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.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Don't Let the Wrong Thing Define You

This was the one that defined us. They had their own stories.

The Great Depression.

Pearl Harbor and World War II.

The Vietnam War.

And then ours.

Until we had one, I rather envied people their stories. Awful, isn't it? I so admired people who lived on a crust of bread and watery coffee for a week. I wished I could crawl into those books and wear those shoes, see those dapper men in their hats.

It sounded a bit romantic to be holed up in a room with all your family, cousins and uncles, lit by flickering candles, listening to a radio with Churchill crackling inspiration.

I've never been to a ticker-tape parade. Celebrating the end of war.

The indignation of the Vietnam War era. This, among all, was the most empowering of the old stories. Young people mattered. They wore berets and took off their bras and linked arms with black people and played guitar at huge open-air concerts.

Man, I wanted in on that!

I was rather embarrassed and disappointed to be growing up in a time of relative peace, with great strides toward equality, ATMs and Michael Jackson, the pies and parades to remember other people's stories. No stories of our own.

I was home with my babies. The television couldn't be right. My husband left with my brother to get my sister-in-law, who was working downtown. I called my old office in New York. I could hear the rustle of panicked papers behind him. The hours passed in grey.

The next day we drove down Pulaski with nowhere to go. The air was positively stifled. I remember thinking somewhere along that drive that now I was the grown-up. This was my disaster to recover from. And, more ominously, maybe this was my fault. I looked up at the sky, and nothing but sky replied.

Others will write today, and forever, about the war on terror, about Bush's greatness and Bush's weakness, about who did this to us and who we blamed. There are those stories to tell, and stories of individual worry and fear, of heroes and fallen angels.

I never understood the old stories until we had our own. Like ours, the old stories are, for the tellers, not movie-tinged memoirs of fine fashion and the abstract of how character is built by fire. They share with us, yes, the sheer blur and pain of attack, the white-hot understanding - in an instant - of how precious and fragile life is. They have their anonymous magnificents, like we do, and we all know how real evil is, how close it can come. It can touch you, and you can respond.

And you can respond.

It's in the how that we define ourselves. That is the real story. Let's make ours a good one, shall we?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

I Know a Woman

I know a woman who's awfully bright. She's confident and competent and a good bit arrogant. She's funny and has been known to take a drink. She is good to her family, loves her children, and gives back whenever she can. She washes dishes in ice-hot water, serves her man when the situation calls, and keeps her nails working-short. She will never let you down.

This woman is often measured by her children. She's measured by her husband, by her figure, by her hair, her purse and shoes. She is measured by her smile, or her lack of it, and by her 'nice' factor, which too often gives way to the 'bitch' quality most identify her with. This woman has been harassed and hurt more times than she can count by other women for her supposed brassiness or abrasive manner. Her in-laws think she's not good enough, her mom thinks she's better than she is, her children think she's angry, her friends at work think she's not doing enough to climb the ladder, and for as many times as she's had to apologize for pushing too hard, she's twice had to demur at the suggestion that she's not 'leaning in' enough.

This woman's faults are as big as her gifts, and she shares more than she would like of the former, in order to give more and more of the latter. She could be doing something else, yes, but she chooses to do this because this is what is in her heart.

In your life maybe she's your sister or your neighbor or your friend from high school. You know that she's taken her share of hits, you've winced at the power of some. You yourself, have smirked when someone gossiped at her expense. Maybe you have thrown some shade. She's made it easy with her cackle and her bright-color failures, her haughty-instead-of-humble reply when called out.

She pretends she's not insecure, but she is, as we all are, and you know - you know - she is decent and good and trying her best. You marvel at her resilience and determination. She has smiled at you, a real smile, and has been kind to you when you have not expected it. When you've been pissed you haven't wanted to admit it, but even then, you have been a little proud of her success.

You know this woman.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Rational Republican

I search for the rational Republican, who might make the proper case for the conservative point of view as follows:

The United States has been bending over backward for too long trying to uplift partners around the world with foreign policy, military interventions, and trade agreements that serve to weaken our country. We need to change that. Deals must favor us, policies must make our goals equal to or greater than the goals of foreign partners, and military interventions must be treated more judiciously, requiring foreign nations to stop depending upon the U.S. as a crutch. Our diplomatic efforts must be predicated on others strengthening their own muscles and carrying their own weight. Enough, already, yes.

The United States has been foolish and naive in its immigration policy, and dishonest about the danger it poses to our national security. Allowing (and we do *allow* it) people to enter our country unchecked is as dangerous as leaving our front doors and windows wide open at home all the time. We are surely more at risk because of our lax attitude and practices in this area. 

Often, we hear that the free flow of trade and labor facilitated by our immigration policies benefits our economy. That's hogwash. Whatever benefit there may be to our economy from the employment of immigrants, it's not worth the detriment to our existing labor force's ego, its ambition, and its relevance to the strength of a traditional ladder of success. The middle class is not just collapsing because of bad trade deals, and slow adjustments to modern technology, and the employment of women - which we never addressed at all, really. The middle class is in jeopardy because the workforce has been damaged by the semi-permanent underclass of immigrants which ensures gaps in the experience and work ethic of our American laborer. As a consequence, he is demoralized, and we need to fix that.

Lest we be cast as idealogues, let's not call this a Democrat or a Republican issue. John McCain has been the U.S. Senator for Arizona for how many years? Immigration is a federal policy issue, and yet Arizona has been struggling with this problem throughout his entire tenure. Republican and Democrat presidents and congresses alike have failed to address this. Let's all be held to account.

We may be a nation of immigrants, but we are no longer living in a time where our need for labor serves as a vacuum for every kind of laborer; we must be smarter and, sadly, more selective about who and how we bring people into our country. This is a natural consequence of growing from a newcomer on the global stage to an established society with generations of citizens who are and have been American. A constant influx without some export of human labor eventually leads to imbalance. 

That's not racist or xenophobic, it's basic math, and responsible public policy, and its intent is not to diminish but to uphold and uplift the American ideal. With that said, racism is far from dead in this country, both toward immigrants and our own citizens of color. Let's admit that and work on it. Doing so does not mean 'racism' is the only answer to every question about how brown, black, and other minorities function in our society. That holds us all to a lesser standard. But it does mean we don't oppress the already marginalized with a disregard for their experiences.

Likewise, police brutality and the bias of our courts is not an invention of the self-righteous or the entitled. We need to approach each of our problems as the real and solvable challenges they are. The laws must be respected, as must the citizens, and the discipline necessary to achieve balance comes from the top. Speaking the truth has to be honored and encouraged on all sides of the divide.

The truth is our health is, of course, important and it can and should be the work of the government to help its citizens keep good health. However, the government cannot manage the work and machinery of a healthcare system that addresses the needs of millions without diverting its attention and resources to such a degree that other and more important priorities are left deficient. For this reason, a return to free-market healthcare systems with supports from and oversight by the federal government is the appropriate and realistic compromise. We must also make use of the existing infrastructure of education, food and drug administration, and agricultural systems that are neglecting their roles in the preventative care and on-going health of our citizens. We can do this if we approach the problem from a 'government can do' but not a 'government can do it all' point of view. That's not un-American. It's adult.

This is true in all our areas of discord. Whether the constitution contemplated semi-automatic weapons or not, the right to bear arms is fundamental not just to the tradition and spirit of the Second Amendment, but truly, to the ideal that the government cannot be more powerful than the people. There is value and necessity for ensuring that ordinary Americans continue to protect this position. Within reason, the President must support the people in this endeavor and he can do so without diminishing the value of every citizen's life. Criminal violence is not the necessary outcome of protecting the citizens' right to bear arms.

The Republican ideology does not seek to ban and bar, but to treat with measure and reason the benefits of our society, so that they can be sustained not just for this but all generations to come. The cavalier manner in which we have treated our borders, our laws, and our workers cannot meet a good end.  We must honor with real work and intention the principles upon which the nation was founded, that freedom is absolutely necessary for the human spirit to thrive, and that a nation must protect its freedoms in order to ensure they are available both for all their own citizens and to serve as a model for citizens of the world.

I seek him and he is nowhere to be found. So I look elsewhere.

To be continued...

Monday, July 25, 2016

No, thanks.

Please don’t pray for me.

If you talk to me about Jesus, but when you have the opportunity to be kind you are hard, don’t pray for me.

If you make a show of your praise and worship in church, but in our times you are venomous, even when prompted by love, don’t pray for me. 

When I try to explain myself, if you talk over me and ridicule and mimic me for effect, don’t pray for me.

Don’t flower me with quotes from scripture, don’t defend yourself with apologies after the fact - time and time again; apology does not right your disrespect. Don’t say to one what you insist I have no right to say to anyone; I hear you. Hear me: don’t pray for me.

Spend your energies seeking your own peace. Don’t usurp the power of the Creator with your judgements, this only serves to harm you, to poison your heart.

If, alone, you cannot find the way to curb your spite, seek help, seek real help, not the false joy that comes from arms outstretched to a heaven that cannot receive you for the mean in your spirit, the dark in your thoughts. Choose wisely your words, they stain.

But whatever the case, I cannot receive your good wishes, I don’t believe them, and don’t want them lest they make me sick with whatever it is ails you. I remain at rest in the hope that more than prayer will imply itself in each of our hearts, for our own sakes and for the good of those we love.

In the meantime, please don’t pray for me. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

If I Wrote The Speech

So I've been watching all the harp on Melania Trump's speech and its failure to deliver both honest and interesting detail about her own experience or her husband's character qualifications for the presidency. To prove that it's really not that hard, and as a practice for my future life, I offer you my suggestion for what could have been an epic speech, no plagiarism needed...

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your gracious welcome and for the enthusiasm you've brought to this event. Our family is excited to be here but, unlike Donald who is always so confident, I'm a little surprised to be here, too. I had many dreams growing up, but I never pictured being the wife of the Republican nominee for President of the United States and I have never before addressed millions of people.

Outside the spectacle of this arena, I'm running a business, taking care of my family, and doing my best to raise my son in challenging times. I know that my good fortune eases many of my burdens, but the mothers in this room know that all children have pain, and all parents have worries, and money doesn't solve everything. When we talked about Donald's plans to run for the presidency, I thought first about my son, about all of our children and grandchildren, and how this would affect them.

I also thought about the broader context of what is best for our country, what is best for the future of our children, and all children. The truth is I don't know much about global economics or military strategy, so I can't speak to those issues. I don't know much about how my husband's businesses run either. I imagine those in this room who are married to dentists and plumbers and shoemakers don't know all the inner-workings of their spouse's jobs. We don't need to know those things, however, to know whether our spouses would be good at something, maybe even great. Because what we know about our partners is what kind of people they are, what matters to them, and what qualities they bring to any situation.

So I know this about my husband: he is loud and arrogant and bossy and incredibly foolish sometimes. He can be bull-headed and hard. Sometimes, I just shake my head when he talks. (laugh line) But I think those things are obvious. What the TV shows don't tell you is that he can also be surprising, kind, thoughtful, and generous. He is extremely intelligent and quick to learn new things, even at his age. (laugh line) He is a good and loyal friend, a compassionate boss, a hard-working partner, and a devoted father. He has been a loving and honorable husband, sincere and romantic. Even though I am not his first wife I am quite sure I am his last. We love each other very much.

Throughout our courtship and marriage, Donald has made it clear that his children from prior marriages are a priority in his life, as are the families of his children, including in-laws. He has not forgotten any member of his or our extended families. You can learn a lot about a person from the children they raise and in this respect, my husband and his former wives should be very proud of the talented, accomplished, and wonderful young men and women they have parented together. (applause line) I feel extremely fortunate to have them as role models for my son.

Outside of his family life, Donald has lifelong friends who know him to be a good man, funny, and warm. We often host people in our home, which to many is lavish, but to us is a place where we gather with friends, share meals, have great conversations, and celebrate. Donald and I have traveled the world together and he always amazes me with how much he knows about and appreciates other cultures, foods, and customs. Never, as his wife, have I felt that my nationality or my experiences as an immigrant were fodder for ridicule or disdain. On the contrary, I think Donald knows and appreciates that I am living the American dream, and that is something to be enjoyed and celebrated. (cheer)

In fact, I think that's one of the things that has inspired him to run in this election. The American dream seems a little faint right now. People are struggling, young men and women don't feel connected to pathways that will lead to success, children are being raised in communities that seem hopeless and tired, we're always hearing about violence amongst ourselves and with those who set out to protect us. That's not what America is about, not at all.

When Donald talks about making American great again, he's not talking about racism or sexism. He's talking about making the American ideal a reality again, and making the American dream attainable again. (cheer) He's talking about resurrecting the structures and systems that allow a young girl from a small town in Slovenia to dream big, pursue her ambitious, and succeed beyond her wildest imagination. He's talking about giving you a chance to compete against anyone in the world with your country behind you one hundred percent, giving you the tools and resources and encouragement you need to succeed. He's talking about not letting others in the world bully us with fear tactics wrapped in religion so that we feel compelled to proceed with caution, where bold action is required instead. He's talking about reminding us that while others in the world may be great, and many are, we are great and we don't need to apologize for that. We are great. We are. (chant line) He is talking about making sure that diplomacy does not come at the expense of our nation's best interests, about making sure that the deals favor us, or at the very least don't cheat us. Let others prioritize themselves. We need to put America first. (chant line)

So I know my husband and I are not the conventional candidate and wife. I think, frankly, we've seen enough of conventional candidates for a while. (cheer) I think it's time to let someone else have a try. Someone who has a global perspective and a nationalist ideology, and not a self-serving political agenda. Someone who is unafraid to take a big bite. Someone who believes we can still do great things, because we are a great people. We are great, don't forget that. I believe my husband will be a great leader, that he is the man best suited to be the President of the United States at this time in our nation's history and he will make America great again. I thank you for the opportunity to address you this evening, God bless you, and God bless our great country.