A well-lit passionless future

A bright blue day today on our side of the city.  The wind’s come up now, whipping at the ironwood tree and my neighbor’s prayer flags.  Beyond the rooftops, the Monterey pines and eucalyptus sway back and forth in a dignified manner, as elders should. I often see ravens swooping in to land in them, but can’t spot any nests from here.

This elder is bone tired.  One of my nine-year-old grandsons spent last night with us.  His father dropped him off around six, just as my older son, his wife, and 7-month old daughter arrived.  A, my grandson, threw himself vigorously into entertaining his little cousin, racing around the house with her, whopping her with a long purple and black snake (stuffed animal variety), laughing maniacally and shooting Nerf guns.  She took it pretty well on the whole, better than we three adults, who watched edgily and tried to interfere as little as possible.

Both of the nine-year-old boys are pretty excitable.  A gets high-pitched and maniacal, the other boisterous and loud enough to make you cringe.  Together, they’re sheer bedlam.  At some point, A mentioned he’s in a special ed class.  “How come?” my son asked him.  “Oh, because me and this black kid jumped around and talked all the time and went screaming out of the room and the teachers had to yell at us all the time, so they switched us to special ed.”  Later, he told me there are nine children in the special ed class and several adults.  “Do you still scream and run out of the room?” I asked.  “No,” he said seriously, “they’re so well trained, our teachers, they don’t let us.”  “You mean they’re stricter?”  “Um…not really.  They just don’t let us.”  “You mean,” I asked, “they can see it coming and head it off?”  “Yes.” He nodded vigorously.  “So, do you think you’re able to learn better in that class?”  He thought he was.

I was touched and somehow stricken by the conversation.  The teachers being “so well-trained”–where did he get that?  His parents, I suppose.  How does it feel to be a kid who needs such well-trained teachers to keep him from what’s clearly labeled as misbehaving?  Does he feel relieved or oppressed by the calmer atmosphere?  He does seem generally happier than he was awhile back, though that may not be why.  But certainly it must be an improvement to have teachers who treat kids’ urges to jump and scream and talk all the time matter-of-factly instead of yelling at them.  I just wonder if it’s possible in our public school system to let a kid know he’s different without making him feel cast out.

This is a kid with two alcoholic divorced parents–both in recovery since his birth; an alcoholic grandmother in more recent recovery (me); another grandmother who abused his mom, had her in 18 different schools until she dropped out in 8th grade, and still is royally screwed up; a 22 year old brother with cystic fibrosis who may not live another ten years; and a lot of instability in his short life. I doubt what he needs as education is out there.  It frightens me sometimes to imagine the trajectory of his life. Thank god my son is a caring and attentive parent.

Where will they end up, these youngsters already fighting the system? They struggle to conform, knowing, somewhere, deep inside, how it twists their guts and flattens their brains and turns their wild and wonderful imaginations to dust.  A well-lit and passionless schoolroom for the nonthinking child.  Read, memorize, compute, test.  Read, memorize, compute, test.  Welcome to our future.

We got A to bed at nine, more or less settled at ten, but at two AM he went to the bathroom, and again at four, when I got up too and asked what was going on.  He hadn’t had a “wink of sleep,” he said.  He’d been smelling his body, he said, it was dirty.  Everybody else was clean, but he was dirty and smelled bad.  I said he smelled fine to me, gave him a banana, turned out the light, and he went sound asleep and didn’t wake until after nine.  I, on the other hand, tossed and turned and finally went in the living room and read until dawn.

Thank god I’m a grandma.

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