20 February 2009

The Age of Unaccountability

Today when Avery was supposed to be coming home from school, at around 2:00, Mason was just waking up from a nap. We were just chilling out on the couch, waiting for Avery to walk in, and then my mom called. As at least some of you know, my mom has what we like to call "The Gift of the Gab". Anyway, so I suppose I lost track of time and when we finally hung up it was like 20 after 2. I'm cool to give the bus 5, 6, even 10 minutes after it's scheduled arrival time without really blinking. Stuff happens, even in the block and a half between our house and the school (shut it, Avery likes to ride the bus, she'll be buying carbon credits with her allowance money so none of you greenies send her (or me) any hate mail).  

So I head outside, look around to see if there are any parents still waiting at the bus stop for the other kids, and there's nobody to be found. OK, maybe the school called Mandi to tell us what was going on and she just didn't let me know. Unlikely, but I checked nonetheless. Big negative there, Mandi hasn't heard from them. My next step, and I'll admit that this was probably where I made my mistake (I am admonishing others in this note for their lack of accountability, figure I better not be a hypocrite), was to call a neighbor whose daughter also rides Avery's bus. She told me that the bus had broken down, and that we needed to go to the school to sign the kids out, and that no one except those previously authorized to do so could sign them out (read: no asking the neighbor to pick her up). Great.  

So with Mason in hand, I head upstairs to wake Lily up from her nap, less than 45 minutes after she'd gone to sleep. That in and of itself was enough to make me want to punch a wall, but I kept my cool, rallied the troops, and got in the car. Park at the curb, wrestle the kids out, and trudge inside to an office full of other forlorn parents, all in search of answers. And this is where it gets good. With the two kids in hand, standing there looking distraught and OBVIOUSLY in search of something, one of the women behind the desk asks "How can we help you sir?"  

"I'm here to pick up my daughter, apparently there was an issue with her bus. Her name is Avery."  

"Well let me see if I can still get her off of the bus, the door was broken but they've got another bus now and are fixin' to leave."  

That was when I had to set Mason down, because I felt my muscles begin to twitch involuntarily. "So, when there was an issue with the door, how come nobody called the parents? How were we supposed to know what was going on?" To quote one of my all-time favorite characters, H.I. McDunnough of Raising Arizona . . "and then the roof caved in".  

"Well," I was told, "we didn't call because you weren't supposed to come pick the kids up."  

"But they were supposed to be home over half an hour ago," I said. "Doesn't that warrant a phone call? If your child was half an hour overdue, would you not expect a phone call? This is, after all, my child you're talking about. It's not like the UPS truck was half an hour late or something."  

"Well sir, 30 minutes really isn't all that late if you ask me."  

I think my eyes made the sound of dice on a game board they rolled so fast. It gets worse.  

"Well, you know you could have called the school instead of calling a neighbor." This led to an immediate turning toward her coworkers to complain about the parents who were coming to pick up their half hour late children. "They're calling the neighbors and the neighbors are telling them to come here, but they aren't supposed to come here!" Oblivious to the fact that she's essentially telling us (there were still a few people hanging out, apparently this was a confrontation worth watching) that we're morons for not reading her mind, I will concede this one very small point. Yes, my first call probably should have been to the school, and not to the neighbor. However, my culpability ends there. I was standing in front of her at this point, it's time for her to own her mistakes (the collective "her", I suppose).  

So are you thinking this must be the end? It can't possibly get any worse than that, right? No no . . best for last people. I turned to a different woman behind the counter, one who had not yet insulted or belittled me, and just said "I'd just figure they could call folks and let them know what's going on." Her response?  

"Honestly, we don't really even know which kids are on which bus sometimes." I'm not kidding. I didn't believe what she said either, which is why I asked her to repeat herself. I thought maybe that while I had turned to ask Lily to sit down, that I had mis-heard this woman's statement. "I'm sorry, what was that?", I asked. "Yeah, it's hard to tell which kids are even on which bus sometimes."  

"Ma'am, do you happen to have a scrap of paper?" I asked. She looked at me, puzzled. "Well yeah, here, you can just use this flyer (is it ironic that the title of the flyer she handed me is "Informed Effective Parents"?)." "Thanks, and is there . . oh, there's a pen, nevermind. I'm just going to have to jot some of this down really quick, because there's a real chance that when I try to remember it later, it'll be so ridiculous that I won't even believe my own memory." "Umm, OK," she muttered, and walked off into the office somewhere, undoubtedly to continue trying to convince her coworkers how much of an idiot I was.  

So, I wrote down my notes, folded the paper up and got the hell up outta there. I could hear them snickering and acting all high and mighty as I left, but I couldn't be bothered to stop and listen. What a bunch of nonsense.  

Now I ask you . . is there not at some point an expectation of accountability when it comes to the individuals and institutions with whom we trust our children? Is that the kind of buck passing I can expect the teachers down the hall to be teaching to the students? Is it ever "your fault", or can everything be explained and rationalized away so that nobody's feelings get hurt.  

One of the best managers/executives I've ever worked for was giving a speech at a conference one year, and the main topic of his speech was one that has stuck with me through the years. He said that when you've truly reached a point in your life, career, whatever where you're accepting the responsibility for that life and you're accountable for the things in your charge, one statement can sum up everything that ever goes wrong. One simple, three word statement.  

"It's your fault."  

When you can look at a negative outcome and think to yourself, "I could have made this better, or it's my fault we didn't succeed", then you've reached the point of being a leader. You can not teach accountability until you ooze accountability, and these women behind this desk are in no way shape or form prepared to teach our children how to be accountable for their actions. Maybe they think that doesn't have to start until middle school. I urge you to look at this as a reminder that while multiplication tables and earthworm anatomy are certainly worthy things being taught in our schools, when it comes to the truly important things in life, we must teach them ourselves.  

We do live in an age of unaccountability, and it floors me that it's getting worse instead of better. 5 million people are out there unemployed, presumably hungry to get a job and bust their ass to keep it. Go 3 months on unemployment and then see if your approach changes. There's no way those women truly value the jobs they have, because if they did they'd certainly be striving to do a better job than the one they did today.


Lynne said...

Wow Corey, I think there would have been sparks coming out of my ears! It's rediculous that personal accountability is not the norm. Did you call the principal about the situation?

Carolyn said...


They don't even know which kids are on which bus most of the time, anyway???!!!!


I love your analogy though, very well put and I couldn't agree with you more. Do better, people.