Thursday, August 13, 2009

Corn Dogs in Hell

If I were a middle school principal, I would put up whimsical banners for Back to School Night that read “Corn Dogs in Hell- Friday, the 7th” . Because it’s common knowledge that middle school is a trough point in life, and the best thing about it is you only have to be that age once, so why not just come right out with it? And if the Hot Dog on a Stick truck is going to be parked out on the basketball court so you can simultaneously eat dinner and purchase PE clothes, even better.

I’ve been re-visiting my junior high days this week, because my son started sixth grade. Last Friday we showed up dutifully at Back to School Night with the rest of the families, and milled around waiting for the schedules to be posted with the anticipation of Broadway hopefuls waiting for the cast list to go up. We made small talk to pass the time.

“If I get straight A’s this semester, can I get a kitten?” my daughter lobbies.

“If I get straight A’s this semester, can I get a parrot?” my son asks.

Then a woman with a beard appears next to me. It turns out I used to know this woman, back before she had a beard. I am surprised to see her and her husband and kids here, because they have long been staunch homeschoolers. Separatists, armed with worksheets.

“It’s nice to see you,” I say politely, averting my eyes tactfully from the outgrown razor stubble adorning the underside of her chin.

She does some surreptitious stroking of the aforementioned beard growth. It is blond, yet robust. I ask about her daughter, who is enrolling here as an incoming seventh grader. She talks briefly about needing to go back to work, and how homeschooling has become unworkable.

“I feel like I’m sending her into the pit of Hell!” she blurts suddenly.

I laugh. Uh, yeah, it’s middle school, I think. I settle in for some bonding over memories of adolescent acne and drama-laden school dances.

Only, she’s not laughing. She is serious. Really serious. Her eyes have a bleak, hopeless quality about them, and her tone is flat.

I look around me at Pit O’ Hell Intermediate. The school is clean, safe, and virtually new. It sits on a piece of prime real estate (multi-million dollar homes surround it) at the top of a hill, giving the school panoramic views of the entire valley. The teachers are caring and energetic, and the test scores are some of the best in the state. If I could live in this school, I would.

Those waiting with us in front of the office are polite and smiling, and the kids, while a little over-excited, are generally well-behaved.

Only one kid is noticeably loud and disruptive. One imp cavorting on the lawn.

She is the bearded lady’s daughter.

“It’s a great school,” I say. “We’ve already had a kid go through here, and she had a good experience.” I mean to comfort her, allay her fears a little.

The bearded lady looks at me disbelievingly. Her eyes narrow in suspicion, and suddenly I feel irrationally guilty. Of course I would defend the pit of hell. I am, after all, one of the damned, a public school teacher.

“I’ve already read through the science textbook and taken note of the errors,” she said. “I’ll be speaking to the principal.” She turns from me dismissively. I wish I had a pitchfork. Just a little one.

I know better than to try and change her mind. I know it is the accepted wisdom in this country, particularly in some conservative Christian communities, that public schools cannot be anything other than Satan’s playground. I also know that for most American schools the political spin is not true, but I can’t help but take the prejudice personally.

Fortunately, there are corn dogs, (and for the husband, obscenely large bags of kettle corn) eaten under a California sunset to take the edge off, and the concept of parrot-ownership to mull over.

Can you teach a parrot to say “Welcome to Hell”? Would it be wrong of me to send the bearded lady a little Back to School gift?

PS. For those of you who questioned the whole strange concept of a classroom with a patio, whether or not it comes with palm trees, I submit the following picture, taken with my cell phone from inside the room:


(Satan not pictured.)


The Jules said...

Surely half the fun of sending your kids to school is correcting the mistakes they get taught there. All that daft "world is round, we came from monkeys, there are more than four elements" rubbish.

Nice classroom btw! Can you scare the children with tales of monkeys watching from the trees with ill intent?

Girl Interrupted said...

Wow @ that classroom!!! When I was in primary school two of our classrooms were porta-cabins ... seriously. And that was one of the best schools in the area ... imagine what the bearded lady would have made of that!

I have a selection of pitchforks - I'd happily lend you one :P

Jules said...

THAT is an adorable classroom! I envy you! I have TWO windows. Count them...TWO.

And I ALWAYS love meeting a parent who, before school begins, has things to speak about with the principal. Lovely.

My Meet the Teacher Hell is Monday. If you don't hear from me on Tuesday, you know they ate me.

Mobius said...

(Satan not Pictured)


We are shipping my oldest off to "the big house" which is a term we use alternately for the middle school/high school campus... and jail.

expateek said...

oh Lordy, Lordy. I have taken the precaution of depilating my beard before commenting, because yes, I am that ex-homeschooler. (Not that one, actually, but also someone who put her kids into school mid-middle school.)

My little angels were prepared for all that Satanic stuff, because of course they'd read the entire Harry Potter series so they knew all about dark powers and how to harness them.

Seriously, though, I was NOT a fundie homeschooler, and all the bearded ladies were enough to really make you wonder about the whole "movement". On the other hand, they don't believe in Darwin either, so perhaps natural selection and biological attractiveness don't apply to them?

The only other comment I have is that my newly public schooled kids loved "real" school, for the most part. Two things were difficult for them: the noise level, which was cacophanous; and remembering to put their names on all their papers -- which was impossible!

erin said...

I considered homeschooling my kids until I realized that I would become completely and totally insane taking on that much responsibility. It takes an hour to bathe and clothe them all, let alone meals, lessons, school work, playtime, t.v. watching time (ha), physical activity time...bla bla bla.
Did the lady really have a beard? Why would she get rid of that thing?

CatLadyLarew said...

I'm so jealous of your patio! I want one!
I've had a couple of friends who homeschooled their kids... the hardest part for them was trying to find people to hang out with who WEREN'T fundamentalists.
I'm sure the Bearded One will find plenty to fill her days, now that her child is enrolled in the Pit O' Hell. Somebody's got to take up the charge of exorcizing science text books of Darwinism after all! And just wait until her daughter takes up with a pagan boy!

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

I have a homeschooling story that I keep forgetting to tell. And it involves Latin. Go fig.

Sometimes, I'm amazed that I didn't end up homeschooled, given my mother's devout belief in the evilness of society and the eminent return of Jesus (which was scheduled for 1992, by the way).

Carolyn...Online said...

Please please please post the "errors" in the science book. I a dying to know what they are according to the bearded lady.

Logical Libby said...

I am betting the "errors" have something to do with the age of the earth and no reference to Adam and Eve starting off the human race.

Oh, and I work with a lady with two HUGE hairs on her chin. I haven't heard a word she has said in years because of them.

diane said...

I think a photo album for her old circus photos might make a nice gift for the bearded lady.

Is there a swimming pool just out of the shot in your patio picture? I love schools in California!

miss. chief said...

i knew a girl in high school who had a blond beard as well!

ahh karen, how did you not know? seriously

p.s. your classroom looks like the pit of hell, what with all the palm trees and that lamp that might be outside as well...what's up with the lamp?

Steam Me Up, Kid said...

I don't have a beard, but I do have a delicate blonde soul patch. It's about time for my biweekly trim.

I love how you transform the Pit of Hell into a cute Irish pub: Pit O' Hell. Like Pot O' Gold, or Tip O' Neill. I wish I went to middle school at PO'H!

Also, how proud are you of your classroom and patio, with all that natural light? I'm not even teaching anymore, but I'm retroactively jealous.

C.B. Jones said...

tea the cat to say welcome to hell instead. It'll be funnier, and you'll earn a butt load of style points.

Soda and Candy said...

Holy Christ, this exact scene is going to happen to me when I have kids.

Beard and all.

Chief said...

ha ha..."armed with worksheets"...hell that was funny

Mandy's Kidding said...

I'm with you on middle school. It sucks.

That's why I have my son on the waiting list for the 3-8th school. I say skip the whole middle school nonsense and keep them in extended elementary school.


Or at least let them keep recess for a few more years.

Cora said...

My daughter started middle school last year and I was terrified because I vividly remember how UTTERLY HORRID middle school was.


But my kid came SKIPPING out of school on her first day there.

Yes, skipping.

And she loved school the entire year and even cried on the last day, not wanting summer vacation to start!

Psychotherapy may be in her future.

Katie said...

hey...I'm new to your blog...! too funny. Middle school does suck, no matter how you look at it. But, that woman just cracks me up...the bearded lady. Who has time to read through the whole freaking textbook?!



Garftayl said...

Our windows are high up so we can't escape easily, or without the professor or public safety noticing, I see they did something similar with your patio, a high wall, with barbed wire not pictured. So students can watch the barbed wire rust I mean pay attention to the teacher...

Dominica said...

I almost thought it was a living room of someone's house !! Really, you gotta be kidding me .. that's the best classroom I've EVER seen !
My daughter will go the what we call 'middle school' here in September ; luckily she can stay in her same school with her dear old friends ; it's just the other side of the whole building of that school.
Hey, btw - glad to be back in B ; finally can read your stories again on my computer.
I've had a great time but also missed the idea of not sharing immediately with you guys and then the whole Twitter-hacking-thing ...made me mental !
Will open Twit up in a sec and try once again to follow you with my new account...
XXX Dominica

Lulu said...

Ohhhh....Ick. Middle school. Which, should be held in middle earth, close to the true location of hell, right? Except that middle school craziness is not perpetuated by the actual building or lack thereof, but by all of the hormones starting to rampage through the veins o' all those innocents.

But - my mom taught middle school for thirty years, albeit in Catholic school, so I know hundreds of stories about those years from the teacher POV...

Too bad that bearded lady had to close the circus school in her house.

Jocelyn said...

I just want to read you all the time, everyday, so that the hell am I doing not doing that?

Okay, that is to say: you have captured middle school and parenting and scary fundies all so well here. Only the photo would ever convince me, though, to head back to middle school.

Fragrant Liar said...

If you look carefully behind the lattice work, I think you'll find Satan. Send that beared lady in there and shut the patio doors. Lock them. Do this at the hottest part of the day. After several hours, she will be seeking you out for divine direction.

Prosy said...

homeschoolers. they are all nutjobs. That classroom is nicer than any apartment I've had.

Mr. Charleston said...

Lulu... be careful entering that horrid classroom. Especially the patio. I think, if you look real close, and close one eye, and turn your head to the east, I think you can just make out Satan hiding in the shadows to the far right of the photo. Yikes! The bearded lady was right!

Margo said...

one thing I don't miss about sparkle not being in the local public school are these heaven forsaken events. Around here, the public school is full of church ladies. come to think of it, I don't miss that either :)