I feel so alone and in such a jam. I don’t even know how to go about solving it anymore.
I woke up this morning. After breakfast, my mother started talking to me about an article in USA Today that her friend who still teaches told her about. She said, “They’re resegregating the schools! That’s racist!” So I looked up the article on my laptop. In the meantime, she went into the other room where she has her desk and her new computer and looked up the same article.
“Obama’s resegregating the schools.” I mean really. Doesn’t anyone even have a bullshit detector anymore. If no one’s noticed, the President is black. I would find it highly surprising if he was promoting or endorsing racially segregated schools. I will say that the headline is inflammatory and the way it is written it is misleading. Of course, anyone who thinks USA Today is a quality newspaper has to have their quality meter recalibrated.
Now, we can argue with Obama’s educational policies, and before I started having an emotional meltdown I was thinking of writing about that in a post. The basic point is that years ago Bush introduced “No Child Left Behind”, or NCLB, which would require schools to have 100% of their students passing a proficiency test by a certain year, or the school would be declared “failing”. Many people even at that time thought “100%” was unrealistic. Now, a decade later, there has barely been any change. The Obama administration has changed that number to ninety-something. Several states that have many schools that aren’t meeting these goals have asked for waivers. They want their schools to be considered adequate if an even smaller percentage of students are passing the proficiency exam. Since a smaller percentage of African-American students are passing the proficiency exam than of white students, several states would like that waiver to differentiate between white students and black students. Specifically, Tennessee would like to avoid having their schools declared failing if 94% of white students and 71% of black students are passing the proficiency exam. An important point here is that these exams are not testing the student, they are testing the schools to see if the schools are succeeding in teaching the students.
My mother misread this to believe that the schools were going to have lower graduation requirements for black students than for white students. That would have been shocking. I’m not saying that having lower goals for the schools is a good thing, but it’s a far cry from “resegregation.” As I said, the article is stoking outrage. I don’t know about you, but I feel burned out on outrage. It’s entirely possible for something to be just “a bad idea” without being “Oh my God! Obama’s a racist, black power, white supremacist, segregationist, Marxist, fascist Muslim!”
So, I sat at the dining room table looking at my laptop trying to understand this poorly written article, following links to the Education Week sources in articles from 2012. Weirdly, this wasn’t even recent news. My mother is reading off of her screen saying, “Look, it says here that whites need 94% to pass and blacks need 71%.” I tried to explain to her that the percentages weren’t for passing grades but the percent of students who needed to pass the exam and that the exam wasn’t to test students but to see if the school was teaching. “No, no, no,” she said. I tried to explain calmly and slowly, standing behind her reading over her shoulder. She raised her voice and spoke over me. Finally, I stormed out of the room shouting, “I don’t know why I talk to you. You’re such a moron!”
She followed me back into the dining room continuing to argue. I explained it one more time. She finally seemed to get it. She said, “But that’s still bad, so you see I was right!” Well, no, but I just had to stop because I’d already been yelling at her and I hadn’t even finished my coffee.
Finally, she says, “They need to stop funding the schools through property taxes. The only way to close the achievement gap between blacks and whites is to have schools supported through federal taxes so all children go to schools with equivalent funding.”
I said, “That’s not even on the table.”
She said, “I know.”
So, I got in the shower. The evening before my mother bought tickets for a decorator show house that’s being held to benefit the local symphony orchestra. She was sitting in the chair reading the numbers of her debit card to someone on the other end of the phone when I heard her say, “I don’t know why it’s not going through. There should be plenty of money in my account to cover it.” I got up and motioned for her to hand me the card. She gave me the card and the phone. Her eyesight is poor and she had been reading the wrong numbers. I reread the numbers to the man on the phone and completed the transaction for her.
I wasn’t really dying to go to this show house, but why not, and it’s something my mother really loves. So after having an argument with my mother over the USA Today article criticizing Obama, I looked online at the map to find out where the symphony box office is and where the decorator show house is. I’ve been to the Myerhoff (Theatre? Hall? What is it?) before, however I still wasn’t sure exactly where it was or how to get from there to a neighborhood called Locust Point, a place where I’ve never been before. It looked easy enough. After the show house, we would have lunch and then go to the gym on the way home.
As we’re going out the door, my mother handed me a bag of laundry. I’d been staying at her place helping her exercise and diet. Since I had gotten quite far behind on my own housekeeping at about the time we came up with this idea, I’ve been bringing my laundry over and doing it at her place. Really, I had an overwhelming amount. I, or more properly “we”, have only been doing one load a day. Slowly, however, I’ve been getting it under control. This weekend, I was going to attend a conference. I mentioned to my mother that I wanted to go back to my place after dinner because I needed to pack my suitcase and I wanted to make sure that everything I planned to bring was clean.
So, as we were getting ready to leave to go to the show house, I picked up the bag with a change of clothes for the gym and my mother handed me my bag of laundry. I asked why she had the laundry. She said that she wanted to take it down to her car and after the gym we could drive by my place and I could bring my laundry home and get anything I needed to wash to go away for the weekend. She would wait in the car outside my apartment while I went upstairs. I told her that that wasn’t what I had planned to do. She started arguing with me. I can’t remember what she was saying. It didn’t make any sense to me. I had planned that after the gym, we’d go back to her place, we’d have dinner and then I’d walk home, since I only live two blocks away, and bring my laundry with me in my cart with wheels. Once I was home, if there was anything that needed to be done, I’d do it then. This made the most sense to me. We probably wouldn’t get to lunch until one, we wouldn’t be done until about two, then we wouldn’t be out of the gym until at least three thirty. That would mean that it would be almost four o’clock by the time we got back to her place. Since she has always eaten an early dinner, it just made sense for me to go, with my laundry, after dinner. Standing there with the gym bag in one hand and the laundry in a large reusable grocery bag that was getting really heavy for my wrist, I found it difficult to explain the timing and the sequence of events to her. “But I thought we could go back to your place and I’d sit in the car and wait why you went to see if there was anything that needed to be washed.”
“When did you think we’d do this?” I asked.
“After the gym,” she said.
The timing didn’t seem to make sense to me, but I was having a hard time convincing her of this. So I just said, “Fuck it. Let’s go.” I figured it was worth and extra trip to the car carrying laundry to keep from having an argument.
So we went down to the car and I just felt so frustrated I started crying while we walked through the garage.
On the way to the box office, we stopped by a gas station. She pulled in and got out of the car while I stayed in the passenger seat. A minute later, she opened the door and stuck her head in. “I can’t work the pump.”
I get out of the car. The directions on the display don’t make sense to me. I want to push cancel and start over following the directions from the beginning. “Give me your credit card,” I say and hold out my hand.
“I already swiped it,” she said.
“Yeah, I’m going to start over. Just give it to me so I can do it.” She couldn’t figure it out and she asked for my help, so why she couldn’t just follow my damn directions is beyond me. It’s her inability to follow directions in the first place that makes her unable to pump her own gas. I swiped her card and pump the gas and we get back in the car.
We pull up to the Myerhoff. We had agreed that I’d jump out and get the tickets since I’m faster, but for some reason she changed her mind. I get out with her anyway because she seems to be having a hard time doing basic things. She couldn’t read her debit card number over the phone the night before and she couldn’t pump the gas this morning, so I just thought that I’d go with her.
We got the tickets and got back into the car. Driving with my mother is always a little bit tense, however we managed to find the place without too much of a problem. We went into the show house. At the end she says, “Well, it wasn’t Manhattan, but I guess it was nice enough.” She seems slightly disappointed.
Several nearby restaurants were giving 10% off to anyone who had gone to see the show house. That was convenient since I thought that we were in a part of town neither of us had ever visited before and we didn’t know what was in the area. My mother has difficulty parallel parking, so I try to choose one of the places that says that they had a parking lot, it was called Barracuda’s Locust Point Tavern and it said that it served New American food. That sounded okay. We find the address and there’s what appears to be a narrow driveway alongside it. I thought maybe it went to a parking lot in the back. My mother said, “If I drive in there and there isn’t a place to park, I won’t be able to back out. If I do that, will you back out for me.” I said sure. We drove in, but it appeared to be blocked off with a garbage pail. There were little fish painted on the wall with the words “Food this way” but there was no evident place to go that way. Someone with an apron was watching us through a glass door while we did this. I said to my mother, “How about I get out and you stay here with the car and I’ll ask them where this supposed parking lot is?” She said, “No, I’ll go in.”
She got out of the car. When she came back she was really angry. She came to the driver’s side of the car and said, “Get out.”
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Just get out.”
I got out of the driver’s side and got in the passenger’s side. “Did they tell you where to park?”
“We’re not going in there. The bartender just ignored me and it’s filled with good ole boys.”
I have to confess that in this area that surprised me a little. From the look of the place and the fact that it had “tavern” in its name I wasn’t expecting anything much fancier than pub food, but on the other hand the fact that they were advertising through the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s decorator show house saying that they served “New American Food” made me think that “good ole boys” wouldn’t be their target clientele. Stranger still, I couldn’t understand why my mother was so evidently angry. I tried to ask her what happened inside, but she just seemed to get even angrier, so I just dropped it.
“There’s another place about two or three blocks ahead on the right.” We pulled into a parking lot. It was an old warehouse building. Much of it appears have been turned into offices, but there’s a gym in the back and a place that is a Wine shop and bistro called The Wine Market Bistro. We go inside and are seated. I look around and I see a few people in business suits. In a t-shirt, black cargo-type pants and sandals, I’m the most dressed-down person in the place. I look at the menu. Happily, there are a few things which, while not “dietetic”, look as if they’re not going to be terribly choices in the context of trying to eat more healthily. I turn to my mother and said, “Well, this looks nice.”
“Hmm,” she says.
“Don’t you think it looks nice?”
“It’s okay,” she says, drawing out the word “okay” to imply that it’s barely acceptable.
I look around and I wonder if she’s hallucinating or if I’ve missed something. It was one thing for the other place to be full of “good ole boys”, but I couldn’t find anything wrong with this place in terms of the way it looked or the sort of people in it. I glanced back down at the menu and there seemed to be things she liked to eat. I couldn’t get the problem. Making a stab at being congenial I said, as pleasantly as I could muster, “Is there someplace else you’d like to go?”
Finally, I whispered under my breath, “If there’s something fucking wrong just tell me.”
“I can’t hear you. Speak up.”
We were too close to other diners for me to speak up so she could hear me. I felt like I was going to blow. I was getting hot under my collar. The entire morning had been one conflict after another of me trying to make everything okay for her. I didn’t want to wreck my breakfast arguing about Obama’s educational policies. I didn’t want to giver her directions while driving across town while she complained about the traffic. I didn’t want to go to the fucking show house. I didn’t want to go out to fucking lunch. I didn’t know where we were either. I didn’t know one restaurant on the list from another. I was just picking one blindly with the intent to make do. I was just trying to humor her. I didn’t fucking care where we ate. I was about three seconds from making a huge scene. I could feel my blood pounding in my ears. I didn’t know if I was going to cry or scream. We were seated next to the door. I realized that the only way I could avoid doing something I’d regret was to get up and leave.
So I left.
The walk home was seven miles. I have a bad sunburn. About two years ago, I got orthopedic inserts. I wear them in my sneakers. If I had known I was going to walk seven miles I would have worn those instead of my sandals. Now my feet are killing me.
Anyway, I don’t know what is happening now – if we’re speaking or not speaking.