Thursday, January 20, 2011

A wise woman -- mother of six, with a few years on the Matron, who has plenty of years lined up herself -- once said "No is the most loving word you can say to a child."

Tonight, the Matron said no twice--one small, one big.

HWCBN came into the kitchen for a snack at 5:50, just as dinner was in brewing. He went to the freezer for FOUR SCOOPS of ice cream.


Mayhem ensued. But the Matron stuck by her guns, which is harder to do than the path of least resistance.


Scarlett is the youngest child in play largely constituted by 15-18 year olds. These are really, really good kids. The theater is amazing. Every minute of her experience has been nothing but 100% positive.

But it turns out that the entire cast was invited for a sleepover tomorrow night.

The Matron called the mom hosting the sleepover. The teenagers will all be hopping in various cars and transporting themselves, and probably staying up all night. Scarlett is invited. Warmly welcome.

Let intuition and common sense prevail: no.

Scarlett is currently in bed, weeping. There's nothing she wants more than to be with this crowd. And the Matron knows these are good people involved in every regard. But she doesn't know the family hosting -- not at all -- and can't send her 12 year old into an overnight (boy and girls) with largely 15-17i year olds, who have the capacity for conversation and alertness that this 12 year old does not yet possess.


Much harder than yes.

Merrick? He wants a fish, a gopher, a frog, and a snake. Really, who has a gopher?

That's easier: no.

But no is hard. She's sure there are many, many more to come.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nostalgia -- A Repeat

Yes, a repeat. But this is for our daughters.

When the Matron was but a Wee Miss, she once endured an entire year of classroom combat. This was flat-out war. In fifth grade.

The classroom was controlled by a boy named Scott. The Matron remembers his last name but will not post it in case he's busy googling himself (if he's not currently serving time for rape or murder).

Scott had a small gaggle of henchmen who did his every evil deed. And there were many. Hench men and deed.

Wee Miss was new to this school. Her family was in upheaval, having literally heaved from one city to another, officially sans father. Her mother was a new college student, juggling full-time parenting with full-time studies. So the mama was busy.

Wee Miss felt more or less on her own once that bus opened its doors and she walked out onto the playground. Where she was promptly knocked down and beaten. Kicked, pinched, slugged. On a daily basis.

But at least she had a chance on the playground! She could run! And run she did, hiding in corners, under slides, and behind teachers when available. The most dangerous place in the war was the actual classroom.

Everyday at 10 am her teacher took a half hour coffee break (those were the days!). Everyday at 10 am Wee Miss hated this teacher, very much. The instant she was out of the room, Scott leapt to his leaden hoof and took charge. Mostly that meant decided whether to torture Wee Miss or his other favorite victim, Renee.

Everyday, the fearful, guilt-ridden, terrified Wee Miss prayed it would be Renee and hated herself for doing so. But Scott executed a sort of balance to his torture, an even distribution sort of guy.

Routinely, the hench men would hold down Wee Miss's hands and feet so that Scott could explore her body --- all of its parts-- in front of the entire classroom. With commentary. When he wasn't busy with Wee Miss, he worked on Renee. If he caught Wee Miss alone in the large dark coat room? He got to throw her down on the ground for better inspection and grope, especially if his helpers were nearby.

When Wee Miss, she of brave spirit and spunk, had her first such encounter with Scott, she screamed and threatened full exposure.

Scott pulled out a small switch blade. "You see this knife? If you tell anyone, I'm going to kill your baby brother. He's in kindegarten. Room four, Mrs. Duncan."

Wee Miss kept her mouth shut. She was terrified of Scott! Certain -- 100% 10 year old certainty -- that Scott would kill her brother or sister, or even herself. The thing that astounds the grown-up Matron is the degree of control Scott exerted on the entire classroom.

The sexual terrorism (LOVE that term and thanks Carol Sheffield) continued the ENTIRE academic year without relent. Not a day went by when some new horror wasn't tossed out to play. Not one child said a word. Not one child reported that the girls in room 212 were being undressed, felt-up, and beaten.

The Matron's hands shake, typing, thirty years later.

Wee Miss was at that school for just two years and in Scott's classroom the first. When she entered junior high, she was placed in a section for low-performing, academically-challenged students. You see, she barely passed fifth and sixth grade. She spent two years trying to live under the radar.

Within a month and several cities separating her and Scott, Wee Miss was switched to the acdemic fast track. She eventually stopped sitting up at nights, waiting for someone to kill or grope her.

About two years ago, the Matron googled Renee. And found her! They had dinner and, war refugees, shared their stories and the centrality that Scott had played in their lives. Renee recounted in horror how she had run into him on a city street as an adult and nearly fell over with fear. Rumor was he'd done some time in jail for rape.

Renee and the Matron are now friends on facebook and sisters who survived and thrived, despite this. Indeed, the Matron finds her very fine feminist roots in this experience.

The Matron has forgiven that sad, mean, dangerous little boy. Wee Miss never will.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


The Matron lives next door to a couple married many, many years. Decades. They're in their 80s and the husband -- let's call him Ralph -- is dying.

The fact that he's dying at 84, hospitalized for congestive heart failure three times now, is mildly overlooked by his wife of 50 some years.

Neighbor (wife): "Oh, Ralph is doing great. He's home from the hospital with the oxygen machine and we're going to McDonald's for breakfast."

John and Stryker shovel their driveway and sidewalks. The Matron now sleeps with the phone at her beside, waiting for the late night call.

She goes over morning and night to administer eye-drops and medication.

Lest she sound saint-like, this is all ten minutes a day. But there's the heart involved.

Theses people who have been together for fifty years still hold hands. They wanted --but never had -- children. They've welcomed hers into their lives with joy. They're good for Dairy Queen Treats, cat visits, and complete love.

Neighbor: "I'm a little worried about Ralph. If I need you, can I call?"

Matron: "Yes. Yes, you can."

The Matron has dropped the ball on many, many things lately. She's resigned as the Presiden of the Parent Teacher Organization at her youngest's school. She's failed to follow through in all kinds of ways as she waits for tenure (Please Oprah) and juggles the full-time job with all the rest. She even took nearly a week off from the blog!

But she's still will have the phone by her bedside.

And bear witness to 50 years of commitment and love. May she be so lucky.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Whole New Year


The Matron returns, like a well-rested and oiled machine, ready for Action with a clearly capital A.

Her respite from the blog--and her resignation as the President of the Parent Teacher Organization for one of her children's schools, and resignation from one of the five committees she serves on at work --- and some degree of reflection, taught her this: say no.

Now, 'no' is a word that doesn't come naturally to the Matron.

Merrick: "Mama can you bwing me some milk while I watch TV?"

Matron: "Of course!" (alternate answer: you can certainly get that milk yourself)

HWCBN: "Mom, can you iron my shirt for debate. I need it in about four minutes."

Matron: "Sure!" (alternate answer -- and you know this -- 'here's the iron.')

Scarlett: "Mom, can you drive me to Wisconsin for a sleepover after rehearsal and then pick me up for voice lessons in the morning?"

Matron: (pause). "Uh. . . " (choking a little). "Let's consider the sleepover thing for awhile." (Note that Wisconsin is just ten minutes away but it sounds dramatic--and, ever incapable of a clear, unilateral 'no,' yours truly hedges).

No is not her strongest suit.

Yesterday, she found herself agreeing to help a friend in need. This friend is suffering consequences of life choices and actions -- deep tissue, systemic consequences. Huge. Let's talk legal, physical, foundational and all due to addiction and some seriously bad choices that limped left of the law. But not only was the Matron unable to say 'no' to help, so as not to participate in the dysfunction, she actually volunteered for more duty!!

But today, "NO" appeared before her. It glittered on the hallway, surfaced in the early waking hours before dawn. "NO," a friend once said, is the most loving word you can say to a child. After Boc broke a glass of milk in the third floor family room, the Matron said NO more glass drinks upstairs; the dog will hurt himself.

No -- nobody needs seven hours of computer time in one day, HWCBN.

No -- 12 year olds don't quit school for local theater unless their parents are crazy (but let's hold out that wild card for a major motion picture).

No -- you may not have four doughnuts for breakfast and then eat Pringles for lunch.

And no -- the Matron cannot run the PTO, volunteer in the classroom, work full-time, attend to a theater child's needs, focus on debate club, do much driving and retain her sanity.

Finally, no to helping someone she loves continue to drink himself to death. This is one of the hardest because those initial 'no's' in this situation appear heartless.

So she cut off some of the duties and drama, cold turkey.

Friends, she considered cutting off the blog. But realized that the creative and communal energy she finds here is one of the things that keeps her going: thank you!

She hopes this was her mid-life crisis. And hopes her friend -- who doesn't read this blog or much of anything else these days -- is able to get the help he needs. That would be a great big yes for her.