Justifying Myself To The Grocery Store Cashier Who Was Most Likely Not Judging Me In The First Place

Quite Possibly The Least Realistic Photo Ever.
Quite Possibly The Least Realistic Photo Ever.

“Do you have an Advantage card?” the cashier asks me, pleasantly enough. This part is real. The cashier has actually said words, which will not be the case for most of the rest of our time together. I give him the card, he scans it, and then we are off. To the world of needlessly defensive make-believe. Courtesy of me.

This guy is new, I think; at least, I’ve never seen him before. Which means he knows, like, less than nothing about me, and yet right off the bat I catch him looking askance at some of my frozen food choices.

“What – those Lean Cuisines?” I say, via my thought waves. “Well yeah, they’re full of salt and preservatives but really, I only eat them for lunch. I mean, sometimes dinner, but hardly ever. And I know, okay, I know it’s ironic that the Lean Cuisines are stacked up right next to the ice cream. Not that it’s any of your business, but I HAVE to buy three different kinds. Of ice cream. I have a husband and kids at home, okay?  It isn’t just all for me.  God.”

The Lean Cuisines and the ice creams fit nicely into one bag. I hope he notices this. I hope he realizes just how much good I’m doing by bringing my own bags. But he doesn’t seem to be thinking proud thoughts about me at all; in fact, I’m pretty sure a look of disdain just flashed across his face. Great. Because I know exactly what he’s thinking.

“Look,” I tell him, still only in my head. “I see you rolling your eyes at the chicken nuggets. I get it. But maybe if they hadn’t invented microwaves in the first place then our kids couldn’t have fallen in love with this kind of crap, did you ever think of that? Maybe you like to get home after a long day of work and cook a clean, healthy meal from scratch while simultaneously helping with homework and starting some laundry and going through the mail, and then checking to see if you actually paid the mortgage or if you just imagined doing it, but guess what, I DON’T. And so what, anyway? It’s not like chicken nuggets are all my kids ever eat. See that stew meat you just blew past like it was nothing? Yeah! I’m going to make beef stroganoff with that meat! And I don’t even know if beef stroganoff is good for you, in fact I’m pretty sure it’s mostly not, but I will be making it from real ingredients that go into a crock pot and not the microwave. Also I think I will serve it with asparagus. See? There it is, frozen asparagus, right there. Fine, fresh is better and organic is better than that, but, really, can’t you just give me a break? I’m buying vegetables! Look, there’s green beans and also broccoli. Right there. VEGETABLES.”

I suddenly realize I’ve forgotten to remove the items from under the cart – I like to do that first, because once I forgot entirely and got chased out of the store by a woman who I KNOW did not believe I wasn’t trying to steal them. The cashier thanks me when I hold up the 12-pack of diet root beer for him to scan. But I can see he’s being condescending, I mean, it’s so totally obvious.

“Listen,” I tell him. “I’d really advise you to never try to be an actor, because seriously? I can see right through you. And the diet root beer, no, of course that’s not for my kids. Just for me. I don’t let my kids drink diet things. My kids pretty much drink only water. Well, and milk. And chocolate milk, and I guess Gatorade. Oh, those Kool-Aid Jammers? Of course I know they’re loaded with sugar. But it’s not like I buy them every time, for God’s sake. I mean honestly, I hardly ever buy that stuff. I definitely make sure my kids get enough water. From the tap, because contrary to what you apparently think, it’s just as good for you as the bottled kind. Not to mention it’s not WASTING TONS OF PLASTIC EVERY SINGLE YEAR.”

God, this guy is difficult – this is exactly why I prefer the self-checkout lanes. And now he’s reaching for the cereal. Fabulous.

“All right, sugary cereal. You got me there,” I say. “But just so you know, I USED to buy fruity Cheerios, which everyone knows are good for your cholesterol level. I only quit buying them because they quit making them. Or maybe this store just quit selling them and if so, shame on you in this case. I was trying to give my kids high fiber whole grain goodness, but NO. Don’t take away my options and then judge me for making a desperate choice.”

One of the Lunchables won’t scan. I hate buying Lunchables; thank God I only bought two of them this week. Two doesn’t look so bad. But I’m betting this cashier thinks otherwise. I try to stare him down, and my eyes are saying – “YEAH, I LET MY KIDS TAKE LUNCHABLES TO SCHOOL. STOP LOOKING AT ME. HOW OLD ARE YOU, ANYWAY?”

He doesn’t react, probably because finally, he’s gotten to the produce. I leave it for the end so it won’t get crushed, but also it’s a good redemptive move. “See those grapes?” I want to say. “They’re not even on sale, I will probably pay between nineteen and forty dollars for those grapes, but you know what, I’m buying them anyway! BECAUSE I LOVE MY FAMILY. Do you know how much time I spent this summer, cutting up cantaloupe and watermelon? That’s right, a lot. And look, there’s apples. And pears. I don’t even like pears. And see this? Spinach. And green peppers and carrots and tomatoes. So it looks like all my vegetables aren’t frozen after all, doesn’t it, buddy? You got it. THERE IS PLENTY OF FRESH FOOD IN MY HOUSE, YOU JUDGEMENTAL ASSHOLE.”

Well, maybe that was a bit harsh. Is he looking at me funny? Or is it the eggs, could he be judging the – “Oh, come on, eggs? Eggs are good for you! I know that for a while we thought they were bad, then just the yolks were bad, egg-white omelets and blah blah, but, keep up. Now they’re back to good. And really, this is the perfect illustration of why you shouldn’t be judging me in the first place. What’s that? You say you weren’t judging me in the first place?”

“That’ll be $267.85,” says the cashier, out loud.

And I pay him, and give him a cheery “You, too!” when he tells me to have a good day. Because I’m pretty sure I won the imaginary argument that we never had, so really, I can spare the kindness.

Curing the Common Core

Untitled design (2)Many, many years ago, in an all-but-forgotten world where Merlin was considered an innovative gaming device and razor blades in Halloween candy went undiscovered until you’d sliced open your esophagus, I passed second grade.  Easily, if memory serves.  I loved my teacher, whose name was Mrs. Ellenberger.  I also loved school, because apparently “getting good grades with minimal effort” was one of my gifts.  I’m grateful for it, I really am, despite the years of wishing I could trade it for more desirable gifts such as “being able to participate in small talk without coming across as a total weirdo” or “the ability to move my physical body in a way that might in some cultures resemble dancing.”  But, you know.  You get what you get and so forth, and what I got was a perfect score on every spelling test ever.  As for math, no problems there either – I didn’t get sent to Math-a-thons (whereas I still have the dictionary I won at a spelling bee), but I did well.  It was school.  I was good at it.

The key word, in this case, being was.

If you have young kids, you know about it, and even if you don’t, you still may have heard:  math has changed.  And it turns out it doesn’t come quite as easily to me as it did back in the 1970’s.  In fact, I might not be able to do it at all, if it weren’t for my son Joey’s (increasingly rare) patience in explaining to me why 7+8 can no longer just equal 15.  I mean, 7+8 obviously still equals 15.  But due to the much discussed Common Core set of educational standards, it’s no longer quite that simple.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Common Core, you can take a look at the details of the Pennsylvania standards here, or find a more general description of the nationwide program here.  Or, you could simply follow along with my illustration of a math problem that used to be simple and now is not:

Math2_0

Common Core advocates argue that in math, knowing the answer is not enough.  A child must also understand why the answer is the answer, and, I mean, I get that.  I do.  What I don’t get is how the Common Core answer to 7+8 provides any deeper understanding than my own explanation, which is if you have seven things and then you get eight more things, now you will have fifteen things, and that is why 7+8 = 15.

According to the Common Core method shown above, 7+8 = 15 because 7+3 = 10, and 8-3 = 5, and 10+5 = 15.

Sigh.

Clearly this is almost criminally stupid, but the fact that it’s stupid is not really the problem.  The problem is that by stressing “core concepts” over rote memorization, Common Core proponents are asking kids to think critically without giving them any facts.  It’s like asking them to create a sculpture out of smoke, or draw a picture of infinity.  Without knowing basic arithmetic – learned easily enough through play, repetition, and real world examples – we’re giving them nothing to work with.  And then wondering why more and more U.S. kids hate math with every fiber of their little second-grade beings.

Some Common Core supporters have said that rote memorization is not good; some have gone so far as to say it’s harmful.  Others have said that it’s our job as parents to take the time to learn the new ways, because our children’s education should be our top priority.  I don’t disagree with that, on the surface.  However, I do believe our children’s education should be just that:  our children’s.  Not our own.  I want to know what my kids are learning, and I want to help them when they need it.  But the thing is – and this is kind of a big thing – having passed second grade once already in this lifetime, I really, really, REALLY don’t want to have a re-do at the age of 44.

I don’t know.  This whole thing makes me angry, mainly because it seems to me to be nothing but a heavily bureaucratized attempt at getting U.S. test scores to compare more favorably to better-performing countries such as Finland and Singapore and Japan.  Like our national “We’re #1!” mentality is suffering at the hands of our underperforming children, and so we’re scrambling to fix them without thinking about what might actually work.  And then we subject them to hours of standardized tests, forgetting that the human brain has yet to be standardized.

Seriously.  Imagine giving the exact same skill test to Beethoven and Thomas Edison.  Or Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan.  Never mind that three of the four of them are dead, you know what I’m saying.  Or maybe you don’t.  Actually even I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, but I can see I have a lot of reading to do before I can form any kind of opinion regarding potential solutions to this problem.  And you know what, I totally intend to do it.  Right after I download this second grade refresher course I’ve been meaning to take.

Oh.  One more thing, consider it a parting gift for having read this far.  It’s an interesting bit of Thomas Edison trivia taken from thomasedison.com:

“At age seven – after spending 12 weeks in a noisy one-room schoolhouse with 38 other students of all ages – Tom’s overworked and short tempered teacher finally lost his patience with the child’s persistent questioning and seemingly self centered behavior.  Noting that Tom’s forehead was unusually broad and his head was considerably larger than average, he made no secret of his belief that the hyperactive youngster’s brains were ‘addled’ or scrambled.”

After that, Thomas Edison abandoned his formal education and instead, learned at home with his mother.  I suspect she did not subject him to standardized tests each spring.

As for the educator that called him “addled” – I sincerely hope that he lived long enough to see the light.