Education had been on my mind a lot lately, especially when I think about the way it is heading in the United States. It reminds me of my first novel that I wrote that was never published. I finished writing it four years ago, but it seems more timely now. I have since become a better writer, and there are flaws in this piece that I have not gotten around to fixing due to the fact that I am finishing up my next novel, the first part in a horror serial, and am in the process of writing my next, a satirical look at the educational system of Korea as it compare to that of America. In the meantime, I thought I would release my first novel as a serial over my blog with a new chapter coming out each week. Please excuse the typos and silly mistakes, but enjoy the story while thinking about the current state of education in America. I hope you enjoy Accountability.
Did I dream of this?
When I was young, is this what I hoped for?
Did I dream of ending up in this dead end job or did I have greater ambitions?
Can I mark the exact moment that my dreams got taken away from me and I was sent down the path to this pitiful end?
Now I can. I know looking back I can pinpoint the exact moment my life changed. As a teenage girl just graduating from high school and embarking on a new life I looked at the moment differently than I do now. But of course, I was distracted at the time. The most handsome man in the world, Robert Young, had just proposed to me, and even though my parents didn’t approve of our match, I didn’t care because I was eighteen and I was in love. So what if we had only been dating for two months? When it is true love, you know in a matter of seconds and no length of time will tell you differently. And I looked at him and I saw he could give me everything my heart desired: a beautiful home, a loving husband, and a prospect for children on the way. So what if he was ten years older than me? Love could conquer that age difference.
But this wasn’t the moment that changed my life. It happened later in the summer during the wedding planning and the moving into his house. I saw it unfold on the national news. I used to love watching the People’s Network for news. Robert would get angry at me if he caught me watching, but he wasn’t around the day the news broke. I was picking out the music for our wedding and I wasn’t really paying attention anyway. I had the TV on more for background noise, not planning to be influenced by the propaganda Robert believed it portrayed. But there she stood on that big screen television, the woman who would eventually change my life, Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. She was taking about the report she had just written and filed with the United States government. That was the exact moment my dreams had officially been taken away from me.
It was 2014 when Dr. Nancy Ann Blur came out with her famous report, A Family at Risk. It pointed out that the central core of the family unit was at risk because too many mothers were becoming too busy to take care of their children anymore. They were always working on their careers or making sure they were moving up the social ladder. Their families often took a back seat. It was because of this that children were growing up to be disrespectful of their elders and unfit to become productive members of society. Dr. Blur was debating another woman on the television show who claimed what the good doctor was suggesting was absurd. I got to know that woman really well. When she was debating the good doctor, the People’s Network placed her name under her face so we would all know that she was Mrs. Karen Shatney-Moore. That lady was the CEO of the greatest company of that time, Homewide Inc. Every mother in the world had at one time used a product created by Homewide Inc. Most of the mothers could even tell you which products they used were created by Homewide Inc. The company made quality products that were able to make life easier for mothers no matter what stage of development their children were in. They made nursing blankets and breast pumps for the time when the children were still babies. For the children in the pre-school age, they created fun games that taught the children about their colors and counting, all the while engaging enough not to bore the mothers silly while they played the games. They had a collection of authors they employed that were some of the most skilled authors out there. The writers told stories that were fun to read and easy enough for the children to read, yet were able to connect with every generation. The company also created equipment for outdoor use that was fun for children of all ages. The best part of this equipment was the children enjoyed it so much they would want to get outside to grab what the day had to offer. I remembered growing up with Homewide Inc. products and memories of the times I used them were some of my fondest.
The CEO of this company claimed that the problem was societal. The raising of the next generation should be the concern of everybody and shouldn’t be placed squarely on the shoulders of one group of people. It was an interesting debate, and at the time, I thought Dr. Blur gave the stronger argument with quick one-liners and witty retorts. Her argument stated that something should be done in order for the significant framework of the American culture to not get lost in the wake of these terrible mothers that were infiltrating the families of this great nation. She demanded that mothers be held accountable for the way they were raising their children, and the great men of Congress agreed with her. Within only a short year, they drafted and passed the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act to make sure the youth of America were no longer subjected to this atrocity. It was a bi-partisan bill that only garnered six “No” votes, most notably Congresswoman Shelly Perkins and Senator Sarah Hathaway. The American people took care of those dissenters by not voting for them in the next election. It forced them to go home to become the housewives as the stipulations of the National Caring and Loving Behavior Act said they should have been in the first place.
When time moved on and it came down to people losing their jobs and other people speaking about my future, I started paying more attention. I had felt pride in a nation that was starting to take the profession I would be going into more seriously. I was proud to be one of the trailblazers helping to bring this new piece of legislation into reality. I was still not a mother yet, but as I licked the envelopes of my wedding invitations, I knew Robert and I would be trying to have children soon afterwards. It would be during the birth of my first child, Zachary Noel Young, a year later that I excitedly started to uphold the standards of this now famous bill.
The National Caring and Loving Behavior Act was a simple bill. It established a new department of the national branch of the government, the Department of Motherhood. This department would be headed by the Secretary of Motherhood, and during the birth of my second child, Lindsey Ann Young, they had found the perfect person to take on this prestigious role, the woman who worked long and hard to make this law a reality, Dr. Nancy Ann Blur. She had established a series of standards every mother needed to live up to when raising her children. Each year a representative of the Department of Motherhood would visit the home of every mother in the United States and test the children to see if the mother was living up to the standards laid out by the act. If the mother passed the examination, her name would be posted on the National Accountability Website and the ones who had exceptional scores would be profiled in the newspapers. I had been featured in The Elbert County Gazette for three years in a row before my life took a dramatic turn. The mothers who did not earn proficient marks were taken from their children and sent to re-education centers. These centers supplied the mothers with the proper training so they could be more like the exceptional mothers making this country great. Each center was built by the leading economic force in America, the Capital Limited Corporation. Capital Limited’s goal was to make sure that every American, no matter their age, was given the opportunity to become a productive consumer within our society and these re-education centers would help to achieve this goal. They claimed it was not a perfect system, but they were tweaking it every year to make sure the standards were strong enough to reestablish America as the leader of motherhood it had always been.
I never complained about the act because I believed it was making this country a better place to live. It wasn’t yet living up to the standards laid out but that was not because of mothers like me. It was because of all of the other mothers. They spent all of their time fighting against the wonderful ideals this act could accomplish. I believed if the dissenting mothers would just take responsibility for their jobs in life and quit nick-picking over the little things this act doesn’t do, they might find it was a fair and honest way of raising their children. I thought they would see that everyone benefited because of it. Mothers had better relationships with their children. Children got to know their mothers better and they learned all of the skills they needed in order to make it in this difficult world or become caring mothers themselves.
I still mull over these thoughts. I constantly wonder if there was a moment when I could’ve done something differently or if I was a victim of fate from the exact moment A Family at Risk was presented before a confused nation. It doesn’t matter for me anymore, but if some other mother out there could learn something from my experiences, then my telling this story will be worth it.
The moment I can really pinpoint as the time when I should have realized my fate was decided for me, was a couple of weeks before my second to last assessment. It had started off as many mornings had before that day, in the kitchen.
The kitchen was, and still is, the place where I feel most comfortable. Nobody had ever outdone me in that arena, especially when breakfast had to be served, and people needed to be prepared for their responsibilities for the rest of their day. It was all about the timing to make sure everything was perfect and all I needed to hear to get going was what I considered my starting gun, my husband’s alarm clock. It was the sound I waited for every morning, but until I heard it, I stood in the ready position. My fingers stretched out from my sides making sure they were limber enough to take on the challenge. My mind ran through the list of all the things needing to be done and the order in which they needed to be accomplished. I always made sure my lips were moist. It was a superstition of mine. My legs would tense up as I got ready to spring. My eyes would narrow down upon my opponent, the stove, and I would wait.
On the day my life changed, I stood in the kitchen like a gunfighter at 12:00 noon, ready to do battle with the man in the black hat. The only difference was the gunfighter was dressed in chaps, a dirty shirt and vest, and I was dressed in pajamas with red hearts all over them, a pink bathrobe and fuzzy bunny slippers. The other difference was that the man in black was actually an inanimate object that I had complete control over, the stove.
Robert’s alarm started to screech from upstairs.
I sprung into action.
I leaped to the drawer underneath the stove and pulled it open. I gathered two frying pans and a large, square, flat griddle. I placed the griddle on the back two burners of the stove and the frying pans on the remaining two front burners as I kicked the drawer shut. I turned the right front burner on with my left hand while opening the fridge with my right. I pulled out a new package of bacon, a dozen eggs, a tub of butter, and a gallon of milk and placed them on the counter beside the stove. I grabbed a knife from the magnet on the back wall, sliced open the package of bacon with it, placed it back on the magnet pointy end up, grabbed the plastic from the package and ripped it down to expose the uncooked meat. I peeled the bacon off one at a time to place it on the heating-up frying pan. The first piece of bacon started to sizzle as I put the fifth piece down. I went through the whole package until the pan was full. This was like any other morning, and things were running smoothly. The routine was a machine and I had perfected it.
I listened upstairs to make sure that part of the machine was running smoothly also. I heard the water running in the shower in our bathroom. That meant Robert was at the appropriate place that morning, but I hadn’t heard from the children yet. I grabbed the gallon of orange juice and the maple syrup and plopped them down on the kitchen table before I ran to the edge of the stairs. I looked up to see Lindsey, my four year old daughter, standing on the top of the stairs. She still had her pajamas on. Her index and middle finger of her right hand were being sucked gently in her mouth, and her left hand clutched her pink blankee.
“Lindsey, is Zach up yet?”
She shook her head no.
“Well, go wake up your brother, and tell him I said so.”
Lindsey turned to run off towards her brother’s room as I headed over to the coffee pot. I put the pot under the running faucet as I prepared a new filter with the morning coffee in it. I put the filter into the coffee machine, and then I poured the water in. I turned it on and started to hear the coffee percolate through as I checked on the bacon. The bottom side hadn’t cooked enough yet for me to flip it over, but the sizzling sound told me things were going according to schedule.
I opened the cabinet to the left of the oven and pulled out two large mixing bowls. I cracked four eggs into one of the mixing bowls. I poured in some milk, added just the right amount of sugar and flour from the canisters that were on the countertop, and grabbed a whisk hanging from a small hook underneath the cabinets. As I turned on the two burners underneath the griddle, I threw the whisk in the bowl. I popped open the butter, grabbed a spoon from the silverware drawer, took a healthy scoop out of the tub and threw it on the griddle to let it slowly melt down into a brown liquid glaze. I threw some more butter in the other frying pan, and turned the burner under that one on. I checked on the bacon and saw that it was starting to shrink but noticed it was still not ready to flip over.
With the other mixing bowl, I cracked open six more eggs and poured in just a splash of milk. I grabbed the first mixing bowl and started to whisk quickly in order to create a fluid, even batter.
The shower had just turned off. Two kids stumbled into the room and took their seats at the kitchen table; one of them still had her fingers in her mouth. The bowl got placed on the counter so I could pour the orange juice sitting on the table into two juice glasses. I placed one in front of Lindsey and the other in front of Zach. Lindsey took her hand out of her mouth so she could pick up the glass with two hands and drink it down. Her blankee fell to the ground. Zach just sat there and stared at the glass of orange juice.
I quickly picked up the blankee and draped it over Lindsey’s shoulder.
I remember this happening because she looked up at me and smiled, “Thank you, mommy.” Back then I thought I needed more, but now I see all I needed were those little thank yous in order to validate how great a mother I actually was.
I picked up the mixing bowl and started whisking again, I looked over at Zach and gave him the jumpstart he was looking for, “Zach, honey, drink your orange juice. You need to get ready for school.” It seemed to wake him up from his slumber and he picked up his glass to drink it down.
I made my way over to the griddle where the butter had melted evenly. I poured the now perfect batter onto the griddle making eight perfectly round pancakes. I quickly flipped over the bacon at just the right time and grabbed a new whisk from where it hung on its little hook underneath the cabinets. I started to whisk the eggs in the other mixing bowl until they turned into a perfectly smooth yellow liquid. I looked down at the other frying pan and saw the butter had melted as well. I poured the egg mixture into the frying pan and let it sit for a moment.
The pancakes were cooking nicely, the bacon was cooking nicely, the coffee was almost done, and once again I was right on schedule. I grabbed two coffee mugs and placed them at the two open spots on the kitchen table. I worked my way over to the front door, opened it, walked outside, picked up the paper, waved to Sheila, our neighbor across the street, and walked back inside. I pulled the paper out of its plastic wrapper, pulled out the Sports page, placed it on top, and put it on the table in front of Robert’s spot.
I walked over to the paper towels. I pulled off two and folded them in half. I pulled a plate out of the cabinet, and placed the paper towels on top of it. I flipped over the pancakes, and scraped up the eggs so they made fluffy delicious nuggets. I pulled the bacon out of the frying pan and placed it on the plate with the paper towels on them. The paper towels started to soak up the hot grease as the smell of bacon wafted over the kitchen. I poured the excess grease into an empty coffee can I kept under the kitchen sink and placed the hot pan in the sink.
I grabbed the coffee pot filled with coffee and the bottle of French vanilla creamer from the refrigerator. I poured a little splash of the creamer into both of the coffee mugs. I gave myself a little more because I like things sweet, and poured the hot coffee in after it. As soon as I was finished, Robert came down the stairs. He was in the process of tying his red tie I loved so much. It was a good color on him. He was always more of a spring, and the color gave him a sense of flair to his strong jaw and broad shoulders. He came over to where I was standing by his chair. He gave me a quick kiss on my cheek.
“It smells wonderful. You’ve really outdone yourself again, Rachael.”
“Well, I will have it plated up for you in just a second. Why don’t you sit down, get started on the paper, and have a sip of your coffee.”
“You’re too good to me honey,” he said as he sat down and unfolded the Sports page.
“That’s what love is all about,” I replied as I headed back to the stove and pulled out four plates.
The exchange was part of our routine. We had said the same words to each other every morning for the last two years with only slight variations.
Looking back at that moment, I should have been mad about the exchange, but I was so lost in my morning I hadn’t noticed how insulting it actually was. I placed the food on each plate in a formation. Two pancakes at the two o’clock position, four slices of bacon at the ten o’clock position, and a healthy amount of scrambled eggs at the six o’clock position. I usually gave Zach and Robert a few more eggs than Lindsey and me because I believed, as I still do now, it is important for us ladies to keep our girlish figures. That day was no exception. I brought over the boys’ plates first and they dug in right away. By the time I had turned off the stove, placed the dishes in the sink, put the milk back in the fridge, and brought over Lindsey’s and my plates, the boys were already half done eating.
I sat down, unfolded the napkin and placed it gently in my lap. I remember looking over my perfect family and smiling. That morning Robert looked up from his paper to notice the odd expression on my face. “Is everything alright, honey?” he asked me.
I was shaken from my thoughts about how lucky I was to have such a wonderful family and looked back at him. “Yes, everything is perfect. Just enjoy your breakfast honey, or you’ll be late for work.”
“Oh that reminds me,” he said as he shoveled more eggs into his mouth, “I got a weird notification yesterday at work. It said something about a certified letter they were trying to deliver to me yesterday. The post office actually tried to deliver it to me at work. They were having a hard time finding me even though they shouldn’t have tried to deliver it to me there in the first place. Anyway, I was wondering if you had a little extra time today, maybe you could swing by the post office and see if you could pick it up for me.”
“I would love to. I can do it after I drop Zach off at school.”
Robert finished his meal and quickly got up from his seat. He grabbed his briefcase while he was on his way over to where I was sitting. He kissed me on the other cheek this time and I could smell the coffee on his breath as he did so. “Thank you, honey. I knew there was a reason I married you.” And he was off. Behind was left a dirty plate and a pile of crumpled up newspapers. Zach was also finishing up, and he seemed a bit more awake now that he had some food in his stomach. Lindsey continued to try to shovel more of her breakfast into her mouth, but more than half of it landed on her lap. The responsibilities of the day were coming at me with full force and if I wanted to make sure Zach got to school on time I would have to get started, but I was enjoying the feeling the morning had left with me. It was one of those moments when you are truly happy. I had everything I ever wanted: a beautiful house, a wonderful husband, and two amazing children. I let out a sigh of joy and then got up grabbing the dirty plates as I went.
“Come on, Zach. Why don’t you go get dressed? We’ll need to leave for school in just a couple of seconds.”
Zach got up from his seat and looked over at me, “Okay mommy.” He pushed in his chair and ran up the stairs to get ready for school. Lindsey looked longingly after Zach as he ran up the stairs and then she looked back at me.
“Do you want to get ready too?”
She nodded her head up and down.
“Go ahead and get ready like a big girl.”
She smiled at me. She lay down on the seat of her chair and slithered off on her stomach. When her feet touched the ground, she turned around, grabbed her blanket, and then ran up the stairs to get ready like her older brother. My perfect family had left me, and all I had left to remember from it was the remains of a served breakfast. I grabbed the last dirty plate off the table and took it to the sink. I started to wash the dishes as I thought about how truly blessed I was. A lot of my friends would constantly complain about their families when we met for coffee every Tuesday afternoon. Back then I couldn’t understand why they would complain because I was living in the perfect household thanks to my ability as a mother. The government kept assuring us we were living in the age of the mother and they did everything in their power to make sure the good mothers were recognized for what the government believed was the proper way to raise a child.
Other mothers would always complain about how the government was intruding in their houses. They would also complain about the way the system was set up. They thought it was an unfair system that would eventually ensure that all mothers would fail. This way the government could come in and take over the official duties of motherhood.
Usually when the conversation reached this point, I would start to laugh. Why would the government want to take over the duties of motherhood? What could they possibly gain from watching over the youth of America? Where would they find the money needed to make this a reality? It was so preposterous I had to sit back and laugh.
The other mothers didn’t like my laughter. They believed I hadn’t reached the point with my kids yet where this act would cause the same problems they were having with their children. It was only a matter of time when I would start to feel the same pain they were feeling.
I still dismissed it as a just a bunch of whiny ladies who regretted the mistakes they made with their children and were looking for an easy target to blame. The government is always the first one in cases like theirs.
These thoughts raced through my mind as I washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen from the morning’s meal. Right about the time I finished up, Zach and Lindsey had made their way downstairs. They were in the living room watching television before we had to pack up and go to school. I walked into the living room and saw them happily staring into the wonderful world of The Buddy Bears. It is the cartoon brainchild of the Capital Limited Corporation. They constantly show it on the kid’s channel. It is a family of bears called the Buddys. Each ten minute episode has a family problem resolved by the mother using the standards laid out by the Department of Motherhood. Capital Limited claims they work with the Department of Motherhood to produce this show as a way of teaching kids what they need to know when they grow up.
When I went downstairs, they were in the middle of an episode and I knew it would be foolish for me to turn off the television before the episode was over. I had tried doing this once before when Zach was younger and had just started school. He had become so mad he threw a temper tantrum. My actions were a direct violation of Standard Number Two: a child should never be denied the experiences that life has to offer.
I knew by waiting for the commercials to come on, I would have a better chance of not disturbing the natural happiness of my child’s life and I would be able to get him to school easier as well. He might be a little bit late, but really education wasn’t nearly as important as my child’s happiness. So I sat and waited for the antics of my son’s favorite cartoon to end before I rustled him up from the couch and drove him off to school.