School, Life and Hurricane Floyd

Surer than the turning of the leaves, it is the hordes of children clustering on corner bus stops that signal the end of summer. It is now the time for those of us with school aged children to once again savor the quiet peace wafting through our houses. Even if only for those few moments before we ourselves must rush out the door.

Despite what school district each of us here in Connecticut might reside, by now the kids have been back to school for at least a week or two. Now is the time for many serious matters, one of the most important being the 'open house'. Somewhat of a preview to parent-teacher conferences later in the year, it is a wonderful opportunity for parents to acquaint themselves with their child's school, teacher and the parents of other students.

And for a moment I must digress, though not that great a turn of topic, it is when our children our out of our sight that these thoughts come upon us. There is no greater time of risk and no greater example of that than when we send our children off to school each day. Hoping that they do not have too hard of a time 'fending for themselves' between those two most important milestones of every weekday, the coming and going too and from school and the hours in between.

After the horrendously tragic events in schools across the country during the last school year.. I do not have to go into detail or get specific, I'm sure we have all been struck by it in one way or another.. It is now more important than ever for all of us as parents to take active involvement in the education of our children. Despite the fact that none of these incidents have occurred in or overly close to us here in Connecticut, it strikes closer to home than can be measured in miles. Beyond joining the PTA and making sure homework gets done, we need to pay close attention to ALL aspects of our children's lives. No matter how closely we ourselves protect them, there come times when we cannot be there. When we send them out the door, put them on the bus, drop them off at school, when we let them play at or sleep over a friend's house. These are the times when the peaceful quiet wafting through the house seems somewhat less than peaceful. The times when worry and doubt bubble up within our hearts to frighten us and make the world as scary as the dark was when we ourselves were children. During those times when we feel helpless and powerless. Especially in the light of recent events, what are we as parents to do to assure the safety of our children when we are not present? At times it seems as if it is an insurmountable task, that there is nothing we can do, as much as we want them, there are no guarantees in life.

Yet there are several things we can do, even if they do not guarantee, they go a long, long way. The first and possibly most important is simply listening. When my daughter comes home from school, the first thing we do is to look through the papers and homework assignments she has been given. During this time when I put all things aside, we talk about her day. She tells me who did what in class and what games she played on the playground during recess. Granted she is still in elementary school and I as her mom, am not yet a pain or a drag out to boss her around and cramp her style. Yet I hope that the talks we have had since she was old enough to talk, will continue to be something she can feel as something of a sanctuary. One of the most angst roiling things about being an adolescent is the feeling that there isn't anyone you can talk to, no one who can understand or just listen. I have been there; I still carry many hidden scars from my adolescence that center on just that. That brings us to the second thing, after listening, we must let our children know that we too were once in the same emotionally precarious and confusing stages that they are now. Making this connection, bridging that gap, is not an easy thing but I believe it can be done. If only for a moment of cathartic closeness and understanding, it is attainable.

As you pay attention to your child, you begin to pay attention to their friends. There will come a time, sooner or later, when you might notice one of those disturbing 'warning signs' in one of your child's friends or even in your own child. The first thing in that circumstance is not to overreact. Do not go pounding on the door of this other child's parents or dragging your child off for counseling for an isolated incident that is not 'normal'. In the wake of last years tragedies there has been far too much scapegoating and jumping to wonder suspiciously, warily at those who dress or act differently. This only goes to intensify the clique pressure that already causes enough pain and division. Yes by all means bring any concerns to the parents of the child. In a non-accusatory manner as that tends to put parents on the defensive and unwilling to listen. If it is your own child, talk to them, if they are only expressing their identity through clothing and music let them. If their clothes and music truly concern you, ask them what it is that they like about the clothes and music. Once again, listen to what they have to say, discuss with them. Do not talk down to them or demand that they dress how you think they should or listen to the music you think they should. This will only make them resentful and you frustrated. Children go through phases, test their boundaries and search for their individuality. Let them do that, they must do that to grow to self assured independent adults. Not to say that warning signs are not important or should be ignored. By no means! All I am saying is do not point at the child who does not conform and proclaim them a danger. Violent behavior, vindictive, hateful and sadistic behavior, a mean streak, a coldness are the true danger signs. Violent movies, television programs and video games and other activities that can be desensitizing can and have worsened violent tendencies in children and adults already prone to them. These things though are not to blame, they are not the cause. Millions of children every day are exposed to these things and only the smallest fraction will ever become dangerous or violent.

Know what is going on in your town, know your neighbors, know your children's friends, be actively involved in your children's education, in their lives. Develop a rapport with your children's teachers, friends and your community in general. When you are concerned, speak out, inform someone who can explain or help, teach our children to do the same, to know that violent, cold, uncaring and hateful behavior is wrong and cannot be left to 'just go away.' If we here in Connecticut wish to prevent school violence, we must be aware, we must be involved and above all else, we must listen and be there for our children however we can.

Once again, if in any way possible, take the time out of your day, rearrange your schedule and go to the open house of your children's school. Join the PTA, sign them up for extracurricular activities, talk to the principal, meet their teacher and the parents of their classmates. My husband, our eldest and I have been looking forward to the one at her school for a week since it was announced. We should be there at this very instant, but for the sudden visit of Floyd who among other things, has fanagled a postponement of this and several other events across this state and several others. That is the way of the world, nothing it predictable, in a way it could be said that life is a hurricane. There are things you can do to prepare, to predict and to lessen damage, but overall we must come together as families and communities and do the best we can. Floyd has even gone so far as to knock the power out here in Bristol for a few minutes just as I was typing the previous statement. Causing me to tear my hair out and thud my head repeatedly upon my keyboard in the temporary darkness, heartsinkingly sure that I had lost this article. Far too busy typing to save at every paragraph, I was also too busy to notice that autosave was doing it's job. Such is life, we type on, caught in the flow of the words streaming around us and do not notice the little things. We must remember to focus at least once a day to notice the little things.. namely our children, perhaps when they come home from school and empty their backpacks to show us what they've done while the house wafted with peaceful quiet.