Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile PenUltimate Productions Website Previous Previous Next Next
Poem: "Guidance Counseling" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "Guidance Counseling"

This poem came out of the August 16, 2011 Poetry Fishbowl with some inspiration from previous discussions about the folks in Monster House.  It was prompted by aldersprig, eseme, fayanora, and janetmiles.  It has been sponsored by janetmiles.  You can read the other Monster House poems on the serial poetry page of my website.

Guidance Counseling

The counselor from my daughter's school
had insisted on a home meeting this time,
probably wanting to see whether
the odd little girl's home
had anything actionably odd about it.

If only she knew.
Of course, we put some effort
into making sure that wouldn't happen.

The gargoyles were safely stone during the day,
the radiator dragon had been moved to the basement,
and our other housemates could either stay out of sight
or hide in plain sight.

"Your daughter seems a bit ... agile,"
the counselor said, sitting down on the hide-a-bed couch,
"for someone legally blind."

"She has excellent proprioception,"
I said smoothly.

Meanwhile my daughter sat primly on the easy chair,
hands folded in the lap of her yellow dress.
The glass eye hung over her chest,
innocent as a bauble, yet secretly watching all.
Somewhere nearby, I suspected,
would be her seeing-eye gremlin
that only she could see.

I had never asked exactly how she perceived the world,
though surely it must be a bit different --
it was enough
that she could get around comfortably,
and no matter if she tended to look above people's heads
instead of meeting them eye-to-eye.

"She wants her own library card,"
the counselor said.

I flicked a glance at my daughter.
"Do you really?" I asked.

"Of course," she said
with a delicate little sniff.
"The library has audiobooks,
and you can ask to get Braille books,
and anything else I'm sure
somebody  would be willing to read to me."

The rocking chair began to rock, slowly,
without any visible push.
A patter of knocks and clangs
sounded from the pipes.
The counselor jumped a little.
The baby in his playpen giggled.

"Yes," I said dryly, "you'd have
no shortage of volunteers for that."

"Her mother isn't even home,"
the counselor whined.

"Her mother is trying to fix a bug at the bank,"
I said.  "Besides, we have ...
an extended family."

"Grandma helped me with my science project,"
my little darling said brightly.

"Which you didn't even finish,"
the counselor said.

"I told  you that it melted,"
my daughter said.
"If you don't believe what I say,
then there's really no point
in me talking, is there?"
She flitted up the stairs.

"She has a point," I said.
Then I saw the hairy hand
ease out from under the couch
and slowly pull a thread
on the woman's skirt.
She gave an irritated twitch
and shifted position.
I stretched out a leg to kick the couch.
The hand withdrew.

The counselor grumbled.
"She doesn't behave  like the other children
with visual handicaps at school."

I shrugged.  "The other two
have differerent handicaps," I said.

"Maybe you should get her
a seeing-eye dog,"
the counselor said.

"I thought you were complaining
that she was a little too good at getting around,"
I pointed out.
"Besides, the guide dog schools
won't take anyone under sixteen."
The counselor blinked.
"You didn't actually check that
before you came over here, did you."
Then I sighed.  "I'm not sure that a dog
would do well in this household, anyhow."

"Why not?" the counselor asked.
The pipes clanged.  Something skittered.
Mascara-fringed eyes opened wide.
"You don't have vermin  here, do you?"

I laughed.  "No, definitely no vermin."
The baby pulled himself up, popped the latch on his playpen,
and headed for the radiator at top crawling speed.
I scooped him onto my lap.
"We just have kind of a lively house."

"How old is  he?"
the counselor said, staring.
"Children shouldn't be able to open that gate!"

"He's ten months old," I said.
"I know, the gate's not much use,
but people would probably freak if we padlocked it."
"Maybe you should put him in a mesh playpen,"
said the counselor.
"We started with that.  It lasted a week,"
I explained.

My son tried to crawl out of my lap
into the rocker, which was rocking again.
I sighed and plunked him onto the cushioned seat,
on his back, keeping a hand on the chair
just for show.  The rocker rocked,
a slow sleepy rhythm.

"Aren't you afraid he'll fall out?"
the counselor said.
"I mean he just got out of the playpen..."

I chuckled.  "He won't fall.
Nobody falls out of that chair.
Look, he's already asleep,"
I said, and so he was,
safe in the embrace of the slatted sides
and the little old lady ghost
who was invisible at the moment.

"Hmf.  This just doesn't seem like
an ideal home environment,"
the counselor said.

"Two incomes, a warm roof overhead,
and plenty of loving relatives."
I ticked off the points on my fingers.
"I'd say that puts us ahead of at least half
of the families at school ... including yours,"
I finished, with a sharp look at her ringless left hand.

"Well!  I'll just be going,"
the counselor said in a frosty tone.
She stamped her narrow feet,
shaking off the subtle, teasing hand.

I opened the door for her.  "You know,"
I said softly, "I appreciate you looking out
for the kids at your school.
Really I do.  I'm sure some of them
need the oversight you provide."
Then I leaned a little closer. 
"But if you make my daughter cry,
you will not enjoy the results.
Have a nice day."
I shut the door behind her.

"Do you think she'll cause trouble?"
asked the bogeyman,
sidling around the corner
to peek through the curtained window.

Together we watched the counselor
scramble into her car and peel away,
leaving behind a cloud of blue smoke
and several small parts on the ground.
"I doubt it," I replied,
wondering just what the gremlins
had been up to out there.
"She'll probably convince herself
that coming here was a bad idea."

Then I kicked the couch, saying,
"And what do you have to say for yourself?"

"Me?  You  were the one
who let her sit on the hide-a-bed,"
said the monster under the bed.

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Current Mood: busy busy

32 comments or Leave a comment
fayanora From: fayanora Date: August 20th, 2011 05:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, Janet bought it outright? Cool.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 20th, 2011 06:45 am (UTC) (Link)


She asked about it earlier, and I was waiting to see what she'd decide before I got back to you.
natasiakith From: natasiakith Date: August 20th, 2011 10:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Y'know, if the gremlins were *really* in a mood, they might have left some sort of egg in her car.

Alive, of course..
siege From: siege Date: August 20th, 2011 01:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
The poems from this series mostly make me smile. Thank you for that.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 20th, 2011 02:07 pm (UTC) (Link)


I'm happy to hear that.
jenny_evergreen From: jenny_evergreen Date: August 20th, 2011 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the guidance counselor was a little too bitchy, all things considered, but I love it anyway! :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 20th, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC) (Link)


I've never actually met one who was competent, so I had to tone things down and guess a bit.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: August 20th, 2011 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm kinda in agreement with this. I had to suspend a fair amount of disbelief to accept a guidance counselor that would question a child wanting a library card.
the_vulture From: the_vulture Date: August 20th, 2011 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
kitrona From: kitrona Date: August 20th, 2011 07:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I loved it. Definitely realistic to my experience... someone who thinks they know it all and that they have no prejudices splashing those prejudices all over the place. And she got more than she was prepared for, although that's fairly realistic too. :P Or maybe it's just that I've never been what anyone expects...
kitrona From: kitrona Date: August 20th, 2011 07:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Although now I'm curious about the baby... :)
ladymondegreen From: ladymondegreen Date: August 21st, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Congratulations on fleshing out a really unlikeable character. That's never easy.

I have to say, the thing I noticed most strikingly about the guidance counselor's behavior is that she seemed to want to keep the daughter in a state of perpetual reliance and helplessness, which just struck me as wrong on so many levels. I'm really pleased that the family manages to turn it around on her.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 21st, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>Congratulations on fleshing out a really unlikeable character. That's never easy.<<

Sooth. She isn't evil, just ... narrow-minded. One of the people who paves the road to hell.

>>I have to say, the thing I noticed most strikingly about the guidance counselor's behavior is that she seemed to want to keep the daughter in a state of perpetual reliance and helplessness, which just struck me as wrong on so many levels. <<

Huh. You're right, although I hadn't thought of it in those precise terms; I was just extrapolating from examples that I've seen. But now that you mention it, that is SO ubiquitous a problem in handicap rights that there's a word for it: infantilization. Running a quick search, I found this excellent discussion by the father of a severely disabled girl:

In Monster House, we have a smart, precocious girl with a serious visual handicap -- which she has compensated for in several ways. None of that gives her the same perception of the world as "ordinary" people, but does make it possible for her to get around capably. They are similar to some conventional solutions, just with a fantasy twist. So she has to find her own way of moving through the world, and she's pretty good at that. A key challenge is that 1) she seems to encounter situations that highlight the "none so blind as will not see" paradigm, and 2) she has to be careful not to reveal too much, because excessive attention could be hazardous for the less-conventional members of her family. By the time you stack together bright, a little odd, and handicapped ... most adults will stumble over dealing with her just because they can't use their usual scripts for dealing with children.

Thanks for picking up the subtleties in this piece. Sometimes I write things that are spot-on accurate to a particular feature, without doing it on purpose, and it's really cool when somebody finds one of those.
e_scapism101 From: e_scapism101 Date: August 21st, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love this series so much...I'm torn between wanting it as a book so I can read it whenever I want to and not wanting it to be a book because that's so...finite.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 21st, 2011 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm happy to hear that.

Indeed, angela_n_hunt and I have plans to release Monster House in hardcopy eventually. (Origami Mage is intended to come first.) A key challenge is that Monster House is an open-ended series; it doesn't have a specific plot arc and the poems jump around in chronology. So I'm kind of keeping an eye on it to see if it'll manifest a good stopping point somewhere and fill in some of the interim gaps, such that the poems would gather neatly into a collection. There's always the option of doing another book later if necessary.

I do like the idea of releasing serial poetry in hardcopy collections, for the sake of permanence. Also, while there are a few historic examples of serial poetry, almost nobody does it now. So this is something unique that I -- and all of you -- are doing, which will be easier for random strangers to discover if there are paper books. It's easier to get those listed and reviewed.
32 comments or Leave a comment