I Don’t Shop Downtown Any More. . . .

Mamacita says:  I love to shop downtown in almost any small city; the stores are unique and delightful and it’s fun to walk around the square and buy from actual people instead of conglomerates and the parking is so convenient – right by the front door, in many cases – unless there are parking meters, in which case I don’t shop there at all.

This is the direct opposite of a "welcome" sign.

I hate to penalize a local merchant for a bad marketing decision made by others, but my budget is super limited, my knees are super bad, a parking garage is super inconvenient and usually too far from the actual shops for even a minimally handicapped person, and somehow, even though I know it’s not the merchants who thought up the idea of discouraging people like me from handing over my money to their shops, the very idea of a town board deciding to charge me to patronize its businesses infuriates me to the point that I just won’t do it. Besides, I seldom carry cash or change, and I don’t shop often enough to warrant buying a pass.

I guess those lovely downtown squares lined with local stores and meters that require money just for the privilege of parking aren’t meant for the likes of me any more. And I miss them. You people who can afford to spend a few hours parked downtown for a fee can have my spot. I’ll shop locally in towns that appreciate people who patronize their local stores and wouldn’t dream of making people pay just to park near the door. I can see fining people for leaving a vehicle in a prime spot for more than two hours, but for people like me, who shop for an hour or so at a time? Not happening.

I’ve accepted the fact that this town’s downtown square isn’t interested in customers like me, and doesn’t give two hoots in a hot place about people like me. Fair enough. I’ll shop elsewhere.

Item: My home town has no parking meters. They used to, which is why I got out of the habit of shopping on the square there, but they don’t now and haven’t for years so maybe it’s time to do some local shopping again. I work 20 or so miles away, though, and the downtown up there has beautiful, fascinating shops that really interest me, and I would love to patronize some of those lovely stores downtown, but there are those dreadful meters, so no.

Yes, yes, I know I talk about how much I hate parking meters every few months, and people try to apply logic to the town’s decision and try to explain to me the reasons, but I’m not buying it. Those reasons truly do not apply to me. Nope, I don’t buy it. Just as I’m not buying any merchandise or food at their downtown, either.

It’s obvious that towns like this do not miss my business and are, in fact, not even interested in my business, so there we are: impass.

I have to drive through the downtown square to get to work, and I used to love that – the square is always beautifully decorated. In summer, window boxes of climbing petunias are breathtaking and I can even smell their fragrance as I wait for the stoplight whilst not pulling over to shop. At holiday time, the square is aglow with twinkling lights. The beauty and magnetism of this downtown square makes me hate the meters even more. I would love to be welcomed at these stores, but I’m not.

So, I keep on driving until I’m at work, and after work I stop at Kohl’s where customers are welcomed and the parking is free. Given a real choice, I’d prefer to give my money to a local business, but the local business’ location takes most of it before I can even walk through a door to a store.

I bet it wasn’t the merchants who decided the downtown should have parking meters. Most shops – the savvy ones, anyway – almost always have a website, and truth be told, that’s how I do most of my shopping these days. No store is too small; all businesses need a website so crabby people like me can shop at midnight in pajamas.

But I really miss walking around a busy downtown square, stopping in at various shops and making small purchases. I miss the local restaurants; their food is always far superior to chain restaurants.

This used to be my favorite downtown restaurant, but I don't go there any more.

This used to be my favorite downtown restaurant, but I don’t go there any more.

But ten dollars to feed the meter to insure I’ll have enough time to limp around to a few stores before limping back to feed the meter again?

It’s just not in my budget. But then, isn’t attracting people richer than I am the whole purpose of parking meters? I mean, someone like me, making small purchases, isn’t going to make a store rich.

But if I like your store, I’ll come back and bring my rich friends. As things stand, I won’t even come to your store the first time, and my rich friends won’t ever know you exist.

So install your parking meters. I’m sure all the college-town doctors and lawyers and hipsters don’t feel the burn, and they’ve got plenty of money to spend.

I don’t. What little I have, I wish I could spend in your store, but someone’s decision has rendered that impossible.

Mamacita Says: Rant, Rant, Rant. Rant.

Mamacita says:  Rant, rant, rant.

This essay has been posted on many an education blog, for the past several years, and it’s just as relevant today as it was yesterday.

John Taylor,  retired  superintendent of Lancaster County School District in South Carolina, has nailed it.  I wish every school board in the States had to hear it read by a parent at the start of every board meeting.


Absolutely the Best Dentist!

Open wide!

Open wide!

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget check-ups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard about the new state program. I knew he’d think it was great.

“Did you hear about the new state program to measure the effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?” I said.

“No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?”

“It’s quite simple,” I said. “They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, and Unsatisfactory. That way, parents will know which are the best dentists. “It will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better,” I said. “Poor dentists who don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice in South Carolina.”

“That’s terrible,” he said.

“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to improve children’s dental health in this state?”

“Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing good dentistry.”

“Why not?” I said. “It makes perfect sense to me.”

“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work with the same clientele. So much depends on things we can’t control. For example,” he said, “I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don’t get to do much preventive work.

“Also,” he said, “many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay.”.

“To top it all off,” he added, “so many of my clients have well water, which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?”

“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said. I couldn’t believe my dentist would be so defensive. He does a great job.

“I am not!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s. My work is as good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

“Don’t get touchy,” I said.

“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth.

“Try furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?”

“I think you are overreacting,” I said. ” `Complaining, excuse making and stonewalling won’t improve dental health’ … I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC,” I noted.

“What’s the DOC?” he asked.

“It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly laypersons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.”

“Spare me,” he said. “I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure

good dentistry?”

“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”

“That’s too complicated and time consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”

“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.

“Now, now,” I said, “Don’t despair. The state will help you some.”

“How?” he said.

“If you’re rated poorly, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out,” I said brightly.

“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? Big help.”

“There you go again,” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”

“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score on a test of children’s progress without regard to influences outside the school: the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools.”

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened. “I’m going to write my representatives and senator,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point.”

He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.


Parents, please don’t fall for this; start attending board meetings; become active in the PTA; volunteer in your child’s school.  Be nosy; you’re a tax-payer and the school is obligated to answer legitimate questions.  If they tell you “. . . on average. . . .” tell them that you are not concerned about the “average;” you want to know specifically how many children are in your child’s third-grade classroom.  My daughter’s third-grade classroom – in one  of the country schools associated with a huge school system – had 37 children in it, while the town schools averaged 18.  One of the town schools had three third-grade classrooms, each with 12 students!  but “on average” everything looked great.  Demand specifics, NOT averages.  Class sizes are not secret, so if the school refuses to give you specifics, thank them and tell them you’ll call the newspaper office and ask them.  Schools, and in particular schools that are doing sneaky, shady things, fear publicity, so make sure you give them some.

No Child Left Behind is an insidious mistake that will not benefit anything or anyone.  It’s especially horrific for our gifted children.

If you understood how absurd the analogy of the dentist is, then you will understand how outrageously ridiculous NCLB is.

Our children deserve much better than to be regulated and knocked around by legislators, most of whom haven’t seen the inside of a public school classroom since the early 1960’s.  I am particularly offended by people who make policy for public schools while sending their own children to private schools.

As long as parents don’t darken the schoolhouse doors, though, the administration will do as they darn well please with our kids, and what they darn well please is to spend the least amount of money, put as many children in each classroom as possible, treat the teachers like scheisse, cater to the lowest common denominator, and listen only to those parents who make their voices heard.  And heaven help the teacher who tries to do anything to help the students that isn’t mandated; he/she will end up in the Rubber Room.

Stand up, parents.  Don’t put up with this idiocy.  Our brightest students are spending most of their school day sitting idly, waiting for the others to catch up.  The rest of their time is spent drilling and cramming for standardized tests.  Call your child’s school today, and ask about art, and music, and recess, and gifted programs, and inclusion policies.  Every child is a special child, and No Child Left Behind simply means No Child Advancing Forward.

P.S.  If you know who the dentist in the picture is, well, you’re just COOL and that’s all there is to it.

People say, You must have been the class clown. And I say, No, I wasn’t. But I sat next to the class clown, and I studied him.  — Dr. Pearl, Waiting for Guffman

Ages and Generations

Mamacita says:  One of the wonderful advantages of a college class is the mixture of ages, even generations, sitting together and sharing points of view. (I’ve always thought school should be about ability, never about age, but don’t get me started.)  I have absolutely adored almost every student I’ve ever had, and there have been very few exceptions.  The mixed ages work really well, and I wish all levels were mixed like that.  Grouping students by age is ridiculous.  But I digress.

Several years ago, I had a student who looked, to me, to be about 85 years old. She was bent almost double, walked slowly with a cane, had that husky, chain-smoking, elderly, quavery voice, and was quite honestly a walking cross-cross of wrinkles, turkey-neck, and sag. Her feet and ankles were swelling over her shoetops. She had thin white hair, pulled into a little bun on the top of her head. All she needed was a pair of knitting needles stuck through it. My mom is 85, and this woman could have been HER mother!

. . . only bent almost double. . . .

. . . only bent almost double. . . .

She was accompanied by a note-taker, as she was too shaky to write fast enough for a college class. I took one look at her and immediately assumed that she would be a hard worker and a serious student, but that opinion lasted only until I realized that the note-taker was doing ALL the work and the student was doing nothing, and by “nothing,” what I actually mean is NOTHING.  So that was a bummer.  (I caught the note-taker filling in a test, even.  Cripes.)

This story, however, is not about that. It’s about this: some of the women in the class asked her how old she was, and she replied, “How old do you think?” (Always a mistake.) “Oh, about 80,” they guessed. Wrong. She was TWO YEARS OLDER THAN ME. This took me so by surprise that the whole class laughed at the expression on my face. I then asked the class how old they thought I was. Their reply: “Oh, about forty.” I’ll take it.

Memorial Day 2017

Mamacita says:  I think many people forget what Memorial Day is actually about.  It’s not about awesome sales.  It’s not about reunions or picnics.  It’s not about the Indy 500.  It’s not about grilling in the back yard.  We all need to stop and remember what Memorial Day signifies.

memorial day

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Hobnobbing with Aliens

Mamacita says:  I grew up obsessed with astronomy, and the sci fi I got every few days from the library led me to believe that by the time I was grown up, we’d have established colonies on the moon and on Mars and would be hobnobbing with aliens and all kinds of beings from other galaxies.

My first sci fi novel. I was in the first grade. Andromeda galaxy indeed!

My first sci fi novel. I was in the first grade. Andromeda galaxy indeed!

I wanted to go to Mars.  I wanted to land on the moon on the way, to refuel and possibly pick up passengers, and I wanted to experience a comet near-miss.  It was in the book!

Mom forbade me to check out this book any more. But how could a little kid read it too much?

Mom forbade me to check out this book any more. But how could a little kid read it too much?

In the second grade, I discovered Danny Dunn.  It’s a series, and if you have a really young elementary-level child, I highly recommend it.  It’s even got a scientific girl in it, which was quite unusual for the times.

This is only one of a series of science fiction novels for really young readers.

This is only one of a series of science fiction novels for really young readers.

When I was in the fifth grade, I discovered Ray Bradbury by way of “The Twilight Zone.”  I have never looked back.

So well-written, it makes my head spin.

So well-written, it makes my head spin.

I still fantasize about going on a space journey.  I am lost in envy of book and movie characters who are on long journeys further and further into space.  That our government eliminated the shuttle program makes me sick at heart.

It's disgraceful that we are no longer making and using our own shuttles!

It’s disgraceful that we are no longer making and using our own shuttles!

In fact, when I think about the attitude of the general population and, sadly, our own government, concerning science and progress and creativity and innovation and whimsy and common sense and attitudes toward those who are somehow different, I feel really let down. This probably explains why I feel so at home with “Voyager,” and “Star Trek,” and “Harry Potter,” etc, and why I am so puzzled by people who are not comfortable and who even show hostility towards anyone who is different from them, and who are not curious about what’s “out there,” and who are content to just sit around and watch bridezillas and hoarders and who don’t care a bit about space exploration or even getting along with neighbors who aren’t identical with them in their appearance and beliefs, etc.. I’m different from them, and proud to be. Which, by my own logic, makes me one of them. And now I’m really upset.

Voyager. I want to be there.

Voyager. I want to be there.

And what makes me even more upset is the sad fact that even if we wised up and initiated a space program tomorrow, I wouldn’t qualify now because I’m too darn old. I mean, by the time we got “there,” I’d be long dead.

As for hobnobbing with aliens. . . once we’re in space, WE’RE the aliens.

How Teachers Name Their Own Babies

Mamacita says:  Teachers have a hard time choosing names for their own babies because every name in creation represents a student who behaved like a ______ and told us to _________ and tried to get away with ________ and had a parent who _______ and was responsible for a lot of tears and trembling and high blood pressure.

There are certain names that represent nothing but negativity and certain names that represent smiles and wonderful memories.

I named my own children for book characters.

I’m promising you – there are few, if any, names on this earth that don’t conjure up at least one memory of at least one student. I know I crossed some once-loved names off my list forever. Fortunately, my list of “when pigs fly” names was short, and my list of “maybe because of the love” names was a lot longer.

In the end, though, the book people won out.

It’s sad, too, that there are a few really nice names that not a single awesome kid had, and these names represent a lot of bread-kneading-because-it’s-therapy moments, as in, you give the lump of dough a name and then you beat the every-loving ___ out of it. Things we’d never in a million years say or do or even consciously think about a real student but, well, there ya go. Ditto with a small handful of parents. And administrators. Safe outlets.

I have been very fortunate that the wonderful people far outnumbered the not-so-wonderful people in my career. Thanks to my wonderful people for that. (My own kids still laugh about the way I used to get home from school and almost immediately blast a certain student to smithereens with a video game so primitive we used to give it sound effects with our voices.)

The sound a goat makes still reminds me of that student.  “Maaaaaaaaa” was his usual response to anything.  Go figure.