When I was young, good girls didn't get in trouble. They didn't loudly express dissenting opinions. Good girls smiled demurely, always were quiet and kind, never openly disagreed with authority or argued.
I was a good girl. The only time I ever was sent out of the room by a teacher was once in grade seven, when I had an uncontrollable fit of giggles during silent reading. Sitting there on the cold floor with my book, I was mortified. Shamed. It never happened again. I was never scolded by a teacher for bad behavior, and never sent to the principal even once in the entire 13 years of my schooling.
In my mind, being a good girl made me likable, worthy of being loved, and I did everything I could to achieve that. Pleasing other people at the expense of myself became something that as I became older and grew into a young adult, was so ingrained that I literally didn't know how to handle conflict or stand up for myself. When a boyfriend became angry and yelled at me, I quietly cried. When I had to supervise employees that refused to follow my instructions, I was confused.
When my landlord decided to hold a party in my basement suite and moved everything out of my place to make room and left me the clean up, I didn't claim my space.
I was a good girl. Until I met John, that is, and my life turned upside down. Even through the turmoil of having friends and family disagree with my choice of husband and having to stand up for myself didn't completely break me of my need to be a good girl and to always comply with authority. That came years later when Kevin entered public school, in the very public school district that I worked for. It was then that I discovered that even still, I was a good girl.
When the grade one teacher screamed so loudly at the kids we could hear her through a closed door half way down the hall, we didn't complain. I work for these people, I reasoned. I don't want to rock the boat. Even when people approached us and told us that Kevin was not doing well in that class, that even the other children had expressed concern, we rationalized that perhaps it was Kevin, or maybe she's having a difficult time, and we could just get through the year.
Finally one day Kevin, my social butterfly who always separated from me easily, came streaking from the school and grabbed at my legs, sobbing and begging me not to leave. I found my voice a little, then. We removed him for the last two weeks and spoke to the principal.
In grade two, my voice became a little stronger. When the teacher suggested we look into Ritalin and shamed Kevin in front of the class, I began to protest. When he planned an overnight trip to a city 3 hours away, I steadfastly refused to send Kevin without a booster seat even though the other parents laughed at me, and finally I complained to the principal about how the trip had been presented to the kids first and the parents after the fact. Even though many other parents had confided to me that they were angry about how the field trip had been handled, nobody was willing to speak up. This time, I was so incensed about how things were handled, I didn't care if I looked stupid. It was a question of safety and I wouldn't let it go. The other parents didn't really speak to me after that.
In grades three and four, in a new school and now with a diagnosis of a learning disability, all hell broke loose. I can't tell you the defining moment when I finally realized that I couldn't be a good girl any longer. There came a point where I realized that my child had already been thrown overboard and was drowning, and I had a choice; let him drown, or rock the boat like I'd never done before. I knew one thing for certain-if I didn't rock the boat, I was going to lose my child, and that was simply not an option.
Rocking the boat isn't easy. It doesn't make you popular. I became THAT parent; the one that barely anyone talks to except to whisper about in the corners, the one who is never invited to anything, who when they walk into the school the staff scurry like cockroaches looking for cover. Things escalated into all out war; at one point, the superintendent telling us that Kevin must be autistic (without having ever met him), then not showing up for scheduled meetings altogether, the principal phoning my workplace and trying to glean personal information from my boss, and veiled threats that if I set foot on the school property the police would be called. The amount of stress was enormous; I didn't eat, I barely slept, and the barrage of confrontational interactions left me a complete emotional wreck but as time went by, an amazing thing happened.
My voice, always so quiet and demure, went from a whisper to a full fledged battle cry.
In the end, we did the best thing we ever could have done for our son, which was leave. The war wasn't over, though. Before we moved, I contacted the Board of Trustees and wrote them our story.
A few weeks later we were told that the superintendent had been let go. The behavioral IEP that had been written without our consent or knowledge (and upon our discovery had suddenly disappeared), had been found and sent to us to destroy. I'm not naive enough to think that our story was the sole reason, but the truth is we had made so much noise at every level that people were listening. In the end, I had been transformed into a Mama Bear that would loudly rock the boat when ever she needed to.
Since then, I've continued to rock the boat a few more times, still with a school district where my child attends and who I work for. My mantra has become "it's not personal, it's business." My job is to raise him and be his advocate. It's the school's job to educate him. It's that simple.
As I've watched Food Revolution and I went to the Vancouver School District training session I've noticed that a lot of people are just like I was years ago; scared to rock the boat. Maybe it's because they are worried about their jobs, or the social consequences. Maybe they know what the right thing to do would be, but feel like they have overwhelming opposition. I believe this is why Jamie Oliver goes out on a limb and takes on these districts-he starts the boat rocking so that the parents and employees don't have to. There's strength in numbers when rocking the boat, as it's hard to shut down whole groups of people rather than one person. When the boat is already moving, it's easier to join in.
Maybe you want to start the boat rocking, and are afraid. Maybe you work for the school district, or you are concerned about what people will think of you. Let me share this much; I've been that one person, the one who is the sole dissenting voice.
I've been in the worst case scenario rocking the boat situation you can imagine. I survived-and not just that, I learned that rocking the boat isn't such a bad thing after all. These days, I don't care if people dislike me or think that I'm weird, a trouble maker, or a bad parent when I raise my voice in protest, because I know one truth for certain.
My kid is absolutely worth it.
ROCK THAT BOAT.
Photo by Mike Baird