Sunday, December 30, 2012

Just Two

In the spirits of birth and renewal that mark this season I'd like to offer my suggestions for resolutions in similar sets of twins. Just two little things at a time that I'm going to aim to achieve....

Talk less and listen more. I certainly have heard enough of my own voice and I'll bet those around me feel the same way. I'm going to pursue curiosity about others' points of view with greater vigor.

(Now if I could just limit who I have to limit who I listen to. Could everyone please check in with me on what your opinions should be this year?)

Fix what you can and let be what you cannot. It's a tough one, but a recent quote by Helen Keller about how not only heroes move us forward with giant shoves but honest workers also move us with their collective tiny pushes made me think about trying to shove less and push more. I'm sure I've just confused you, but it totally makes sense to me.

(My husband to disregard this statement. The light in the closet ring bells? Well it shouldn't. It should light a bulb.)

Remember and forget. I'm going to take a suggestion about collecting my 'good days' in a jar ~ leaving a note in it when I've had a success or a pleasure ~ so I can remember them.  But I'm not going to do that with my grievances and worries.

(Those I'm going to harp on endlessly until someone comes and carries them off. Anyone? Buehler?)

Be kind and don't always tell the truth. Others in the world may be cold. I can be the constant heat of compassion and understanding I should be when my loved ones come in from a wretched day. If I am another chill, where is relief?

(This does not apply to room cleaning standards or grammar correction, kids. Nice try.)

Be important and don't give yourself such great importance.  We're living in an age, and I work in a field, where self-aggrandizement is encouraged and modeled with some regularity. It doesn't suit me and though I've tried it on for size I prefer an outfit with less glitz.

(Although I don't mind a good sequin. Anyone want to make me a special vest that says "I'm Important" with some sequins on it?)

Love yourself and don't be embarrassed to let that show.  I want to demonstrate to my children that care of oneself is a high priority and must not be driven by an external force. I don't want to think others will think less of me if the new pair of shoes is mine instead of my child's; I sure don't when I see a mom with a new pair of shoes.

(Yes, shoes. I actually do need shoes. The beige ones are crinkling. The red ones, the heel is damaged. The black ones don't have the thingy inside. The chocolate ones are pinchy. The black boots don't keep my feet warm. The other black ones are just - eewwww. Those dark red ones are too slippery. Am I making the case here, or what??)

Lose what you can and keep what you must. This applies to everything - belongings, weight, vices. What I don't need I should stop housing and caring for. What I cannot get rid of, either because it has a use now or a meaning beyond this moment, I must find a way to accommodate.

(Starting with my thighs? No. Starting with that storage room in the basement. ~my thighs breathing a sigh of relief as they have been on this list for a good 30+ years; it's got to be exhausting~ Now if I could just fit myself in the storage room. DAMN. Sorry, thighs.)

And now that I've revealed my full-on schizophrenia - a final word. Really, I'm going to aim to do just two things -

Be better and be grateful. Just those two, at the top of the priority list. Striving is what makes the dull day have meaning and gratitude is what reminds that the dull day is a miracle all by itself. Being better moves everything forward and gratitude makes everything stand still so you can rest and be ready to move again. I am blessed to be as good as I am and I know that because I'm grateful, deeply and really, for all the goodness in my life. So onward, forward, ahead.

I hope the New Year brings you at least two moments of peace and happiness, at least two blessings for which you can rejoice every day and at least two new ideas that offer you hope.

(And two times the resolve I'll need to accomplish even one of the things on that absurd list of impossible goals.)

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Second and The First

We're talking about the 2nd amendment now. Again.

And it makes me think about my first conversation on the issue. It was in a fifth grade social studies class at St. Ita's Elementary School. I remember challenging my teacher (surprise!) on why it made sense for a daddy to have a gun in his house to fight a soldier. I told her wars happen on battlefields, not in someone's house, right? I remember this vividly because I didn't have a dad at home most days so I was desperate to get clarification on this point - could a soldier come into my home where it was only me and my mom? Could we get taken to jail by some unknown heathen trying to reshape our government through the capture and torture of my family? Keep in mind that, as a Cuban, the experience of having an armed militia fighting the established government was viewed quite differently in our living room than it was in U.S. history books.

It was all a jumble in my head until ,my teacher said, essentially, this: 'The United States wouldn't exist without regular people having guns.'

Our country was formed through armed conflict. Fighting that did not occur between a formal army and a trained military opposition. Farmers, cobblers, tailors - regular men - pulled themselves together, armed themselves, and created a legitimate (and ultimately prevailing) counter to the trained armies of the British empire. That's some pretty amazing stuff, isn't it? I can't imagine my husband, the realtor, and the neighbor across the street who owns a dollar store, and the guy behind me who's an artist, pulling guns out of closets and fighting the British army today. Can you? And yet our forefathers did that, just as the Cubans did. Whether you like the outcome of one or the other there are some parallels.

And so having discussed this with my teacher, and later with my mom, I walked away simply agreeing to disagree with myself. Part of me felt it was absolutely appropriate for a person to be able to defend themselves against unreasonable invasion by any force - whether criminal or not. The other part of me felt  there was real and mighty danger in allowing anyone to exercise that power because in one case (let's argue the Americans) the result might be o.k. but in another (let's, for the moment, say the Cubans) the situation that survives might be awful. I left it at that for years and years and years - I just didn't think about it.

Then, maybe ten years or so ago, I read an article in the Tribune about a mom who's daughter had been killed at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The mom had been raising her family in a poor neighborhood when, some short time prior, her son had been gunned down in an act of random gang violence. She took the extraordinary measure of moving her whole family elsewhere, to a place she expected would be safer. Not many have the wherewithal or the initiative to do this but she was determined to assure her girls that they were protected, that she was protecting them. When her daughter was shot and killed at her part time job in this better neighborhood, the thing that struck me - and has stayed with me all these years - is what she said to the reporter - 'I have one baby left. How am I going to convince her that she is safe? That I can keep her safe? I can't.'

That mom's simple but complete pain was indellibly impressed upon me. Nothing is more important than keeping your baby safe. Freedom to own a gun doesn't matter when your baby is dead. Only the freedom to keep her safe matters.

We talk a lot about freedoms in this country. We're free to do this that and the other and we're very insistant about that. What many fail to remember when they're railing about their freedoms is what they trade for the freedom.

You want to be free to walk in and out of buildings without search? OK. Then someone may walk in with a bomb strapped to his chest. We'll take that bet, in most cases. You want to drive around without the police asking you for identification? Yes. Then sometimes, foreign nationals without legal authority to be here will drive down that same street. For the most part, we'll suck that up too. You want a free press? Absolutely. Good. Then you may hear more about Kim Khardashian than a body should ever know. I think she'd agree with that one.

You want everyone to have the right to own a gun - any kind of gun? Fine. Then every so often someone will randomly enter an elementary school and kill babies. OK?

The question this country has to ask itself - and we are, and continue to be - the great self-correctors in governance - is 'Are we willing to trade our babies for the freedom to own any kind of gun?' I can't imagine anyone saying 'yes' to that question, but somehow, some find the way to do so by invoking the 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd Amendment has a good and reasonable purpose - to offer protection to regular people against an unreasonable, armed, threat. In what may be its most profound case of irony to date, it appears this amendment has become the unreasonable threat it seeks to obliterate.

Friday, December 14, 2012

There Are No Words

There are no words to describe this kind of grief. It seems futile to try. So instead of words, I'll offer an experience. Tonight I had the great privilege to enjoy another spectacular concert at my children's elementary school. Boys and girls of the same age as those who perished and suffered under the strain of someone else's pain began the night with a moment of silence, honor and prayer. And then they sang. They strummed, they clapped, they trumpeted and drummed. Into a dark room a virtuous and pure music like only children can offer played for parents and loved ones who surely held their own and all the fallen in their hearts tonight. And among the last notes, a song that sums it up for me. The song was sung by my children and their classmates, babies. Like those who died tonight, tonight and always, they are all mine and they are all ours.

"I did my best, it wasn't much, I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch. I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you. And even though it all went wrong, I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah."

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Things That Annoy - Random Edition

I hate when the top of the dishwasher is packed front to back, side to side and then there's, like, one pot lid in the bottom rack. So do you run the cycle? Or wait for more dishes and then end up with a sinkful of little stuff that won't fit in the top? No matter what you do you end up either killing an innocent baby whale somewhere or suffering a sinkful of dirty dishes that no one will do until they can load them into the dishwasher.  Not cool.

Teachers, I adore you, you know that. But for heaven's sake, a little warning? If you're going to send my kid home with a project board that's twice her height and four times her width, give me a little notice so I don't have to drive from 7200N to 5200N back to 7200N at $4 a gallon only to show up late for every single thing I'm doing afterwards as a consequence. I hate being late and that dumb board has been in your building since September. I'm pretty sure it coulda waited a day.

Hey, sales guy at the electronics store! When I ask you if your rewards card system is going to send my husband an email about his rewards before I give him his SURPRISE gift, know what the heck you're talking about, ok? I've been saving for months and moving all kinds of pieces on an intricate chessboard to SURPRISE him and you've kind of ruined it in a big way. I'm a little peeved at you, friend and this may mean I won't be back to get that million dollar warranty you did seem to know so well.

Construction traffic? I can't think of a darn good thing to say about you so in keeping with my mother's advice I'm going to remain silent. But I hope you can hear every single one of my thoughts as I sit in parking lot after parking lot doubling for a main thoroughfare in this city during the freaking holiday season. (A little shrill with your rant, ma'am? Yes, thank you.)

About the Lord trying to teach me patience ~ frankly, I know. He's all about the eternal gig and I'm into it, really, but I think we should just call this one a wash. I feel the FF button on the DVR was His gift to me, and me not throttling all the incompetent people I come across in retail is my gift in return. After that I feel like we should just shake hands and walk away on this one. I suppose it's what makes Him different that he keeps trying, but the tests are wearing on my... well... patience.

The Mac vs PC argument in my household has reached epic proportions. The kids actually move away from us when we start. My husband insists that it all boils down to 'user error' when I encounter challenge after challenge with his Mac, but when he fusses over a problem with my PC the trouble is clearly technology/design related. I'm thinking of throwing apples at him when he starts this conversation so that I can show support for his Mac addiction while still protesting in favor of my PC.

I'd list more items here because, well, I have them. Unfortunately I have to go wash dishes by hand so I can empty my sink so my child can use the kitchen to complete yet another project board before we take my husband out to dinner where he will not be surprised by the damn gadget I got him. We'll have to start out an hour early because of all the damn construction traffic that is currently strangling every major street surrounding our home so I'm running out of time. Let's hope this thing posts. I'm using the Mac and if there's one more glitch during this experience I may just fling the damn thing out the window. Lord knows, I'm capable of it because, really, I have no patience.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Letter To My Children

On  Thanksgiving Eve, some reminders and remainders for you, my babies, on giving thanks.

Don't give thanks because you have to. Do it because you mean it. Take time to appreciate the incidental person. She may be tired or worried and your real thanks may change her day. Seek out the quiet worker. He may be feeling low, unwanted and your genuine thanks may lift him up. Say thanks and mean it. Not everyone can do it, but you can.

Don't be stingy with your thanks. Thanks, like love, can be spent wantonly, garishly, every day and you'll always have enough left over the next day to spend again. Remember that every action that is taken in the world matters to you - to all of us - as we are all interconnected, and, in our system of beliefs, born of the same Father. You may quarrel with your siblings, but in the end only love remains. Remember that and don't let the politics of the day distract you from that truth.

Don't be afraid to let another think he is right and you are wrong. Thank him for his passion and interest in whatever the topic and go home at peace with yourself. You may learn something from him and his approach to the problem. Even if you do not - no matter how right you may be - he, too, feels right and wants to feel smart and appreciated for his opinion. There is time enough on another day for you to be the champion. It is your sincere gratitude for your companion's place in your life that offers you the chance to engage him again and again - in agreement, in compromise and in opposition. It is when you cease to value him that you are, indeed, the loser.

Don't forget what you are thankful for, especially in your weaker moments. Think of all the people who have come together, and the grace that has been visited upon all of us, so that you could be here to feel anything at all, much less frustrated or weary. Imagine the light in your heart at the thought of holding your great, great grandson who may bear your name. Would you ever want him to feel anything but exhilaration? You are a joy in breath and motion and we, and all who came before us, rejoice in your life. So, too, should you, and be grateful for it every day.

Be gracious in accepting thanks and don't pass up opportunities to serve for another's good, even if all you may receive is gratitude. In the end, there is no dollar, no gadget or item of apparel that will ever compete with the sincere thanks of someone who has appreciated you and your effort. Trust me. In this I am quite experienced and I can assure you that giving to another, no matter how humble the gift, has been the greatest of my riches.

Last, my beautiful babies, remember to thank God first. Nothing comes before Him. Nothing is possible without Him. And He fills you with every blessing you will ever need, and more. Do it quietly, privately or in communion with others, whatever brings comfort and connection to your spirit. In this, be most faithful, and you will always have reason to give thanks.

My love to you on Thanksgiving ~ and in every moment of every day, always and all ways ~ Mami

Friday, November 2, 2012

Vote For A Republican.. and other things worth repeating

My grandfather voted only one time during his adult life in the city, and that was to vote against Harold Washington for mayor. My grandfather, God rest his soul, was a good man, a hard-working man, a God-fearing man. And he was a racist. I was a young girl during the run-up to that election, an historic one in Chicago, and I knew why he was voting the way he was, I just couldn't understand it. I talked to my grandmother, a genius woman, even given her flaws. She said this to me, some of the best political advice I've ever gotten, and worth repeating: "Honey, it's not good to vote against something. Don't vote against someone. Vote for someone. Vote for  a Republican if you have to [she was a die-hard Democrat], if that's what's in your heart." She's right. And I have. And you should too.

Someone on FB was complaining - not strenuously - but just expressing mild annoyance at some trouble she's having with her cell phone inside her building. It reminded me that when I was young, if we were having trouble with our phone my mom would call Illinois Bell (yes, I'm that old) and a technician would come to our house and he would go to the one hallway where we had a connection on the wall and he'd pull the phone from the receiver - you'd hear the long uuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggg of the dial tone - and he'd unscrew the bottom thingy from the part where you talked and he'd blow into the phone. And sometimes, that's all it took. Coupled with this absolutely brilliant rant from Louis CK, I try to remember the simplicity of my early life when I'm fussing about the reception on my mini-spaceship of a phone: It's a clip worth repeating over and over and over again.

The other day I asked friends whether they thought men should be the heads of their households - at least in terms of having ultimate financial responsibility for their families. I asked this question because I'd heard two conversations, some eight years apart, that made me wonder.

When my little guys were still small enough to be home, I heard them playing 'restaurant'. My daughter, the oldest, was assigning jobs. Sara was cashier, Lucy was waitress and Sam had to be the manager. But Sam didn't want to be the manager. He wanted to be a cook. He complained ardently until finally I heard her say something to the effect of, "Sam, you're the boy.You HAVE to be the manager because the dad is in charge and he needs the job!" Holy cow I about lost my teeth I was so rattled. I immediately went in there and gave them all an advanced lesson on equality and choices upon which they all nodded solemnly. And then Sam proceeded to play manager. This, because Lucy is really the boss and told him to, so I was satisfied.

A couple of days ago I was standing outside my front door and I heard a little snippet of a conversation between a little boy and a little girl on the way to school. "You have to work hard because you need money." "Why? Why do I need money?" "Because you're going to have children and be a Dad and you need money for that." The conversation never touched on a mom's or a woman's responsibility -- at least not during their walk across my front lawn.

So worth repeating is this: 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.' A fine woman by the name of Eleanor Roosevelt said that. She was a First Lady and a great one, and would have made an excellent president, I think. I hope girls - and boys - in this country are growing up to know that they can be anything they dream themselves to be, and I hope all of us are supporting that idea in our beliefs and in our actions.

And last, worth repeating is this. NJ Governor Chris Christie was asked by a newscaster whether he was aware of one of the presidential candidate's plans to tour the devastation of Hurricane Sandy with him. Unapologetically, Christie told the newsman something along the lines of, "If you think I care about Presidential Politics right now, you don't know me." I admire someone in public life who still has his head clear about what it's all about. Being clear on what it's all about is worth repeating, to yourself and to others all the time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

You Are My Baby, Lauren

And Here's Why~

You're so cooperative when I want to take your picture.
You always have been.
 It's nice to see you're not outgrowing some of your better qualities.

You're all heart.

And no matter how you try to hide it, it shows.
You can be a little scary. I admire that in a person.

You can be a little bossy and controlling. I dig that, too.

You are an optimist! That'll serve you well in life, I promise.

You are a hugger!
 Mostly other people.

But I like it, nonetheless.

You are a good and kind daughter.

Don't ever underestimate what a great quality that is in a person. It matters immensely.

You are a nurturing person. That, too, will serve you well in life, so long as you remember to take as good care of yourself as you do others.

You are a thinker.

AND a doer.
Even helping to do what others need done.

I'm so grateful to have you in my life, not just because I love who you are, but I love the example you provide my (other) babies.

You're a bit of a goofball.

I am too.

And a sunshine girl.

(This is no reason to move to California. Ever.)

 You are a true and loyal friend.

And not just when it's easy.

And not just to some, but to all.

You wear a bang well.

Always have.

Not everyone can, so that's on the list.

Same goes for big sunglasses.  It's not always a good look, but you pull it off swimmingly. (Get it? Swimmingly? The picture is... Never mind.)

You puzzle. Standing up. Because you can't walk by without looking.

I do that too, and none of my (other) children do, so I'm so glad to have at least one child with this mania.

You've got talent and you're not afraid to put it on display. That puts you light years ahead of most people I know, adult or otherwise.

It makes me so proud!

You didn't become my baby overnight, of course.
 (Yes you did, because you were so stinkin' cute from the get-go.)

I have watched you grow up.

And I've been inspired by your strength.

And overjoyed at the (pretty in pink) person you have always been.
And thrilled at the whimsy that accompanies your gravitas. (Yes. I went there.)

And after all these years I am soul-satisfied to know that my voice of reason and good conscience will always, always be in your head.

I'm sure you're excited about that last part, too.

And if you aren't now, you will be some day, promise.

As you know, in our culture - a culture we've shared with you all these years - your fifteenth birthday marks your passage from a time of childhood into young adulthood. It's an old tradition and way back in the day would have meant you'd be good to go on marriage and children.  I'm NOT by any means suggesting we stick with the entire tradition. (In fact, it would be great with me if you would usher in an era of 'new cool' by not dating at all until college. Or after college. Whatever. I'm just saying.)

But, in keeping with the basic custom, I do wish you every blessing on your birthday, your 'quince'. The next years will bring greater adventures and challenges in life. Some won't be easy, and they won't be the ones you're expecting. That's o.k. You've got everything it takes to overcome any obstacle. And just know that if ever you are in doubt, or need an extra push -- or a HUG, even -- to get you through, you can count on me. I will always be there.

Because, lovely Lauren, you are my baby.

Happy Birthday.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Here's Where I'm At

44 years into this gig I still don't know how it all works. I'm unsure of myself sometimes and worry that I've proceeded confidently, sometmes arrogantly, into a position of no return from a place nowhere on any map.

That said, I know exactly what I'm doing because all the stuff that matters is going just fine. I have barrelled through all that insecurity and ill-preparation to make sure every time the path clears I'm taking my values and my priorities with me. They may deny me for their own sakes', but never I, them.

I do have a Sunday kind of love and in case you were wondering (and to borrow a phrase) it's real and it's fabulous.

My children look like they come with the frame and while, most times, I'm humbled by God's generosity in this respect, every once in a while I look at my chubby little self in the mirror and grin shamelessly. I made those babies and - they - are - awesome!

I work hard. I get up early like my grandfather, to give as much of the day my effort because that's what my family deserves. I am devoted to my family like nobody's business, but my family includes friends and neighbors and people who just need some love, because as mima would tell me, 'quien vale mas?' (who is worth more?). And I do my level best never to let anyone see how tired I am, because my mom always thought the effect of one's good work was dilluted if others felt the pain in your back or the swell of your feet.

My clients think I care about them as people. In fact, I do. And I rejoice quite personally in handing over those keys and knowing I've sent someone else home. There is, indeed, no place like it.

My home is beautiful on the outside and in, even if she could use a little work here and there. She is tired and worn in places, but she's open and loving and generous with her gifts. I like to think she reflects me very honestly.

I'm not done yet so I can totally relate to the 'miles to go before I rest' feeling. I've got lots to do yet and some of it is daunting from my current vantage point. I don't let that deter me.

I'm satisfied with myself, if not always pleased, and there's great comfort in knowing I am who I am.

Some twenty-five years ago I dreamed I'd be right here. Maybe I didn't envision the bag of troubles I carry with me, but who sullies dreams with troubles? And how does one expect to get anywhere without a few pebbles in the path? My back is, in fact, sore and my feet swell and my hands show the number of times I've plunged them into hot and cold water. That's o.k. I can still carry a few bags on my way to where I'm going.

For now, this is where I'm at. And it's mighty good.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Thing About Gavin

I love this picture. I think it captures the true personalities of this group so well. Lauren's fussing over the children - she's such a mom, and always so Alpha. Bailey's being a goof, and pandering shamelessly to Lauren's fussing. Sara's sneaking in, leaning on Bay - seeking a little cover in case she chooses to hide at the last minute. Sean? Sean's so delicious. He makes more of complaining about whatever the thing is than the thing actually requires in time or effort. But he always intends to do it anyway and he knows you know that. Sam's a hunk when he's not trying, and a total cheeseball when he is. This picture grabs both of those pieces. Lucy's on the end, trying to be above it all but as close as she can be to everyone because she knows she belongs right here. And then there's Gavin.

The thing about Gavin is he gives off this sense of being at ease, which he likely is in this pic, surrounded by all these people who love him so much, but he's way more intense than you'd ever imagine by just looking at him. He's got ambitious dreams, and whether he shows it or chooses to hide it from you, he's working hard to make those dreams reachable.

He doesn't always trust that his hard work is worth it, not sure it earns him the benefits he's seeking. That, even if it requires some urging, makes him work harder. It is paying off and it does matter, of course.

The thing about Gavin is that even when he's not trying to be the center of attention (rare, but it happens) he still draws you in with his easy grin and innate warmth. He's got teenage swag and bravado well in hand, but still bends his ever lengthening frame to give you a real hug and get a real one in return.

He doesn't look up to many, but he'll look directly at you - and when he's supposed to - he looks down just enough to let you know he knows you're right. (He'll never tell you you're right, you just have to know you both know and then eat cookies and move on.)

If Gavin's mad, he acts like an errant two-year-old, stomping and huffing. He blusters and boasts in absolutes. He glowers. It's ridiculous, and I treat it that way, because I know that usually when he's mad he's just covering that he's hurt. He's a softie, a sweetie and a sentimental fool.

The thing about Gavin is that you don't even realize that what is so genuine and good about him is seeping into your consciousness, until it has, and then you've no remedy but to accept it and move on - he's a part of your family now.

Gavin's turning 16 today. This is the only place you'll see me acknowledge that. Hereafter, I'll continue to refer to him as a baby and remind myself that he was once only tall enough to serve as a good armrest for me as I walked that same group up there home from elementary school. Four of the seven are now teenagers - the other three will succumb next year. I blame Sean. (He was first.)

Gavin doesn't live near me anymore or we'd be celebrating our birthdays together, as we have for the past several years, with double cakes and a huge feast prepared by our families. In lieu of that I hope his birthday is filled with good fun and a fine celebration and a super-duper cake.  I'll look forward to the time I can see him and his family again so I can give him a hard time about getting older and taller. I'll look forward to whatever teasing he offers about my stature and coiff in return. I'll look forward to sitting in the backyard with his mom and dad and our extended group, laughing to tears over something his older brother has said or done - sorry Brendan - it's your lot in life. And I'll look forward to congratulating him on whatever successes he has had since I've last seen him, on his way to becoming whatever his heart can dream him to be.

Because whatever his challenges or troubles, he's an achiever, a worker, a doer, a long-haul thinker and an optimist. He's a baker and an eater, an obsessive shoe-shopper and a sports-a-holic, he's good but not above a little deviance, smart but not stuffy, fun, funny and serious when he needs to be. He's intentional and clumsy and silly and oddly intuitive. And if you're looking for the unexpected, he's your guy. Because, actually, that's the thing about Gavin.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Shopping List, Of Sorts

I know it's a little early to holiday shop, and it's certainly too early to shop for a new mayor, but I thought maybe if I posted this the mayor might see what we were looking for and shore up a bit. I know I don't have to, but I'm helpful like that. This is my job description to recruit the ideal candidate for Mayor of the City of Chicago. I originally wrote it for a TribNation contest to attend a mayoral debate. (I did get selected to attend, and DelValle was the most impressive of the candidates, but for a million reasons, he was the least likely to succeed.)

Position Title: Mayor, City of Chicago SVP: 9

Objective:  to manage the city’s resources, human and financial, to the benefit of its residents both now and in the future, with an appreciation for and ambition about Chicago’s rightful place as a leader in the region, the nation and the world.


 assess the resources and debts of the city and establish a proposed budget to address shortfalls, efficiently provide services, and develop reserves for future development

 work closely with city council members to reach consensus on budget priorities, a timeline for addressing lower priorities, and an honest appraisal of items that must be tabled

 recruit a world-class team of city planners to develop a comprehensive city plan; employ city council members in a push to establish honest, reasonable and worthwhile priorities for the plan (the mayor must also be honest, reasonable and worthwhile)

 develop a task-force of city stakeholders from private and public sectors to review the plan, recommend the best one, and then work to sell the plan to the city council and, more importantly, the city in personal presentations (the mayor must be personally accessible)

 continuously address the key factors that determine a baseline quality of life for all city residents that is in keeping with the standards of a world class city of the future: safe city streets and neighborhoods; aggressive, ambitious and thoughtful education both child and adult; robust, engaged and forward-thinking commerce; and city services that lead by example in the areas of technology, service, efficiency, and environmental consciousness (the mayor must have and adhere to high standards)

 ensure that leaders in each of the city’s key departments are aligned with these priorities – responsible budgeting, planning, high standards for quality of life concerns; monitor progress as measured against deliverable objectives in each of these areas; serve as a mentor and support for key department leaders to ensure success

 beyond budgeting, planning, pursuing improved standards of education, public safety, commerce, health and well-being, and managing city departments to greatest effect, the mayor must love the city.


 The qualified candidate will be able to demonstrate how in his/her exercise of every mayoral privilege and responsibility he/she will show him/herself to be the greatest advocate for and protector of the city. Prior experience preferred.

 He/she must be a student of the city and know its history in order to know its future place in the history yet to be written.

 He/she must have a preferred city newspaper and be able to tell why it is what it is.

 He/she must embody Chicago – all of it – from the polished and pretty on Michigan Avenue to the tired and true on the Southwest Side. A demonstrated record is essential.

 He/she must have a baseball team affiliation that is near bone-deep in its seriousness, and he/she must know why and be able to articulate it unintelligibly because baseball loyalty is not logical, it is emotional. And if a Chicago team is playing another team, no matter the affiliation, the mayor must unabashedly root for the Chicago team. If his/her most beloved team fails to reach a playoff or championship but another Chicago team does, he must cheer with his/her whole heart and the city must be able to hear it from one end to the other.

 The qualified candidate for mayor must be proud of the city, even when she fails, and must defend her as one would a sibling or spouse against any attack from anyone not a member of the family.

 The candidate cannot be mealy-mouthed, even if he/she is soft-spoken. Chicagoans are firm, not wishy-washy, and must be led by someone smart, but not necessarily an academic.

 The ideal mayor will be equally comfortable with white table linens and finger bowls as with mustard running down his/her arm outside a favored hot-dog stand.

 Qualified candidates must have a favored Chicago hot-dog stand.


 Salary and benefits commensurate with responsibilities. And if you do this job correctly, you’ll be beloved by a city of people who don’t love unless they mean it. No other city offers that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dear Everything

Dear Stress, thanks for stopping by but I've got to get back to work. Work that pays, that is, which is always seemingly in short supply. Dear Work, I enjoy your company, really. I just feel you're getting more out of the relationship than I am. You make me tired. Dear Tire and Malaise, I'd love to stay and chat but I need a nap so I can awake fresh and ready for the day's challenges. Or not. I simply can't decide. Dear Challenge, I'd appreciate it if you'd visit someone else for a bit. I feel you've overstayed your welcome. Dear Ambition, you're wearing me out. If you can't present an action plan for achieving your lofty goals please pipe the hell down. Your constant peckering is a distraction. Dear Teenage Drama. When you and I were dating, were you this inane? I can't believe we stayed together so long but as I see what you've done to others I'm glad I survived. Dear Survival, it's not that I'm not grateful, but my friend Ambition makes you seem a bit dreary. Maybe you should try dressing up a bit. Look at Success. He's looking pretty sharp. Dear Success, I'm glad that you've given me my happy marriage and healthy children and beautiful home and friends and family. However, I was hoping you could bring a tray of fulfillment over on your next visit and maybe a pitcher of security. I'm nearly out. Dear Fat, go away. I'm certain I've made myself clear. That goes for you, too, Grey Hair and Wrinkles. You two should be ashamed of yourselves, preening in my mirror as if you belong there! Dear Future, I'd love it if you would be more discerning in your tastes when visiting my home. For instance, this gal Worry is nothing but trouble. She's no good for either of us and I'd like you to end that relationshp. Why don't you bring Safety by? She's lovely and good with kids. Dear Self, stop whining. You have no injury, no ill, no burden you must carry that cannot be overcome by a little less pity and a little more effort. Dear Thanks, I have cleared the room so you may remain close to me, as we are such old friends. I am always, truly and completely grateful. It wouldn't kill you to make room on the couch for Humor, though. Without him, I think I'd lose my mind.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I'm Tired of Elephants

I'm tired of elephants. Everyone's always talking about 'the elephant in the room'. In the current debate over who's right and who's Darth Vader in the Chicago public education system everyone thinks they've got the elephant pegged. 'The elephant is poverty!' declare some. 'The elephant in the room is greed,' intone others. 'It's not about money. It's about the children!' Some are wont to suffer alongside more than one elephant.

All of that is horseradish.

The elephant, if we must, is that we don't care. We may care for a few minutes on Facebook this week. We care if someone challenges whether or not we care. But, really, we don't care and it shows. How do I know? Because the problem - the afterthought prioritization of public education - has persisted. It is a solvable problem that remains generation after generation.

We don't care about poor children or black children or special needs children. We don't care if their little faces get red and their necks get sweaty in a 90+ degree classroom. We don't care if they get restless with no time to stretch or run in a six-hour day. We don't care if they sit in a hallway on the floor. We don't care if the bathroom smells like urine and sewage and we don't care if there are gangs waiting outside the school gates. If we cared, that room would be air-conditioned, that recess would be scheduled, that classroom would be staffed and stocked, that bathroom would be repaired and cleaned and that perimeter around the school would be safe to walk. This is not complicated stuff - richest nation on earth and all that jazz.

But let's call it what it is, please. The face we put on public education in Chicago is an entitled, grammatically challenged teacher with a disheveled, Cheetoh-fingertipped student, and parents who neither speak nor care to speak proper English. That is the truth.

Except it's not the truth. That isn't the teacher and those aren't the children and I'm not that mom.

Those teachers speak eloquently, train passionately and work relentlessly. Those children aspire, even at the youngest ages; they carry heavy backpacks so they can do their homework; they get butterflies before tests and their parents - I - have dreams for them, just like you have for yours. Those babies don't want to go into a stinky bathroom, they're afraid of those gangbangers and they want to read good books. So what are we going to do about that?

When the strike has ended and in order for this debate over public education to have meaning we really don't need parades of red downtown or posters or press conferences. We need to care and we need to care after today. We need to attend Local School Council meetings and Board of Education meetings and we need to stay, even when the meetings are boring. We need to pay attention to how budgets are written and ask ourselves if public education is getting the priority and forcing the accountability we want. We need to vote for policymakers who will make that happen and who will really address poverty and crime in the city. We need to not be afraid to ask questions. The folks in charge, clearly, are not smarter than us. They don't know more than we do and they don't matter more than we do in the conversation. If our goal is truly to create a system for public education that will serve as an example for others to follow - taking those poor, minority, troubled (and many perfectly average) children and opening the world to them, possible, reachable, real - we can do it!

But first, and most desperately, we need to shoo the elephant out of the room. We need to care.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wear Red

Curious what the CTU strike is all about? It seems there are so many questions and the messaging has been messy. Here's my take: It is about

A Quality Day in the Classroom (not creating a babysitting service so kids can be 'kept busy')
Reasonable Classroom Size (not the up to 55-students-per-class that has been threatened)
Necessary Social Services  (not the 'just sit here and breathe' response when a nurse is not present)
Investment in Schools (not 'step over the puddle in the bathroom, honey' facilities)
Fair Contracts for teachers (not 'suck it up' re-negotations that fail the sniff test)

How do these issues play out in real life? In my child's school, which practices an 'inclusion' model of instruction, the class size is more likely to be over 30 - even in primary grades.  Because everyone is included in an inclusion model class, that room will have several English-speaking students who are, at least, average learners. It'll also include several children with varying degrees of special needs - hearing impairment, speech impediment, learning delay or more severe concerns. That classroom will also include a few children who don't speak a lick of English and a few others who are still learning the language. And, not often understood but true, the classroom will include special needs children who are at another point on the spectrum - they need accelerated instruction and greater challenge. Over 80% of the children in that classroom - or at least 24 of 30 - meet the criteria for a free or reduced lunch. (In an ironic twist, when those same children apply for high school the system forces them to the bottom of the priority list because, according to census numbers, we live in a high income area.)

That's why we need a quality day - especially if it's a longer one - and we need a reasonable pupil-to-teacher ratio. 

In my child's school, the classroom can be extremely hot (over 90 degrees) or extremely cold (closer to 60 degrees) and the presence of either extreme is not necessarily tied to the current climate outside. The fancy new heating and cooling system they put in place as part of a rehab still doesn't work so today while it was 80+ degrees outside I was wearing pants and a full coat in the office and I was still cold. We've had tons of work done to our school and I'm grateful for it, but if we're still the mess we are, what's going on in poorer neighborhoods?

That's why we need investment in school facilities. Basic stuff.  Stuff we have in our cars, for crissakes.

In order to meet the needs of all children, teaching often occurs in smaller groups, with several children working independently while the teacher works with one group, and a resource teacher works others, if there's one assigned. Almost on a daily basis, you can walk through the halls of that school and see groups of children sitting on the floor in the hallway trying to read or work on group projects because there's no adequate space for them to do so in the classroom and no adult available to supervise or guide the learning. What did you do when you were left in the hallway with a group of your buddies at age 9? Learn?

That's another reason we need reasonable classroom sizes and pupil-to-teacher ratios and investment in school facilities.

A nurse is present only a few days a week and with the increase in allergies and other health concerns in the general student population we've had to make absurd adjustments to day-to-day 'normal' activities to accommodate the lack of a health professional on staff. 850+ children in the building on a given day. Think about that. Today, with less than 100 people in the building the nurse was called upon three times and one of those injuries required an ER visit. A child entitled to X number of minutes per day for his/her learning support needs gets exactly those minutes. So if they need a few more but the schedule doesn't allow, the teacher is forced to move on rather than stay with the child and get them to the next level. It's cruel and awful and the teachers are sickened to have to do it.

That's why we need appropriate levels of social services in the building at all times.

In addition to traditional curriculum requirements, teachers are required to meet testing requirements with their instruction. These tests currently serve to measure not only students but schools. The children who don't speak English? They take those tests. The children who are delayed in learning for one reason or another? They take those tests. The teacher whose student rarely shows up for class, or spends half his time in detention? He takes that test too. Children in our school whose parents take them to their home countries for weeks on end and must actually re-register when they come back because they've been gone so long? Yup. Test. Why do you think those scores look like that?

Again, if you want children to succeed - if that's really your goal - you need to have reasonable pupil-to-teacher ratios and invest in support services that work and can be measured by the teacher not a chart.

Send your child to a school building with mud instead of grass on its playing field, jammed doorways that didn't always work, an intercom system that frequently beeped without warning, inadequate heating and cooling so that your child might be sweating or shivering depending on his/her location in the building throughout the day, leaking plumbing in bathrooms, classwork being conducted on the floor in hallways, gym in the classroom because the gym is being used as storage, no textbooks because central office didn't get them to us on time, and a teacher who had to tend to 32 other children in the classroom during the day. OK? Still feel like you are in the third largest school district in the country? Still feel like you live in the richest nation on Earth?
That's why we need honest, meaningful and intentional investment in school facilities which reflects our high prioritization of education.

Now how about if I asked you to work in that environment and then promised you a raise and then renegged on the raise and then asked you to work more hours and offered to evaluate your performance based on how well those kids did in your classroom - would you be cool with that?

And that's why teachers deserve a fair contract. They deserve it. They earn it and are entitled to it and we owe it to them. Fair. That's all.

A friend of mine is considering leaving the city because he's afraid the end result here is that there will be a huge tax increase to pay for the resources the city needs to effect these changes. My answer? No. It's time to pay attention to how the budget is written so that our real priorities are reflected and dollars are spent where we want them spent. It's time to stay and fight our asses off to make things better for ourselves and our children and everyone else's. It's time to insist policymakers stop playing politics with our children's futures - and our own - as more and more ill-prepared children become ill-prepared adults and take our futures into their hands. The future of the country is at stake. It is really that important. And it's just that simple. Our teachers deserve our full and undivided attention, our loyalty and our support.

Because, really? Forget all that stuff I just said. You just need to ask yourself one question in order to sort this whole thing out: who among us has become anything without a teacher? Not one.

Wear red.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Don't Treat Me Like I'm Dumb, and other observations

By most accounts, Mitt Romney's got to be a pretty smart guy. I may not agree with his politics, but I can recognize that he's probably a pretty smart guy.

So I'd like to know how he's going to bring those smarts to bear on:

labor policy, commerce, the environment, fair trade, poverty, reform of the justice system, progressive planning and implementation of modern infrastructure, transportation (domestic, global and space?), housing policy, health care - and repeal is fine if you have something in mind to replace it, immigration (and its role in labor, commerce, the environment, fair trade, poverty, justice, housing and healthcare), foreign relations,  education (and whether the federal government should have a role in setting standards and supporting local initiatives), the FCC and modern media and its role in the health of the democracy, defense and the proper allocation of resources to ensure we never again go to war without the equipment our troops need to be protected and successful, veterans affairs, and human and civil rights, both domestic and foreign.

The fact that he doesn't tell me any of that leads me to believe he thinks: I've too short an attention span to pay attention to the details (SQUIRREL!), he doesn't have plans in these areas so he's nothing to say (but his cash policy advisors do), or the more likely - he thinks I'm too dumb to get it. Well, I'm not too dumb. I'm actually a pretty smart gal myself. So I go looking if you don't offer.

Is anyone else fascinated by the fact that he has a tab on his website labled "Human Capital" which you can get to from the "Issues" page? "Human Capital" says so much to me about how he sees things. Some of the content on that page makes sense - the disconnect between our skills and what the market demands is real, some of the federal programs have no traceable results, ok - I follow. What are you going to do?

It's a two prong-answer. Retrain US Workers (which the gov't is currently doing, supposedly) and Attract the World's Best and Brightest. WHA? Wait for it...

Retraining US workers has four points: 1. consolidate programs and costs, 2. give states money to manage programs 3. facilitate creation of 'personal reemployment accounts' and 4. encourage more private sector participation in training.

Again, I ask, "Do you think I'm dumb?"

'Consolidate programs and costs' is politispeak for 'Cut'. 'Give states money to manage programs' is politispeak for 'Prepare to Cut'. 'Personal Reemployment Accounts' is Republispeak for 'Save some money you lazy good-for-nothings' and 'Encourage private sector participation' means what? You'll stand at a job fair with pom poms and cheer for companies to hire ill-equipped workers?

But this is the part that stops me.  The 2nd prong of the solution according to the Romney plan is to globally recruit. This is the whole paragraph, word-for-word, from his site.

To ensure that America continues to lead the world in innovation and economic dynamism, a Romney administration would press for an immigration policy designed to maximize America’s economic potential. The United States needs to attract and retain job creators from wherever they come. Foreign-born residents with advanced degrees start companies, create jobs, and drive innovation at an especially high rate. While lawful immigrants comprise about 8 percent of the population, immigrants start 16 percent of our top-performing, high-technology companies, hold the position of CEO or lead engineer in 25 percent of high-tech firms, and produce over 25 percent of all patent applications filed from the United States.

Republican say what? Foreign nationals is what we need to rennovate the ingenuity that built America? There's so much hypocrisy in this statement and its relationship to all the rhetoric at the convention I simply cannot list it all here.

Suffice to say I'm not surprised that the nearly-all-white audience in Tampa did not hear this little tidbit about how he thinks we're going to recover jobs in the United States.  Coupled with his experience in shipping U.S. jobs abroad during his time in 'business', one has to wonder if we're not just going to have some kind of trans-Atlantic loop-de-loop built to facilitate the absurdity.

I'm not dumb. So I don't care if you love me, Ann.  I raised kids while my husband was away working. I know it's hard. That neither qualifies you nor him (nor does it me or mine, for that matter) to do anything other than comment on the stresses and joys of parenting.

I don't care if you discovered your latent Republicanism, Ms. Martinez, however your lack of clarity speaks volumes and makes your position as somone whose opinion I should consider both comical and sad. You're 'someone to watch'? I'd rather enjoy the relative greater excitement of watching grass grow.

Ms. Rice, you have a compelling American story. But you failed our nation as National Security Advisor, you continued to insist on legitimizing the foreign policy of that embarrassingly bad president as Secretary of State, and you de-humanized your own self with your treatment of others in the administration who, like the American people, deserved your honesty and your willingness to stand up for what was right instead of what was being ideologically spoon-fed to you by Karl Rove. I have nothing but regret as to your place in history.

Marco, you embarrass me as a Cuban-American because you know full well that creating a divide between the haves and the have-nots is what robbed our parents and grandparents of their country and my children of their rightful cultural inheritance. That son-of-a-bitch has outlasted how many American presidents and foreign leaders? And why? Because the greedy wealthy of our parents' home country put him there and kept him there. The people would rather have him than revolutionize and try anything else again. And now you want to install the same kind of backwards policy in this country where we all came to escape? Shame on you! Debes de tener verguenza.

Mr. Huckabee, your accent is charming and your resemblence to Gomer Pyle almost endearing, but what you have to say makes no sense to me.

Ditto for Mr. Eastwood, sans the accent and the Pyle resemblence. Plus, you were vulgar and demeaning to the office of the President, my President, our President. I could only wince through most of that presentation. What a sad stamp on your public persona.

Messrs. Ryan and Romney - I'd like to have a real choice for these elections but you offer me none. I may not be pleased with all this administration has done, but they've done enough to earn my vote. I'm done thinking that because you're white and wealthy you're smarter than me, or in on some secret I don't know about that makes you more capable than me. I'll take my chances with someone to whom I can relate, who's life experience makes sense to me and whose rhetoric is traceable to some truth, some facts.

And you know what? We just ideologically differ. That's fine. I get it. But I'll thank you not to treat me like I'm dumb.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Days of Peanut Butter and Jelly Walls are Over

I've spent some time these past weeks painting my kitchen and dining room. The walls and baseboards had suffered indignities I can only begin to imagine and I shudder to recount the suffering of white door frames and window-sills. Among the most egregious repeat offenders? Peanut butter and jelly. In glops. In smears. Joyful and sinister at once. Those smudges, everwhere! even behind the refrigerator? smirked at me as I approached with bleachy washcloth poised.

I was embarrassed to see how much I'd missed. I hadn't spent a lot of time from the 2.5 foot mark and below, wiping walls and corners - something I should have done, I guess.

But then, having a three-year-old and two one-year-olds will occupy a good chunk of your time, which is what I had when I first moved into this home and painted those walls. Those were giddy days - fast and full. There were triumphs and tragedies galore, most involving Polly Pockets or Batman (or some unfortunate interaction between the two) and all could be resolved with lots of hugs and kisses and - in the twins' case - the promise of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

It got to the point where Sam would just stand by the fridge any time anyone was upset and suggest "pum jey?" Sara didn't even like the full PBJ. She just wanted the cute little sandwiches in a baggie. She'd lick the jelly off and smush the remainder into balls and play with them. Sam did, of course, consume all the PBJs you gave him and then searched for Sara's discarded peanut-butter-bread balls and ate those too.

Sometimes I got to them to wipe their hands before they wiped them elsewhere. Sometimes I didn't. The math on that may be further skewed than I thought, now that I've cleaned the kitchen and dining room from floors to ceilings. Someone asked me while I was working on this project, "Why now?" and I answered without thinking, "The days of peanut butter and jelly walls are over."

Sam and Sara are celebrating their twelfth birthday today.

They're 'hanging out' now instead of 'playing' and both are nearly, not quite but nearly, my height. Sam's voice is changing. Sara's figure is forming. Neither plays with dolls or action figures. I suppose that's a good thing, but I'm a little sad at the loss of those baby days.

So I was sitting here and thinking about that, and what's to come, while I was finishing white trim. Sam had friends over and the house sounded like I had a barrel of guys in it. Sara was pretending to not like it, but she was flushed and giggly. Uck. At a point, the two of them came up to get something and walked past me.  I looked at Sam and said, "What the heck do you have all over your shirt?"

They both looked at him, then turned and without flinch said in unison, "Peanut butter and jelly." Thank God.

And Happy Birthday to my lovely Sara and my handsome Sam.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Three's Company: The Mom Version

While not all of us are fortunate enough to have both our parents in our lives for as long as we'd like, many of us benefit from pretty awesome parents, one or the other, for a good chunk of time.
I'm sure you've heard how I feel about my mom, but you may not know that there have been other 'moms' in my life who have had an incredible influence on who I am as a person. These are just a few

Mima was a gorgeous woman, petite and powerful. She kept a clean and well-decorated home, fussed over everyone, loved intensely, dressed impeccably, smelled like face powder and cooked homestyle food like a gourmet chef before it was mundane to do so. She was refined and she was a gracious hostess. But here's the thing many people missed about her. Her hands. Her hands were tiny and probably when she was young, very delicate. The years had made them red and rough. She was this elegant lady with taste in classical music and fine chocolates with these hands of the woman who was dismissed arrogantly in English-speaking grocery stores and who washed floors on her hands and knees at the church.

I couldn't tell you everything she taught me, but this one thing has defined me: a woman is not all one thing, and she is never just what she appears to be.

Karen, also a beauty, with a porcelain face and a curvy figure, was in many ways everything my mom and Mima were not. Karen kept a beautiful home but different - it was comfortable and well furnished but it was being lived in and you knew it. She never panicked over a few crumbs on the counter, never scowled if you didn't put your shoes at the door just so, let you wipe the milk from your face with the back of your hand.  Her home had pets galore, a huge poodle aptly named Sugar, talking birds, fish, you name it. And she made the gold standard of BLT sandwiches - serious witchcraft in that thing - honestly. Karen never seemed to take anything seriously. So if you weren't there to notice, you may have missed how smart she was and how craftily she managed all the people (and pets) she cared for. She kept her mother and grandmother close, lived for many years in the same building as her sister, and had plenty of maternal care to spare on a scrawny little kid from down the street. She was this floating party of a woman but at her center she was serious and focused and intentional.

I couldn't possibly put into a line all the things this woman taught me, but I'll say this has made a difference: Being a mother is serious business and the very best of them laugh all the way through.

And Eileen. Eileen wasn't one of my surrogate moms. She's the mom of my daughter's closest friend. Eileen's this wispy, freckly lady with a shock of silky, dark hair and an imperviously young face. She walks faster than the average cyclist on a downhill run, drives like a NASCAR racer in a minivan and can't suffer a long meeting without complaint. But she'll take days upon days to painstakingly craft together long strands of individually selected beads for a birthday necklace. She'll guide your kid through the weeks-long process of making a miniature room out of popsicle sticks and felt scraps. She's a dessert maker (love that about her!), a closet pundit, an amazing party planner and a real, true and decent friend.  So she's great at the mom thing, but did I tell you that Eileen is at the top of her game in her field? She's a sought-after expert and draws people from all over the country, all over the world even, to her events. She's worked for governments and privately funded institutes and everywhere you go with her she's a gal people want to talk to.

So here's what I get, in spades, from Eileen: you can be a mom and have your own interests and your own successes and it doesn't make you any less of a mom. 

I once had my indignant, then 4 year-old, daughter tell me that if I wanted to be a better mom I ought to try to be more like Eileen. At the time I was completely crushed, but the more I've thought on it, the more I suspect she's exactly right. I'm trying. I'm also throwing a little Karen in there and a good dose of Mima and my Mom and a few other women. 

In the end, I can only be me as a mother. But I'm so glad to have had these women in my life to show me how to find the best mother in me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

It's The Teachers, Stupid

There's a lot of bluster in our daily news about the economy (it is that, too) and politics (it shouldn't be that) and money (it's definitely not that). That's all good and well - we need to talk about those things and get them sorted out. But, in my view, we may be missing a key part of the conversation. Never one to be left out of a conversation, I've got some thoughts. It's not about any of that - the solution to our problems, that is. It's about the teachers. So here's my ode, along with a special thanks to a certain someone who got the wrong end of my big mouth.

Thanks for teaching my children how to read. I don't have the vocabulary to express what importance I place on that skill, and that you gifted it to my children, along with hundreds of others over the course of your careers, is a blessing I'm sure can only be repaid to you in the next life, where the Gifter is a much greater one than I. That you did so while nurturing, humoring, inspiring is beyond the pale.

Thanks for carrying my children, with all their talents and challenges, through the process of learning with those talents and challenges, not despite them. That you took the time to actually know each one of my children, that you learned them so you could teach them to learn, is a talent so few professionals have and it gave them each so much self-confidence and pride in their work.

You did something I was desperately trying to do but couldn't; you made my children love learning. My children were eager to go to your classes, excited about the next thing - whatever it was. You made them not only read with comprehension, you made them readers! There's nothing better, in my book. (heh heh, readers - book - I'm a riot!)

And let's just cede that the kids certainly weren't going to get math appreciation from me at home. You took a subject that doesn't always have a lot of appeal for many students and you made it interesting, a puzzle, a challenge, a process of pathways to solutions. Those skills are translatable across every possible subject, and my children have drawn from your energy and excitement to dig in with enthusiasm and confidence. It's no small thing.

But it's not always enough to teach. Sometimes you have to let that go and just be a person. You have been hard, when needed, soft, when it mattered, and every shade in between. So the kids know you and adore you and they are more connected to their learning because of you. I'm so grateful.

Your ambition and interest is infectious.

My children learned so much from your classes because you talk to the children like they're real people. I always think children are more convinced when the teacher him or herself believes what they're saying and say it like they mean it - and you do.  Thank you.

While it's not always cool when mom likes it, it sure is cool when you do. What a pleasure it has been to hear stories of your in-class discussions. What a joy it has been to watch my children bloom in your literary gardens. What a treat, for me, to know you are the stewards of the words I love so much, so my children can love them too.

You take my beloved social sciences and make them real, plausible, current - even when the material is ancient! You bring your humanity into the classroom. You are thinkers and citizens of the world and it shows - there's no greater example for young children.

And I'm sure there's some piece of music which would more eloquently express my deep thanks to my children's fine arts teachers - some piece of art that calls out with joy and tears-in-your-eyes thrill at the thought of you and what you've given my children. I'm sure there is and I just don't know it, so my words will have to suffice, but they're woefully inadequate, because you are the color and music in the hearts of my babies - thank you thank you!

And here's one last note, since this has gone on alarmingly too long. I'm the only child of a single-parent mom. For reasons too ridiculous to enumerate here, if you're a man in the life of my children, I watch you like a hawk, and if you misstep I'm on you before immediately. The other day, I callously teased one of my children's teachers in front of others. I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that. Instead, you should know that you more than exceed the standard I have for a teacher - and that you do so wearing the vestige of a man makes you that much more phenomenal in my eyes. (That you are a conservative ideologue and a hunter only serves to prove that no one is perfect, but you're damn close.) My babies adore you because on top of your compassion, kindness, patience and attention you're just a load of fun. Learning should be fun. School should be a blast - exciting and interesting and sometimes silly. You make it that for them under some pretty challenging restraints and you impress me with the ease you bring to the task. Thank you, James. You're going to be a magician in a classroom, I just know it.

So I know these thanks are not much - not enough for sure - but please know that whatever your unions tell you, whatever the politicians and newsmakers tell you - none of that matters.  You are what it is about. You do matter. And I do, with a full heart, appreciate you.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I'm Not Married to the Idea

We're getting a couch from a friend this week. We've been needing a replacement for the old couches we got from friends, so this is a nice treat. The couch we're getting is a sectional, but the configuration of our living room is such that I think we'll have to split it up. I'm not, however, married to the idea.

That's because in order to be 'married' once has to be convincingly, irrevocably (or nearly so) and before witnesses, joined with something or, more commonly, someone. I may change my mind about the couches. But I'm not going to change my mind about my husband. I'm married to him. I swore to my family and to God that I'd be married to him until death do us part and I intend to keep that promise. Now, if death parts us under suspicious circumstances... that's not in the vows.

I don't get why some folks don't want other folks to get married. If being married means 'together', why don't they want some folks to be together?

And if it doesn't mean together, united, joined -- holy cow --  I may have signed up for the wrong thing!

Also, how did the word get so holy in the case of gay and lesbian marriage, but no one protests when it's bandied about on the Food network when discussing plums and garlic ('Oooh, Eric, I just love the way he married the ingredients in this plum sauce - absolutely divine!')?

Which is it - sacred vow that only some genders get to use, and only then when using in the context of its application to another gender - and only then when applied to humans - and only then if sanctified according to a legislative document OR a way to bring together fresh and dry ingredients with a delicate cream sauce to the ecstatic delight of some nitwit on a food show?

I may be more evolved than the President on this, and I'm sure I part company with many of my brothers and sisters of dogmatic pursuit, but I just think if you want to get married, and you're an adult of sound mind, and so's the other person, and you're willing to take on in-laws, you should be RUN... er... you should be free to do so. I think this is especially true in the 'land of the free'. How sad that folks in our country, where freedom is so proudly sung, are voting against it.

Maybe those folks ought to have one of their freedoms taken from them in exchange for this vote, so they could see how it feels for a bit. I know it's absurd and would be the absolute ruin of democracy, but it might get the point across. I suppose there are other ways. We could try something else. It's not like I'm married to the idea.

Friday, April 27, 2012

My baby

It'll be Lucy's birthday tomorrow. Just one more before the big 15 we've been holding out in the ever-diminishing distance, a date which once seemed so far away it was easy to push off all of the adult privileges and responsibilities we told her would be hers to hold once she crossed that threshold. Just one short year. She's just a baby! She doesn't know it yet, but I'm going to cling to this next year like tomorrow clings to the end of today.

Not Exactly The Type To Take Herself Too Seriously
I'm glad to see her become a young woman, truth be told. I think she's ready - more than. And she's still a snuggler. She still trusts me and giggles with me and seeks me out. Still my baby. But it's coming, I know, the time when her friends come before me, the time when someone else gets her news before I do, the time when I'm excited to see her, but she's too preoccupied to notice.

Lucy is my first and so with every change that comes, she carries the brunt of my reaction (usually mind numbing sadness accompanied by bags of potato chips, or embarrassing joy accompanied by other potato chips). It's not easy and she carries it well. I think she knows that all of it, all my ups, downs and in-betweens are tethered ever so tightly to my complete, overwhelming, sometimes over-the-top (ok, more than sometimes) love for and adoration of her. She fills me with so much pride I'm certain others can see it on my skin, through my clothes and escaping from the ends of every curl on my head. She is my baby!

That'll never change, I'm sure, no matter how much she grows, spreads, reaches away. For me, the soft, flawless, amazing baby that was handed to me on the day she was born is the same one who now plays soccer (a little violently) and rocks a saxophone and makes the grade and handles herself like a real pro, focused, ready and ambitious.

A year from now we'll be marking passage from childhood into young adulthood. I think she's already passed. The days of high school and boys and jobs and worries await. It'll be a quick wink before she's an adult, carrying on with the chores of her own life, with children of her own, perhaps. She'll be a mommy!

Still. No matter. She is, and always will be, my baby.