Once in every life, someone comes along, and the life of each someone is changed, somehow, forever. I have been blessed to have been on both sides of that emotional equation. Sometimes love is algebraic in its equality. That type of endeavour is the one that lasts, forever.
The home-schooling resource teacher who came into my life, and into the lives of my children, my husband, and my hounds was a very unique and wonderful man named Roy. He hailed from Ithaca, New York, had graduated with a degree in English from Cornell University (where he took a class or two from Vladimir Nabokov), and found his way west, to California, as a young man.
The commonalities between us were obvious; the similarities and shared experiences arrived in more subtle ways. It is very true that when you find a friend of the heart, you have expanded the size of your heart, exponentially.
During the autumn of 1997, I enrolled my son in the County Home Study Program. He chose to take a class with a “Mr. H”, on Great Books. I caught a few glimpses of Mr. H. in the classroom, through the window in the closed door. This gentleman was in his element, in front of the classroom, at the blackboard. He was suitably dressed in gray woolen pants and a long, overly long, beige knit pullover sweater. He kept a close professorial eye on anyone intruding into his teaching space. I therefore always waited outside of the room, or even outside of the building, in the Ford Explorer, to pick up my male child from his weekly session on Great Books.
At that time, we lived in the Suburbs, and I had to cart my two beagles with me in their carriers in the SUV. A nasty next-door neighbor called Animal Control anytime that I left the house and this curmudgeon heard the slightest canine noise. Dear Daughter was in first grade in the government school, thereby granting me the “free time” to taxi her Dear Brother to and from this elective course in a town about 15 miles away.
The move of the Milligan family to the Sierra Nevada foothills in late summer 1998 was prompted, partly, by my desire to be closer to the home-schooling activities in that location; and, majorly, by my need to get away from the ghastly suburban blob. It was during that metamorphosis in my life that Mr. H progressed from being a class instructor for my son to the Resource Teacher for not only my son, but for my daughter (during her first year of home-schooling) in the autumn of 1999.
I guess you could say we hit it off right from the start — once we met formally at the Meet and Greet for the New Directress of the program. This county office was comprised of an under-funded group of classes and schoolteachers who had been quite capably assisting rural parents in their flight from the increasingly appallingly bad California Public Schools.
That social event occurred sometime in early September 1998; I was still unpacking boxes after our move into the vintage Mid-Century Not-So-Modern on Peach Lane. I still remember the outfit I wore, a black-and-white checked skirt with a matching peplum-style sleeveless jacket-top. It was a polyester creation; I always sweat in polyester, so I was concerned about stinking up the room filled with home-schooling parents and teachers.
I need not have worried. The setting in this run-down row of small office rooms was, to be kind, surreal. The ambiance was chilling. The New Directress was the latest in a long line of washed-up female drunks and administrators who had been elevated wayyyy beyond their use-by shelf date. This one was a doozie. Attired in a sequined royal-blue sheath (THE fully saturated power color of the 1990s), dripper earrings (not quite up to Swarovski crystal level), and stiletto heels, she was “working” the room, in between pouring drinks from the punch bowl.
Mr. H was there, humming a soft tune to get through this thing. I introduced myself as the Mom of Dear Son, and then I asked this courteous gentleman, “Is this a happy hour?”
He laughed, the belly laugh that I came to know as his signature sign of appreciating hilarity.
We chatted for about fifteen minutes, and then I exited the tawdry scene. At the time, our Home-Schooling Resource Teacher was a woman who was competent but very unhappy, particularly about this “plant” that had been placed in this County Office. I got the low-down about this low creature from this sassy woman who intended to form her own online homeschooling site — with her teacher-husband — and my help.
I did as much as I could do for those two dynamic individuals, but, the fix was in where this County School Operative was concerned. This woman had been the Campaign Manager of the newly elected county education honcho. It didn’t take long for this girl from New Jersey to figure out the paybacks involved, especially since it was more than whispered there had been some action going on between the sheets, ledger and otherwise. This supposed extra-curricular activity really didn’t matter to me, and it still doesn’t. As the French say, Ce n’est pas mes oignons. It’s none of my onions — none of my business.
Sleeping your way to a sleazy but well-paid and padded perch of incompetence, however, at the expense of the taxpayer, constitutional rights, civil liberties, and of the elementary and correct education of future generations — c’est toute autre affaire : it’s a different matter altogether.
Mr. H became Roy, our Resource Teacher in late 1999, and the world of Debra Milligan and her loved ones was forever changed in ways that I still recall with the fondest of memories, and with my own belly laughs. Over more than the next decade, this delightfully resourceful man would help not merely my children to soar academically, but would inspire and encourage me to become Debra the Novelist.
There are hundreds of anecdotes, quotes, jokes, games, afternoon teas, lessons, meals, and treasured memories, professionally and personally, that took place during those hectic and marvelous years, almost fifteen of them. The ones that prompted me this morning to create this Essay for Roy involve a battle-of-wills, the war of attrition that this erudite and talented man waged with the Directress, the Money Flunkey in the Home Study Office.
I unknowingly became a commander in those battles, in my own bold and innocent way. Money Flunkey, who was a narcissist of global proportions, had been inserted into this flow of county funds to either siphon off some $$$ for her pet projects, or to outright pencil-out classes and activities that competed with that allocation of $$$.
The cloddish de-construction of a multi-layered and multi-talented but small academic program of independently-minded teachers was underway — with the political hiring of this woman. Every single class of the more willful instructors was under assault by this woman. The classes of Mr. H were spitefully targeted, to the point where they had less and less resource materials and funding.
Roy was not going down without a fight. And as much as I felt protective toward him, I also knew that I had very little influence over how he was going to wage this War against The Narcissist. I could only control, or master, my own strategy, because Flunkey Narcissist had noticed how much Mr. H liked me.
There was the scheduled meeting that I requested early on with this woman — to go over some of the priorities for the coming school year. Roy was a bit alarmed at my assertive move. I told him that I was well aware that Directress had planned on my being Dean Martin to her Jerry Lewis, but that manipulation would not happen during Operation Reconn Debra.
A different kind of manipulation occurred. That stuffy hour in her stuffy office witnessed me, watching Flunkey Narcissist, tearing up little pieces of Post-It notes to stick onto her desk in a weird circular arrangement as she rapidly explained to me how certain accounts are kept separate from others. She assured me of the kinds of approval she must procure with use of The General Fund.
So much information I did not request!!
The months passed by, and teacher after teacher began to leave the Home Study Program. Flunkey Narcissist burrowed in, with the support of the Clique. The Clique consisted of the brown-noser rural moms who formed the nucleus of what had initially been, about a decade earlier, a hick academic-outreach to prevent those parents from going full-scale Affidavit — completely cut-off from County and State rules and regs — and depriving them of $$$.
By the year 2000, it was becoming obvious to me, and to Roy, that the parent-student composition of this long-established home-schooling program was rapidly changing (and expanding) as it became suburban-ized. Each year, the State of California pissed away more and more public school money down the taxpayer drain, hiring more bureaucrats at the expense of real student learning. Education became indoctrination of multi-culti lunacy, moral relativism and anti-Americanism. More and more suburbanites (although, in my opinion, not nearly enough of them) began to search for ways out of the Stupid Illogic of Suburbia:
If we all stick together, and agree, as one, to get the latest School Bond passed, and agree with the Experts, then our Kids will succeed. They’ll get those Jobs of Tomorrow that Mr. Gates will provide all of us with his Microsoft Endowment Programs.
These Jobs of Tomorrow were lousy jobs that were out-sourced long before those suburban brats even got graduated ouf of their extravagantly constructed high schools. The Suburban Safety in Numbers Herd typically hears the clarion call when it’s the last call, but, better late than never!
The leader of the Clique was a despicable female who resented all of these women from outside her little town, moving in on her turf, the County Home Study Program. She thought she ran the program. Actually, she thought she owned it; the Directress ran the program for her and her homies!
That’s the problem with any enclave of incompetence — every fool and idiot in it thinks she runs the show. I once informed Roy that all of these pre-menopausal women, with their pre-adolescent sons — lumped together and clawing for dominance, were tantamount to a bunch of cats in heat. This smarmy snide woman I shall therefore refer to as Clique-Cat.
I came up with the idea, which I mentioned to a few non-Clique mothers, to have an ice-cream social — a party, to celebrate the end of that school year, in a local park. Something social for all of these socially deprived children! Clique-Cat got wind of my idea — and stole it. A home-schooling mom-pal told me all about the juvenile happy-hour-heist. Clique-Cat had met with Flunkey Narcissist to arrange the event at a regional park — and the meowy woman was now in charge of the whole shebang!
This petty pompous creature then called me on the phone — to ask if I would be attending!
I called this loathsome loser a wretched-sounding variation of her first name. Yes, I purposely called her the wrong name — repeatedly. And then I told her that I and my children have other plans for that Friday. The mom who had informed me of the idea-swindle was nonetheless going to this event, and she was shocked that I was not going to attend and help with the ice-cream-social.
“Go for the sake of the children,” she begged.
“I wouldn’t do it even for my own children!”
Very sadly, I had to explain to this mother of six that I owe nothing in the way of honesty, help, or good-heartedness to someone who is a blatant and conniving phoney and a fraud. I felt sorry for her children.
Mr. H was inspired by my firm stance. He took it upon himself to let Flunkey Narcissist know that he would not be available that entire summer to help paint Her Office. It was his summer to catalogue at the Louvre!
This airhead administrator believed him!
The 8th-grade graduation of Dear Son from this Home Study Program was held at the local public high school. The Milligan family attended. Mom got to mingle with the crowd there, including the Honcho of County Education. Even though this man had been called some very disparaging names, including liar and cheat, by several of the home-study teachers, I found him to be very personable, and devoted to the true education of children.
We spoke at length about educational approaches, and I compared the California methods versus what I had both dismally and splendidly experienced in New Jersey. Our discussion had become so intriguing that Flunkey Narcissist came from clear across the concrete courtyard to butt in on it — and, with true female territorial predatory behavior, she moved in on this Other Woman whom she deemed was trying to claim her piece of whatever it was she believed belonged to her.
Cherchez la femme = Follow the money.
Within the space of four years, that county program had been clumsily dismantled by this incompetent bureaucrat. During that time, I came to know half a dozen savvy, smart and innovative teachers who had escaped the oppressively corrupt and bungled mire of the public school system to become contractor-teachers with the county. These dedicated professionals resolutely lived year-to-year not knowing if his or her contract would be renewed, if they would still have a job — amidst the shoddy shenanigans of the State Teachers Blob attempting to outlaw home-schooling, charter schools, school choice, whatever would threaten their money-monopoly. Many of those honorable, maverick individuals moved on to other arenas for employment.
The worst rot of education in California really set in during the 2000s, and charter schools had to go corporate to survive. In 2009, Roy left the county program to work at a charter school, the one that I’d just exited with college-bound Dear Daughter. The move was not a gracious transition for him. His health had begun to quickly deteriorate, and I saw all too clearly the signs of a cherished person attempting to not tell me goodbye.
And so we never said goodbye, not verbally or even mentally, and certainly not emotionally. His spirit is with me as I work on this translation of THE DAWN into L’AUBE. As he told Dear Son:
“Your mom sure knows how to tell a story.”
With enough inspiration, yes, I do.