31 July 2013

Vantage Point

I was having dinner with my parents and my mom was relaying the news from a conversation with my sister-in-law. My niece's tenth birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks.

"So she's having a mind games themed party this year," Mom said. (Her birthday parties always have a theme.)

"Mind games themed? What does that mean?" I asked.

"I don't really know," Mom said. "They have boxes they can build and the kids can be in teams of two. Apparently all her friends are into this game."

"Are you sure she said 'min-d' and not 'mine'?"

"No, it's just what I was hearing."

"It's sounds kind of like Minecraft. I don't know much about it, but I thought she was into it and it's really popular right now."

"Could be. I wrote it down because I hadn't heard of it before."

According to my sister-in-law, my niece doesn't have much on her Amazon list for her birthday and hadn't really mentioned anything. Mom recounted, "She's still pretty happy with her Barbie Dreamhouse."

"The one they bribed her with to get good grades?" I said.

"Yes," Mom said.

Apparently, my niece had been slacking at school so to incentivize her, they told her if she got straight A's at the end of the year, they'd give her this dollhouse she badly wanted. If she didn't get the grades, she'd have to wait until Christmas for it. (Not exactly high stakes.) In any case, she got the grades and the dollhouse.

"Mmm. Suze [Orman] wouldn't approve of that," I said.

"Really?" Dad asked.

"Yeah. She feels strongly about not paying kids for grades. You should do it for its own reward," I explained. "Later in life you don't get rewarded like that so it sets a bad precedent." In my defense I added, "I realize you paid me for grades but I really earned it."

"I never wanted to do that," Mom said overlapping me. Of course you didn't, I thought to myself.

Thinking back, I'm not sure they gave me anything for my grades in elementary school. In middle and high school, I got a dollar per A. In high school I devised a contract with my Dad that gave me a dollar per A or O (o for outstanding because some classes didn't get the usual letter grades) for every A/O that appeared on my report card. This let me rack up at the end of the year when you got a grade for the quarter, your final and your overall grade for the year.

"I would've done it anyway though," I said. And it's true. The money was a nice bonus but it didn't really amount to that much. I don't recall ever getting it and then immediately spending it. Anything I might've wanted that was the scale of a Barbie Dreamhouse (no thank you!) was still far out of reach and therefore out of mind.

"Do you ever remember me slacking?" I asked. Then, answering my own question, "Well, there was that math class in the 4th grade when I was about T's age. I think I got a C+ one quarter but that wasn't my fault."

"Of course not," Mom said with a glimmer of snark.

"No, really. She gave us homework all the time and we'd hand it in, but she never gave it back to us so we could see what we were doing wrong." I busted my ass after that of my own accord.

Mom said, "I just remember that woman, what was her name?"

I felt like I knew where she was headed and a name and face popped into mind.

She pulled up a name, "Althea."

I had the right face but initially had mixed up her name. I had it now. "Ms. Pierce."

"Yes," Mom said.

"That really wasn't my fault."

It was a half-day before vacation. They'd handed out our report cards for the quarter at the end of the day. My parents picked my brother and I up from school to start the long drive to Virginia to visit relatives. My parents would've preferred to start the drive earlier but no doubt I was the one insisting I didn't want to miss school. I hated having to catch up.

We'd just started driving away when I opened my report card and was shocked to see a C+ in English. It didn't make sense. I'd gotten A's or B's on everything all quarter. Well, there was that one quiz where I got a D. But everyone failed that because it covered stuff none of us knew so she'd had to give it to us again. Surely one quiz couldn't have sunk all my test scores and papers that much.

I was really upset and let it be known.

My parents were unconcerned. "Just let it go," they said. "There's nothing we can do about it now." (I would've turned us around and straightened it out right then.)

"I'll talk to her when we get back," Mom said. "Just let it go and have a good time."

Back in present day, Mom said, "Oh, we had to suffer hearing about that. You just wouldn't let it go."

"Yes, because that was all about you," I said.

Mom considered it for a moment while formulating her next move. "Yes. You wouldn't drop it. I told you I'd take of it but you didn't believe me."

It's true, I didn't. Hmm, why would that be? Perhaps the way they repeatedly blew off and belittled my concerns. Could that be it? [end sarcasm]

Did I take it all too seriously back then? Certainly. But their approach didn't allay my anxiety; they increased it by not really caring.

Dad said, "Well, you've brought up such pleasant memories."

I smiled and pointed at Mom because she was the one who brought up Ms. Pierce.

"I don't think I'd ever seen her laugh or smile before that parent-teacher conference," Mom said. "I asked her about your grade and she said, 'It's taken care of,' and started to laugh. 'Claire explained in no uncertain terms that it wasn't right.'"

The first day I was back at school after vacation, I summoned all my courage and made my case to Ms. Pierce. It'd been a simple clerical error.

"I never saw her smile or laugh that entire year," I said.

"What was up with her?" Dad mused.

Mom said, "I just remember everyone in your class was afraid of her."

"I don't know. She was an ex-nun and she was mean," I said. The woman really did have a perpetual scowl on her face when I had her in the 6th grade. "The year after she was a totally different person. She was friendly and nice after we had her. Figures. 'Really? The year after us she became nice?'"

"Maybe she fell in love," Mom said.

"Actually, yeah. I think her personal life must've changed for the better," I said.

Dad said, "Maybe she finally got laid."

"That's not what I said."

I do remember that my class all assumed she was gay because she had a short haircut. Whatever the case, I'm glad she became a happier person. Would've been nice if it'd occurred a year earlier, but whatevs.

Although this story always riles Mom and I up, it's still one she enjoys telling about me.

My parents view it as that time I learned to stand up for myself.

What they don't get is that I see it as the time I learned that they wouldn't stand up for me.

ETA: Yes, Mom asked Ms. Pierce about it, but I didn't feel like my parents were on my side, that they really had my back. Had Ms. Pierce said the wrong grade was correct, I think my parents would have let it go because it didn't matter to them. They believed me that it was wrong but probably wouldn't have pressed the issue instead offering the refrain, "Life's not fair. Get used to it."

3 years ago on TTaT: Back to back cemeteries

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