Tag Archives: teachers

M is for Money

by Lillian Csernica on April 15th, 2016

Here in the U.S. today is the deadline for turning in our income tax forms.  Money is a subject very much on most people’s minds.  This can be stressful.  To honor the occasion, here are some highlights from my travels when money was the crucial element.


One Halloween my friend Don suggested we go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  The theater was in Newport Beach, CA, about twenty minutes from my house, where all the rich people lived down by the water.  This may not sound like I traveled far at all, but I assure you, this was a walk on the wild side into terra incognita.  I’d never seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I’d heard about it, of course, as all teenagers had in my high school days.

Don said if we showed up in costume, we’d get in for free.  I went as a voodoo priestess and Don dressed up as a zombie.  Zombies weren’t all the rage in those days, so this costume was pretty bizarre.  When we got to the box office, we discovered costumes made no difference to the ticket price.  Neither of us had any cash on us, and we were too old to go trick-or-treating, so our night was about to go down in flames.

A woman sitting inside the lobby stood up, walked over to us, and slapped a ten dollar bill down on the counter.  “You’re in,” she said.  We thanked her up one side and down the other, then hurried in to find seats just as the house lights went down.  The forbidden fruit was all mine, thanks to that generous stranger.


On the night Pat and I arrived in Kyoto, we were both hungry and exhausted.  The bus from the Osaka Airport delivered us to the Kyoto Station.  It’s one of the five most expensive buildings in the world.  As a transportation hub and a shopping complex, it’s practically a city unto itself.  We found a store that sold take-out food.  Pat trusted me to identify what was in the deli-style racks and cold cases.  I picked out some attractive items and got into the checkout line.  When the cashier told me the total, I could manage the paper money, but the coins defeated me.  There were tired commuters queuing up behind me, so I held out a handful of change with a sheepish, “Tasukete, kudasai,” which is the formal polite way of saying, “HELP!”

The next and larger problem was the way Japanese do not handle money directly.  When you buy something, the cashier puts a little tray down in front of you and you put the money on that.  The cashier then picks up the tray and puts the money into the cash drawer.  I don’t know if this is a Shinto thing or what.  This particular cashier took pity on me and everybody in line behind me.  She picked out the right coins, gave me my receipt, and sent me on my way.


In an earlier post I mentioned the weekend bus tour I took to Paris while I spent that summer in the Netherlands. The people on the bus with me were mainly retired folks or middle-aged teachers. I was always the last person to get on the bus because I sat in the tour guide seat right up front beside the driver. This put me in the perfect position to lend a hand when some of the older members of the tour needed help with that first step up into the bus.  Since I was on my own, I brought out the parental instinct in everybody.

What does all this have to do with money?

Just before our tour of the Louvre, our bus driver collected everybody’s twelve francs entry fee.  Then our French tour guide showed up.  Slim, glamorous, pushy, and condescending, she took one look at me and we both knew we’d never be friends.  She demanded the entry fee from me.  I told her I’d already paid.  She got very patient in a way that clearly implied I was trying to weasel out of paying my fair share.  The Dutch ladies came to my rescue.  One of them said to me, “You are my daughter.  You are seventeen years old.”  I had no idea what was up with that.  I started to explain that I was actually eighteen.  She shook her head and spoke in the voice of a career teacher, saying, “If you are under eighteen you do not pay.  Come with us.”  She and the other ladies formed up around me and marched me past the tour guide, giving her looks that should have set her false eyelashes on fire!

Customs sign on a Georgian building

On my way back into the country from the Netherlands, my flight had to land in Seattle as its first point of entry.  We all had to go through Customs.  That was simple enough, but then we sat there in the airport lounge wondering what was holding up our departure to Los Angeles.  My name was called over the public address system.  Just my first name.  That was strange.  I presented myself at the appropriate desk.  A Customs official took me to an office where another teenage girl from my flight was looking seriously freaked out. Her eyes were red and her makeup all smeared from crying.  She begged me to help her.  I was the only person on the plane she’d talked to, so mine was the only name she knew to call for help.  She’d made some mistake filling out her Customs forms.   They wanted her to pay them twenty dollars or they wouldn’t let her continue on into the country.  I had the money on me, thank God, so the officials were satisfied and we all got to fly on to LAX.  The poor girl couldn’t stop thanking me and apologizing. When we got off the plane, I was quite relieved to see her mother there to meet her.  (My boyfriend was waiting for me, but that’s another story.)

That unknown lady stepped up and paid my way into the movies.  Those Dutch ladies stepped up and protected me when I needed help.  I’m glad I had a chance to pass on the kindness and help that girl get home safe and sound.




Filed under bad movies, Blog challenges, charity, classics, Family, family tradition, Food, frustration, Halloween, Humor, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, memoirs, parenting, perspective, research, travel, worry, Writing

A Failure to Communicate

by Lillian Csernica on March 19, 2015

Once again, I find myself in the position of wanting to start shouting loudly enough to shatter a few windows over at John’s high school.

At the beginning of this year, John and all the other sophomores received their class assignments and went off to locate the text for their courses at the school library.  John ended up not having any texts to pick up because some decisions had not been made at higher levels about which texts would be used.  OK.  It was rather late in the day for that kind of indecision, but no big deal.

A few days later, John’s classes got switched around and one was changed to something entirely different.  Nobody bothered to ask the permission of this special need student’s parents, namely Chris and me.  Nobody bothered notifying us after John started attending this class.  Good thing his IEP was right around the corner.  I printed out all the emails between John’s caseworker/teacher and myself and took them to the meeting to demonstrate the fact that we had been neither consulted nor notified.

All of this is prelude to what I’m angry about today.


The change in schedule put John into Graphic Design.  This was problematic for several reasons, but I’m going to focus on one in particular.  At John’s school, the computer system has lots of lovely software programs so the students can work on their assignments in class or at the Computer Lab.  Nobody told us that in order for John to be able to do the homework for Graphic Design (which nobody bothered telling us about, period), John would need to do as the other students had done and purchase a package of software programs totaling $293.00.

I don’t know about you, but for us that’s a big ticket item.

My husband is a software engineer.  He was already seriously unhappy with a number of things that went on last year when John had to take Digital Literacy.  Guess what?  The same teacher is in charge of Graphic Design.  He’s a nice enough man, but he’s of a rather abstract turn of mind, so his thought processes are diametrically opposed to the way John, being ASD, can learn.  A number of the same issues that came up in Digital Literacy have now arisen in Graphic Design.

I am in a screaming hissy mood right now because John has been sent home with work he’s supposed to do over the weekend, using the software we do not have and, for a number of very good reasons, my husband refuses to buy.  Once again, despite me really hammering this point home at the IEP and in a number of emails, the teachers and school aide do not seem to grasp the point that John CANNOT do these assignments at home.  Not because of any processing issues on his part, but because the autocratic yahoos took it upon themselves to leave us, John’s parents, out of the loop, in violation of his IEP, common courtesy, and common sense.

Have any of you found yourselves in this kind of situation?  What did you do about it?  How do you get the administration to really listen and retain the crucial information about what’s interfering with your child’s education?  As my husband said, I really cannot believe we are the only family who didn’t and doesn’t have almost $300 to pay for a software package essential to the coursework.


Filed under autism, Depression, Family, Goals, Special needs, Writing

The Perils of Do-It-Yourself

by Lillian Csernica on November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving has happened.  Now it’s open season on Christmas trees.  I live in the mountains, so for the next three weeks I’m going to see an increase in traffic as folks from Silicon Valley pursue their Norman Rockwell fantasies.  They will drive over Highway 17 or up Highway 9 or maybe even the really crazy ones will take Bear Creek Road.  They will find one of the tree farms up here in the mountains, they will cut down their very own Christmas tree, they will tie it to the roof of their vehicles, and then they will discover just how much fun it is to drive back the way they came when the aerodynamics of the trip have just been radically changed.  Now that the rains have come and the temperature is dropping, we may have ice on the roads as well.  The tourists don’t know the mountain roads.  They don’t know enough to go slow, and then go even slower than that, for safety’s sake.  In all fairness a lot of the people who live up here never seem to get a clue about that either.  Why is it that from one year to the next people forget how to drive in the rain?


Every year as Christmas approaches I like to come up with some craft projects for Michael and John.  Michael is still into making ornaments and decorations.  John, not so much.  So I asked John if he wanted to give Christmas presents to any of the people he knew at school.  He said yes, so I had him write down a list of their names.  The list includes his teachers, his one-to-one aides, and two girls.  Now came the tricky part.  What did he want to give each of these people?  That took some thinking, and a few suggestions on my part.  The female teachers and the two girls were easier, because I could ask John how old they were, what colors they liked to wear, and if they wore silver or gold jewelry.  After this game of verbal ping-pong, we’d come up with a gift idea for each of the ladies on the list.  Knowing John as I do, I did not expect him to help me make the gifts.  What I did do was show him the various beads, chains, satin cord, etc. that I have in my bead bins.  He chose the “ingredients” for each gift and I’ve been putting them together.  When a decision-making moment has come up, I’ve called John away from his homework or videogames or chores and let him tell me what he thought would be the best idea.  He’s not big on labor, but he’s got a good head for design.  I do plan on seeing to it he wraps and tags all the gifts himself.

DIY gifts are problematic because personal style is exactly that, personal.  Just because I think you look good in this shade of magenta doesn’t mean you want anything to do with it.  I have to stretch my imagination and think about what I know you like, not what I think you might like or what I want to give you because I think it would make such a great gift for you.  I refuse to give people anything that involves labor on their part.  All those “jar” gifts look wonderful, and maybe they are for people who really want to do whatever it is that the contents of the jar will accomplish.  Me, I’m into instant gratification when it comes to opening presents.  I’m pretty sure most people feel that way too.  No potted plants, no “assembly required,” and above all no living creatures unless there’s been some prior arrangement.  The last time I got a kitten for my birthday, I was forty-three and told my husband that was what I wanted.  The older I get, the less I enjoy surprises.  That may be a side effect of the way my particular life has gone.  The older I get, the more I enjoy giving, which means I have to put a lot more energy into the process so I create gifts that are not just appropriate to that person’s style and interests, but something that person would actually want to have.

Let’s explore that last point a bit further.  On Pinterest there are several listings for “DIY gift that you’d actually want to receive.”  Oh dear.  You know how it is when you come across a sign that tells you not to do something that it would never have occurred to you to do?  You just know somebody did it once and it did not go well.  There was a reason why that sign was created.  There are several reasons why those Pinterest listings have been created.  When the little kids make reindeer out of clothes pins and candy canes, both of them sticky and the whole project looking like it was designed by Picasso, you just smile and make happy noises, right?  When an adult goes insane with a hot glue gun in one hand and a Bedazzler in the other, all you can do is say thank you and make sure to put That Gift on display whenever its creator comes over.  Miss Manners tells a wonderful story about a high society lady who had an Egyptian butler.  When the butler came back from his holiday visiting his family in Egypt, he presented the high society lady with a blue neon replica of the Sphinx that lit up when plugged in.  The lady thanked the butler and gave the Sphinx a place of honor in her elegant, high fashion living room.  When friends asked her why she didn’t get rid of the horrible tacky thing, the lady told them not for the world would she hurt her butler’s feelings.  Friends may come and friends may go, but a good butler is a treasure.

So here I am, making Christmas ornaments that will be gifts, making jewelry that will be gifts, and trying hard to gauge the preferences of a few people I’ve never met.  John and I agreed that his P.E. teacher, who is a man, would probably enjoy a keyring decorated with beads in the school colors.  It’s the same with Michael’s teacher and his aide.  People know my boys have their limitations, so any effort on their part is greeted with extra enthusiasm.  People say, “It’s the thought that counts,” but that can and should mean more than just the impulse that prompts us to plunge into the holiday spirit and indulge in our own fantasies of craftsmanship and ecstatic gratitude.  If we’re going to make a gift, let’s make sure it’s something the person will like, can use, is not allergic to, and won’t cause trouble with other people in that person’s home.  Happy crafting!


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Filed under autism, Christmas, Family, Humor, Special needs

Happy Mother’s Day To All of Us

by Lillian Csernica on May 11, 2014

Happy Mother’s Day!  To all women involved in some aspect of raising the next generation, let me say I salute you and I commend you for your efforts.  Our children are the hope of the future.  Everybody who fights for education, for good nutrition, for safe and sane home environments, for love and kindness and the Golden Rule, you’re all fighting for the future.

Some of you don’t get paid enough.  Many of you don’t get paid at all.  Yet you continue to invest your time, your training, and the blood, sweat and tears that go into raising children.  For every child who learns to love books, for every special needs child who masters a skill that had been an ongoing struggle, for every parent who needs answers and comes to you, for every fellow soldier in the fight who needs support and encouragement, you have been there.

God bless every single one of you.

Mothers.  Stepmothers.  Adoptive mothers.  Foster mothers.  Grandmothers.  Nuns.  Teachers.  Nurses.  Caseworkers.  Daycare workers.  One to one aides.  Home care providers.  Respite workers.  Red Cross workers.  Doctors Without Borders.  MFTs.  LCSWs.  Female law enforcement officers.  Female soldiers.  I also recognize the male counterparts of all these roles.  Nothing says a man can’t be a good mother too.  I’ve seen it, and I respect that.

Yes, budgets keep getting cut.  Yes, there aren’t enough hours in the day.  Yes, some days it’s all just too much to bear.  And yet today becomes tomorrow and you’re still there, still fighting the good fight, still showing the children under your care that you ARE there, and you will CONTINUE to be there for as long as you possibly can.  You may be the candle that is lit against the cursing of the darkness.  You may be that one person that one child remembers for the rest of his or her life.  You may be the one who made the difference on that one particular day when things could have gone one way or the other.  That day may yet be coming, and you will be there.

Keep those lights burning.  Show the children the way to the future.  Help them learn whatever you can teach them that will help them build a better future.  For all the times that people should have said thank you and didn’t, or should say thank you and don’t, please accept this, my THANK YOU.  Know that you are valued, that you are appreciated, that we could not do this without you.

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Filed under autism, charity, Depression, Family, Goals, love, Self-image, Special needs, Writing