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You Really Don’t Have to Share!

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by Melissa Face

I sat on a couch grading papers, waiting for my children to finish their dance classes. Next to me, a mom and her daughter played quietly with a sticker book. It was the type with pages that tear out. The sheets were pictures of animals, and the stickers were eyes, noses, whiskers, etc. They chatted and laughed together for a few minutes. “Here are the dog’s ears,” the mother said. “Put these on.”

“I want a sticker!” a girl on the other side of the room told her mother. 

“Well, go over there,” the mom encouraged. “Ask them for one.”

So the child did.

“Can I have a sticker?” she said.

I’m not sure if the mom and the daughter with the stickers didn’t hear the other child, or if they pretended not to. Either way, I really didn’t blame them. They were playing together, mother and daughter. What is wrong with that? Do we really have to share with others all the time?

The other child, feeling a bit dejected, ran back to her mother and cried.

At this point, I thought the exchange might be over. I paused my eavesdropping and returned to grading. But only for a moment.

“It’s okay,” the mother across the room said loudly to her crying child. “Remember the episode of Daniel Tiger? If no one wants to share with you, find something else to do. It’s very nice when people share, but they don’t HAVE to. Plus, if she doesn’t share with you, that means you don’t EVER have to share with her.”

I felt my face turn red. I wanted to call her out for taunting the mother and daughter who just wanted to play quietly with their sticker book. I wanted to tell her that maybe she should bring her own toys and books to entertain her young child while waiting for a class that is an hour long. I wanted to tell her that there is a Dollar General across the street that sells sticker books. And I really wanted to tell her that I’ve also seen that episode of Daniel Tiger, and that’s not how it went.

But I didn’t say anything aloud. “Not my battle. Not my battle,” I chanted to myself. “I’ve had plenty of my own lately. This one isn’t mine.”

The child, still sniffling, wandered back over to the mother and daughter. This time, out of equal parts obligation and humiliation, the mother offered the other child a sticker. “Would you like to play?” the mom asked. “Here, I’ll tear out a sheet for you.”

The two girls sat on the floor and played, but the girl who owned the sticker book was uncomfortable. And rightfully so. The other child was in her face, tearing pages, dropping stickers, and interfering with what was previously a time of peaceful play. At one point, the other child hid the sticker book under a sofa so the girl who owned it couldn’t find it.

I know it wasn’t my problem, but it makes me angry when I see that other people are uncomfortable. I appreciate personal space. While sharing is a kind gesture, I don’t think it is always necessary. And I certainly don’t want to be made to feel like I HAVE to share.

 

For the record, this is how the Daniel Tiger episode really went down:

 

Daniel has a sticker book and Margaret wants the stickers.

“No! These are mine,” Daniel says. “They’re not for you. Dad, tell Margaret she can’t have my stickers.”

Daniel Tiger and his dad have a conversation and Daniel’s dad tells him that it might be even more fun if they play together. But when they do, Margaret tries to take his whole sticker book.

“What if she rips it?” Daniel pleads. “It’s really special to me.”

“I see,” says Daniel’s dad. “Some things you don’t have to share.”

Sometimes parents want to interact with their own children without dealing with someone else’s child. Sometimes children are feeling shy and would rather not share their belongings with a stranger. And sometimes children don’t offer to share because they have an autism spectrum disorder and struggle with cooperative behavior and the invasion of personal space. Or maybe they just don’t want to, and there is no other explanation. 

No explanation is needed. Some things you don’t have to share.

 

I Didn’t Move Here for This: A Letter to the Editor About Prince George County Schools

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***photo taken September 6, 2016***

by Melissa Face

Parent of Walton Elementary students

Nearly four years ago, my husband and I moved our two children to Prince George from Wakefield. This decision was not an easy one, as it meant leaving extended family behind. But we relocated in order to enroll our children in Prince George County Schools.

Prior to moving to the county, I was employed with the school system from 2008-2015. I taught special education and English at Prince George High School. Within that time frame, I had the opportunity to serve on the school system’s communications committee. We met regularly with the superintendent, and I found it an insightful experience that allowed me to understand the inner workings and goals of the school system. And even though we were often facing and addressing our own flaws and shortcomings (including our outdated, aging facilities), the division seemed concerned. The outlook seemed forward thinking. And the future appeared hopeful.

Those emotions have morphed into concern and fear. I am afraid of short and long-term health concerns, as my husband and I deliver our children each day to a building that is infested with mold, CO2, and other contaminants. I am afraid of them being at an open campus with a security situation that has historically been contingent upon funding received from a grant. I am concerned about the temporary fix of moving children to a trailer until a more permanent solution is created. I am afraid that the people who can make change happen may not do it.

It is time for our children and their safety to be prioritized within the county. They deserve better, and the county is letting them down. The county is letting us all down.

Posts and reader comments on Prince George County’s social media page indicate that the county is concerned about new business. But think about it: What reason is the county giving businesses to build or relocate here? Where is the attraction? Why should families move to Prince George County? Why should those of us who live here stay? What is the long-term relationship between the county and Fort Lee going to look like if schools aren’t improved? Will it remain a “solid partnership”? I am doubtful.

At this point, taxpayers, parents, and teachers really aren’t interested in who did what in the past. I don’t care who was or wasn’t invited to a particular meeting. Build a school for our children, and do it now. As the Prince George County School Board and the Board of Supervisors move toward next week’s meeting, I urge them to make a decision that will result in the quickest, safest solution for our students. 

The county has some serious catching up to do in terms of the school system’s buildings, technology, and safety. It’s time to make changes before parents begin seeking alternative routes for their children. Moving is an option. Private schools are an option. Creating a charter school within Prince George County is also an option to consider. I know I’m considering it.

Stolen Snack and Opportunity

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by Melissa Face

Evan didn’t mention the incident when I picked him up from aftercare. Though that would have been more convenient, I have grown accustomed to addressing school concerns after dinner and into the late evening hours. 

My kids are rarely able to tell me the things I need to know when I first pick them up in the afternoons. Instead, the details of their days trickle out like drips from a leaky faucet. A random splash here and there until they have finally expelled all they were storing.

“Oh, and someone ate my snack at aftercare today,” Evan told me, around 7:30 one night.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “The snack we packed?”

“Yes. A girl ate my cookies.”

“How did she get them?”

“She went into my backpack and took them.”

“So what did you do?”

“I told the teacher,” Evan said.

“That’s good,” I told him.

A few minutes later, I emailed the aftercare director and explained Evan’s story. I received a prompt reply with reassurance that the situation would be handled.

The next day at pick-up, the aftercare teacher told me she had spoken with the child and her parent about the snack incident.

“I explained to the mom that kids have to be careful about eating other people’s food because of allergies and that her daughter could have had a reaction from eating Evan’s cookie,” the teacher relayed.

She told me she would monitor the situation more carefully in the future. I thanked her and walked the kids to our car.

When I was driving home, it occurred to me what the teacher had actually done: perpetuated the common belief that we should be concerned about how others are impacted when they wrong us.

In an already litigious, victim-blaming society, this teacher’s response is more part of the problem than the solution. 

How does this scenario differ from a burglar’s family suing a homeowner because he fell into their pool and drowned while he was robbing the house?

Or what about someone’s auto insurance rates going up because a thief steals the person’s car, crashes it, and suffers life-threatening injuries?

What if the girl at aftercare HAD been allergic to something in Evan’s cookies? Would I have been at fault if she had reacted, even though she stole them from my son’s backpack?

It wouldn’t surprise me.

And most importantly, why didn’t the aftercare teacher simply tell the girl that stealing is wrong and she needs to respect the property of others?

My best response to my own questions is that she was afraid.

Adults have become increasingly fearful of telling people, even kids, when they have done something wrong. We don’t want to hurt feelings, step on toes, or God forbid, make someone not like us. (I shudder at the very thought of it.)

We need to get over that right now. It’s ridiculous, and we aren’t doing anyone any favors when we are trying to see how nice we can be. 

Kids want to be told right from wrong; they want boundaries.

Take the example of a well-managed classroom versus a chaotic one. Initially, students may prefer the latter. They will be able to talk loudly with their friends, run around the room, and do basically whatever they want. But after a while, they will grow tired of it and ask (in their way) for structure and guidelines. I’ve witnessed this firsthand when I had substitutes for my own classes.

“We missed you,” a student expressed, after I had been out sick for a couple of days.

“Yeah! We missed you a lot,” another student echoed. “The sub let us do whatever we wanted.”

They didn’t like the freedom and absence of boundaries. They wanted rules and structure. They wanted to learn in an environment that valued expectations and consequences.

If we are unnecessarily nice and worried about offending kids by telling them they are wrong, we are forfeiting a valuable opportunity to improve morality and teach life lessons. We are also creating a generation of adults who won’t respect the boundaries of others. Plus, avoiding calling people out when they are wrong because we are afraid of hurting feelings IS still hurting someone: the victim.

Adults need to step up their game and provide children with appropriate boundaries. That means we sometimes have to tell them things they don’t want to hear, like “No”, “That’s not okay”, and “Stealing is wrong.”

It seems we have become so concerned with being nice that we have lost sight of the real objective: doing what is right. 

            Perhaps a blend of kindness and assertiveness might be more beneficial. And if we are calling this concoction a cocktail, let kindness be your garnish. Not your main spirit.

 

I Look Awesome!

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by Melissa Face

Dressing Delaney was simple last year because her school required a uniform. Each day she wore a plaid jumper over a white polo, with matching navy tights and black Mary Janes. 

Life was easy then. There may have been no room for creativity, but there was also no room for arguments.

This year, Delaney is in public school, and she has a bit more freedom in her wardrobe. She has always had a strong sense of self, and more recently, that has transferred into her fashion choices. She knows what she likes, and what “looks bad.” And she is very much aware of the effects a fantastic outfit can have on her self-esteem.

“I look awesome in this!” she exclaimed the other day, while trying on a black leotard at Target. She has since worn the leotard around the house on the weekends, but thankfully, she hasn’t mentioned wearing it to school.

She has, however, asked to wear the shirt portion of a Wonder Woman costume, and she became incensed when I pointed out that it was tight and showed her belly. 

We don’t always agree on what fits.

Another issue we don’t see eye to eye on is color coordination. 

“That doesn’t match,” I told her, as she slid her legs into striped leggings and pushed her arms through a floral print top.

“Yes. It does,” she argued. “They both gots pinks in them!”

To minimize the morning clothing chaos, we pick out Delaney’s outfits for the week on Sunday afternoons. She tries each one on. She looks at herself in the mirror, then she does her splits. If the outfit passes both the fashion and flexibility tests, we hang it up in the closet, so it’s ready to go. We also pick out a few alternates because…she’s Delaney.

This week’s lineup includes leggings, a rainbow skirt, and two Halloween costumes. Before I agreed to costumes, I checked the school’s handbook and read the dress code line by line. The costumes don’t include a mask; they aren’t revealing, and they are longer than her knees. They really look more like dresses than actual costumes. 

There is, however, a clause that prohibits clothing that is “disruptive to instruction.” 

But isn’t that the very essence of being a kindergartner? Five-year-olds, by nature, are disruptive to instruction. What difference does an outfit make?

I’m letting her wear the costumes this week. If we’re told they aren’t appropriate, she won’t wear them to school again. I’m not encouraging her to break rules, but I do want to encourage her to express herself.

At five years old, there is very little that Delaney can control about the world around her. But if a few outfits can make her feel ready to take on this crazy world, she needs to wear them. I want her to feel as awesome as she did in that black leotard, every day of her life.

Mother-ship

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by Melissa Face

I was worried about the start of school this year. I wasn’t sure how the kids would do without me. And honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would be okay without them.

This summer was an emotional one for us. I lost my grandmother, and my children experienced death for the first time in their young lives

Aside from two long weekends and an overnight stay, we were always together. 

Every. Single. Day.

 And even though they often drove me nuts, I wasn’t ready for them to be under the supervision of someone who cannot possibly love them as much as I do.

From mid-June to early September, we were both captain and director of our summer cruise ship. We decided when it was meal time, how long we could stay at the pool, and how many snacks we could consume each afternoon. 

We set no limits. 

On September 3, our ship docked and the all-inclusive vacation ended abruptly. My little passengers embarked on new adventures in kindergarten and third grade. They had their own set of concerns at first: Would classmates be kind? What would the teacher be like? Who would we sit with at lunch? Would the new itinerary allow time for multiple snacks?

Evan was especially concerned about the increased rigor and the first year of SOL testing. Delaney was more worried about the change in her sleep pattern. “I’m not a wake-up kind of girl,” she reminded me the night before.

Fortunately, their fears were minimized once they arrived at school, found their seats, met their teachers, and reached out to make new friends.

The first week, though it was only a three-day week, was smooth sailing. They had virtually no adjustment period, and I found myself, once again, saying, “They are okay. They are strong kids who deal well with change.”

For the next few months, Evan and Delaney will be at sea, learning new skills, creating new bonds, and taking in new experiences. 

And in December, they will return to me for a couple of weeks. We will sleep in, watch movies, bake cookies, and enjoy the freedom of setting our own schedule again.

I can’t wait to welcome them back aboard.

Granny

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by Melissa Face

***Previously published in September Sasee. ***

I’ve been thinking about my childhood, longing for the simpler days, and wishing I could clean up my life’s messes the way you would mop your kitchen linoleum. One section, then another.

 “Good as new,” you’d say.

I liked when you picked me up from school in your gray Chevelle. That whale of a car floated down Highway 460 and you didn’t mind giving it a little gas, especially right when the light turned green. You backed off once you reached the speed limit, though. You weren’t one to break a lot of rules.

I remember sitting at your kitchen table, eating carrots dipped in ranch and working on my “lessons” as you called them. You let me eat as many after-school snacks as I wanted: dunkin’ sticks, hot chocolate, or something homemade you planned to save for Sunday lunch. You let me have it anyway. 

You chatted some while I did my homework, but you mostly kept busy with chores. You washed and peeled vegetables, shelled peas,  and snapped beans. I nudged your Lazy Susan and watched your African Violets spin a kaleidoscope of green and purple. 

“You need to finish up your lessons, now,” you reminded me. 

Once I completed my work, I daydreamed by the kitchen window. I flipped through stacks of seed catalogs and gawked at pictures of unusual vegetables: purple potatoes, red carrots, and bumpy gourds. 

Sometimes we walked to the back lot and ate apples from the tree or tasted tomatoes from the garden. We surveyed the farm, checked on the azaleas, and flattened down some of the raised spots the groundhogs made. 

“Ornery critters,” you’d mutter.

I liked snooping around your bedroom when you were busy with other things. I peeked at your house dresses, arranged neatly in your closet and stiff on wire hangers, your shoes in rows on the hardwood floor. I found your closet was exactly like the rest of your life: clean and organized, with no hidden surprises. What you see is what you get. 

I opened the makeup on your vanity, tubes of rounded, red lipstick and several black pencils. I wondered for the longest time what you did with those pencils. What were you drawing?

I remember you cleaning your house with ammonia.

 “It stinks,” I complained. “Why do you clean with pneumonia?”

“It’s ammonia,” you corrected. “Doesn’t your momma clean with this?”

I’m pretty sure she didn’t. I remember the smell only from your house. Your house, sterile as an operating room. Windows up on nice days, floral breezes in the kitchen. You scrubbed and cleaned and polished and scrubbed some more.

In later years, you had to be careful cleaning around the house, pruning azaleas, and working in the flower bed. The slightest brush against something left your arms sleeved in shades of purply blue. You blamed the bruises on aspirin.

“I don’t even remember it happening,” you told me. “So I guess it didn’t hurt much.”

You changed your bandage and revealed a slice of skin shaved back like parmesan. I held my own arm and winced. But you tended to your wound without even an “ouch,” doused it with rubbing alcohol, covered it, and got back to work.

I remember you as tall, strong, and fearless. I can picture you in your green church dress that you knotted at the waist. I remember your hair, styled and colored, dark with violet hues. Sometimes Lady Clairol gave you more shades than she advertised.

You always had good advice, too. Finish chores you like least, then do something you enjoy. And let yourself air out at night; parts need to breathe.

The years have passed quickly.  Twenty-three of them. I wish I could remember more. More than the azaleas, the smell of ammonia, and the pencils on your vanity. Something more than the shades of purple on your arms, your hair, and your African Violets by the window.

I wish I could forget some things, too. Like the way the corner of your mouth hung after the stroke, how you struggled to find words, and the way your walk became a shuffle. 

I wish I could forget my parents’ car parked in front of the funeral home, the knowing, denying, refusing. It’s all part of my memories of you; there’s no separating good from bad. 

It’s like the bowl of succotash on your Sunday table. I can’t spoon out a butter bean that hasn’t touched a tomato. 

But what would you say about the wanting to remember and the trying to forget? What would you tell me about my incessant daydreaming and worrying?

“Worry is a waste. Do something practical.”

What would you say about the messes in my life? 

Start with what I like least and fix that first, maybe. Clean up the mess. One spot at a time. Then, air it out. Things need to breathe.

Good as new.