Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Sixth Grade Definition of "Optional"

So, the first thing you should know is that it's freakishly cold right now. It's been hovering in the 20's all day. If you lived in Minnesota I guess it might be a bit chilly - but for Austin, Texas - there are simply no words to describe our discomfort.

Because it's a dry cold, we're supposed to go through our days as if nothing unusual was happening. There's no ice on the roads, you know. In the meantime, there were "rolling" blackouts to protect the power grid. Let's just not ask why, if they were rolling blackouts, my house and workplace never lost power but my daughter's school rarely had power this morning.

We'll leave that question to the philosophers, shall we?

Where was I? Oh, yes. It's cold. Bone chillingly, wear-sweatshirt-and-socks-to-bed, remind-me-never-to-move-north-of-Dallas COLD.

Around lunchtime, I got a text from my daughter - which took me aback because there is a VERY strict no cell phone usage rule at her school. She knows it backwards and forwards and that if a phone is seen it will be confiscated and I think there is money involved to get it back...I don't know. It sounds intimidating. She clearly doesn't mess around with it because even when I try to call her on the bus (which is a cell phone approved location) she doesn't answer.

Texts are, by their very nature, somewhat ambiguous. Texts from your middle school child can be exceptionally vague. This lunchtime text read: "Mom, can you please come pick me up?"

Now, call me picky but I need a little bit more context - especially when I receive a text like that in the middle of the school day. I immediately start to worry that some horrible bullying incident has occurred and she sneaked off to ask for help. I text back and tell her that I need her to call me but then say "Of course I will - just call and tell me why." She calls right away (Why did she not call me in the first place? Ponder not the mysteries of a pre-teen's mind, dear readers.). It turns out that the school had no electricity so the principal finally got on the intercom and told the kids that if they were cold, and if they could get ahold of their parents, and if they wanted to do so - they could go home.

Yeah. So. I'll give you one guess as to how many middle school kids decided that they WANTED to stay at school. I mean, I was a total teacher's pet but even I would've jumped at the chance to call my mom for a ride home when I was 11.

Anyway - she warns me that the line to pick up kids was really long but that hopefully it would be better by the time I got there. She wasn't kidding. Parents in line are asking questions about what's going on and one of the security officers rolls her eyes and said that the kids just want to go home. And leaves it at that.

I'm thinking....really? That's the answer? Isn't it true that our kids want to go home every single day of their lives - but you don't normally see three hundred 40-somethings in a middle school, do you? I'm thinking there's more to this story.

I didn't say that. Instead, I said: "Well, wasn't there an announcement? A reason our kids called us?"

She rolled her eyes again (not at me, she seemed nice enough) and responded: "Sure...but it was OPTIONAL as to whether the kids wanted to go home if they were cold. They should have told their parents that - instead they just said they wanted to get picked up."

Because, of course, making it "optional" should have really cut down on the number of calls home and/or ambiguous texts sent to cell phones across North Austin.

I didn't offer a verbal response but perhaps I inadvertently displayed incredulity on my face because she followed that up with: "There's no reason for them to go home, you don't have to get them at all. School's going on as normal and the heat is back on. There's really no reason for all of you to be here."

Again - I didn't have a response to that insight. I did, however, text my daughter, and tell her they told me the heat was back on and that the line to get her out of school was REALLY long. She texts back immediately and said something along the lines of: "They said the heat was working the last two times it broke." Ah. The pieces begin to fall into place.

The good news is that I finally located her, thanks to the hilarious and goofy green hat that she loves to wear, was able to find a kindhearted teacher who was taking names of kids checking out (or else she was just some random woman writing our names onto a piece of paper - either way works for me) so that I didn't have to keep waiting in line. The other good news was that my kid only missed one academic class.

The FUNNY thing is that by the time I got back to the office, I had an email from the school announcing that school was NOT cancelled. (Which cracked me up - as if hundreds of parents just spontaneously decided to descend upon the school en-masse and collect our children.) By the time we got home, we had a message from the district telling us that schools wouldn't be cancelled if they didn't have electricity tomorrow and that kids should just plan to come to school with extra clothes and teachers would be prepared to teach without electricity.

I'm having flashbacks of Little House on the Prairie as I write this. Maybe I'll braid her hair tomorrow. Hee, hee. Easy for me to say, right? Just for that cheek, the gods of electricity might smite me.

It just strikes me as a particularly amusing day in which, perhaps, some people gained a new appreciation of what an "optional" release from school means to kids. I'm hoping tomorrow brings ice and less ambiguity in my life.


JennInAustin said...

Follow up comment: The email the principal sent out tonight made me feel kind of bad for her because I suspect it came after she got a LOT of grief. I will say that I think the school did the best they could (the electricity was out basically all morning! no way to know for sure if it would stay on after lunch...). Just one of those funny days where you learn that you can't plan life. And also that you need more context when your child sends you a text.

mica said...

This. Is. Awesome. Our schools have been closed since Tuesday, and today we are on two hour delay. Preschool follows the schools. I have been a preschool cruise director contemplating suicide since noonish Tuesday. If the kids called me today for optional release, I would leave them there for the weekend. =)