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  • Paula Tiberius

Fear & Parenting In Los Angeles

On Tuesday morning, Richard and I heard the same bad news every other parent heard who has a child in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Superintendent Ramon Cortines called for a shut down of all LAUSD schools for the whole day. The robocall didn’t come until 8:30, but texts between parents were flying, and we were already at the computer by 7:32 watching Cortines announce the decision, looking like a John Deere salesman in his sweatshirt and yellow ball cap.

My thoughts came fast:

  1. It’s probably a hoax

  2. What if it’s real?

  3. This really fucks up my day

Not necessarily in that order.

Richard and I explained to Violet that she had the day off school, which of course was met with cheers and victory dancing. Then we felt obligated to explain the bomb threats, which she didn’t really understand, and we didn’t go out of our way to clarify. But we did tell her that the officials would be searching every school in the district to make sure everything was ok before the next school day.

“Even Canterbury?” She asked. She looked wide-eyed that her own personal school was part of something larger. We didn’t tell her about San Bernardino, or the Paris attacks. Who wants to put fear in their child’s heart? But in my heart, a deep sadness was brewing that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.

That day I had to pick up a huge order of chocolate from See’s Candies for our holiday school Christmas fundraiser. Our parent organization raises all the money for the art programs at our public Magnet school so that the kids can have art, music, theater and dance instruction for the year. It is a colossal pain in the ass, and I’ve found myself in a leadership role that I don’t want at all. Parent participation sucks, no one even shows up to meetings, and my fellow do-gooders and myself are caught in a perpetual dialogue about “how to get parents to care” about helping to keep these programs alive. We’ve talked about threatening to let the whole program die, since perhaps a fear-based approach is the only one that might work.

Chocolate safely back at the house, I took Violet to a dentist appointment which I thought would be a routine cleaning. Unfortunately, it was anything but. She had four cavities, two on the left and two on the right so massive that the dentist had to perform an emergency ‘pulpotemy,’ which is a root canal for baby teeth. I was shocked, but what are you gonna do? I approved the surgery and we all went into the operating room. They put her under with laughing gas, gave her four numbing shots and drilled and scraped like crazy. I watched the whole thing in absolute horror, holding both her hands and trying not to gag. It was a gruesome, bloody mess as they sucked the infection out from under the baby teeth, shoved anti-biotic pellets into the holes and then capped it all with full-on silver bling crowns. All I could think about was how much I loved Violet, and the high suicide rates of dentists.

Violet got through the operation like a trooper, but as soon as she stood up to leave, the tears came gushing out. We got in the car where the news was reporting that the bomb threats were likely a hoax, and that the NYC superintendent was making fun of L.A.’s Cortines for being too jumpy with his executive decision, costing the school district 29 million dollars in federal funding.

I thought, Jesus Christ, give the guy a break. Sure 29 million dollars, but how would he have felt it there were a series of San Berardino-style killings in various schools across the district? He’d probably be suicidal! Meanwhile Violet couldn’t stop crying – we got home and she lay on the couch sobbing for about forty-five minutes off and on which, as any parent knows, pulls on your heart like an anchor.

My friend and co-do-gooder parent Silvia came over with her two kids to help me organize and bag up the chocolate for delivery to the classrooms the next day – really a job for four people – and when she left, I broke down and cried for fifteen minutes solid. I couldn’t stop the tears, even when Violet came in and caught me, worrying that it was all her fault.

By that time I had wrapped my head around my sadness, but I couldn’t explain it to my daughter. Fear is a disgusting infection in the tooth of our society that is ruining everything good. Fear of terrorism is causing more terrorism, our macho military bullshit and racist infrastructure is driving nails into the coffin of hope for a harmonious society everywhere you look – and school politics are so distorted that we don’t even teach art in public schools!

That’s when I got a call from Richard that he and Patrick had successfully mixed and mastered four of the kids’ songs for our Be Who You Are album. And he was coming home with some ice cream for Violet. I dried my tears and went to get Violet some Tylenol.

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