Thursday, February 20, 2014

On a Roll

“The problem, Mrs. A, is that your children, to put it bluntly, are lazy.”

I blurted this out recently, stunning a mother and her two children into silence (a major coup, as they are incredible chatterboxes -loud, boorish windbags, quite frankly).

“And disrespectful,” I added, even though that really wasn’t the topic at hand.  I had a captive audience, so I figured I might as well go for it.

For those of you who don’t know, I spend a few hours a week tutoring children.  I’ve worked with Mrs. A’s children (a girl, aged 17 and a boy, aged 10) for a couple of years now.  They’re a nice enough family, although my time with them proves to be a bit much on occassion.  I don’t mind the tutoring aspect of it (when it actually occurs), but dealing with these children and their ingrained sense of entitlement wearies me, to say the least.  Plus, they consider themselves cute and funny.  They’re not.

The conversation began when Mrs. A informed me in a rather harsh tone that her daughter’s grades have been slipping over the last few months.  The girl is quite capable of understanding and applying advanced concepts, but knowing her as well as I do, I could easily figure out what’s been going on.  She’s simply an unmotivated teen who spends a great deal of time lamenting about the stupidity of school and teachers.

I’d left my ‘nice way of putting things’ hat at home, and ended up unleashing like I’ve never unleashed before when dealing with parents and their children.  Once upon a time, Mrs. Newman proceeded with caution in these scenarios, but that Mrs. Newman, like Elvis, has left the building.  I no longer have the energy to put up with foolishness and have taken the ‘call it as I see it’ practice to a new level.  You want me to give them homework, Mrs. A?  Sure thing, although we’ve tried it before and they didn’t do it, remember?  At this, the boy burst into tears and ran to the bathroom.  He’s pulled this stunt before:  when he’s tired, when he’s hungry, when he doesn’t have a pencil, so I paid his little outburst no notice.  I felt this ‘just us gals’ moment with Mrs. A and her daughter was meant to be.

‘My dear,’ I began, looking the daughter straight in the eye, ‘there is absolutely no reason for your grades to slip.  You’re not working as you should in school.  You have no respect for education.’

‘THAT’S RIGHT!’  yelled Mrs. A, who suddenly realized that I might actually know what I’m talking about.  I believe her original intent was to blame me for her kid’s poor grades.

‘And, ‘I continued, ‘if you complain as much in class as you do during our sessions together, of course your teacher will think you’re not up for the job.”  At this, the daughter began to cry, but at least had the decency to sit there and listen.


‘Quite frankly, Mrs. A, I feel as if my coming here is a waste of my time and your money.  Which reminds me-’

“Oh, yes,’ said Mrs. A in a much calmer tone, ‘I still owe you for the month.’

‘Actually, you owe me for last month as well.’

‘Um....I didn’t make it to the ATM.’ Big-eyed and flustered, she spoke in a soft voice now, one that I’d never heard her use before.  Mrs. A likes to yell, in case you haven’t figured that out, and she’ll yell at anyone:  me, her children, her husband, her in-laws, the neighbors, stray cats, and poor, unsuspecting UPS delivery men.

‘That’s okay.  I’ll take a check this time.’  I smiled, and even though I desperately wanted to go home, I’d be darned if I'd leave without some sort of compensation.  She obliged and grabbed her purse.  Awkward silence enveloped the room as she wrote the check.  Normally, I’d say something in order to break the tension, but since I was the cause of the tension, I figured I’d just let it ride.   

‘If I may be so bold as to mention this, you must know, too,  that  both of your children are easily distracted and will find any excuse to not focus on their work.’  I could have shared many examples had she asked for one, but the one I had in mind concerned her mother-in-law, who bangs pots and pans around in the kitchen during our tutoring sessions, preparing meals for her grandchildren that go uneaten because they only want the fake fast food from around the corner.  Based on the smell coming from the kitchen, I can’t say that I blame them.  I wanted to tell her, too, that her house was too dark and stuffy, and her bathroom sink could do with a good scrubbing.  ‘I go home every Monday night reeking of cumin and frustration,’ I wanted to say, but I didn’t, for fear of sounding impolite.

As she handed me the check, she asked if I had any additional days during the week in order to work with her children.  ‘You’re honest with them.  They listen to you.  They don’t listen to me,’ she said.   These kids don’t listen to anyone, but I couldn't help but feel touched by the sentiment just the same.

 ‘I can fit them in on Wednesday afternoon,’ I told her.

‘Oh, no, that won’t work.  How about Sunday?’

‘I (pretend to) go to church on Sunday,’ I replied, ‘but if something else opens up later in the week, I’ll let you know.

We hugged, the three of us, and I as left I could hear the boy still boo-hooing in the bathroom. Quite a show, indeed! I don’t feel as if boys shouldn’t cry, but I sincerely believe they should get a handle on it at some point, or at least learn to sob silently behind closed doors.  That’s my method and it’s served me well for years.

As I drove home that night, I thought about Mrs. A. She’s loud.  She’s gruff.  I do like her, though.  Given her disposition, she’s probably not accustomed to people being completely honest with her.  I’m happy I gave it to her straight, and I think she respects me for it.  Most people simply want the truth.  I’m not one of those people, but that shouldn’t stop me from telling it from time to time.



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Valentine’s Day and Other Random Ramblings

Here we find ourselves, Sweeties, just two days away from Valentine’s Day – a made-up holiday that shines a stupendously stunning spotlight on love and let-down. 

I’m all for expressions of amore, but let’s face facts:  Valentine’s Day can be a major stress factor in a relationship.  Years ago, during one of my many professional ventures, a colleague spent Cupid’s day fuming because her husband did not send flowers to the office.   A downright downer during any given minute, this gal’s downer-ness exploded to massive proportions by the end of this particular Valentine’s workday.  I went out of my way to drop by her cubicle, my own flowers in hand, to express my genuine (i.e. half-hearted borderline snarky) sympathies before leaving.

They later divorced.  I’m not certain if her flowerlessness contributed to the demise of their marriage, but I’m sure it didn’t help matters. She made the mountains- out- of- mole-hills concept into an art form, and I felt both sorry and relieved for her husband when I heard of their split.

And don’t get me started on those awful jewelry commercials inundating us at the moment, sending the message that no woman is completely happy unless she’s got some sort of reduced-price diamond hanging off her person.  This sort of nonsense only adds to the ‘special princess for a day’ concept that women buy into figuratively and men buy into literally. 

Ridiculous.  Give me something I can use.

Like a pink ukulele.

That’s right.  When Mr. Newman asked what I wanted for this pretend (and might I add pretentious) celebration, I gave him my standard answer:  nothing.  He’s persistent, though, so I finally gave in and told him to get me a pink ukulele.  I’d love to improve upon my already (non-existent) musical leanings, and I’m confident that a P.U. will assist me in doing so.  And P.U. is what the masses will cry when I take my act to various open-mic nights throughout the greater Houston area.

Speaking of musical geniuses, did you catch that fabulous Beatles tribute the other night?    My only ‘wouldn’t it be cool if... .’ thought centered on a Sir Paul, Ringo, Dhani Harrison, and Julian (not Sean) Lennon jam session.  I was thrilled, however, when Dhani took the stage with Jeff Lynn and Joe Walsh, and equally elated when Sean stayed in his seat and kept his yap shut.

Speaking of keeping one’s yap shut, I’m finding it more difficult to do these days.  I lovingly informed a fifteen-year-old girl last night that the reason I would not join her in her second bag of microwavable popcorn is because it’s full of chemicals and if she wanted to dig herself an early grave, go for it.  ‘Chew with your mouth closed, please, and get back to your book,’ I added.

Speaking of books, I’ve always been against the banning and burning of them, but have changed my tune upon reading Shirley Jones’ memoirs last week.  Poorly written, poorly edited, and chock-full of TMI (and not the good kind), I’m tempted to ask for my money back, but I can’t because I checked it out of the library, so I’m tempted to simply turn in my library card.

Speaking of Temptations, I ain’t too proud to beg:  please, might we all settle down this Valentine’s Day and stop pressuring our beloved into wasting money on pointless tokens of love?  I’ve a very dear friend who used to tell her children that they could have anything they wanted as long as it wasn’t advertised on television.  An ingenious notion, in my humble opinion.

You don’t see any pink ukulele advertised, now do you?

All you need is love.

If, however, you’re forced to reveal your deepest desires this Valentine’s Day, take a good hard look at yourself.  What do you really want?  What speaks to you?  Remember, it’s not a competition, even though the media has made it such.  Just because Jane Seymour says you need necklace doesn’t necessarily mean that you do.  Just because those broads in the office next door get the standard candy and flowers doesn’t mean you should.  Get creative.  C’mon, get happy.

Speaking of happy, I do hope you have lovely Valentine’s Day.  I really mean it.


(Coming up on Elegant Musings:  Will Mrs. Newman receive the pink ukulele from Mr. Newman?  If not, will she actually make a withdrawal from her ‘Facelift Fund’ and get it herself?  Will the popcorn munching teen’s mom pay up for the two-months of tutorials Beth has so generously offered like clock-work each and every week?  Tune in next time….)