October 18, 2016

RFH Woes

Posted in AMT's Faves tagged , , , , , at 1:40 pm by autismmommytherapist

I saw the post on Facebook and it made my breath catch in my throat, as I stood on line for “Glow” at Monmouth Racetrack this past weekend (locals, it’s fabulous!) and tried to mitigate my son’s impatience for standing in any line, ever. I noticed the title “Popular Homecoming Tradition Axed at Monmouth County School,” and perhaps my Pisces powers kicked in because I just knew it was about my alma mater, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School.

And somehow I knew the reason for eliminating a tradition that’s lasted for decades wouldn’t be a good one.

The article was brief, and later I got to see a video from News 12 describing what happened. The reporter said the voting of the homecoming king and queen at my high school was scuttled due to rumors going around that some students were going to vote for two people who “would ultimately be the subject of ridicule.”

Lovely. Welcome to Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.

Having only attended one high school I can honestly say I can’t compare RFH to other institutions, however I do remember we had a particularly “clique-y class,” which I believe my brethren ultimately revolted against by voting two technically “non-popular” people (who happened to be two of the nicest people in our class) to the throne our senior year. I racked my brain for outright bullying that transpired when I was there and couldn’t remember anything (but then again I was focused on boys and passing physics, so I probably missed a lot).

I know from reading some of the comments on Facebook that overt verbal bullying did occur, but the not-so-subtle kind happened too. There was the “no eye contact/ignore in the halls/ not deign to speak to people in the bathroom” variety, which having come from a small elementary school where there were perhaps five self-proclaimed “popular people” who were generally nice to everyone was a bit of a shock to me. I had friends in all different groups but basically hung with the keep our heads down/ go to a good college crew, found the majority of the elitism stupid and just went about my business, and simply stressed about class rank, grades, (those boys), and had fun.

Yes, I liked high school. Don’t hate me.

RFH is certainly not the only place I’ve been witness to such exclusionary tactics in my life. I taught 4th, 5th and 6th grade in DC and Virginia for a dozen years, and saw cruelty that made me question my desire to reproduce. My co-workers and I tried to quell as much of the bullying as possible and were generally able to do this in our classrooms, but we couldn’t have eyes and ears every second our students were in the bathroom, walking to lunch, on the playground, or on the bus. I began to identify subsets of cruelty- retaliatory for a perceived wrong, acting out because something sucks in their lives, and my personal favorite, let’s destroy this kid just because it feels good. I found that boys in general were easier to deal with. Over the years I found often just threatening to make a student’s parents miss work to come in and meet with me, the principal and their wayward son often deterred the boys, and half the time the two squabbling students would become friends.

The girls were tougher. When you teach upper elementary students you are often able to “float” around the classroom as kids work independently on projects, and this is where I caught many of my girls in the act. At the time I was much younger and still able to see and hear far away (good thing I don’t teach anymore) and was able to address issues on the spot. I was often greeted with an angelic stare by the perpetrator and a promise never to repeat the act again. At least half the time I’d pretend I was convinced, take two steps, turn around, and see the verbal bullying continuing as if I’d never been there.

Ooh, and what followed was never pretty. When it came to bullying, and this was way before giving birth to my two special needs sons, Mrs. McCafferty took no prisoners.

And here’s the truth about kids that no parent wants to hear- some have empathy, some need to be taught it, and some, well, don’t hold your breath.

Bullying is not something that “kids just do.”

I had students who bullied and were genuinely mortified by their actions, and I was certain after the incident that it would never happen again. I had others who were repeat offenders, who had to be made aware that I would report every single bullying incident I could find, call their parents repeatedly, notify the principal, and make it so that their lives were miserable until they stopped. Reality is, some kids are mean just like some adults are inherently mean.

Parents need to actively teach their children to respect people who are different than they are. They need to teach their children to actively stand up for classmates who are being bullied. And the schools need to stick to the letter of the very strict NJ anti-bullying laws created to protect students in just such a situation as this.

I think the schools in general are doing a much better job, but ultimately it has to start in the home. I would always tell my students they didn’t have to be friends with everyone but they had to respect their classmates, and if they reached out to that “different” kid they might just be surprised at how cool they are. I don’t think a hell of of a lot of teaching about differences was going on when I grew up in the seventies and eighties, but at least in my experience with my two autistic sons I have seen a growing awareness and understanding in the past thirteen years, which gives me hope for future generations.

And for those students at my alma mater who thought this would be fun to publicly humiliate two unsuspecting people reminiscent of the movie Carrie, I have a few choice words for you.

I hope everyone knows who came up with and supported this fabulous idea. I hope your parents know, and your parents’ friends know. I hope your teachers know and your college recruiters find out and that the RFH parents who are posting this are not lamenting the “loss of a tradition” all over Facebook that you’ll never read. I hope you realize that this could happen to your brother or sister, or one day, your kids.

Be the almost adults you are, apologize if those two kids even want you to, and mean it.

And I hope you realize you’re just one step away from it someday happening to you.


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June 1, 2011

“You’ve Got Hate Mail”, by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore

Posted in AMT's Faves, If You Need a Good Laugh, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:43 am by autismmommytherapist

Recently I had the pleasure of venturing to NY with a dear friend to see an hilarious play, You’ve Got Hate Mail, co-written by playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore. It was pretty much a miracle that we both made it there and back given our combined geographical illiteracies (yes, my friend actually brought her GPS), but we did manage to see the performance and return home in one piece. Of course, the hours leading up to our departure were fraught with intrigue, as generally nothing is simple in autismland. I planned this particular evening long before I knew my son’s field day was also scheduled, and subsequently spent a good part of that day making wholly unreasonable deals with God to hold off the rain and any delays, pleas which if answered would enable us to make that coveted 3:30 train. Cindy and I nearly stroked out when confronted with purchasing our train tickets from a MACHINE, not a MAN, but we managed to successfully book passage to New York, not Newark. There were a few testy moments when we thought we’d be walking the forty blocks uptown to the theatre, but eventually a cabbie stopped for us, and delivered us there safely. We were fairly pitiful travelers, but we did it.

As my friend so aptly put it, it was the blond leading the blind.

I will share with you that despite living fairly close by, my trips to the Big Apple are few and far between. Most days making it to the end of the driveway and back to get the mail is enough of an adventure for me, as often I am surprised by what I find when I return to the house, and not in a good way. If I’m going to schlep to the city it had better be for a really exciting reason- either I’ll be consuming a fabulous meal, or I’ll be fabulously entertained. In this instance, I managed to do both. The only thing that would have made the night better was to have a driver deliver us door to door with someone reading “Go the F*** to Sleep” to me, and have the Triad Theater allow us to consume our two-drink minimum on the way home so we wouldn’t get tired by 8:00 PM.

I’m allowed to dream.

The play itself is conducted with the entire cast seated in front of their computer screens, the themes are marriage and adultery, and it is told in its entirety through texting and emails. Richard (Billy Van Zandt) performs as the cheating husband caught in a web of internet intrigue, when an email meant for his mistress Wanda (Fran Solgan) is mistakenly diverted to his wife Stephanie (Jane Milmore). As Richard digs himself deeper and deeper into a morass of immorality, the married couple’s friends get involved, also played brilliantly by Bonnie Deroski as Peg, and Glenn Jones as George.

Anything that captures my attention past 7:00 PM is a winner by me, and this play certainly fit the bill. The dialogue is funny and fast-paced, and each character in the ensemble is equally strong. One of the best parts of the performance is watching the cast’s hilarious facial expressions as each moment of the well-contrived plot unfolds, so I recommend getting there early to sit as close to the stage as possible. Perhaps you don’t need to get there at 5:00 as we did and run into the cast prior to the show (who knew intimate theaters don’t have box offices?), but getting there a little in advance will be worth it, I promise.

Van Zandt and Milmore have written countless plays and television scripts over the span of their several-decade career, and I’ve been fortunate to see a few of their productions. All of them, no matter what was transpiring in my life at the time, have made me laugh (and for those of you who also dwell in the world of autism, you know that’s no mean feat). The two of them are hugely successful, and clearly do not need Autism Mommy-Therapist to give them a good review.

But it’s my damn blog, and this play made me happy, so here we are.

I am aware of how difficult it is for some of my readers to get out of their houses for pleasure, but since most of you seem to be located in New Jersey and New York (except for my one international reader in Irleland, “Erin Go Bragh!”), I urge you to consider giving it a go. I laughed my ass off, didn’t think about autism for over an hour, and I’m not too proud to admit I snorted within the first ten minutes. As my readers know, I don’t put my name behind anything I can’t recommend unequivocally, and “You’ve Got Hate Mail” falls into this category. As an added bonus the Triad Theater is an extremely cool venue, and if you live in the area, you can be in bed by 11:00.

If your son is your 5:00 AM wake-up call too, that’s key. I have my priorities.

Those of you who read me also know I like promoting good people, and although I’ve only met two of the cast members, I can vouch for the playwrights themselves. Jane Milmore is the sister of the famous romance novelist Kaitlin O’Riley, a talented girl with whom I go back to our days at Rumson-Fair Haven High School. Jane and Billy themselves have always been lovely to me throughout the years. And since I’m increasingly convinced my four self-defense classes my mother made me take in 1978 would not protect me from a number of celebrities these days, the fact that they remain such good people after such a long span in Hollywood counts for a lot.

Truly, they’re just like us, except extremely talented.

Anyway, if you’ve got some free time (hah!) and are looking for a really funny play, I highly recommend you spend those limited moments at the Triad. Other than pageant moms, I can’t think of a group of people who deserve a fun night out more than parents of autistic children.

So Jane and Billy, continue to “break a leg” (a term I’ve never understood, which is only one of a thousand reasons I would make a sucky actress), and here’s wishing “You’ve Got Hate Mail” a long and illustrious run.

And once again, thanks for giving this tired girl the good seats, and some great laughs.