Mother’s Day, Pat and life is so damned tough

I completely fucked up and didn’t write my annual tribute you on Pat’s Day, March 15, her erstwhile birthday. So, on the hallmark-iest of days, I’ll write about Pat and how much I particularly wish she were here today, right now, this week of all weeks. And, I will provide a tribute in a pic of her favorite meal.

In the way, way, way back days, Pat taught “special needs” kids. In those days of the 60s, 70s and 80s, that euphemism was used for students who had things like dyslexia or couldn’t sit still. They were normal kids with learning disabilities and rode the regular long bus not the short variety. Instead, the short bus riders were called mentally deficient or most often retarded.

Now it’s a slur, and then it was an adjective.

So, back in those dark days, my town, the same one in which Pat taught, was actually not bad in handling kids who were developmentally delayed or had an intellectual disability. I’m not sure of the best words to use. Anyway, according to what my mother and her friends told me, and my own experience, there were students from nearby towns joining our schools,nand for a few hours a day or week, the handicapped kids were “mainstreamed” into our classes. Pat was besties with Debbie, who taught, or in some cases just managed, the classroom in their school where these kids were the rest of the time, and Pat would help that class, too.

She affectionately and without a shred of malice–seriously it was a different fucking decade–called them her “retreads.”

Because I was me–a dorky, lumpen, possibly doughy little girl, who far, far preferred reading and writing to actually talking with people, and because I was for better or worse Pat’s baby and shadow in so much of her teaching life, which chronologically coincided with my schooling life, my mom had a plan. She put the word out to her teacher friends to use me in classrooms, as peer and friend to the kids getting their mainstream swerve on when I was in class.

Doubtlessly if asked, my mother would have said wryly that I actually belonged with the intellectually disabled.

It would have been a crime of capital proportions if I was anything but friendly and respectful to these other kids. I think one disparagement would have pushed Pat over the line from threatening a physical beating to actually doing it. So I was on a first name basis with kids with all sorts of issues — cerebral palsy, what was probably autism, Tourette’s Syndrome, Down’s, Fragile X–all of the things that could get them beaten up by the bullies.

I also learned from Pat and her friend Debbie some pretty horrible tales of mistreatment for these kids. Teacher Debbie, for example, reported physical abuse, then fostered, then adopted a friendly little boy whose dad (or step dad) would daily try to beat some sense into him. When we became adults, my mother long retired, he would great my mother by name in the local grocery store where he worked with a big smile and wave.

I was taught to just not be an asshole, and (mostly) I kept my mortification of being in with these kids in check and genuinely tried to tutor and be a friend.
Pat championed these kids. She really championed any kid who had it rough. Broken-heartedly, she also helped abused kids, including testifying in court for a poor little dude who came to her for help, which led to the revelation that he was being sexually abused.

As a side visual — there was a lot about Pat that was more grandmotherly than motherly in appearance. With her cap of sometimes untamed curly hair, big glasses and panty hose, standing all of 5-foot-2, she was not a MILF. She was kindly and comfortable to the kids, and undoubtedly they cried in her soft arms more than I ever did. I never really talked with her about sex, since that seemed so out of her area of expertise, so I can only imagine how desperate the little boy was who came to her with a health issue involving the most private of his parts.

Why am I thinking of all of this on Mother’s Day? Because this week, more than many a week, maybe ever a week, I would love to hear what Pat would say. 
In my daily life, because I am still the little girl who Pat made befriend developmentally disadvantaged folks, I chatted with a guy around my age who could only handle minimal tasks and mostly talked about baseball. He has been a fixture of my morning routine for years, greeting me with a smile and “Good Morning, Sunshine,” and I talked to him like I was taught normally to people with intellectual disabilities in a place where some people ignored him.

He was arrested this week, accused of child molestation, and then his home was searched, and they say they found child porn. After the news broke, I found out through people who knew him better than me, that at least on paper, he was not actually one of Debbie’s “retreads.” Because of the labeling and terrible situations years ago (and probably still), his mom never wanted him to be one of those short-bus kids.

So who knows what has happened, and whether anything is true. Innocent until proven otherwise. In the newspaper, he’s a grown man. But assuredly he wasn’t on the same page intellectually with most men his age. He’s sitting in jail, where certainly he will be broken if only because of his own stubborn adherence to his own daily routine.

But, he may have done one of the worst crimes you can commit.

So I wish I could hear from Pat. I wish I could hear her heart, the ferocious defender of the less fortunate. I wish I could hear her professionally, the teacher for decades of so many kids with so many problems. Where would her feelings fall? What would she say? I need her help to understand a fucked up, monstrous, horrible, bad thing. I want my mommy.

Pat 2015

I’ve been thinking about my mom, but I can’t figure out the angle here.  Well, there’s the anniversary of her day of birth.  But, maybe it’s this:  After getting my perfomance reviewed at work — corporate America’s annual dance or bloodletting depending on how you are doing–I keep wondering if she’d be happy or pissed at me.

First week of the month, I was going full-on existential postal.  I can’t think much about where I am in life before I start thinking of all the places that I am not.  I am not rich, famous and beautiful, and I’d be good at all three, goddamnit, so I should be.  The crisis du month, though, was the triple-decker pileup of my birthday, my performance review and this thing at my place of toil that I can’t describe but involves sharing stuff about yourself.  

Amid the self-loathing caused by age and excess self reflection, I had a fleeting thought about my mother. A point I will get to after I set it up with too much detail.

Some days, I think I confound some of my coworkers.  The environment of my paycheck generation is well-educated and high performing. It definitely charts about the curve by most definitions, or it’s proof positive that with the right motivation and circumstances, and money to pay for it, anyone can get a graduate degree.  There’s a metric ton of letters after people’s names.

I was too desirous of money and the associated purchases — groceries and rent mainly — to stick around ivied halls any longer than I had to do to get my bachelor’s.  I wasn’t burning for any more learning of the formal sort circa 1985.

From 1985 almost to the day she died, Pat, my mother, reminded me I could still go to grad school.  I let her down on that decision for decades.

Today, I am docorate-less and masters-less in a sea of masters and doctors.  I have more years of relevant experience than many, though, so I hold my own with common sense and moxie.  Hence the confounding, I just don’t defer to not knowing shit, because there’s a lot of shit I know even without the sheepskin to prove it.  

it’s a bit like the end of the Wizard of Oz; I grant myself a doctorate of thinkology.

Now here’s where Pat comes in… That woman worked hard, year after year, helping to educate other people’s kids.  That hard work full on cramped the woman’s style.  Some of the other teachers and the school administrators crushed a bit of her creative sparkle. She was a little pounded down.  By retirement, she was caved in by it all.

She indoctrinated me into a fear about work.  A fear that you could lose your job for many types of infractions.  She had near perfect attendance over years and years.  She carried out all of the side jobs and extra tasks asked of teachers with nary a complaint — bus duty, after hours tutoring, grading papers on her own time, mentoring young teachers and helping with banquets and school events in the evenings.

I learned and listened and I have almost perfect attendance and do a lot of good citizeny extras at work.  But try as I might I can’t bury my non-conformist tendencies.  I am a good worker bee in a happy hive, but I’m a square peg in a round-holed world.

Problem is, I like it.

So, I work in a job that is easy for me.  I sacrifice some pay and will likely never have a good title, but I know everyone in the building.  My days are laid out with honkingly wide swathes of leeway and not a lot of  having my clocked punched by somebody else.

It’s a trade off.  It’s a choice.  And, it’s a little bit of anxiety.  If I got the gig where I got the pay that meant I have to manage stuff, I might fail.  I might have to leave my sneakers at home.  I might have to be at my desk for geometrically larger periods of time than I am now.

I think Pat might see the genius of my choice.  For good benefits and a not awful paycheck, the man isn’t keepnmg me down and the thoughts inside my head are free to breathe.

Outwardly, she’d tell me to do more.  She’d ask about promotions and growth opportunities.  She’d worry. 

Or maybe she’d smile.

It ought to be a holiday

Every year, well more frequently than that, I think about my mother. I think about her on the Ides of March, the portentous day in which Brutus stabbed Caesar and my mother was born. Not the same year, mind you, as I’m not tapping this out on my ancient Roman computer.

Actually, it was portent upon portent for old Pat. She was born on the Ides of March the year of the stock market crash for the Great Depression. She was meant for great things.

So, another anniversary rolls around.

I like to remember the ways in which Pat stood out from the crowd. Or in my warped and selfish and self-absorbed brain, the ways in which Pat affected me and stood out from the crowd.

Today’s memory is tied to the current season of my manual toil. OK, typing and sitting at a desk isn’t manual labor, but some days it grinds you just the same. I got callouses on my tappy type finger tips.

At work these days the pesky little papers (now computer files) that once a year worker drones planet-wide, or at least U.S.-wide, bemoan are due — the annual performance reviews. The neat little report where you and your boss get to write out how you’re “meeting expectations” and otherwise doing what a cog does when one is employed.

You say to yourself right about now, I can hear you breathing and thinking, you say, but how does that relate to Pat. Surely, she was not your boss, apart from the sense in which we are all subordinates to our mothers.

Well, here’s the thing. I might be one of the only people rambling around that has written their own performance “self reports” for the decades that I have been employed as a grown up adult, who got their start years before they were allowed to work.

Pat, enmeshed in some heavy duty politics and just short of Brutus-like backstabbing in my town’s school system, turned her typewriter over to her precocious daughter one fine day and asked for her help in word smithing her review. She had to describe her classroom contributions, and since she floated around helping learning disabled kids within other people’s classrooms, she had to talk about that too.

By nature, she was a mix of fierceness on some opinions and topics (ahem, Catholic molesters) and shy reticence on a whole lot more. She complained to those nearest and dearest, but she was way too polite to complain to anyone or anything with any authority, including a cashier at a convenient store. (Although, the school teacher might pop out at any time if said cashier couldn’t do the math to make simple change.)

Real humility, not the false stuff that often passes for humility, was part of her core, and she could not find any words at all to describe what she contributed. She knew what she did, but she couldn’t spin it to advertise her brand.

I could do that for her and with some nudging to not get carried away with florid prose extolling her greatness, together we spoke about her patience with kids in the classroom. Her vast experience. Her gentle but persistent nature. Her true and deep caring for children and learning and education. Her mastery of basic skills and pedagogies and learning methods. That she could set and meet goals until the sun rose and set a hundred years.

She was a champion to a whole lot of kids fumbling in classrooms with dyslexia, a host of other syndromes and disorders, and simply poor study skills.

Pat was also a drill sergeant. No misplaced modifiers, misspellings (which I incidentally just mistyped), prepositions dangling at a sentence’s end, no math not shown happened on her watch. For the stuff where there is a right and wrong way to do it, by god she was going to teach you the right way or die trying.

All of her skills, the ones that made strangers come up to me in high school and beyond and say they knew my mother and that she was great, they were in her heart effortlessly as a teacher.

But, she did suck at telling management what was up. I helped do that for her. I was a kid and it was a fun writing assignment and in truth I had no feel for the politics or fear of the consequences, so I could write without inhibition. She could not. It became an annual ritual in her later years of work.

Now, about a thousand years later, or maybe just shy of that, I have to do the same kind of reports for myself.

So, I sit at my desk and return to the game that I had done at my mother’s typewriter. I right fast and furiously, and I have learned how to advertise my own brand but temper it with a soup├žon of self-reflection. I allow for the things I do not know, and I hammer out my strengths. I find the notes of self improvement that are surmountable and demonstrate my good attitude.

I try very hard not to by cynical. But, for that to happen, I do not dwell, I do not agonize. If I spend over 15 minutes on the thing, at about 10 minutes in, I walk away until my head is in the game and I give it only 5 minutes more.

It’s impossible to tell your boss that in addition to my 25-30 years of doing the things for myself, I might have done 10 years more. We breeze through the things, the virtual online handshake is done and another year will pass.

And my highest proof of mastery were the words of my attorney, the one I hired on account of my work at the time not really feeling the love, the labor lawyer who helped me out of a jam. That besuited gentleman pulled all of my Human Resources records out of the belly of the employment beast, and he went through each paper with the loving care that an hourly fee will get you.

Upon sage and learned analysis, he proclaimed that while many a person had come through his office doors with a sad story to tell about the workplace, almost all of them had some marks in their permanent records. But my file, the years of reviews and meetings, they were a pristine and glimmering example. He said in all his years of lawyering he had never seen such stellar performance reviews.