Tag Archives: OpEd

The Adults Should Know Better

22 Mar

I’m well overdue for a good ol’ fashioned internet rant, and I’m afraid it’s gonna be a doozy.

Maybe you haven’t heard the story of the little boy who was bullied for his love of My Little Ponies and his Rainbow Dash backpack.  Grayson Bruce’s bullies physically attacked him as a part of their bullying, making him feel unsafe at school.  The school’s response?  Was to ban the backpack as it was a distraction and a “trigger for bullying.”  Basically, the school told Grayson that he was responsible for his own bullying and for the physical and emotional pain other children were intentionally causing him.  Their message to Grayson and to any student in their school who may be a little different is “Maybe you could be just a little less weird.  Is that so much to ask?”

I wish I could say that this kind of mentality from school officials isn’t the norm, but time and time again, I have witnessed students’ individuality systematically discouraged under the guise of rules about maintaining a “distraction free learning environment.”  Just this week, I heard from a friend and fellow parent that her daughter’s teacher recommended that her 4th grader seek counseling to learn how to “fit in better.”  You see, this child’s peers have sunk to ignoring her, name-calling, and the occasional “oops, I didn’t mean to place that sticker on your shoulder by hitting you.”

“Jane” is ostracized in and out of class because she’s a little different.  She likes things other kids don’t like, speaks a little loudly, often has her nose in a book, and doesn’t care about keeping up with the latest clothing styles.  I know this child well and see her weekly.  She is brilliant – mind-blowingly brilliant.  Creative, witty, and fun.  While the other girls in her class are swooning over teen heart throbs and gushing over their newest miniskirt, she loves Minecraft and computer games about animals… and it just so happens that her My Little Pony collection could probably rival Grayson’s. She loves learning and pours herself into school.  Or she did.

You see, her school’s response to the relational aggression and outright harassment being directed at her has been one of dismissal and excuses.  Her teacher insists she hasn’t seen any incidents of bullying and when Jane asks for help with a specific situation, she is told that nothing can be done since it’s a case of “he said, she said.”  When a boy harassed Jane on the bus, the bus driver told her that she was lying, and no action was taken until the mother contacted the administration.  Even after the boy’s mother had her son admit to the incident, no apology was issued to Jane from the school or the bus driver, and the boy suffered no consequences from the school for his behavior.  It’s no wonder Jane’s enthusiasm for school has waned.

And I have to wonder.  If Jane was more “normal,” would the teacher dismiss her cries for help?  If she were less introverted, would the administration tell her mother there is nothing they can do?  If she were your typical “popular” kid (tall and thin with designer clothes and an impatience to grow up), would the bus driver have accused her of lying?

The truth is that struggling to fit in with your peers is a rite of passage.  Kids can be downright cruel as they figure out how they fit into society and how to bend the social rules to their will.  That’s easy to explain and frankly, to be expected from children whose brains are quite literally still developing.  The adults… should know better.  School should be a safe place for all students to learn and play and it is job of each teacher and administrator to ensure that safety.  If Jane doesn’t have any advocates, even within the school staff, how can she possibly stand a chance with the other students?

Quote Bullying Post

I’m angry.  I’m angry for Jane and for Grayson.  I know firsthand that a teacher’s intervention can lift up a child who’s different from “weird” to “wonderful,” without asking the child to change who they are.  I’ve seen classrooms where teachers insisted on mutual respect among all the students, and where the “weird” kids were celebrated for their talents and abilities.  I’ve participated in classes where “unique” was the compliment it should be, and where there were no misfits because everyone was a misfit.  These teachers do one simple thing differently from teachers like Jane’s:  they place the blame for the bullying on the bully instead of the victim.  Students are not expected to love or befriend everyone in the class, but teasing is not tolerated and accusations of bullying are addressed immediately and sincerely.

My friend Miranda wrote about this recently as well, with her piece Stop It With the Victim Blaming.  In her piece, she reminds us that children are being destroyed by the kind of relational aggression and harassment that Jane faces at her school daily.  So don’t tell me that “in your day, you knew how to take an insult and just not let it bother you,” that you “don’t have enough time to deal with bullying,” or that these kids who dare (because they are DARING) to be themselves in a world that increasingly values homogeny somehow deserve to be treated as less than human.

Fitting in?  Is overrated.  It’s time to spread the word and stand up for the kids who are struggling.

Enough is enough.

**Obviously, the names in this post have been changed.***

One Kidney McGee

14 Aug

Did you know I only have one functioning kidney?

I discovered a lump in my abdomen when I was 8 weeks pregnant with Doodlebug almost 5 years ago.  My OB chuckled and told me it was probably just my organs moving to make room for my growing uterus and joked that I was so tiny that it was probably my kidney being pushed up.  When it failed to stop growing and moving around (I marked my skin with sharpie to document its comings and goings), and it began to hurt, I went back 4 weeks later and insisted on an ultrasound.

Two hours after my scan, the OB called and asked me to “come in right away.”  I was instantly sick to my stomach.  She explained that the ultrasound showed a large mass, 11cm x 18cm, and they were unsure what it was.  She wanted me to go for more tests and to see a surgeon for removal of what might be a cyst.  At 12 weeks pregnant, the idea of abdominal surgery terrified me and every doctor I spoke with seemed unsure as well.  Turns out, pregnant women make doctors (and their malpractice insurance) very nervous.

One day before my scheduled exploratory surgery, I had an ultrasound with a specialist to check on the baby.  With one glance at the screen, she diagnosed me with an enlarged kidney.  Apparently the first set of doctors didn’t put two and two together when the original ultrasound showed a large mass but noted that my left kidney could not be found.

I was then diagnosed with severe hydronephrosis of the left kidney, caused by a congenital defect that narrowed or blocked my ureteropelvic junction. Basically, the urine created by my left kidney couldn’t drain into my bladder, backed up into my kidney, and slowly destroyed the healthy tissue.  All I had left was a thin membrane of kidney tissue filled with fluid.

Here’s a picture:

The good news? Hydronephrosis is benign in most cases.  A severe urinary track or kidney infection is the largest threat I face because of the difficulty the doctors might have treating it.  But the reality was that my kidney had most likely been this way for a while and I never knew it. It’s often diagnosed in infancy or childhood and corrected with a simple procedure, but mine was never caught.  In fact, the human body can function just fine with only one kidney!  This article from Scientific American describes how the remaining kidney can grow to compensate.  Thankfully, my right kidney has done just that and has 99% function.

None of this was much consolation while I was pregnant (and an anxious mess) for the first time. Doctors weren’t sure how my still-functioning right kidney would do when the pressure from the pregnancy caused the expected (and totally normal) mild hydronephrosis of pregnancy in my right side.  I was given options to stent the UPJ, to drain the kidney to relieve the pressure, or to do nothing.

I am grateful for the St. Louis urologist (because that’s where I lived at the time) who talked patiently with me while I weighed all my options.  He treated me like an intelligent partner in my health decisions and was frank but kind about the risks.  He helped me find a knowledgeable high-risk OB who monitored me closely, watching for signs of preterm labor and additional stress to my body and the baby’s.  And he supported my choice when I decided not to undergo any procedures.  He’s the kind of doctor everyone deserves.

My first pregnancy (and subsequent accidental second pregnancy) were thankfully unaffected by the kidney.  I am not, however, symptom-free.  The kidney is still huge.  The size of a small loaf of bread or a large eggplant.  It presses on nearby organs (including my intestines) and can be very uncomfortable if I move the wrong way or exercise too hard. I wish I had a copy of the MRI image to show you – it’s impressive how half of my abdomen is basically all giant-balloon-animal-kidney-thing.

The plan is to have it electively removed.  I even had a surgeon all lined up to take it out laproscopically before I got knocked up with Bean (oops).  My risk of kidney infection and my discomfort will both be ameliorated by its removal.  Plus, there’s nothing like a good old nephrectomy to lose a few pounds.  Kidding.  Now is just not a good time – we’ll do it when the girls are a little older.

I used to think about how I was down one kidney all the time.  It used to terrify me.  Now it’s just another part of my day, but I do take good care of Ol’ Righty.  Which is why I’m writing this post in the first place.

People, take care of your kidneys.  Drink water.  Pee when you have to – don’t hold it in.  Assess your risks for kidney disease.  Don’t take for granted the amazing work your body does for you.  I sure don’t.

 

That extra little bulge above my hip?  Kidney.

Here I am 35 weeks pregnant with Bean.  That extra little bulge above my hip? Kidney.

Fill in the Blank

5 Jul

Asian people are _______________.

Black people are _______________.

White people are _______________.

Mexican people are _____________.

It’s word association, only more uncomfortable.  What were the first words that came to mind? No, really.

Jewish people are ______________.

Christians are ____________.

Muslims are _____________.

Athiests are _____________.

It’s time to be honest with ourselves.  You see, it seems to me that these days, people are more concerned with being right than being better, so they hide their prejudices behind a wall built from denial and sometimes outright lies.

Gay men are __________________.

Lesbians are __________________.

One of the strengths of the human brain is its ability to categorize and organize.  To compare and contrast.  And to make inferences and predictions.  Prejudice and bias are built into how we think and socialize.  And your biases will affect how you complete each sentence.

Women are ___________________.

Men are _____________________.

We all know the politically correct answers to each blank. We want those correct answers to be the first we think of.  I get that.  So take a moment and free yourself from the shame that comes with admitting your faults.  Can you answer each blank honestly?  Can you admit that there might be one or two at which you cringe, glad that you only answered them in your head?

Bottle feeding moms are ________________.

Breastfeeding moms are __________________.

As a middle class white girl who grew up in North Dallas, my own words for each blank have changed over the years based on my life experiences and people I have come to know.  When my only experience with people from Mexico was in my small, white, suburban town? I would have filled in the blank with “poor” or “uneducated,” I think.  After sharing an orchestra stage with many Mexican and Latin members for years, and playing under the direction of an amazing Maestro from Monterrey, my world view shifted.  So much so that I felt very ashamed of my previously held prejudices.  It’s hard to admit them, even now.  I am still in touch with friends from my college days and I would hate for them to think that I ever assumed they were any less than the amazing people they are.  Now?  That blank would have to be filled with “family-centered,” after the trip I took in 2001, touring with my college orchestra in several Mexican cities.  Maybe “cultured,” too.

French people are ______________________.

Americans are ________________________.

Indians are _______________________.

There were maybe 4 black students at my elementary school that I can remember.  Total.  And I don’t think I can tell you if I remember any at my high school.  They were few and far between at my college.  After moving to St. Louis a few years after graduating college, I worked for a major museum downtown, creating and presenting hands-on science curriculum for area schools.  I used to drive an enormous van (that was painted like a dinosaur) into the heart of inner-city St. Louis at least once a week.  I would drive past apartment buildings with crumbling outer walls, grocery stores with metal bars on the windows, and arrive at the school only to walk through 3 metal detectors on my way to a classroom.  I have never felt more white in my life.  And honestly?  I think the word that would have filled in the blank for me on my first visit?  Was “hostile.”  Doing that job changed my life.  I was greeted with curious faces and hugs from children I had never met before.  We marveled over the chemical changes and the physics of air-powered rockets.  They lit up as we discussed the planets and rocket designs.  The teachers were welcoming and professional.  In need of supplies, training, materials, and so much more, but passionate educators.  I was so wrong.

People with diabetes are __________________.

The mentall ill are _____________________.

The overweight are _________________________.

Smokers are  __________________________.

Being a part of the blogging community has afforded me the opportunity to meet people outside the suburban, New England bubble I currently reside in. And though I know that the connections I have made online – the people I know who are black, who are muslim, who are gay – don’t speak for the entire group that they belong in, it’s helped me get a glimpse of what their experiences as minorities in this country have been like.  My friend A’Driane has been singled out repeatedly in the last year for being an African American woman living in a predominately white upperclass neighborhood.  Her children have been marginalized and just last week, her oldest son asked her if their people were still slaves.  Before our friendship, the affects of racism on the black community in this country weren’t really on my radar.  I mean, I knew about it, but it was (and  this is hard to admit) easy to go about my day without thinking of it..  But when it directly impacts someone you love – when it’s one of your best friends being treated as a second-class citizen – it changes the way you see the world.

Rich people  are _________________________.

Poor people are  _________________________.

The prejudice I carry the most shame about? Is an ignorant homophobia.  I remember being about 10.  And loving neon-colored sweaters.  Big, bulky ones.  It was the 80’s.  For Christmas, I got a black sweater with a brightly colored rainbow stretching across the middle of the shirt.  I loved it and wore it whenever it was clean.  Then one day, a classmate told me, “you know that gay people wear rainbows, right?”  I had no idea what gay meant.  I had no idea what sex was at that age and my idea of love was a note left in a cubby hole that required a checkmark.  And yet I remember distinctly being angry that “they” had taken rainbows.  That I could no longer wear my favorite sweater.  I don’t know that I can tell you what word would have filled in my blank when I was a child, but it wouldn’t have been good.  I am so thankful that, since college, I have met and befriended enough LGBT people to have had my biases broken.  From the neighbors who lived next to my parents, to members of my husband’s music fraternity in college, to the authors of stories written by friends online like Vikki of Up Popped a Fox, each person has taught me that someone’s sexual orientation does not define who they are.  That gender and sex are not the same thing.  That it is not something to judge, and that their relationships deserve the recognition and rights that those of straight relationships take for granted. I deeply regret the time I spent judging and misunderstanding a group of people because of a stigma imposed by my peers.

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I am, by no means, prejudice-free.  Noone is. But I’m becoming increasingly aware of mine and how they impact the decisions I make.  Your biases don’t make you subhuman.  They merely make you imperfect.  They mean you are subject to social conditioning, as we all are.  And until you are able to openly admit them to yourself?  They’ll continue to shape your attitudes, words, and actions, unchecked.

And so I challenge you.  Go back and fill in each blank.  But do it mindfully and honestly.  And then see where your answers take you.

Blatant racism is dangerous.  But so is ignoring and denying the seemingly innocent biases we all live with every day.  Only when we are all are striving to make the ending to each of those sentences above “PEOPLE,” will we stand a chance at real tolerance.

EDIT: There has been discussion of my choice of the word “tolerance” above.  I’d hate for anyone to think I’m suggesting that we only “tolerate” those we disagree with.  Instead, I’m using the word to mean define a bigotry-free world view.  This definition on Wikipedia speaks to my intention.  

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