Friday, September 7, 2007

The voice of a princess; the roar of Mama Bear

I'm sorry that I've been incommunicado lately. I took some time off - mainly to spend lots of time with my son and husband. We bowled, we shopped, we watched movies, we swam. It was an amazingly relaxing long weekend.

I did have a rather scary "feeling my feelings" moment last Friday night which left me incredibly raw and numb for a few days (another reason I stayed away.) But I lived through it. It didn't kill me, so perhaps it made me stronger?

Anyway, as I was trying to catch up on the numerous blogs I (make a poor attempt to) follow, I came across a post on The Disordered Times about Princess Diana. I left the following comment:

Diana has always held a special place in my heart. She is my role model (although I just realized it after reading this post.) I strive to be everything my son needs me to be (which includes healthy in mind and body.) And I'm not afraid to use my voice anymore. Only good comes when one speaks eloquently on topics one feels passionate about, as Diana did many times in her life.

My latest foray into the world of passionate speaking brought out the bear in me. Tuesday was Jack's first day of kindergarten. I had planned for it to be a bittersweet day - a day when I expected to smile as I said goodbye to my son at his classroom, then cry a few tears once I got back to my van before going on my merry way to shopping, lunch, and a movie.

Best laid plans often go awry.

The best way I can explain it is to share with you the letter which I wrote to the principal of Jack's elementary school (and which I copied in the school board representatives.)

Dear Principal,
I have just returned from the elementary school after dropping my son off on his first day of kindergarten.

I am appalled and too angry to speak to you over the phone.

I also couldn't speak because my voice was raw and hoarse as I emitted primal screams of RAGE when I returned to my van.

I pulled onto school property on time, 7:38 am – 2 minutes before I was told that I could drop my son off.

The parking lot was a disaster area: cars parked on both sides of the fire lanes; inconsiderate people not yielding the right of way to oncoming traffic. Five precious minutes I sat motionless in my vehicle, waiting for an accident to happen in this "safe environment" that the school's mission statement purports this to be.

I arrived in the school at 7:48 am with my son. I was told that I needed a visitor’s pass to walk my son down to his room. Once I received directions as to how I could obtain said pass, I was ONE minute past 7:50 am by the time I got to one of the two people at the front desk in the office. I was unable to walk my son to his classroom because I had patiently waited in line both in the parking lot and in the office. My son was frightened and scared, rightfully so as he was in a school building that he had seen only once in his life for barely an hour. His fear increased into tears when a stranger had to walk him to his classroom because the parking lot was in chaos. Never before when I have left him at new child care centers has he cried like he did today. His exciting first day of kindergarten was ruined by fear because of a rule that doesn’t allow parents to walk their kindergartners to their classroom. His first real experience with the school ruined by a rule that caused me to leave my son in a stranger’s care; a stranger to this minute because this office person never introduced herself to either my son or me.

I mentioned to this office person that the school needed more parking. I was told by this person that the lot has never had enough parking, had been that way for years. If this is the case, why have you done nothing to alleviate the problem? Why haven’t you hired parking lot attendants? Why haven’t you redirected some of the volunteers to direct traffic? Why haven’t you converted the soccer field into auxiliary parking for the day? Why haven’t you placed volunteers with visitor passes and a sign-in book at all entrances, front and back, to the school on especially the first day when you should know there is more confusion? If it is such a known problem that the parking lot is inadequate, why are you unwilling to do anything to fix it? Why are you so complacent to allow the chaos to continue? Why are you so willing to risk making our children's first day a negative and unsafe one?

I am sure I am not the only parent who left your school today in anger and frustration. The parking lot monstrosity ruined my son’s first day of school. Completely and utterly ruined it. Not only that, the parking planning ineptitude ruined any good feeling or school spirit I had about this school.

What will you do about this situation going forward?

May I be the last parent to regret entrusting my child to the care of Newton-Lee Elementary due to the atrocity that you call a parking lot.

I wrote this letter after I returned home, at the beginning of my three hours of torturous worry about my son. When I left him in the office, he was starting to cry. Was he having a good time? Was his teacher able to comfort him? How was he doing? Did this ruin his day? Will it scar him for life?

I was able to talk to Jack when he arrived at his daycare around 11:15 - and it turned out that he had a good time; he hadn't been crying when he arrived at the classroom. Thank goodness.

However, my morning was completely ruined. I did still manage to get to a movie (I saw Becoming Jane - very good, if you are into period movies and/or Jane Austen.)


My letter certainly lit some fires. The principal tried to call me all afternoon (unfortunately, they mistyped my phone numbers.) Both school board members replied to my email (and forwarded my email to the superindendent.) One mentioned that he will make sure that designs for new schools take the parking situation on the first day of school into account.

The next morning, there was a staff member directing traffic in the parking lot. The morning after that, there were staff members at another entrance with a visitors log book and passes.

I felt my rage - I let lava explode out of me, but then I put it to work for me. I used my voice and I was taken seriously. I made a difference, not just in my life, but in the lives of so many other parents and children.

And it feels good.

So while I may not have speech writers to string words eloquently together, I am able to induce change.

One little voice.
One mother protecting her child.
An entire school's processes changed.
A whole school district rethinking how elementary schools are designed.
All from one letter from a concerned parent.
All because of me.

Definitely a lesson worth temporarily losing my physical voice over.