Ordinary, Extraordinary People

canstockphoto12816975She was optimistic, energetic, earnest and animated. Decision time. Do I say something funny, but sarcastic and possibly mean? Later, as I listened to her art presentation to a class of engaged elementary kids, something in me shifted slightly. My envy and inferiority and smugness dissipated and in its place, distilled and unfamiliar, was admiration. She was extraordinary and I had something to learn.

It is a hard won battle with myself, to see outwardly optimistic people without the lens of cynicism. Something sadistic in me wants to cut them down to size, wants to make them see reality, wants to make them realize that life is hard and not particularly sunny and why the hell are they always freaking smiling? I want them to be real, failing to remember that their real and my real are two entirely different animals.

Why this necessity to force someone to view the world as I do? Am I so uncomfortable with myself that I irrationally need to create a mini-me, in order to feel like I belong? Are outwardly happy people such an anathema to me that I must right the situation?

I ask this question more frequently of myself than I ever did before.  Since having a child, I regularly cross paths with other people who raise, teach or care for children. These are often soft-spoken, patient, gentle people who get down on the floor and play. They smile a lot. They shrug off temper tantrums and seem interested when a child tells their never-ending story in gasping breaths.

I’ll be the first to admit that I often feel uncomfortable around children. I was the person who never wanted to hold other people’s babies because the child would sense imminent danger and in a wail, shriek out “Baby-dropper, baby dropper!” You would have heard it, if you spoke baby. Now, in case you wondered, I managed to get my baby upright and independently walking without actually dropping her on her head. Although after one 6 hour crying jag (hers and eventually mine), I was sorely tempted.

The down side to being assertive and intense and introverted is that my people skills border on misanthropic. I’m uncomfortable with how uncomfortable I am. I’ve read that one of the guidelines to success (and I assume that purveyors of these guidelines mean happiness) is to surround yourself with the people who have qualities you aspire to possessing as well.

Here’s the beautiful thing about kids and people who work well with kids. They don’t care if you’re a misanthropic, awkward adult. They are so damned happy you are there and involved, that they laugh along with your wry commentary. They seem delighted to see you. Every damned time. When I visit a classroom, I’m popular. Not through my dour personality, but because I’m there. I have days when it nearly brings me to tears. How would life be, if every time you walked into a room, you were flocked to and welcomed? It’s a marvelous, heady feeling.

Connecting with optimistic people has not been deliberate on my part, but my dark subconscious mind must understand how badly I need to be engulfed by light. I am surrounded by people who lift me up and it astonishes me  – and I suspect, saves me from disappearing into the shadows.

Congratulations! You Barely Met My Expectations

Michelle, we’d like you to know how much we’ve appreciated your presence and to let you know that we’ve come up with a new review and salary plan for your role here.

I am intrigued. Please sir, continue.

We’ve noticed that Bob is doing great at his job and you are sucking eggs at yours. In order for you to keep your job, we’ve decided to lower our minimum expectations of your work performance.

I am astonished. I protest.

But Bob was mentored into his role. He received extra training and hand holding. How can I compare when you just stuck me at a computer and left me alone for three years?

Your smile is magnanimous and you try to speak in small words.

This is the boo-boo we’re addressing. Don’t you see? You only have to show up and the next raise is yours!

He waits for my grunt of enthusiasm, but I continue to stare dumbly, as is my wont to do.

The next day, I come into the office wearing my pajamas, load up Netflix and microwave some popcorn. No point in doing much else.

I’ve been listening to the news and reading articles regarding the latest move by the state of Virginia’s education board. To address testing disparities among specific races (yes, let’s use that term), they’ve set different minimal standards for kids, depending on whether or not they are Asian (highest standards), White, Hispanic, Black or kids with disabilities. Before I jump in with a political correctness knee-jerk response, I want to say that I recognize the difficulty and expense of addressing the education gap. It seems nearly intractable, but not impossible.

We heard very little talk about the decimation of our country’s education system during this election cycle. Like infrastructure, it cannot be treated like a short term budget trick, trimming and cutting a little here and here and here. This will truly bite us all in the ass. For people without kids, your ass will be bitten too, because these kids are the economic crystal ball that determines quality of life in your dotage. It says a lot about our country that our war machine is well-oiled and maintained, while the machinery that educates our offspring lies rusting away under benign budgetary neglect.

What Virginia has decided to do is to take the most expeditious and least expensive route towards making their state education’s report card look good, in order to receive funding from the federal government. They, like 32 other states, get money while being exempt from portions of the federal No Child Left Behind program. Regardless of how you feel about the NCLB law, Virgina has lowered their expectations of the children in their state. They are focusing on a forward-looking goal by walking backwards.

I am not an educator, so I can only look at this issue from a personal and parental perspective. What impact does it have on a person’s psyche when they are told that the expectations for their performance is lower than that of the person next to them, because that is all they can manage? I would feel defeated before I even began.

Here’s the deal. It’s okay for Asians to have dumb ass kids and okay for blacks to have geniuses. Don’t institutionalize your inability to problem solve by telling kids that the baseline expectations for their performance are dependent on their race. We’ve been there, done that. We have some brilliant minds in this country, many of whom are products of a public education system. Time to put our creative minds, our imaginations and our money to work to realize a bright, intelligent future for our nation. We should expect nothing less of ourselves or of our children.