Recycle the Review

January 5, 2011

So, if you don’t live in Riverdale, NY, you may not know what I’m getting so incensed about.  But if you do, you know how one of our local papers has been attacking PS 24, where my son attends school, for years.  The parents at the school and others in the neighborhood have created an organization called Recycle the Review (the paper is the Riverdale Review) in an effort to bring it down.  Freedom of the Press! you may say.  I agree, but I also say we need to protect the reputation of our school.  So along with many other parents at the school I have written a letter to several elected officials who support this paper.

Here’s my letter:

January 5, 2011

Dear Elected Officials,

I am writing to voice my concern over the Riverdale Review’s frequent articles demeaning PS 24.  I understand that you recently placed a congratulatory full-page ad in this paper and I’m confused about what there is to congratulate.

I no longer read this paper and in fact, I have begun to recycle the entire stack that is periodically left in my lobby.  But one recent headline stopped me in my tracks as it mocked PS 24’s reading program as producing “ding dong” students who can’t read.  This article particularly offended me, because my son, who is in fourth grade at PS 24 does not read at grade level, so I assume Mr. Wolf would regard him as a “ding dong”.  However, the reason he does not read at grade level yet is because I adopted him at age 7 ½ from an orphanage in India, where he received very little education.  Before I completed his adoption I moved to Riverdale, specifically to live in the PS 24 district.  In fact, we live 2 blocks away.  The past 2 ½ years that he has attended PS 24 have been incredible and I have nothing but kudos for our school.  Because of his learning delays and some mental health issues he suffers as a result of trauma, he could have easily have proved too difficult a student for any public school.  But the educators at PS 24 across the board have been unbelievably willing to do whatever it takes to help my son.  He has thrived in the school as a result of many people working very hard, compassionately and creatively to get him up to speed.  

The “ding dong” article not only was offensive, it was poorly reported.  I write professionally for several publications, including CBS NY online, and my editor would never approve such terrible reporting.  The only “expert testimony” cited in the article came from Mr. Wolf himself, who apparently deemed himself an expert because of his experience editing the education section of his own paper.

I am deeply disturbed by the Riverdale Reviews blatant hatred of our school and your support of this paper.  What’s more, I run a business in Riverdale and many of my clients have recently asked me what is wrong with PS 24 and have begun to assume that Mr. Wolf’s articles are founded.  However, I do have some clients who, even though they do not have children that attend PS 24, have begun “recycling” the Review as well, because they feel that real estate values are being driven down in our neighborhood because of PS 24’s damaged reputation.  One such client went so far as to call all of the advertisers in a recent edition and ask them to stop supporting a paper that is destroying our neighborhood.

I would like to request an apology for your previous support of this publication and your promise that will no longer do so.

Respectfully,

Renee Smith

Parent of Rahul Smith, 4-213, PS 24

Rahul in the Earth Day TShirt he made last April at school (and our dog, Baby Fish Mouth)

Curses!

September 11, 2010

I can remember being 16 years old and sitting in a hotel room with 3 younger girls at a dance conference and they were going on and on about how they noticed that I didn’t curse and how strange that was.  And until then, I guess I didn’t realize how unusual I was!  (Well, I knew I was unusual, just not for my wording!)  And as they dared me to say words and I refused, I realized that I didn’t really know where that particular conviction had come from. When I was growing up my parents swore, my pastors swore, my friends swore.  I don’t remember anyone telling me it was bad or wrong.  I think it was just always a personal choice based on my own feeling of ickiness when I heard “bad language”.  Words are powerful and I believe in choosing them carefully.

 

I have strong convictions about things, but I’m not someone to go around demanding that the people around me adhere to the same convictions.  I have never asked someone to change their word choices in my presence just because I was offended.  But I did come really close once.

 

After Rahul was home with me for a few months I started the proceedings to finalize his adoption.  Children who are adopted internationally are usually adopted in their home country, then re-adopted in the US.  I understood it to be a simple process that would take a matter of weeks to complete.  I had been through the extreme document-craziness that is international adoption already, so I was not intimidated by a short list of papers I had to produce.  However, Rahul’s finalization dragged on FOREVER.  My lawyer started the proceedings in Manhattan, then realized 3 months later that I lived in the Bronx and therefore had to start the whole process over.  Then I lost a good 2 months because the Bronx lost my fingerprints and I had to do them over (for now the 4th time since starting the adoption.  I never committed a crime, people! How many times do I have to prove it! ) Then to top it all off, once they got all my paperwork filed, the Bronx court wanted to send a clerk to visit me before they would give me a date in court.  I was incredulous that someone ELSE would have to come to my home and verify that I was a fit parent.  I mean, I understood why a social worker (who is trained and qualified to make a judgement on my parenting) would come to visit–and she gave me a raving review 4 out of 4 times!  Now a clerk–someone qualified to file papers, handle legal documents, manage a judge’s schedule— was coming to my home to make sure…what?  What are you going to discover and discern, Oh, Clerk, that no one else has realized before?  That stack of papers six inches thick is not enough information for you?  I was beyond furious. But I had no choice and had to invite her into my home with a smile on my face and let her make her uninformed judgements on me.

 

From the moment she entered my home it was a disastrous meeting.  She swooped in and the first thing out of her mouth was an incorrect statement about Rahul’s birth parents–something that would have been shocking to him if he had understood what she said.  I hushed her and corrected her, but she proceeded to talk to Rahul, asking him if he was happy here.  When he answered (I told him that question was coming and that he could be honest in answering it) that sometimes he was and sometimes he wasn’t because he missed his friends in India, she scolded him and told him he should be grateful that he was lucky enough to be adopted.  I wanted to vomit, and in fact could not hold food down for days after her visit, it upset me so.  (After she left I gave Rahul a big speech about how he never had to feel “lucky” that he was adopted and told him what an idiot that woman was.)  Then she wanted to talk about why Rahul ran away sometimes.  (He went through a stage during the first few months of being adopted where he would run away–and I would run with him–when he was upset.)  I explained to her that he had moved past that very normal phase and that he had never been out of my sight when he ran off.  Then she started instructing me how to parent based on her personal experience (in a two-parent family with a daughter she gave birth to).  But it wasn’t until she started cursing that my blood really began to boil.  She started using language that is NEVER used in my home and I suddenly realized how extremely offensive that language is when it is used in my personal domain.  I think my friends and family must really tone their language down when they’re around me because I had never noticed anyone cursing in my home before–nor have I since!  But this woman’s language was peppered with words that NO ONE should use in a professional setting.  I have no idea what she said after that (except for something about how my kitchen sink was too small–uh, what?) because my brain was full of this very loud inner voice saying, “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” over and over again. It took all my strength to not say that out loud.

 

I considered throwing her under the bus afterwards by writing a detailed letter of my experience, but honestly, I was so relieved to have the whole crazy process over with that once I got Rahul’s Adoption Certificate in my hands I washed those hands of the whole ordeal.

 

Rahul has not really learned to curse yet (although he makes up his own words that sometimes are hilarious versions of curse words, like “shot” and “dannit”) and I don’t know whether he will have the same conviction about words that I do.  But I am happy that for now I can tell him that there is nothing that comes out of my mouth that he is not allowed to say.

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