Category Archives: school

T is for Travel


by Lillian Csernica on April 23, 2022

When I was eighteen, my father sent me to spend the summer in Holland with the family of the exchange student who had been my Physics lab partner during my senior year of high school. Thanks to my Eurail Pass, I traveled all over Holland, including the amazing city of Amsterdam. With the help of my Dutch parents, I also made arrangements to take a weekend bus trip all the way to Paris. When they took me to the bus station, my Dutch parents were careful to explain to the driver that I didn’t speak the language. Fortunately, the driver spoke excellent English. Unfortunately, just after my Dutch parents left, the English-speaking driver told me his shift was over. His replacement was a cheerful little man named Ott. Ott’s English wasn’t just broken, it was smashed.

unsplash.com

The bus soon filled up with the other passengers, mostly older folks with a few couples, and two girls about my age. Ott had me sit in the tour guide’s seat, the one right across the aisle from him. I felt like a bug plastered up against the big front windows. I did have an excellent view as we drove across Holland, passed through part of Belgium, and entered France. While I was in Paris I saw many of the highlights, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and the Monmarte. I ran into a bit of trouble on my way into one of the museums. I had already paid the fee to enter the museum, but the tour guide made a fuss about how I still needed to pay it. At that point we had a French woman tour guide who made it plain she did not care for me, purely because I was American. The Dutch ladies on the bus weren’t having any of that. They told me to give my age as seventeen because only people eighteen and over had to pay the fee. Then they rallied round me quite literally as they escorted me into the museum. The tour guide didn’t cause me any more trouble.

etsy.com

On Sunday we were allowed two hours to go shopping. My shopping list was very simple. In addition to a few items for my friends and family, I wanted to buy my mother a gold Eiffel Tower charm. It took me some time to locate the jewelry department, with many “Parlez-vous Anglais?” along the way. Most of the staff were polite enough about saying they did not speak English. Then I found the jewelry department and the arrogant Catherine Deneuve-wannabe in charge. It was clear I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. I gave the situation some thought, then returned to the attack with new strategy. Just as the saleswoman prepared to dismiss me again, I held up my traveler’s checks, fanned them out, and said, “Parlez-vous American Express?” The saleswoman vanished, replaced by Raoul, who spoke perfect British English. He was quite happy to bring out the case that held the Eiffel Tower charms in a staggering range of sizes. I chose the one I wanted, changed my traveler’s checks for francs, and left that department. Mission accomplished.

By a strange coincidence there was another American girl on the tour bus. She was visiting her Dutch grandmother, who had brought both the American girl and her teenage Dutch cousin along for a wonderful weekend in Paris. When I crossed paths with them in the department store, it was clear to me the girls were dying to run off by themselves. The grandmother looked rather tired. Since my shopping was complete, I invited the grandmother to join me in the restaurant on the top floor of the store. The girls could go do as they liked, then we’d all meet back at the bus at the appointed time. Everybody was happy. The grandmother looked relieved to sit down for a while. While she drank her coffee and I had a bite to eat, she told me all about her family and showed me photos. Later, she was kind enough to take a photo of me in front of the Eiffel Tower and mailed it to me where I lived with my Dutch family. That photo was the gift I wanted to give to my father.

I keep that photo in my office. Every time I look at it, I remember the kindness of those wonderful Dutch people and my many adventures in the City of Lights, all thanks to my father.

stockphoto.com

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, history, memoirs, parenting, school, travel, Writing

O is for Ouija


by Lillian Csernica on April 18, 2022

In 1967 a toy manufacturer came out with the Ouija board most people are familiar with. A few years ago, a whole new world of bad taste and spiritual danger was unleashed when the latest model of the Ouija board was unveiled. Made in bright, pretty colors, it was aimed at girls eight to twelve, marketed as the perfect sleepover entertainment. So much criticism about this candy-coated abomination has arisen from so many different sources that the manufacturer pulled it from the shelves. That company will no longer be making any of them. Unfortunately, human nature being the way it is, that turn of events made that particular Ouija board a collector’s item.

Many religions forbid talking to the dead. Many cultures forbid even speaking of the dead because it’s disrespectful and might disturb their rest. And yet there are some parents out there who see no problem with exposing their grade school daughters to what could be used as a tool for necromancy. If people are going to trivialize the occult and dress it up in such seemingly harmless colors, what do they think is going to happen once those children turn into teenagers with no sense of danger and rebellious streaks a mile wide? I know what could happen. I was a stupid teenager once.

I pray for the safety of any child who comes into contact with this horrible “toy.” It’s one more example of evil hiding in plain sight.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, history, memoirs, parenting, school, worry, Writing

L is for Love


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2022

LOOKING FOR LOVE

The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Take love, for example. I don’t know much more about what love really is than I did when I was in elementary school. For me, love started out being this big exalted dream of perfect happiness, perfect harmony, and total devotion to each other. I think I got that from reading fairy tales. (Disney movies also have a lot to answer for.) Then I listened to what older girls said about their boyfriends. I got the impression that having a boyfriend was one of those Rules for Living that showed everybody else you knew what you were doing.

One night when I was nineteen years old, it was so bitterly cold my body heat wasn’t enough to warm up the sheets and blankets. I lay there alone, shivering and miserable, thinking if only I had boyfriend. If only I could find a boyfriend to keep me warm, inside and out. The intense desire to avoid another night like that one prompted me to do some pretty stupid things. As I look back at that cold night from the perspective of fifty-plus years, I can see that I could have saved myself all kinds of trouble if I’d just bought an electric blanket.

Ever since I met my first crush when I was in the grade, I thought the right guy was the solution to all my needs and problems. I don’t know how I got this idea. It must have been all those fairy tales, because I certainly didn’t learn it from my family. My grandparents got divorced twice and married three times. (It’s true. I have photos of two of the weddings.) My parents divorced when I was eleven. My older sister never has married. My brother had to divorce his first wife. Why on earth did I think attaching myself to some boy who probably had even less of a clue than I did would somehow result in that magical state called “true love”?

When I was on the debate team in college, the first rule was “Define your terms.” That way both the Affirmative and the Negative teams knew exactly what the Affirmative team meant by the resolution being debated. When it comes to the search for love, I think the same rule should apply. After all, the statement “I love you” can have several different meanings and those meanings often depend on context. Matchmakers, dating services, and our best friends all ask the same question, “What are you looking for in a partner?” This is where it starts to get really complicated. Does the resulting list of characteristics represent the idealized image of the person whom you want to fall in love with? Or does it represent the person whom you want to fall in love with you? Are you really looking for a healthy relationship based on mutual give and take, or are you looking for a human transitional object that will soothe your insecurities and pay for your evening entertainment?

At this point in my life, I can see that wanting this perfect person to fall in love with me meant more than just having a boyfriend so I could go out on dates. It meant proving to the world that I had achieved the ultimate validation, the concrete emotional evidence that I wasn’t a loser, I wasn’t the last person chosen during schoolyard games. I wasn’t cold, alone, and miserable anymore. That’s what I hoped. Life hasn’t worked out that way.

Right now there’s all that Easter candy out there on the shelves. Most of it is chocolate. As adults, we know which brands are better than others. We know how to compare them and get the most value for our money. This skill comes from time, maturity, and a lot of taste-testing. Kids are different. When it comes to chocolate, kids don’t care. In the Dollar Tree you can find the phrase “chocolate-flavored” on many of the Easter items. There’s no actual cacao, just a lot of artificial colors and flavors. Unfortunately, the same can be said of some people. In the quest for love, some of us who crave True Love, the Real Thing, can become so desperate they will settle for the off-brands that are cheap, flashy, and artificial. It’s so hard to resist the temptation for a quick fix that will silence those nagging cravings and insecurities. It took me a while to learn the importance of patience, of saving up for the quality chocolate and the quality people.

My mother had her opinions about my boyfriends. When I was in middle school and awash in all kinds of hormonal angst over whether or not I’d ever get a boyfriend, Mom said I was “boy crazy.” Accurate, if not all that flattering or sympathetic. Years later, after I’d graduated high school and had spent some adventurous years working the Renaissance Faires, Mom managed to sum up both the quality and the quantity of my efforts to find love: “Well, at least you won’t wonder what you might have missed out on.” Once again, neither flattering nor all that sympathetic. Thanks, Mom.

So now that I’m a woman of a certain age, do I really know any more about love than when I first started dating boys? I’ve been married for thirty-four years come July, but that’s less of a testament to romantic love than to maintaining a stable home life for my sons. In a world of uncertainties, I know three things for sure: I love my sons, I love my cats, and I love really good dark chocolate.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, cats, chocolate, Depression, dreams, fairy tales, Family, Fiction, frustration, Goals, love, marriage, memoirs, mother, perspective, romance, school, therapy, worry

F is for Future


by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2022

I apologize for the delay in posting. Today I received my first cortisone shot in my right knee. It was a bit of an ordeal. Thank you for your patience.

FINAGLING THE FUTURE

I was raised Roman Catholic. When it came time for my Confirmation, I decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Confirmation meant making a commitment to act as an adult according to the Church’s dogma and practices. I told my mother I did not believe what the Roman Catholic Church taught, mainly because I couldn’t reconcile the contradictions between this God of love and mercy I kept hearing about and the really scary people who served him. In my parish, we had several fire and brimstone Irish Catholic priests, the kind with silvery hair and brick red faces who never smiled. We had nuns, too, the old-fashioned kind in the proper habits with veils and their skirts worn below the knee. For some reason I never understood, those nuns were replaced by an order of nuns who wore what looked like ’50s twin sets in beige polyester with skirts to match and no head covering at all. One of these “modern nuns” taught my afterschool class (Sunday school on a weekday afternoon). She was more like a social worker than an actual nun. (She talked like a lawyer, which makes sense given how legalistic the Roman Catholic Church tends to be.) This drove me even farther away from the Church. I needed to find a source of spiritual growth that didn’t send so many mixed signals.

Mom let me off the hook for Confirmation, but she didn’t give me any ideas about filling the sudden void in my spiritual life. Chaucer said an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop. He must must have known a few teenagers. I had an active mind, a strong curiosity, and a love of reading, so I started looking into subjects much better left alone. Back then I liked to watch horror movies, classics featuring Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing. I wanted to know where the filmmakers got their ideas for the monsters, sorcery, and strange occult organizations. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Lucky for me, my Holy Guardian Angel kept a lifeline attached to my silly soul and hauled me out of danger more than once.

I mention all this to give you a context for what I was like when I plunged into the world of divination, or fortunetelling. A lot of those scary movies I’d been watching featured curses, omens, and ancient artifacts, even items that could help foretell the future. So I rushed right out and bought myself a Tarot deck. Even in this new hobby I was very much a traditionalist, because I bought the deck created by Arthur Edward Waite along with his book on interpretation. Waite was a member of at least one of the occult organizations very prominent at the turn of the century when spiritualism was all the rage among the intelligentsia. The enormous popularity of séances, table-tapping, and Ouija boards, prompted professional illusionists such as the great Houdini to debunk the frauds. I’ve met a lot of people who have really wanted to believe they were psychic. A lot of them just wanted their dreams to be real. The problem with that kind of thinking is, you can’t just have the good dreams be real. The nightmares are part of the deal too.

When I was in high school I worked in community theater as a stage or lighting technician. That meant I got to hang around backstage, be part of the magic of a live performance, and go to the cast parties. The show onstage was nothing compared to what I’d see at the cast party afterward. At one of these parties I brought along my Tarot deck and set myself up in a corner. This was not a smart idea. Trying to peer into the mysteries of the Infinite for people who are drunk and/or wasted on recreational drugs does not end well. Divination should not be treated like a party game, like one more neat thing to do after you have your face painted. But there I was, sixteen years old and so sure I knew what I was doing.

A few people came to have readings done. The only one I remember clearly is the one I hope I never forget. An older woman wanted to ask the cards a question about a problem involving her daughter. I don’t recall the problem. I worked my way through the cards I’d dealt, watching the woman for her reactions. Fool that I was, I let my eagerness to please color what I saw in the cards and how I expressed it. The woman went away quite pleased, with a smile that seemed a little too broad. I was bright enough to spot that, but totally blind to what caused it.

A man who’d been sitting nearby watching me do readings asked me if I understood what I’d just done. By his tone I could tell he thought I didn’t know. He pointed out to me the way the older woman asked the question indicated she’d already decided what her daughter should do. I worked so hard for her approval that I totally missed the trap. I’d given that woman the answer she wanted. Now she’d go to her daughter and tell her daughter what she should do. If the daughter had other ideas, the older woman could back up her own opinion with the authority of my Tarot reading. I had given the older woman power she perhaps should not have gained. By doing so I might have set in motion events that would lead to a place that the daughter did not want to go, creating friction and hidden resentments and who knows what other emotional and spiritual damage. The man who explained all this to me wanted me to understand that I had no clue how much responsibility went along with presenting myself as any kind of fortuneteller. He was right. Even now, forty years later, I still feel ashamed for being so arrogant and ignorant.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, dreams, fantasy, frustration, Goals, memoirs, mother, research, school, therapy

B is for Bullying


by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2022

BULLYING: THEN AND NOW

This is about getting bullied at school. I don’t get into any really drastic details. Still, be advised. This might bring back memories you don’t want to revisit.

When I was in elementary school back in the ’70s, the officials took a much different approach to incidents of bullying. By the time I was ten years old I stood almost five feet seven inches tall. This caused me all sorts of problems. Because I looked older, adults expected me to act the age they perceived me to be. When I didn’t act that way, they accused me of being immature. This complicated matters when my height made me a target for bullies. Given that I was a girl, I came in for a lot of the usual bullying tactics as well.

The main bully saying nasty things while the rest of the mob watched or added their own insults.

The usual name-calling, i.e. “Four Eyes

Putting something in the desk of the person being bullied for a nasty surprise

Chasing girls into the bathrooms

Bra-snapping

What kind of responses did I get when I told my teachers about all this? What kind of support and protection did they provide for me, along with disciplinary action for my tormentors?

“Boys will be boys.”

“Just ignore them and they’ll stop.”

“You must have done something to provoke that.”

“You must have been asking for it.”

Do these statements sound familiar? They’re the responses women often get when we’re trying to report sexual harassment or rape.

When it came time for me to enroll in middle school, my parents got divorced. My mother and I had to move, which meant I left my few friends and all the classmates I’d grown up with to go to a different school. Being the new kid put an even bigger target on my back. Every day of my life at school included some or all of these:

Verbal provocation

People making up rumors about me

Harassment in the girls’ gym about my weight, glasses, hair, etc.

The older students ganging up on me while I was walking home from school.

Nobody would listen. Nobody took me seriously. I guess I’m lucky the boys in middle school were acting one at a time, only intent on breaking my glasses, punching me, spitting on me, pulling my hair and making me cry. Just imagine what might have happened if those thugs combined their strength to ambush me and commit a more serious form of assault.

One day after school two dozen of my classmates surrounded me with their bicycles and demanded that one of my archenemies beat me up right there in front of all of them. I ran up to the door of the nearest house, told them it was an emergency and I needed to use their phone, then called the police and my father. I was twelve years old, and I had to do this for myself. My father arrived in time to see the ring of bullies before they all took off. He knew I wasn’t making anything up.

This incident led to the principal insisting my parents meet with him at his office so they all could to discuss what to do about me because I was such a troublemaker. Unfortunately, due to the terms of the divorce my father pretty much left school decisions to my mother, who got custody of me. Mom was so busy smiling and groveling to the school officials she didn’t stand up for me at all. My test scores were high enough to enable me to skip sixth grade. That didn’t really help matters. It just created even more resentment among my classmates. The one mercy I received was being trapped in that educational hell for only two years instead of three.

High school? Same people, more sophisticated grief.

Let’s contrast my experiences with the anti-bullying policy of today’s educational system. This is taken from the student manual of the high school both of my sons attended:

Students may not coerce others through threats or intimidation. Students shall not haze, sexually harass or commit any act which degrades or discredits students and/or staff. Harassment has nothing to do with intent, and it is determined by the victim. Harassment is defined as intentional threats or intimidation directed against a person or group that is so severe that it disrupts class work, creates substantial disorder and invades the rights of the student by creating an intimidating or hostile environment.

Sexual harassment means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and/or other verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Any student who feels he/she is the victim of harassment must notify a teacher, counselor or administrator. The student may be asked to provide a written statement. Any form of sexual harassment toward personnel or students will result in automatic suspension and/or expulsion.

Consequences:

1st Offense: 1-5 day suspension; Parent contact/contract; Referral to Counseling/CRT

 2nd Offense: 5 day suspension; Referral to law enforcement.

 3rd Offense: 5 day suspension; Recommendation for expulsion; Referral to law enforcement.

Wow. What a difference forty years and a technological revolution have made. Thanks to cell phones and social media, everybody is watching everybody else. Any stupid, embarrassing moment can be captured and uploaded to the Internet in a matter of minutes. I’m glad I got through my school days before the Internet became an essential part of everyday life. Still, it would have been great to have photos or video proof of my tormentors.

In the Steubenville rape case, the two boys who were convicted used their cell phones to broadcast all the horrible things they did to that poor girl. Apparently it never occured to them they’d handed the prosecution evidence of their own guilt. Cell phones and other easily concealed recording devices have provided documentation of abuses committed in classrooms by both teachers and aides against mainstream students and even special education children. Discovery of such despicable acts has led some parents to call for surveillance equipment in all classrooms. Controversy now rages over invasion of privacy versus the active prevention of abuses against helpless minors.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’d almost be happy to have Big Brother watching us if it meant protecting innocent children, especially those who are disabled and defenseless, from any form of bullying and/or abuse committed against them by classmates, teachers, one to one aides, and any other on-site personnel. I’m an adult now, but I still remember all too well what it felt like to be victimized by bullies, then ignored and even punished by the very authorities who should have been there to safeguard my physical and emotional health.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, Family, frustration, memoirs, mother, parenting, school, Self-image, special education