a saying that was their answer for any complaints: “them’s the breaks, kid”. I don’t know where that saying came from, but I find myself saying it to my niece and nephew ALOT. It seems to cover everything.

  14. I have no idea how parents today can stand to send their kids to school. Some parts of it seem less dangerous (such as the abolition of corporal punishment) but I’m pretty sure my mum wasn’t worried one of my picked-upon classmates would come to school with a gun and go postal on us all. And this was in a rural area where there were plenty of guns around in general.

    There are things about life that suck and can’t be changed, and while I wouldn’t make a career for myself out of confronting every injustice (how exhausting) I think you’re absolutely right to teach your kid, “I got your back – you do what you know is right.” It’s exactly what my (sainted – ha!) pop did for me, and I’m so thankful for that. I’m otherwise the sort who’d shrink or run from any confrontation, no matter how just, so it’s a very useful tool to have in your social box.

    I’m sad for kids who have to go to school every day to be emotionally abused by peers, teachers, even counselors, etc. though. I wouldn’t ask myself to go to a job every day where the people I worked with were anything like the admins of the schools I attended, and I see it as really unfair that the kids don’t get to choose anything about this environment. It’s how I got so deeply, clinically depressed during school. At least as a student, I felt free to speak my mind; the teachers never felt that way. It was easy to feel sorry for them too, and their apathy fed my bleak outlook that nothing would change and everything about my situation was hopeless.

    Our ‘education’ system seems completely broken to me as a model for learning. I don’t see how anyone could develop creative potential in that environment. I could barely stay *sane* in that environment. It’s a hell of a lot of money we pour into a system that doesn’t produce the education we think we’re paying for.

  15. I got the Strap in school 5 times. I seem to recall forgetting to mention that ot my parents twice. Two other times they found out and I received further punishment at home for causing trouble at school.
    The other time the teacher involved had actually hit me hard enough to leave scrapes and bruises on the back of my hands.
    The day it happened my dad and mother saw it at dinner and asked about how I got the marks. I wasn;t quite stupid enough to lie so dad told me he’d see me at the school the next day at the end of classes and we’d talk to the teacher. I expected to get more crap over this but when he arrived and met the teacher he simply held up my hand and told him not to ever mark his child again.
    The teacher started arguing that he was within his right to do so and dad knocked him ass over teakettle over his desk, repeated the warning and took me home.
    As far as I’m aware nothing else ever happened about it.

  16. Ah…yes, the good old days. I was perpetually in detention or in trouble… Crying to the parents was not an option.

    Kid’s are very spoiled these days but they are expected to deal with issues that were more complex than I remember having to deal with. I kinda feel sorry for them. They have to grow up in an electronicilly addicted society. Just try to take away the cell phone or computer……..

    alas, they will not enjoy the fun we had, much as we didn’t enjoy the fun our parent’s generation had.

  17. The beginning of this had the same feel as the story about the town that basically stole promotions from firemen because all the high test scores were made by white men. They were afraid they’d face a discrimination suit by black firefighters. They just automatically assumed there was something unfair about the whole thing. I am shocked by the violence those parents displayed though. The real injustices like no bathroom breaks and relatively no recess or daily exercise goes unnoticed by them. My son’s school is constantly having “fitness assemblies” where they tell all the kids they play too many video games and eat too much junk food, but they always fail to realize that they only let those kids out of the building for less than half an hour a day in separate intervals. That’s a crime. Kids need to play. Studies are important, but so is a little freedom and exercise. I think they’re totally wrong to restrict their activity then try to make them feel guilty and lazy but I haven’t harassed the school, sent death threats or shot anything! Jeez.

  18. I learned very early in life that I couldn’t make the world soft and fluffy for my daughter. Her first three best friends from the age of maybe 5 moved away. There was nothing I could do about that. And for some reason this reminded me of something goofy. I used to adjust the lawn mower to a higher setting and mow an “island” around my daughter’s swing set. I figured it made it cushier and I thought it looked cool. My anal retentive engineer second husband hated it, so after just a few times, I had to give it up.

  19. holla! i’m with you on this subject. it really IS hard to know that your kids have to face life just like we did and to see them process.

    i made some mistakes with our daughter, trying to cover her from the bad stuff and i now realize that was a mistake. i’m not even sure why i did it b/c i wasn’t raised that way.

    it’s better they learn it early, else they believe the world owes them something, or will shelter them like their parents.

  20. LoLa – Ha – I’ve said that one to my daughter a few times, too.

    Hallie – If my child was getting abused by other kids or teachers I would certainly go and do something about it. Those are the battles you need to fight for your kid. Get her out of that school, find another learning environment for her..whatever. But the small stuff — she was capable of handling that herself. But overall, yes the education system stinks. It’s goal is to produce a legion of little robots who all think, dress, act, learn and regurgitate in exactly the same way so they can all grow up to be passive corporate drones.

    Bandobras – Ah, the good old days!! In Grade 2 we’d have a spelling test every Friday morning, first thing. There were always enough words to fill up a piece of foolscap. For every spelling mistake we made, we’d get 2 straps — the girls would get it on the hand, the boys on their ass behind her desk. Kids who complained at home were told “She’s the teacher. She obviously knows what she’s doing or she wouldn’t be a teacher.”

    JFG – Yup, and they’ll feel sad for their kids for not being able to enjoy the fun they had. We all have our challenges and rewards, I guess. Though I must say I rarely envy my daughter and her generation.

    Woodsy – Oh come on, I’ll bet you were down at your boys’ school once a week with your shotgun giving somebody hell for something!!

    Linda – I’m glad mine is almost grown, too.

    Charlene – Funding for schools isn’t as important as funding automobile companies and foreign wars. So, schools cut things down to the bare minium: a nice school board building and someone to come clean up the mess in the washrooms on a regular basis. Everything else is cut – staff, supplies, unessentials like art, music gym, libraries, books, etc..

    Geewits – That was a nice idea with the fluffy island. With your handy skills I’m surprised you didn’t construct her a spongy platform under her swings!

    Leah – Shielding your kids from bad stuff is never a mistake — it’s a natural inclination. What parent doesn’t want their children to have an idyllic childhood full of fantasy and love and fun and joy and kindness? Life is hard enough as you get older (and even when you’re young) without having to have a lot of crap dumped on you from day one. In the animal kingdom, the mother will protect her offspring fiercely from anything or anyone who wants to do them harm, but she’ll be pretty (brutal yet still kind) with her little ones sometimes as she teaches them to learn to fend for themselves.

  21. RE: “Oh come on, I’ll bet you were down at your boys’ school once a week with your shotgun giving somebody hell for something!!”

    Nope, for once you are wrong XUP. I encouraged my sons to fight back if hit, to speak their mind, to stand up to hypocrisy and injustice – to deal with issues on their own. But, like you, they always knew they could tell me what was going on and that I was ready to step in if asked. I stepped in only once, when called upon, for Erratic Genius and once for Word Wizard. When teachers would call me because of an “issue”, to the teachers’ surprise, I always knew about it ahead of time. When teachers called to complain or whine, I told them to work it out like grown-ups with my kids by talking to them and problem solving.

    I believe that the most important lesson learned in school is how to fend for yourself in the big world.

  22. My first thought at the top of the post was that perhaps the child was officially learning disabled and the school refused to acknowledge this in order to save money – happens a bit in smaller rural school districts around here. Then when you wrote about the alleged actions of the parents, the original thought was confirmed – might be genetic 🙂

  23. Woodsy – I know. I was pretty sure you didn’t even have a shotgun. We used to have much more autonomy in school back in the day. Parents weren’t called every five minutes about stuff. The police wasn’t brought in for every brawl. It was more of a sink or swim attitude. I feel they drag us parents into everything and keep such a hawk eye on the kids that once they graduate and have to fend for themselves at university or work, they have no idea what to do.

    Becky – Yes. There is probably some sort of genetic issue going on there.