Friday, August 11, 2017

On the Pavement

Here where I am brown
and beautiful
Where my curls are not the only thing you can look for
to find me in the crowd
Here where I am loud
and bright and brass
A fit for every thump and sway and stomp
History belongs to me; I am rich with it
My feet black and wet from the soil my ancestors tended
are not just strong for labor
my hands not just fine for toil
I am a man here
I land with force
tender is my touch
Here in the place where I am art
my sound rains this pride
and floods this place
with who I am
and beautiful
Flushed and hot I rush
through that door
blind with joy that overrides and fills
to greet the pavement outside.

Where I am brown.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Make a Wish

You’ve long since been an adult in so many ways, my little Sean, this year marks only a number by someone else’s measure.

You’ve long since been patient and thoughtful, wise about the things that matter.

You are decent and sincere today, as you have been.

Years have gone and never taken your innocence from you, or sullied your joy.

That doesn't mean there isn't work to do.

There are times when you are not in synch with the music of expectation. The honest man will tell you that is part of the becoming, too; where would the drummer find his own beat?

As part of this you are mired in the years of real discovery, of test, and knowing what is true, not for others, but for you.  It can feel like a clouded time, but trust. The fog will part. There are no wishes that make you a man. The work of your life will do that.

In fact, I expect despite all your other accomplishments, in rising to the occasion of adulthood you will really shine. You are as sunny a person as I have ever known.

It's ok to be deliberate, so your arrival has your intention behind it. You own and keep this place for yourself. I don’t doubt your success.

You are loved, Sean, deeply, and with that (and some chocolate) (and peanut-butter) (and now, tequila!), there’s no telling how far you can go.

So, close your eyes. Make a wish. Then work to make it real.

Happy Birthday, Sean. I love you, my little baby.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Rant You've Been Waiting For

I watched the Trevor Noah interview with Tomi Lahren. I probably shouldn't have done that before bed, because I woke up with this. Know that these are not necessarily my true feelings, or at least not the breadth of them, and the purpose in sharing this is so that you know that I, in a blue city, have lots of pent-up unhappiness and unreasonableness and failure to fact-check, just like others in red cities and states have. The difference is, I hope, I try to lend my more rational self, my more composed and - yes - my more faith-centered self to my civic responsibilities. Country first, friends.

Having said that, it's not exactly brain surgery to be a jerk. Allow me to demonstrate:

Here we are, celebrating the so-called win of Middle-America. The red, the red-hatted, the down-trodden and defeated white man and his hair-sprayed suburban wife have won the day. The ‘yippee’ unfortunately escapes me at the moment. And those who stand with me, agape, watching the heart of our country demonstrate its bigotry, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia by and through its de facto leader are being asked to shut their mouths and march lock step like the good subordinates they should be. Of course, if you’re blonde, or fake-blonde which is the new blonde, thin, tan, or fake-tan which is the new tan, and able to spew vitriol at 60MPH you can talk and have a show, but only if you’re taking people to task for carrying soccer trophies and whining about outcomes that don’t favor their positions. If that’s your schtick you’re hot, smart, and, well, hot again. Guess what, bimbo, it’s not that hard to be you and Clairol Number 27 is only going to get you so far. You wouldn’t know that, though, because you’re about as dumb as the box your color came in.

In fact, so are a lot of the people who watch you. Because if this election and its attendant commentary have not demonstrated in vivid color that America has failed to educate the country, nothing will ever get that point across. In every way possible the thinking that got us here collapses under the weight of even pebble-sized tests of logic and those of us who can think straight are left to watch the wreck in slow-mo with nothing but wonder.

The people in the center of the country have just signed on to ruin themselves and they’re happy about it. One wonders how cheerfully they’ll receive the news that are also receiving the majority of benefits distributed by the Affordable Care Act - it belongs to the country not the President, read a book once in a while. And the ACA? It’s paid for by the people on the coasts, in the so-called blue states. That’s where the jobs are, no one disagrees, and where the money’s at. So who do you think is paying for your stuff?

Red-State Middle-America, sandwiched between the evil blue states where patriotism apparently goes to die, is asking for manufacturing jobs and farming jobs and build-it-with-your-hands jobs to come back and favor them because they’ve been neglected and screwed by the Blues. But that’s not what happened and the 'rise of the phoenix manufacturing plant' is not happening either. The world has moved on, Sparky, and you and your checkered-shirted friends need to get with the truth. The Wal-Mart culture was not birthed in urban centers where the evil Blue man and his Muslim BFF live. Wal-Mart culture became the savior and sanctuary of rural and suburban America, where pies and plaids are valued, and everyone’s a humble Christian, and everyone wants to have the same level of luxury as the hoity-toity people they mock in the cities. The problem is our farm and field friends don’t want to educate themselves, train, and work the jobs in the places that get them that stuff. There are brown people there - ACK! So instead they hop in their huge gas-guzzling trucks and drive forty minutes to and from huge warehouse stores to buy the plastic knock-offs of the real things and give themselves the same buzz they think the urban folks get from a visit to Trader Joe’s and Barney’s. 

You know what the consequences to that are? We still buy our stuff downtown. We’re unaffected. You’re getting the cheap crap from China, driving two towns over to get it, and the companies that own those businesses, the manufacturers, distributors, oil and gas companies, and all the rest - those are the apple-red titans of industry that are currently populating every position of importance in the new administration. Those fellas try to get materials and products for as cheap a price as they can so they can make the most money they can from rural America. Because the number one principle of capitalism isn’t ‘help your neighbor’ it’s ‘screw your neighbor, make money’. Plastic isn’t free, Red, Americans want benefits and days off and increased minimum wages. So off to China and India those great-making guys go to get the stuff and ship it back and sell it. To Middle-America. You’re the one paying for our jobs to go elsewhere.

So let’s talk about who needs to adapt and suck things up. You think you’re threatening liberal America with your ideas about free markets and jobs? We get free markets in the liberal world. You forget that we still have jobs, we still make things, we still sell and buy. When the free markets shift, we follow them, adapting, changing, and keeping pace. That’s what a reasonably good education will get you - smarts and adaptability to change. You might want to try it. Blue states are not to blame for job flight, red states let them go. Blue states aren’t working agricultural jobs and losing them to Mexicans. Red states are. Blue states didn’t fail to keep manufacturing in our country. Red states did. You want to talk about who should be pissed? Let’s. 

Which one of us is the stupid, lazy, entitled one, exactly? My kid with his soccer trophy and his congratulations certificate is learning employment-ready skills for use in the real world, not in the fantasy 1950s retro world of your imagination. I’m the one who is bringing you down? The one who is working and feeding her family and making use of public schools and transportation that she pays for with her city property taxes? Or is the drag on American greatness the one who feeds off my city services, my city tax dollars, my city jobs, and then gets pissed because she’s not getting enough and needs someone to help her make America great again? You want to blame me for your red-state malaise? Get yourself some bootstraps friend, and pull your self up. 

While you’re working on that you’ll have to forgive me and my friends in the big bright blue if we refuse to apologize for accidentally getting shot while being black, or for wanting to keep our private parts to ourselves, or for demanding equal pay for our work, or for wanting to breathe clean air instead of the filth that comes from untended and unregulated manufacturing plants like the ones we had when America was so damn great. 

You’re feeling bad that you’re out in the middle of nowhere and your needs aren’t being met? You don’t want Mexicans to steal your jobs? Stop whining, to borrow a phrase. Stop hiring John McCain to be your Senator when unregulated immigration is your number one concern. Immigration is a federal and national security issue and John McCain has been your representative to the federal government for nearly thirty years. ISIS, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton have got nothing to do with that. 

Get the cotton out of your head, Chet and keep your rubble-faced, twang-laced, dumb-assed in-the-car videos to yourself. Better yet, get out of the damn car and look for a real job. Try the coasts. Look up a fella named Sam Kinison. Go where the food is.

Until then, please do not step to me. I have a lot of pent up urban rage and I know how to use it.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Do I Always Say?

I said to my daughter, "They have always been there."

I talked to my daughter mid-morning. She hadn't slept. Minority students were flooded - flooded - with messages from all corners of the university, they would be excused from classes, they would be allowed support services, there would be gatherings. The night of the election a theretofore silent group of pro-Trump revelers had burst into the common area lounge with their excitement. Their rhetoric, unfortunately, frightened one of Lucy's closest friends (a Mexican-American girl) so badly that she fled the room and called my daughter for help. They were holed up together, afraid.

I urged her to not give in to despondency and defeat. I gave no play to her sobs or sniffles. I told her to accept it, that what until now had been purely academic was real, and we had been telling her all along it was real.

"The lights have been turned on in a room where all these people have been sitting. You may not have seen them in the dark but they were always there," I told my daughter.

A short while later, I learned that on her way home, my youngest daughter was harassed and threatened, cursed. She kept her composure and came home. We talked and I encouraged her to keep her wits. The situation could have easily turned the wrong way. She needed to be careful.

"Putting your finger in a pot of water is one thing," I told her. "Putting your finger in the pot when the water is boiling will get you burned."

I called my oldest daughter a bit later to see how she was. Still rattled. Still raw. I pushed again, urging a steady, casting sand on the heat of her fear.

"You have everything you need to be strong, no matter what comes," I told my daughter. "Put your armor on and get out there. You don't lay down. You don't let this take you. This is why you are there."

'We are afraid,' she told me. 'We don't know how to be strong.'

I ignored that. "Get on with it," I told my daughter. "Do what you can to get everyone together. You are strongest together. There are tools," I told my daughter. "Use your tools."

She is mad at me for not allowing her softness, not accepting her moment of sadness and fear. I can't. My daughter has just learned for the first time in the most real terms what everyone learns at some point: it's real. Racism is real. Bigotry is real. Misogyny is real. Homophobia is real. Cruelty is part of the human condition.

And lest we find ourselves alone and smug on this side of the righteousness divide, let's remind ourselves that the white man is not universally bad. In fact, he is incredibly good and without him we have not made any of the progress we've made. He has been hurt, too. He has been afraid of us at times, and with reason, as we have not all been so good and so fair when the power has been in our hands. The white man is good and sincere and not to be called to account for the ignorance of some, any more so than our Muslim friend must apologize for the acts of animals or our Mexican friend must bow for the faults of his countrymen. Let's stop that, please. Badness is just as much a part of living as goodness and neither is the domain of one class or one color.

I got off the phone with my daughter and stayed in the living room a while, my husband and son watching a movie, my daughter singing upstairs, my mother puttering around downstairs. I dozed on the couch. When it was time for bed and the lights were off, I laid there for a moment and cried. Because I don't want my children to be hurt. I don't want my daughter to be afraid. I half considered calling all the men in my family, including my sweet baby cousin who comforted my Sara, telling her he had her back if anyone ever threatened her again - I considered calling them all and saying, "Let's go get Lucy and show those kids on that campus that they are not alone. That we will not roll over for fear."

I considered it and then half-laughed at the thought of my own opera.

Nothing has changed. What was good yesterday is good today, and when the lights came on in that room, there were your uncles, Lu, there was your dad, there's your brother, your cousins, all your aunts, I am there, your friends - strong, proud, wearing their flags - are there. Your grandparents, survivors every one, are there. The lights are there for you to see the people you might not have known. That's ok. They have always been there. But so have we, and we're not going anywhere. Let them come with whatever they bring, baby. They don't scare us. They don't stop us.

I always say to you when you head out, not "Don't go" but "Con cuidado."  Así, mi vida, pero siempre pa'lante.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Picture

You just saw Chicago. And whether you believe it or not, you didn’t see the best of Chicago. You saw everyday Chicago.

You saw Chicago today because the spotlight was on us again, except this time the cameras weren’t trained on our faults and our failures. Today, the show was about the good. But, really, what you saw depended on what details mattered to you.

I saw public school students - there was no school today so they were out in droves. Did you see them? Smiling, cheering, participating. Is that the picture you usually have of Chicago Public School students?

I saw black people - tons of black people from every corner of the city come to cheer on the city’s winning team. They, too, were joyful and full of civic pride. Is that the picture you have of Chicago’s black residents?

I saw white people, Asian people, Hispanic people - all one color - Cubbie blue. They were high-fiving one another, hugging, swaying, singing together. Common ground covered enough space to accommodate millions and millions of people in Chicago today. Did you see that?

Did you see the police and firefighters and EMTs and CTA personnel and troopers and streets and sans teams and service workers? Were they aggressive or weird or posters for ignorance and intolerance? Nope.

Today, you saw five million people in Chicago doing what Chicagoans do every day: being black, being poor, being a police officer, being young and foolish, being old and foolish. You saw incredibly gracious presentations by some pretty talented folks in business, finance, sports, and performance all drawn to Chicago by its magic, all remarking on its uniquely warm, familiar culture. These are the people who are best at what they do, top of their games, as the saying goes. In Chicago by choice.

Tears were shed today, and not for our crimes. That happens, too, and I get that we have problems. I get that we fall down. A lot. But don’t ask me if I’m afraid to have my children attend public schools. I’m proud that my children attend public schools. Don’t ask me if I’m afraid to be in the city. I’m grateful to be in the city. Don’t talk to me about my city’s problems, I know them well, unless you want to talk to me about solutions. This is my family. This is my city. And I am heart and soul a Chicagoan today and every day.

The Cubs have been a blessing in my life in so many ways, for so many the same. Today, the Cubs gave you an opportunity to see my city. When you picture Chicago, remember what you saw today. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

For KP, And All My Friends Who Suffer

SFSSD is a well-known stress-based illness that strikes mostly parents, but some children, during Science Fair Season. SFSSD (Science Fair Seasonal Stress Disorder) can manifest itself in sweats, unexplained rashes, shortened temper, loss of sleep/appetite, unrestrained sighing, random face-palming, head-scratching, and irate social media posting, among other symptoms. It cannot be cured. The only remedy is time and, in some cases, liberal doses of scotch. Intravenous is not recommended, but understood. 

The cause of the disease is stupidity. Science Fair, like most educational opportunities, could be a fantastic exercise in satisfying an intellectual curiosity through independent learning, experimentation, critical thinking, discussion, and multi-pronged presentation. Think about answering this question: I wonder why…? or I wonder if…? Isn’t that what children intuitively do anyway? Touch things, push things, smell things, taste things, etc. to figure them out? How many times did you as a child, or as a parent watch a child, stare at ants, crouched low on the sidewalk, desperately curious? Science Fair is supposed to be that, with the informed and intentional guidance of a teacher nearby to ask questions, nudge in the right direction, and encourage. 

It is, instead, like going to the DMV wearing an eye patch, carrying 400 loose marbles in your hands, while suffering an incurable itch on your nose. And you’re late for something. The hapless conductors of this torture ride know they're making America want to bang its head on the wall again, but they, too, are victims. Like cafeteria ladies spooning luke-warm disappointment onto tired metal trays, held by prisoners of a system selling dismal like it's on sale, they simply service the line. No one wants to take the cold shower before getting in the pool. No one wants to do Science Fair.

Why, you ask? Why do we do it? 

RED FLAG! Searching for logical purpose or meaning in Science Fair can aggravate the condition. If you find yourself searching, stop immediately and call a friend with a child in college. There is no mandatory Science Fair in college. DANGER: If a friend has a child in college who is intentionally pursuing a course of study that includes presentations on tri-fold poster boards run, do not walk, away. Do not make friends with people who enjoy Science Fair. They are highly infirm. WARNING: Keep away from discount multi-colored construction paper after a bout with SFSSD, it could cause flashbacks.

To maximize comfort during an episode of SFSSD, passively accept your doom, keep shuffling forward, good eye on the exit. There is spray-glue-free air and reason on the other side. At worst, it's a seven year condition with intermittent breaks for emergency contact forms and strikes. When it's all over you just have to fill out the FAFSA for four years. Continuously. And then you die.

Each chocolate whenever you want.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Oops, I Did it Again. Or Did I?

I'll cede that I'm an ass. It's the natural consequence of my barely veiled arrogance and my big mouth coming together to conspire against me. I don't deny this and while I am always working to be a better person, I've come to the conclusion that I have many fine qualities and I have faults. Surprise! Most of the time, when I come to my senses after a foot-in-mouth episode, I recognize myself as the ass I am and retreat with apologies to the offended. Sometimes, I don't come to my senses and someone has to point out to me that I'm an ass so I can implement the exit strategy. I comply; I'm getting too old to keep fighting foolishly.

In this case, I'm not sure it's me.

Earlier this week, among the reams of documents I received from my children's schools as part of the annual start-of-the-school-year redundancy initiative, I received the course outlines for several of their classes. I read them, which is the first thing I'd like to point out. (If you've ever had my child in a class you already know this about me. I read everything.)

This year, as in years past, the course outlines included some errors, typos mostly, but some had faultier grips on best practices than others. For most, I clucked to myself in disappointment and moved on. When I got to the AP English Language and Composition outline my stomach coiled. The overview began with this
AP English Language and Composition functions as a demanding college-level course designed to encourage and empower student writers through a demanding course of study in reading, rhetoric, and composition.
Does this stand out to you in any way? It does to me. A demanding course designed to do something through a demanding course? I kept reading.
Students will... enter into a dialogue with the texts they read...
Students are allowed to ring a water bottle to class.
Students will develop their abilities to analyze and interpret... argumentative technique.... and will be able to explain how such... techniques lead to the effectiveness...
... good attitude is more important that aptitude. 
... in his/her pursuit for improvement
... Students will have to print out grades every three to four weeks and have the reports signed by his or her parents. 
Students will routinely respond to the texts...
This project allows students to engage in a discussion with a non-fiction text... 
... further strengthening students ability to connect... 
And my personal favorite
Students must place their assignments in the designated slots... Before doing so, students must make sure the following is written in the upper right hand corner of the paper before it is given to the teacher:
Last name, first name
Name of the class and period
Date the assignment was assigned and when it was due 
In the left hand corner, on the first line, the full name/title of the assignment and page number (if applicable)
 So the left hand corner of the right hand corner? Before or after? Or before, before?

This was five pages, double-sided, and while some of the errors were more technical than others (and I've since learned you can use 'between' when describing certain choices of three or more - learn a new thing every day!) there wasn't one page that didn't have at least two items of concern. My kid began to sweat the redder I got.

I took pics of some of the examples and, in my heat, posted them to a parent group on FB that focuses on advocacy for Chicago Public Schools. "Talk me down," I said. I did my best to ensure I was not providing any identifying information. I also sent a note to my child's counselor and asked what would be the appropriate course of action for having my concerns addressed. I thought it might be uncomfortable for the teacher to receive my marked-up copy of her course outline, and it might also affect her treatment of my child in the class, so I skipped that as a first step.

So that's the second thing I want you to know. Yes, I posted my mini-rant with evidence on social media, but I also took the serious step of asking for help via conventional channels. Interestingly enough, I got a reply - several of them - on FB, but none yet from the CPS person I approached for help. She's overworked, I know.

I was sad, really sad, to find that most people who replied on FB, including teachers, thought I was being too harsh, that the teacher was probably overwhelmed or overworked, that she hadn't had time to proof or edit because she was so under the gun, that I should overlook such errors if the class otherwise met my and my child's expectations. A few expressed some sympathy and agreement that it was unfortunate. One woman private messaged me and hoped - since her child is taking the same class at the same school - this wasn't from her child's teacher. Ultimately, one teacher took me to task for 'outing' someone on social media, quite comfortably wagging her finger at me for being so unthinking and unkind. I think this is what led the moderator to remove the entire thread from the page. I apologized for overstepping and also sent a message privately to the offended teacher thanking her for her perspective.

There are a few questions that stay with me from this experience. Have we arrived at the point where we no longer care to be excellent? If I want my children to work toward excellence, will I have to assume that their school communities will not be leaders in this endeavor? They'll do their best, they'll try hard, but they can't take the lead? That breaks my heart. I'm not a teacher and I don't know how to do some of this work, so I'm likely to fail my children. That breaks my heart, as does the fact that we've somehow managed to drive ourselves all the way from one end of the spectrum to the other, such that we not only accept mediocrity and failure, we defend it. It's ok for the person who is supposed to teach my child 'language and composition' to be, not accidentally, not incidentally, but repeatedly and clearly owing to a deficiency, faulty in her own usage. Really? Multiple instances of describing situations where students will engage in dialogue with an inanimate object? Is it me?

The teacher who spent several (well-written) paragraphs on FB, and later in a private message, fortifying her case for why this is ok felt it important to mention the citywide ranking and statistics that should make me feel better about the education my child is receiving at his school. God help me, he is at one of the best-ranked schools in the state. If this is what our struggle is for, our fight for fair funding, our storming at Rahm, our railing against Rauner and charters, if I'm wearing red for this?

Talk me down.