Sticky situation resolved

This is not colonial America, but my older daughter’s school district made me feel like Hester Prynne when they handed me a modern-day Scarlet Letter.

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Unlike Prynne, I refuse to wear this badge of shame, seeing as I did nothing wrong.

Instead, I chose to fix the situation.

You see, school employees, upon viewing my daughter’s file, decided that since I do not live in the district and her father does, that I must not have custody of her. They decided that this needed to be publicized by writing “noncustodial parent” on paperwork for me. Paperwork left on a table in plain view. 

This was the second time in the last two years that employees made this huge leap from fact to fiction. I couldn’t imagine what their motivations were or why any labels needed to be placed on anything addressed to me.

When it happened the first time, I addressed the matter on the spot and chalked it up to one person’s rudeness. When it happened again, in a new building with new employees, I knew there was a bigger problem at hand. I made it my mission to resolve this matter as quickly as possible. It took about a week of phone calls to various departments at the administrative level to get the wheels turning.

I learned two very interesting things:

1. This school district does not have on file distinct classifications for parents such as “custodial” and “noncustodial” as I was told my two employees last week. “Divorced” parents are listed as such, with no further information about custodial matters unless the court has issued an order. This tells me, as well as the apologetic administrator investigating this for me, that the employees at my daughter’s school took it upon themselves to make this distinction and publicize it for some ignorant and cruel reason.

2. I also learned that in my daughter’s vast suburban school district —  in an area growing so rapidly they can’t build schools fast enough — I am one of only FIVE families that have joint legal custody with one parent living outside the district. I’m not a statistician, but this seems like a small number by today’s standards.

The administrator I talked to said that in 99 percent of the cases, if a divorced parent lives outside the district, they are non-custodial. 

Which explains how people with no access to my personal information made such assumptions about me. They did it based on past experience. 

It sounds like the administrator did her job quickly and efficiently, even going so far as to talk to the employees’ supervisor concerning their insensitive and damaging behavior. She issued an apology to me on behalf of the district. 

Although I’m relieved this has been resolved, I’m not really happy. I feel the damage has been done. Eventually time will fade this memory. Hopefully I can replace it with a positive experience at her new school.

But I worry about this unbridled ignorance that permeates our  society. One in which people make such snap judgments without knowing the facts. One in which people barely hesitate before reacting to these judgments in damaging ways.

What fresh hell is this?

As part of Girl from the West’s fund-raising efforts for Euro tour ’08, we initiated a returnable bottle and can drive. Oh, what jolly good fun it was to write and print the flyers, wait for the appointed pick-up day, and then stroll about the neighborhood and collect the booty in shiny black bags.

We marveled at the growing hill of trash in our back yard. We’d get them cashed in right away, we promised.

Well, they sat and collected leaves. They sat and collected rain water and leaves. Finally, after husband cleaned gutters and plopped gutter gunk onto leaf- and rainwater- covered bags, we decided that was our cue.

All I can say is: WTF? No wonder people are more than happy to dump 500 cans on their porch for us to haul away. This is not fun work. Maybe it’s our deflated economy. Maybe it was our choice of market or neighborhood. I don’t know but each time we went to the neighborhood grocery store to cash in these bottles and cans, it was some kind of nightmare.

First time: Every employee we sought help from was in some kind of bad mood on a bad day, squabbling with other employees in bad moods on bad days. Or, the machines were malfunctioning on some kind of bad day. Not only that, but the facility also is a strewn with trash, there are puddles of spilled beer and soda on the floor, and there is no heat.

It got to the point where we dreaded pushing the little buzzer for assistance, as most certainly some growling, cussing worker would emerge from behind the swinging doors in a swirl of discarded plastic bags insisting that we weren’t feeding the cans into the machines properly or that they were too squished. We just weren’t doing it right.

Second time: Not only were the employees in a horrible mood, but also the people waiting in line. With few exceptions, most appeared to be street people who had this down to a science. I guessed they were hungry and impatient to get cash in hand to buy a meal or drink or whatever was tearing at their guts. They probably resented us suburbanite yuppies in to cash out on our garden party returnables.

Girl from the West and I waited longer than anyone should for this sort of thing until it was our turn. As I rolled my overflowing cart to the glass bottle machine, I heard a commotion behind me. I turned to see Girl from the West being bull-dozed by a four-foot tall, screeching and elderly Asian woman in a knit hat. I don’t know what she as saying or why she targeted us. I don’t know where she came from either. She was not ahead of us and I didn’t see her behind us. She came from nowhere plowing her cart like a tank and pinned Girl from the West between two carts. No one else in this long line did a thing. All stood and stared wide-eyed.

Girl from the West and I exchanged knowing looks, meaning: Do not move an inch. First opening, start pitching cans into the machine. Do not let her in. I don’t care if she’s 85 years old and homeless.

We learned our lessons as tourists in China. Once, while waiting in line at an airport bathroom, an elderly Chinese woman pushed and shoved me out of line while no one batted an eye. Not knowing what cultural faux pas I committed, I just endured the harassment. But this is my turf here.
So we stood our ground, while this holy terror continued her tirade in (I think) Chinese. The others in line continued to ignore her and say nothing. At one point, after numerous butts with the cart, Girl from the West pushed back. That stopped the harassment for a while.

Finally we were done and began to work our way through the crowd. Others in line asked us what we’d done to upset this woman. We told them we’d done nothing. One employee piped in that this was “typical stuff.” On my way past her, I stopped and told her there was no good reason for her to push us like that and that we all could be little nicer, couldn’t we? This fueled another tirade. I’m sure I was cursed to endure a thousand snake bites in the firepit of hell, and whatever else would be appropriate.

Who knew? I feel I’ve been introduced to a new world, one in which I hope not to set foot again.