Tag Archives: middle school

Brainbone: Am I the monkey at the monolith?


picture-31I have a definite love-hate relationship with Facebook’s Brainbone. You know, the kind of love-hate relationship you have with someone who doesn’t even know you exist, like a random celebrity, a robot, or one of the bitchy popular girls from middle school.

You really WANT them to like you, for them to think you’re cool and smart, but on the other hand, you sort of want to swagger by and act like you don’t care, too.

Still, you can’t manage it. You attempt a swagger, but you end up stumbling over your bookbag as it falls off your shoulder when you try to fling your hair back, casually but ungracefully, incurring the laughter of the entire seventh grade class.

So that’s where love-hate gets you. Absolutely nowhere but your knee socks tangled in your bookbag straps, and your hair in your beet-red face.

Why doesn’t someone tell you out of the gate that you only get cool when you stop caring about being cool?

Oh. Wait. They do. Only it’s your stupid, retarded, dorky parents, so what the heck do THEY know? Especially when they put it this way:

If everyone else jumped off the Empire State Building, would you do it, too?

Which of course, in middle school, you absolutely would. No questions asked. If it were that, or being hideously embarrassed? Off the ledge you would sail, like a ground-bound dart.

That’s how Brainbone makes me feel.

It doesn’t help that growing up, my sisters and I each had labels plastered on us. Actual labels, practically, with “Hi, my name is” strips on them, only mine was: “The Smart One Who Plays Guitar Really Well.”

I have two sisters. Theirs read: “The Pretty One Who Sings Really Well” and “The Quiet Skinny One.”

This kept life fairly uncomplicated for my parents. Nice for them, but confusing for us, since all of us were fairly skinny, all of us were actually pretty, and the quiet one only SEEMED quiet because she was, for the most part, virtually ignored.

As far as musical talent “assignments” went, turns out the One Who Played Guitar could Also Sing Pretty Damn Well, Too, and the One Who Sang Rocked on Keyboards – and the Quiet One, to whom no one paid any Damn Attention To At All signed her own damn self up for piano lessons when she grew up and ALSO Rocked The House on the Good Old Piano, inspiring the mother with the label-maker to trade in said label maker for her OWN piano, with lessons to go with.

Ah, how much more comfortable life is without all that sticky label adhesive.

Yet another reason I get a frisson of horror whenever Facebook’s Brainbone application asks me if I want to show my Brainbone stats on Twitter, or my web site, or anywhere public at all.

Show my Brainbone stats? Are you kidding? Why not also show my weight? And record me Confessing my sins to my local parish priest, while I’m at it, as a global podcast?

(Presuming I ever actually WENT to Confession… “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been… er…. it’s been… well, Padre, I think it’s been since second grade – you know – when they MAKE you go, in order to get your First Holy Communion? I think THAT was the last time I made my Confession. Wait – wait – <<insert sound of me sailing like a cannon out of the booth>>)

Yeah, I’m about as likely to show my Brainbone stats as I am to show off my untidy living room to unexpected company. (Wait: I do that.) Okay – as I am to show off my untidy living room to my mother, unexpectedly.

Because here’s the thing: I never realized how deeply I internalized that whole “I’m the smart one” thing. Every time I get a Brainbone question wrong, I feel deeply rattled, as if I should know this, somehow. Why I think I should know which country the city of Timbuktu is in, I don’t know, but somehow, I do.

Why I feel smug when I guess right is another mystery. I know I only guessed randomly, but when Brainbone rewards me with an exuberant “That’s correct!” I still feel like: “Boo-yeah!” As if I really earned it, instead of throwing dice.

Because I’m stupid enough to still feel like “the Smart One.”

Even though according to my percentages (SEE, Brainbone? I’m GOOD at math!) I’m technically FAILING Brainbone.

And because of this, I relentlessly answer the “Day’s Question,” for the sole purpose of upping my percentage to AT LEAST a passing grade.

THEN – and ONLY THEN – would I dare display my stats.

Because then EVERYONE could see, that of course…

I’m the smart one.

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I’m going to start randomly singing and dancing.


needle_threadI don’t even like musicals.

They make me laugh, to be quite honest: the idea of people walking around, minding their own affairs, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, bursting into song – complete with invisible orchestra – well, it sort of makes me want to do that in real life.

You know, get some speakers for my iPod. At the bank, when the teller asks me how much I want to deposit, burst into a little ditty instead of simply mumbling, like everyone else does:

(To the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”)

I’m giving you the last of my cash,
To pay the MasterCard bill
They told me if I don’t pay them soon
I won’t be able to use it till….

I pay them…

(okay, that last part we can drag out emotionally.)

What I wonder then is if the rest of the bank’s customers would join me in a perfectly synchronized dance?

That’s life in a musical.

So why, you might wonder, am I now Costume Coordinator (they couldn’t even call me “costume director?”) for my 12-year-old’s middle school production of “Oliver?” (Please sir, can I have some.. more?)

Because my 12-year-old has the misfortune of being cast as “The Widow Corney,” and thus was terrified of being stuck with an “old lady fat costume.”

“PLEEEZ make my costume, Mom,” she begged.

Having made – oh, lemme count – sixteen zillion Halloween costumes from scratch, including one stupid summer the YMCA camp decided to have Halloween in July, whereupon both my kids fully expected brand-new, lightweight costumes (I make the Halloween costumes WARM, having experienced too many of my own wearing a coat covering my fairy wings) – I said, ignorantly, “OK,” only to learn that meant I had to make all the costumes for 45 kids.

Last night was opening night.

I still have my sewing machine set up in the “green room.”

One kid split his pants – I was sewing in between acts. I still haven’t even seen my own kid perform, although the other kids say she’s great.

I’m hoping all the kinks will be worked out by the last show.

On the other hand, it’s been great getting to know all the kids. It’s been tough to get all these well-mannered kids to call me “Elizabeth” instead of “Ms. Bushey,” so a lot of them have taken to simply calling me “the Dutchess.”

In the meantime, I feel sort of like an Irish immigrant who really needs some labor organizer to come around and sign me up.

But when I saw them take their bows last night on the monitor, I burst into tears.

It was worth every stitch.

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But I didn’t WANNA go to school…


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The worst was the “A, B, C, D, E, and F” days. I was in homeroom, so, obliged to follow the teacher’s rules of raising my hand before speaking, I dutifully raised my hand as she, in the robotically- cheerful-but-could-turn-on-you-any-moment-way that only teachers have, was chirping, “Now, today, I think, is a B-day that you’ll be following on your child’s schedule.”

I’d examined the schedule. Arm beginning to ache, the lovely, midway pregnant, still graceful, no makeup, about my age teacher (whom I’m sure had never been in the real world, but rather instead had simply never left school—just moved to the power side of the desk) — at last acknowledged me.

“If B, D, and F days are the same,” I asked, “and C and E days are the same, why don’t they just have A and B days?”

Duh, right?

Then again, I’d worked for a time as Management in Real World Big Business, where the Bottom Line was an Important Thing. Also, so were Budgets, where you Cut to the Chase, and Axed Everything that was Unnecessary. Including people, which was one reason why it had sucked, and I now prefer my life as a starving artist.

The teacher was patient with me, the ignorant parent. She shrugged at first. “It’s just how they do it,” and turned, apparently thinking I’d be satisfied with such a ridiculous answer.

“Why do they do it that way?” I asked her back, at the same time thinking to myself: it is SO not fair that she doesn’t even LOOK pregnant from the back. When I was pregnant, being only five-foot-one, with all my height in my legs, from about three months in, I look like I swallowed a torpedo. And that’s about the nicest thing you can say about how I look pregnant. She WAS one of those gorgeous, glowy girls, I had to hand it to her. 

She turned around, surprised I still existed, and gave me another Colgate grin, and another shrug. “It’s just their system. It’s just the way they do the days here at this school.”

As if slightly different wording would make me go: “Ooooh, I get it. Shut up, Ms. Bushey.”

Echoes from my own school experiences came flooding back. This little Open House adventure, concocted by who knows whom, was for parents of my daughter’s middle school classes to live through a truncated “Day In The Life” of their own kid.

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies, I thought. Better still: ask me no questions. I’m the teacher.

“I’m sorry, I still don’t understand,” I tried once more — in all seriousness, not to be annoying, but because I really didn’t get it, and I never WAS one to sit there, unsatisfied. I had no problem bringing the entire classroom to a dead halt while I stubbornly would attempt, although often fail, to make the teacher stop, and go over my question until I got it. After all, if I didn’t get the binomial theorem, there were likely others who didn’t and simply didn’t have the nerve to speak up. “Why?”

This time I got a terse: “It’s just the way they do it. I don’t know why.

Okay, I thought, at least that’s an answer. At least you admit you don’t know. As she turned her back on me again, I silently mouthed to the parents in the seats one row back: “I wouldn’t last a day here,” and they started to giggle.

This WAS turning out to be just like real school for me.

I felt a little hornswaggled by the whole deal, to tell you the truth. The paper had only said: Open House, 6:30 p.m. – not “Go to School for Three Hours, and no Smoking.”

Because the law says you can’t smoke on school grounds, although I am buddies with the cop on duty at the school, who TOTALLY would not bust me – I know this, because during “lunch” – I came over to her. “Hey, Officer Boss! Be my friend, okay, cuz I have no one to sit with.”

She laughed. “Not one of the popular kids yet, huh?”

“Well, that, and you can protect me.”

“True. I’m the only one here with a gun. At least, I should be. Let me know if you see anyone else with one, okay?”

“I’ll be sure to let you know, Starsky.”

Officer Boss – besides having the absolute best cop name in the universe – is a drop-dead beautiful but tough as nails (on the outside) police officer stationed at the middle school. She knows every kid by name, including mine, and keeps tabs on them all. While not by nature a police lover, I do like her a lot – and a few others on our town’s force. They happen to be quite cool.

I tried calling Peter during class switches, but the cell service was spotty, and besides, the teacher made me put my cell phone away when he walked in. Poor Peter, who couldn’t really hear what I was saying, wasn’t sure if I was calling for help, letting him know I’d be home soon, or reciting the multiplication tables.

That teacher I actually liked a lot – he, like myself, does not believe in homework. I wanted to jump out of desk and high-five him. One other teacher, when I asked her, told me she thought homework should take no less than thirty minutes.

The kid has seven classes. If every teacher gives thirty minutes of homework (see how much I learned?) that’s three and a half hours of homework – on top of a full day of school.

How many grownups have to keep working almost four hours after they get home? It’s outrageous, really. No wonder middle-schoolers have such terrible attitudes. I know by the time I left, I had a pretty rotten attitude myself. (Plus, I was dying for a cigarette.)

It was an excellent idea they had – making us live our kids’ lives for a few hours. It was illuminating to meet their teachers, walk the halls of the school, smell that school smell that takes us back to our old, powerless days. When teachers walked the earth like giants, and principals were kings and queens.

I addressed every teacher by his or her first name. Ha ha.

By the same token, I made sure to offer my volunteer services whenever I could – in an attempt to be part of a solution, not just a needling prod. For instance, in my daughter’s English class, I sympathized with her teacher who was obviously frustrated at having to “teach for the test” – the obnoxious standardized test the state administers.

One aspect is determining “fact from opinion.” As a former journalist, I offered to be a guest speaker. She nearly cried out with delight. Points for my kid.

Points for my kid from me, too, for keeping her chin up in an oppressive environment. Kids ask me all the time if I’d rather be a kid or a grownup. I don’t have to think about it.

Grownup, hands-down. I can do all the kids’ stuff I want to – plus, I don’t have to go to school, and I can eat frosting out of the can.

Unless there’s another open house where they make me go to school again, the sneaks. But I think it did me some good.

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