Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On Why I Decorate

It's Christmas Eve. I've got sweets finishing in the oven and my daughter is working with great intention on tonight's mashed potatoes. Nat croons faintly from the radio pressed against the cold window.

It snowed a bit this morning and the promise of more is set to complete at right about midnight. For now, just enough winks at the corners of each pane to storybook the setting.

My godson may be asleep by the time this posts. I hope he is. He's had a hard day. Many in a row, I'd say. He's lost inside himself, flashing smiles and blurting hugs when he can burst through. But mostly he is crying, out at the world, inwardly to an unrewarding audience.

On our way to see him today, we saw Shane. Calm on the icy concrete of a downtown hustle, an apple at his lips. His curt cardboard gave notice: My name is Shane. Homeless. Appreciate any help. Thanx. Happy Holidays. And then we had to move along, the pressure of traffic behind us insisting.

And my mom keeps the faith. I talked to her, feeling the wear in her voice, wanting to be the comfort of soft cotton and warm blankets, knowing I am not the peace she needs but I am all she has. She is doing the best she can.

We all are, aren't we? We muddle through the dull of life, sometimes crossing, false, catching our breath on sharp pain or delivering disappointment - unwittingly or otherwise. But moving, moving, on and on as the days go by.

My husband asked me the other day why I bother decorating for the holidays. I think he was reflecting on the spiritual meaning of the holiday and wondering aloud whether we, too, were giving way to the cheap and callous.

No. I am not.

Today, I caught that homeless man's eye and I smiled at him, broadly and really. It was all I had to give in the moment and I think he knew it and he smiled, softly, back.

I kissed my godson - when he was ready - and whispered my words of love to him. I'll believe that he heard me and understood.

Some days are for beauty and sweetness and love and filling all the hours you can, however you see fit, with the spirit of giving pleasure and peace to others. That is why I decorate. That is the example of the day. Maybe there are only moments of respite, a table set with care
or a bauble hanging cheerfully. Dwell there. He is there. And be glad for it.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I'm Thinking of Losing My Mind

A little advice for my honorary niece on the subject of losing one's mind:

I don't mind telling you, it might not be such a bad thing. You wouldn't have anything on your mind, Georgia or otherwise. That'd free up some space. You couldn't possibly mind anything, even if you wanted to. You'd never be at risk of losing your mind again because, once lost, no one ever tries to find their mind, right? No one would ask you to mind their children. Really, you'd be absolved of all responsibility and accountability as you'd be well within your rights to claim being out of your mind in the event you did something that bothered someone. You couldn't do anything that required mind over matter so dieting, exercising and any other strenuous self-improvement initiatives could be tossed out the window.You'd have no frame of mind to color your decisions and you could skip every single meeting of minds. I'm so tired of meetings anyway. Whatever loads you had on your mind would be permanently off, you would never again have to bear anything in mind and you could not have your mind blown which, frankly, sounds awfully painful. No one could win your heart and your mind. You'd never again have to make up your mind, mind your own business, or wrap your mind around anything, and you'd be permanently un-boggled! Why bother trying to put your mind at ease when you have no mind? Don't tell me to never mind, I never do! Hah! It's possible you could benefit from half a mind but, honestly, if you were in your right mind you'd realize you don't need your mind at all! It's clear there an awful lot of people in positions of power who long ago learned this truth. In fact, I'm sure you know somewhere in the back of your mind that I'm right. The solution to all problems is to simply lose your mind!

I also think you should stop eating your socks, but let's work on one thing at a time.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's In His Kiss

I was early. He was late. (Things haven't changed much in the past twenty years.) It was our first date. We were meeting at a theater. I walked over to him and as soon as he saw me, a smile spread across his face. I smiled too. I went to say hello and he pulled me toward him and planted one on me full on! Not a timid, just-met-her, first-kiss kind of kiss. A 1940s, just-back-from-a-tour, "hello doll!" kind of kiss. And I was so surprised I opened my mouth in shock! Which left a sort of impression I had not intended for the first few seconds of the first date with this guy I barely knew. He was still grinning when we pulled apart.

I always tell this as part of a long, windy explanation of how Tony and I began our courtship. It makes for a funny cocktail party story (at one point he has to break into his own car) and, of course, it ends well so Tony's learned not to take offense at all the jabs.

What I don't often include is the detail about the kiss. I won't here either, except to say it was damn convincing.

I had no idea on that day that guy would completely change my life. He seemed like a regular guy, kind of a goofy guy, to be honest. But  in his very simplicity he is extraordinary. He's so strong and solid and faithful. And he's smart - way smarter than you think - and funny and loving and true. He's fallen down a few times but you simply cannot keep him down. He's a family man and a good friend and a hard worker.

He's getting older - creeping into those early 40s now. (I'm not, but he is.) And he's wearing down in some spots. I think it bugs him, but to me it just means he's got some living behind him. 'Nothing wrong with an experienced man,' my grandmother would say, with a wry. I agree.

It's been quite a ride so far, and I'm happy to be the gal who gets to celebrate every birthday with him. I'm glad every day I was smart enough to marry that guy with the nerve to kiss me in the first five seconds of our first date because... well... a million reasons; I can't even say, exactly.

But, I can tell you it's in his kiss.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Where to Begin

I passed a row of apartment buildings. Golden windows, holiday trim. There, a mother and daughter might be preparing a splendid meal for two, setting places, lighting candles. I remembered the seriousness with which my mother and I would set about on such a day. The cold hadn't a chance against the might of our meal, hot and thick with onions and garlic, boiling, baking, all day. We curated a fine table of mismatched (but porcelain!) bright prints and stainless steel, polished with the attention of a redolent silver; fresh greens whenever we could. Our clothes lay expectantly on our beds, pressed for pride's sake, waiting as we scrubbed the city's pain from ourselves the best we could. Steamed windows and faint music apply themselves to these memories with wisps of bittersweet. I am grateful she is my mother.

Now and here there are greens at my table, candles too, the best linens I can provide. My men carry heavy things about the house in the business of helping, tools clanging, important expressions. My girls wear my sighs, burdened, and start to sway about in the way a woman does at the kitchen. There are bowls and boxes and cups of flour stalwart among the decor; the toil and tire of the holiday is at hand. Johnny Mathis keeps the time. I am midway and know that I am the keeper of the steamed-window memories. And I am grateful, too, that I am a mother.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I Know Why I'm Thankful

My brother-in-law completed a professional course of study some years ago which, after internships and years of experience, led to his full licensure in his field of engineering. Upon completion of his program I hosted a little celebration at my house. Nothing too elaborate, but my husband, ever the damp towel, wondered aloud why I made any fuss at all.

'Only he knows,' I told him. 'Only he knows what it takes to get up at 4AM on cold days, hot days, rainy days. To use his hands, even when they ache and are tired. To lift when his shoulders are sore. Only he knows what it is to come home with all that weight wearing him down, to carry three small children and tend to the needs of his family. Really, he's the only one who knows how hard it's been and how amazing it is that he's gotten this far. But today, I want him to know that I know, too.'

I've been thinking about that a lot as we move toward Thanksgiving. I've been thinking about what I know, and what makes me thankful. My brother-in-law is one thing.

My oldest is an academic rock star - a life rock star, really - always racking up achievements to make us proud. We take some credit, as parents, but really only she knows how hard it is to stay that focused, to give up so many days of folly, in order to stay laser-targeted on a goal so far off she can hardly see it.  She knows how heavy those books are and how sweet the bed is she leaves in the dark hours of morning to start an early day. Every once in a while I offer her a little extra attention or time because it's my way of saying 'I know, too,' but really only she knows.

My niece just completed an interview for a rigorous program at a prestigious university which, if she's accepted, could catapult her to an entirely different plane. Only she knows what that will mean for her life, and what work she put into giving herself that chance. If her beginnings have had some unsteady steps, she shows no lack of confidence or sure-footedness now. She knows what that takes, the example it sets. She lifts and carries, like her dad, without complaint. I'm so, so proud and thankful I get to be her aunt.

My youngest daughter just landed a lead role in her school play in this, her last year of middle school. Only she knows what yearning and deep commitment can become in an audition - a fragile dream brought to full color and volume in a minute, twenty - and then an existential squeal of delight so internal it shakes your very bones. She knows. And I, as her mother, dreaming and desperate for her happiness, know too.

Tonight, I sat down to help my son write an essay as part of a high school application. The prompt asks the student to write a piece on a defining characteristic. He struggled, until I asked him 'what do you think of when you think of yourself?' "I'm a twin," he said. "I think of Sara." I thought it was so sweet. Then he went on in great detail about how annoying and loud-mouthed she is. Only he knows what it means to carry this extra person with him through his entire life - literally since conception. Only he knows what it means to share, share and share again, no matter how tiny the piece. And only he knows the complexity of defining self by defining one's co-existence with another. Still, what simplicity, too. Rather matter-of-factly he tells you he is himself, but not without her. I love that and am thankful for it. I think, on balance, it is a good thing.

In fact, what I know for certain is that each person you meet carries some weight, pursues some dream doggedly, sets some standard for self, sings with conviction, knows and accepts some truth about himself - perhaps not without some melancholy. It's knowing this that must put the tenderness in your touch and the softness in your expression. To someone, on some day, it will matter. And they will be so thankful for your kindness. I know I am thankful for these and all the amazing people in my life who give me reason for thanks.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I Haven't Forgotten

I know many who are doing 'days of thanks' leading up to Thanksgiving, offering notes, mostly to themselves, each day giving thanks for something or someone in their lives. It's a wonderful peek at all the beauty and generosity that floats about us in the world every day, and I love reading all these bits of joy, hope and wonder.

So I've wondered to my own self why I'm not compelled to join in this fun. And in a melancholy way I can't seem to explain I remember I carry my thanks around with me all the time. Some times I lay it out for display, but mostly I just see it, have it with me. And I haven't forgotten why that is the case.

I haven't forgotten being cold and tired and wanting someone to take away my ache so I could rest. I am thankful that despite so many days of wear, I have had splendid days of great comfort and peace.

I haven't forgotten being hungry, hungry so that it was screaming in my head, and too shy and too admonished by my station to ask for more, knowing often there wasn't any anyway. I am thankful for the greatness of every meal, the bountiful and the not so, because all of it nourishes.

I haven't forgotten being lonely in the quiet and pale of an empty play space or a seat untaken. I am thankful for my company, even in its absence, knowing it fills me and finds me when I am lost now. That is truly a blessing.

I can't forget what was given up for me, what was delivered and polished so that I could have some where he before me had none. I am thankful, deeply, truly, for those gifts that are repaid only as I gift them again, doing my part in a never-ending relay that moves forward, stretching, pulling along, overcoming, reaching, then giving again.

I remember as a child being dressed for a special day, fresh and clean, hair brushed to a soft wave along my face, perfume about my neck and along my arms. I remember the pinch of patent leather shoes and the crimp of stockings against my toes. I remember being received in love and warmth by family and friends, now gone, smiles all about, and arriving at a table filled with every treat and delight I could have wanted. And I remember thinking 'Be grateful for this day.'

I am. Every day.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

At the 45 Mark

Things I've learned and try to remember, although my memory ain't what it used to be...

The staunch refusal to learn never serves a prevailing end. (Read that as: your parents are always right.)

The dishes simply don't do themselves no matter how you may beg and pray. The regular, the mundane, the tedious ~ they tend the in-field of a life that cannot enjoy an over-the-wall ride without them. If it's a bother it's likely a must. Smile and step to the plate with intention.

You will be humbled. Know it early and receive it willingly. Humility in lifetime doses changes you for the better so you arrive in the next life worthy.

Then, too, know your arrogance and accept that others are not fooled by your trickery. They see it. Wear that with your humility. These are your shades and they make you rich and interesting.

Your circumstances do not, and must not, dictate your dreams. Dream as immensely as your imagination allows, and then some. This fuels you on the dullest days.

When you are convinced of your brother's error step away and look again. He is your mother's son. Find love for him first and always before your interference.

We all fail. That will never change. Find triumph inside, over and around. It is there and it can lend you great courage, even and sound.

You can change; you cannot change others.

Closed eyes see things they cannot discern when pre-disposed to look. The closed mind serves no purpose at all.

Sometimes it is too late. Unless everything happens for a reason. It does. Trust doesn't carry the walking man.

If it is your job to be the peacemaker in that place where not one soul seeks peace, be the peaceful soul.

Favor your faults as you would a small child; always there is room to grow.

Marry well, if you feel you must, not based on gender or politic or religion, but on connection and honesty. These survive.

Touch, taste, revel and rebel all with equal reverence for their consequences.

Know, yes. But never fail in knowing that you know nothing at all. That is how you live.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I Decided to Run for Congress

I was driving east on Devon today when I decided to run for Congress.  There I was, heading Eastbound in full-throttle traffic toward a congested intersection. The Westbound lane was jammed behind a woman trying to turn left into a driveway just past the intersection.

I was in a hurry. I needed to make the light. The guy next to me was probably going to block her anyway. I looked over. A big blue pickup, maybe a quarter car-length behind me to my right, was approaching. He looked like he wanted to make that light, too.

I had already talked myself into passing her up and letting someone behind me deal with her left-turn dilemma when I felt myself step on the brake. A few minutes wasn't going to ruin anything for me. That poor lady waiting in the other lane was looking so weary. Everyone behind her was getting so frustrated. I think my right foot knew before I realized it, that I had the power to ease some of that stress off of all those people. So I just did.

And, amazingly, miraculously, joyously, so did he.

My blue pick-up friend, at just about the same time I did, eased his
truck to a stop and allowed our beleaguered Westbound friend safe passage into the Walgreen's parking lot.

I looked over at him to see if we'd exchange some kind of knowing glance. He was looking straight ahead and never caught my eye. But I did manage to capture the faintest smile on his face. When his car pulled just ahead of mine I noticed that he and are opposites on the political spectrum. Or at the very least, our bumpers are.

But for a moment today, we were just regular people in a position of power doing the right thing, working together to make life better for one of our fellow Americans. It felt absolutely delicious.

So that's when I decided to run for Congress.

I got over it about a block and a half later when I came to my senses, but it was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Observations on the Obvious

Like too-red lipstick bleeding along the edges of a garish, homeless smile.

The attack of more-than-enough perfume on a smoker fooling her vanity with dime-store remedies.

Still and stoic, the bittersweet vapor of cheap detergent puttering in patches along the edges of a building teeming with poverty.

Ugly is hard to hide.

There are no suits and ties fit to polish insincere words and truth is a misfit in this coalition of proposals and counters.

When did they dither to this place and why do they remain?

A tight pair of shoes, those must be, that crimp and pinch so fiercely she can no longer step out of them to feel the grass beneath her fair feet.

Why does he bother to smile or to frown? His expression has lost its irony. He is blank.

Armed with my promises, anchored with my trust, they flail, they fail. Who says? I do.

I should like to give them my shoulder, but only if they find me.

Instead, they chose to be lost. They prattle and pout in my name. They disappoint.

And I owe them no honor.

Friday, October 4, 2013

I Love That Word

The man who walked me down the aisle at my wedding was married to the woman who cared for me while my mother worked. Absent a father, he was most present in my day-to-day life and his is the outline that shadows the doorway when my mind wanders to thoughts of a dad.

Whenever he'd see something he liked, or when he wanted to exclaim pride over something I'd done, he'd smile broadly, "Eso!". It means "that" in Spanish. That's how you do it! or That's what I was looking for!

I went to see my son play soccer with his school team yesterday. It was a tough game, aggressively played and we were losing. Our team was too many times on the receiving end of some borderline tactics. I found myself reaching for some word of comfort or encouragement but couldn't figure out quite what to say.

At one point, my son squared himself against one of the other team's players, taking and then returning (politely, but firmly) a good shove. A few moments later, as they passed one another, my son put out his hand and acknowledged the other player with a grin.


I love that word.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Aim a Little

The great aim of education is not knowledge but action. ~ Herbert Spencer

I've always felt that education should lead to something and that knowing where you want to go is essential to satisfying the question of how to get there. If you never move from where you are, you'll never arrive anywhere. The cellared knowledge does nothing to heal a child or build a bridge. The closed book neither thrills nor bores. How do we live, if not through and because of change?

So in all of learning I believe there must be the goal and the reality of both collective and individual movement, preferably forward, although one could argue that in some instances, a step or two back provides critical perspective; I won't disagree.

And in any case we must have a sense of direction, lest we blindly bat about in the same space endlessly moving but never traveling. What a tire that would be! We must aim for something, perhaps a series of things, and work all our lives to arrive. In fact, that is foundational to the American experience, remembered among the affected, and even moreso among the aspiring, as the great document's assured 'pursuit of happiness'. We are hunters, doggedly after what Socrates delivered to us as the great and unconditional goal of life.

So why aren't we moving? What terrible paralysis has plagued us?

Ah, Congress.

It seems too few of our representatives have learned that knowing how to maneuver through the labyrinth of rules and procedures of our democratic bodies to effect one's personal or a party's narrow agenda is not, in and of itself, an end. Rather, using that knowledge to effect some change, acting on the knowledge that a constituency has some need or weakness to fill it or cure it - that is the purpose of their position.

I fear we've collected the most educated among us in a pool from which they cannot escape and charged them with leading us out of the water. They bump foolishly against the heavy
glass of their confines, charging towards reflections of their own ignorance, attracted to their own trapped visages instead of seeking a way out. We cannot follow or we shall drown.

My greater fear, however, is not that they are unwittingly imprisoned, tragically lost but sincere in their desire to serve the public's charge. What blackens my thoughts is that those among us are not among us, but outside the glass, agitating the waters to make us feel that we are moving, when in fact we are the ones constrained.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Who Knew Anyone Read It?

Having just come off the heels of a rant that carried a little more weight than I intended, read by folks I had no idea might read it, I'm thinking while I've got them here I may as well say a few other really important things.

There are plenty of words, pets names, countries, book titles and foods without the letter "a" in them. If you don't know that already, put down the smartphone and get smart yourself.

Social media has made us feel compelled to dwell on the food choices and favorite memes (which is an obnoxious word for 'sayings') of people we otherwise don't hang out with. Imagine receiving a similar item in the mail: **opens greeting card from childhood friend she hasn't seen in twenty years with picture of sandwich in it; runs to desk and writes "i like your sandwich" on a card and posts it to the mail**. Yep, that's worth reading. ((No. No it's not.))

While we're at it, the term 'social media' has become the instrument by which we feel connected to another human being using an electronic device and our own fingers. I'll leave that right there for you to extrapolate on your own.

The other day there were a series of messages running rampant through my Facebook page to which I was, sadly and stupidly, a party, regarding something many thought was critically important. Today, the most frequently posted item on my timeline is Jimmy Fallon having a lip synching contest with two other fellows (who are phenomenal, BTW). If I'm honest, I much more enjoyed reading the Fallon video comments than the others.

At the beginning of the week CPS opened up the scheduling system for 8th graders to set a test date for selective enrollment high schools, beginning as early as October. At the end of the week CPS informed us that most of the content of the test will be covered during the 8th grade school year, which ends June 3rd. The latest test date is in January. That makes about as much sense as mailing a picture of a day-old sandwich to a recently deceased bagpiper.

Last, I went for a walk with the family last night to get some air and some exercise. Along the way, I stopped at my mom's house. On her front door she has a note posted to some suspected burglars in our area which starts with a harsh message admonishing them to stay away from her house. We all had a good laugh at the notion of hardened criminals stopping to read her note and running off because of its message (replete with cartoonish eyeballs "we're on to you!").

But then we kept reading. She ends the note something like this: "God has better things planned for you. He and your families are watching you and wanting the best for you. I'll keep you in my prayers."

Some messages certainly are worth reading.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Let's Move to the Dining Room

'Hey kids, the kitchen is messy. Let's move to the dining room!'

This neither cleans the kitchen nor improves the cooking conditions in the dining room.

What do I teach my children when I simply turn my back on the mess?

And who's going to deal with the kitchen - or the dining room for that matter, when it gets messy?

These are the thoughts that keep running through my head as yet another round of blogs and articles delivers the now tiresome rant about moving to the 'burbs for better schools. This time, the particulars hit close to home as some dear friends of mine are in the mix of folks who walked that walk and are now talking that talk.

I'll start with this: I love them, I love their babies and I begrudge no one their choices. I'm not certain I'm right any more than I am that they're wrong. We're all doing the best we can under the circumstances.

But, man, that is not the way I'd handle it. It's not how I'm handling it. I don't want to keep changing my kids' circumstances every time they get difficult. I want them to learn how to maneuver and manage in trying situations and get happy and have success in the thick of it.

I want them to recognize gang mentality when they look at how Wall Street operatives function within the framework of a society that both empowers and punishes them. It's the same crap; the guys in New York just have better outfits.

I want my kids to feel o.k. sitting on a train with homeless people and fancy-suit-wearing people and people with accents. Those people walk our streets, and vote in our elections and share our resources.

I want my children to see their systems and elected officials fail and then I want them to see the swell of people trying to recuperate and fix those problems. I want them to fix those problems.

I'm a hands-on learner. I love to read, but I much prefer touching things and trying them out for myself. I'm o.k. with getting dirty. Maybe that's why I'm so accepting of all the mess around my school system. I think my kids are learning tons from it and I don't want to trade that for whatever I might gain anywhere else.

What do folks think they're winning when their child attends a school with better scores than mine? What's the contest? I went to private schools with lots of great kids, some of whom never left the grocery store job they got in high school. Did they lose? What if they're happy? Still losers? 

And, I mean, look out at the world and our history - did Mother Theresa change the world because her reading comprehension scores were through the roof? (Answer is C. "NO")  JFK was living one of the most privileged lives ever lived. Didn't do him a lick of good in the back seat of that car. Kim Khardashian is a "success" by some standards. What exactly are we striving for?

The whole thing is arbitrary and based on an appeal to the lowest common denominator. So, by my choices, I call BS.

One of my kids got a perfect score on one of those standardized tests once. Perfect. She came home floating. I was so proud of her. Then I told her it was her turn to clean the kitchen.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Habits of Poverty

I feel guilty describing my early childhood as impoverished. I always had food, clothes, a warm bed, a clean home. In fact, for a good chunk of my childhood I attended private schools. No sign of poverty there, right?

The fact is, poverty has little to do with what clothes you wear or the material accoutrements that accompany your public persona.

My dining room furnishings consisted of two nylon folding chairs and a small black and white TV on top of a heavy wood dining table we got at a rummage sale. The curtains were made of bed sheets - although my mom sewed them so beautifully you would have no idea. And food, though always available, was a little interesting. Many nights, especially during the time when my mom was unemployed, we ate meals made mostly of filler. I remember anxiously measuring the half-cups of soup that would pair up with our half-sandwiches wondering if mine would be the 'bigger half'. It always was.

As a part of this living, I learned the habits of poverty. Don't ask for extra. Don't expect much. Those things are for other people. We don't have one of those. You can't have one of those. Don't waste! Of course, those admonitions are some part of most people's lives, but in the case of a person with what my mom would call 'Depression Era Mentality' the effects go much deeper than they do for the average person.

So this morning I went to dry my hair after a shower. There was a towel hanging that was still damp from yesterday's use and I went to put that around me thinking, 'don't waste another clean towel just to dry your hair'. And then it occurred to me that I might like to have a fresh, clean towel all to myself. I battled myself, dripping hair making a mess on the floor until finally, the indulgent me grabbed a clean, white towel and wrapped it victoriously around my head.

Then I went to the kitchen to make a cup
of coffee and saw that someone had left a half-pastry in a container that wasn't sealed properly. I don't even like pastries and this one was dry and crumbly. What I really wanted for breakfast was toast with jam. I ate the pastry. No sense wasting.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Confessions of the World's Worst Mom. Ever.

I'm writing this so that I can say out loud what everyone should know about me despite public appearances otherwise. I'm a terrible mom. Now, I know you'll be inclined to pooh-pooh that and I'll accept that it's a pretty bold thing to say, rather lending itself to a counter. But hear me out.

Last night at dinner, my bright young boy started a conversation this way: "What do you think is more valuable - confidence or pride?" Great topic! We started to go back and forth. He believes pride is more important and set out to convince me. I believe confidence is infinitely more valuable, and honorable, and made my case. At some point, I became aware that Sam wasn't buying it. He started showing signs of exasperation and impatience with my point of view. (Don't know where he gets that from.) So I told him his outward appearance was inappropriate, that he should continue to show in his tone of voice and expression an interest in what I was saying. Essentially, I was telling him to control his temper. When he insisted he wasn't behaving in any way that would indicate impatience I decided to teach him a lesson.

So I threw a fork at him.

My intention was to have the fork clatter on the table between him and Sara, make a noise, and startle him. I hoped to say that my actions did not match what I was saying, that a person had to show what they felt, not just say it.

I'm sure if my high school PE teacher were reading this she'd attest to the fact that my prowess with throwing objects even near an intended goal are less than stellar. My softball teammates could back her up on this. And anyone who'd ever played Bozo Buckets with me.

Had I remembered that before I embarked on this lesson we'd be using a different example to extol my horrible-mother-ness. As it is, we're talking about how that fork hit Sara in the wrist.

At first, I just looked blankly at her not able to piece together the vision I had of what would happen with what actually happened. What are the odds, for Pete's sake? I actually punctured her skin! She started to tremble - and so did I - when we saw that she was actually hurt. My motherly instincts (the good ones, not the ones that throw forks at you) kicked in and I immediately tended to her wound, got her patched up and offered a million apologies. When Lucy got to the table late we had the remnants of the pride vs confidence argument still lingering in the air, along with a mess of dishes and first-aid items, and one less fork than people. "Wha'd I miss?" she stared.

After more amends that included a trip to the book store, three books, ice cream, an eclair and 30 extra before-bed minutes, I sent my Sara off to sleep. She accepted all my apologies with good grace and kisses and not a little extra pandering (hence the eclair).

Sara is a joy and I love her so deeply my very being is filled with her in every moment of every day in a way that is not just familiar because I know her now, but because I knew her before she was born. She is me. If I hurt her, even unwittingly, it breaks me into a million pieces. I didn't sleep well.

This morning, she crept into my bed and worried aloud that her finger hurt, that her wrist ached when she moved it a certain way. She was up early for band practice and immediately I scrolled through all the horrible possibilities. Music and art are her life. She was born with talent I can't even wrap my mind around. What had I done? How to explain this at the gates? "Well, you see, Peter, I was trying to teach Sam a lesson about controlling his temper..." Good gravy!

I took another look at her wrist, determined it just needed a little time to heal, and sent her off to school with a carefully worded note to the teachers and some extra hugs and kisses. I think she'll be fine. As she was leaving, she called over her shoulder, "Don't worry Mami!" She was consoling me.

I'm seriously the worst mom. Ever.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Into the Fray I Go

Stop making it an 'either or' morality issue. It is neither this nor that. Otherwise, none of us would eat until all of us could eat. None of us would drink until we all had water. No babies would die of diseases for which there are known cures. No grandmothers would lie in waste unattended. New Orleans would be rebuilt. We'd still be working on Indonesia and Haiti. We'd be just as disgusted by the deaths of thousands upon thousands of black people in Africa as we are brown people in the Middle East - which is to say, we're not much about either. Pomposity and arrogance have no place here, nor do politics, so show them all out of the room. The suggestion that the colonists fought our revolution alone against the mighty British to win our own independence is at once absurd and comical. We didn't. Read a damn book. The President is wrong now to suggest intervention? I thought the President was wrong before when he suggested we wait. He was wrong to wait and wrong to wait so long? But he would have been wrong to intervene in the first place? Make up your mind - and for crissakes do us all a favor and don't speak it until you have something of value to contribute. Try thinking first. I'm bemused to see congress spending so much time doing a little of that now - with what I believe to be limited capacity. Seems to me we might be in a better position to help the people of Syria, who clearly need it, had we not wasted so much foolish intervention in places where we were neither wanted nor needed, at least not to this degree. Had our congressional representatives been doing their jobs all along, we might have a stronger case for or against without the litany of 'we can't afford it' arguments which accompany this simple question: should we or shouldn't we?

So I'll tell you this: certainly, we can. We can and I know we can because I spent the last five years doing what 'couldn't be done' pretty damn well. I paid my bills, fed my children, kept us clothed, celebrated occasions, read books, painted my nails, maintained a tidy home and loved my family, and I did it all with one third of the income to which I'd grown accustomed. "Can't afford" is a bullshit argument.

I'll also tell you this: if someone is pouring acid on your neighbor's child and you are walking down the street and see it and you don't do something you're an asshole and a heathen. If someone is doing the same to your neighbor's neighbor, the same holds true. If President Obama were gassing the people of Little Rock and the people of Toronto were watching it on TV clucking to themselves and did nothing - same. Don't kid yourself into thinking otherwise.

Now - are we the only ones on the line? Can anyone else jump in to help that child or save that woman? We are not and, yes, someone else could. But if they don't and we're still standing here letting it play out in HD we bear the burden.

So the real question is: what are you willing to trade for the safety of the Syrian people? Will you give up your son or daughter? That'd be a big one. How about your property values? Your retirement? Your ability to use tin foil or fill up your car with gas? Are you willing to give up anything to help them out?

How about skipping Syria and getting real about all the African nations in crisis? What? No oil money in the desert? So it's o.k. for their babies to die generation after generation, right? How about all the kids who die right here in my hometown because we're so obsessed with Ted Nugent-esque staunch about our right to be belligerent with military-grade weapons against elk?

Seriously. I'm not saying we should or shouldn't go. I'm saying we should have the real conversation. And then we should go.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Goodbye to a Lady I Never Knew

My friend's mom has passed away. I guess I'm at that age, as it's happening more and more, of late. I don't have a photo with this post because I didn't really know my friend's mom. I met her only once and when I did she had a puff of white hair,  perfectly coiffed to companion a crinkly, grandmotherly face. A secret, pale pink smile flashed and then retreated as we spoke and I couldn't help but notice how this woman who'd held so many burdens carried herself with such a delicate step. Her years should have weighed her down, as I feel mine do me, and yet she floated.

She wore the comfortable cottons of a person who valued practicality and she had the working hands of a woman who'd raised nearly a dozen children over the course of a lifetime. She was tired when I met her and on her way, although it took these many years since our meeting for her to find her rest.

I've known two of her daughters, eight of her grandchildren, two of her sons-in-law, and heard endless stories about the dozens who complete this woman's legacy. Every year her children, now spread across the country and abroad, gather for a "cousin's camp" at one family member's home on the West Coast, a tradition so fine my children have longed to be a cousin so they could join in the fun.

The ties that bind stretch and fray among hers, as they do in all families, but I marvel at the strength of values she must have imparted which keeps these disparate beings so closely connected. They love one another, still and truly.

Her children are professionals, artists, laborers and writers. They have marriages and children and homes and books and flowers in their gardens. She created a living tapestry of all the things she valued and some things she never tried. Her children and grandchildren have played music and laughed and hugged and slept deeply from a good tire.

No one but a relative few will even know she is gone, really, and the world kept going on the day she died. But for some quiet moments when I learned the news, I noticed her. I sat and thanked her spirit for the friendship her daughters have gifted me, for the memories I get to keep filled with her grandchildren, for the example she extended to me though she never knew.

Her children were relieved to know she passed in peace, accepting and knowing. I was glad, too, and said goodbye to a lady I never knew.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Am I Getting Old?

As you age do you become more absolute or more flexible? More judgmental or more accepting? I feel like I'm surrounded by very bold behavior, attitudes, politics and the more surrounded I get by noise, the duller the sound, to the point where I can't hear anything except the thoughts in my own head, and they make no sense.

'TIF money for education? Why, hell yes! ((Psst... What is a TIF?))'

'Shoes? Yes, you need schools for shoes. No, wait, that's not right.'

It's all white noise. I may think any one thing is completely insane and develop a mental manifesto on all things crazy about it, but by the time I open my mouth to express myself, ten new nutty things happen. It's gotten so that even though I have strong opinions generally, the force of multiple convictions tested all at once leaves me exhausted before I do anything about them.

Also, now that I've lived some bit of this life I realize I've gotten awfully heated over the years over some pretty petty stuff. My life is still a mess, still wonderful, still hard and tiring, still blessed and beautiful. So was it necessary to get so heated? Or could I have remained calm and been more measured and still moved forward.

Am I absolutely right? Or is someone else also right? Could we both have a point?

The vigor and attention span of the forces outside of me also seem to be in direct opposition to one another, and to what's really important. Martin Luther King-like indignity is applied to the outcome of The Bachelor, while we offer the conviction of a sun-soaked ice cube to real issues of pain, suffering and injustice. I've begun to realize it's foolish to get all worked up over nonsense only to be the last man standing with a mic and a poster when everyone's moved on to something else.

It's my experience with retrospective assessment that gives me pause - or maybe it's the fact that I'm pausing to gain retrospective vision. I think I'm getting old.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I Could Never Leave Home

I was born here, in a room facing the lake, a fall bluster pushing hard against pale blue tiles that decorate the exterior of an implausible building. She is stark amid parks and landmarks, except when she blends into the sky languishing behind her. A playable card. So me.

I have the same uncommon heritage that is common among all Chicagoans. My parents were children of immigrants, immigrants themselves, factory workers who found rodent tails in their peanut butter and who smelled fresh of morning soap at an un-Godly hour because work did not wait for their tire to be relieved.

I've worn uniforms and smelled the dank and rank of the subway, felt its familiar warm breeze on me, closed my eyes on the city and listened. Chicago dreams waft through a window worn from too many tugs on that rope, always ripe and wistful. I remember hearing the game pouring out of every creak and crevice I passed, knowing summer.

I fell in love with Chicago boys who delivered newspapers and wore thin jackets in the winter and had broad hands, red from cold. I nurtured strong and fair friendships with girls who wore Chicago-sized burdens and still kissed softly and smiled sweetly. They could carry you if you were weak, but we never were.

Is it the smell of the city, or the stone and strength? I can't say. She vibrates. She embraces, envelops, wraps you heartily. You know she is injured but she walks stoutly, like her bungalows and bricks, braced for whatever may come. I do love that about her.

I learned to read here, listened to words, felt their force. My mother was fired by the man who would be mayor and I strained to hate him but he loved my city, loves it, so I can't. We are kindred.

What could your story be here that would not include steel and rigor, fight and sense, a pot of steaming soup on a bitter day while the sun stubbornly presses on? She doesn't know she shouldn't be here.

I have friends who have moved here from Michigan. They are among us, welcomed and claimed, but not us.

We know why Marshall Fields was important, why we pull to the side when a police car whines by, why we bow our heads in church even if we haven't been in years. We've been brushed by an unshaven cheek, tucked into a wool scarf so tightly we could barely breath, we can sing.

We know the burn of shame, still know there is dignity in feeling it rather than pretending it shouldn't matter. We cry when our children fall, but not so you can see the tears. Outside we are rare.

I love that she can show porcelain and fine design to the lowest among us and insist it is for all of us. Don't be afraid to touch here. Linger. You belong.

How could I tell you about my city? I've wondered about other places, wanting to stretch beyond my place because that's what living is, isn't it? But every time I think too long on this idea I'm brought to a cringe.

Never. I could never leave home. I love it too much.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

They Were Right: Lessons on Clinton, Scandal and News

They were right. All the nutjob conservatives (not to be confused with rational conservatives) were right about the effects of Clinton's scandal during the Lewinsky mess. They opined, chimed and whined at the time about how the acceptance of the scandal would taint our future and they were right. We have come to nearly expect the scandals, personal and professional, of our elected officials and public figures to such a degree that it has become boring to hear about them or read about them in the 'news'.

Like a game of tic-tac-toe, we know the outcome all too well as soon as an X is placed in a box. The scandal will blow, the affected individual will claim illness or loss of self during an episode in life that he/she must work through, the news will boast and blare about it for a few days, and then quiet. Some time thereafter, the same individual will step forward, claim redemption and seek out public glory again. And we, the unwitting (by choice) suppliers of this banal buffet will belly up and eat. How pathetic.

I'll say, not for the first time, that men and women having sex, talking about sex, engaging in sex outside of solemnized relationships, is not 'new' and so it is not 'news'. Can we please move on?

JFK was a swell fellow in many respects, but I'm certain most folks will acknowledge he was a scoundrel in his marriage. His brother was not much better. The much revered, and rightly so, MLK was also known to be a bit of a player, to put it nicely. Eleanor Roosevelt had some business outside the confines of her role as First Lady that many today would point to as early evidence that same-sex relationships have been around our public arenas for some time - or at least those are the whispers. These remained private details of their lives, not because the media was not aware, but because they exercised judgement in terms of the newsworthiness of this information as opposed to these figures' policies and public personas.

So where JFK and MLK and Eleanor have the benefit of being judged mostly on their work, modern-day public officials are often regarded as composites of their personal and professional lives, not just by people who know them intimately, but by any soul with eyes and ears in a checkout stand. Why? Why? If you saw me in my pajamas having just woken from a sound sleep would you suggest I was not qualified to do my work? I don't look half as shiny in flannel as I do in linen. If someone saw you pitch a fit with your spouse, saying God-only-knows what in the heat of a moment, would they trust you to handle your job? How about in your intimate life? Would your penchant for kisses behind the ear be newsworthy to your clients? I should hope not.

And so I'm tired of it. I don't care what Mr. Weiner does with his parts. I leave that to him and, to the extent she's interested, his wife. If he is a moral mess in his personal life, I'm sorry for him. If I never get to hear another detail of his personal business, I'll be quite satisfied.

Can he be an effective mayor of New York? That's the question before voters - and only New York voters. Was Clinton an effective President? The polls answered that question.

So why must we keep suffering this nonsense? News media must return to its earlier stance on the issue of reporting personal peccadillos. It's not news.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Not My Plan

It's hard to stay focused on the grand theme of things. I often have to remind myself, sometimes quietly, sometimes more loudly, 'Not my plan, His plan'. It's hard.

I've been to two funerals in the past week, one for the mother of a friend from my childhood, the other for a lost friend of my own. Both were bittersweet for their obvious and not-so reasons.

My friend's mother was a single mom, like my own, he an only child, like me. As I saw him, again and again, resting his brow in the hand his mother made, I could feel trying to grasp and then wipe away his loneliness. It's something only an only child can understand. He has a lovely wife, beautiful children, loyal friends. But he is alone. His mother is gone and she was all that was left of him before he was a dad or a husband or a friend. He is alone and gone are the chances to reconcile what was awkward or failing in their love so they could find peace and linger only in its comfort, no longer in pain.

There stood the stallions of our childhood - then boys, now men, who had towered through the halls of our elementary school, brave and unknowing - carrying one of our mothers to her final rest. They stood there with him, for him, still strong but now wiser for the years that have taken them through their own troubles. There was his wife, graceful, loving, strong. She was there for him, with him, too. And his beautiful children, his daughter a whisper of his mom but new in her own aura, leaned against him not for strength but to offer comfort.

I wished with all my might I could reassure him that he was anything but alone, knowing full well that in my own heart, my ache for him was one that I will feel for myself some day. And it was hard to step away from the moment and see that in the grand scheme of things, according to His plan, all was right.

The friend lost to me - and I to her - spent her days in the time we were apart busy with her own living. And then, not because any of us planned it, she spent too many days busy with pain and illness. We had broken off over disappointment - hers that I could not spend more time together tending to our friendship - mine that she could not understand my constant state of tire and overwhelm. I was too busy, or so I thought.

I sat against the hard back of a church pew for the second time in a week. All around me friends and family who had kept her close, smiled softly at me in recognition, hugging me at service's end, not knowing, or perhaps, worse, they did. That I - for my stubborn refusal to let go of my own plan - failed to be a friend when most needed.

During the service her sister offered this story about their mother's prayers as her daughter neared her final days: having lost her oldest daughter to illness several years ago their mother called out to that daughter in prayer, not for relief from pain or cure from illness for her youngest. She called her to reach out her hands to her sister and bring her safely into the next life. And I thought that's something I might do, as a mother. 'Come get your baby sister,' I might call out to my oldest. And the very fleeting presence of that thought in my head made me gasp with the pain and horror of it and I hurried to God, pleading Him to take that thought away from me, to never let me feel that pain. Again, I found myself selfish, and then regretful for my own greed.

I hope and pray that I have the days before me to see my children grow, to find them happy and fulfilled, to rest after my work, to hold my mother in full and love without judgement or delay. I pray for mercy. Still, I know.

Not my plan. His plan.

It's hard.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Stop Everything and Clap

Yesterday my neighborhood elementary school had their 8th grade graduation. There's a new thing now in primary, middle, and even secondary education circles where they call the event a 'promotion' ceremony instead of a graduation. The thinking behind this is that some folks don't want children to think that 8th grade is an end-game accomplishment. So they try to downplay the significance of things like kindergarten 'graduation' or 8th grade 'graduation' by reducing the amount of pomp and circumstance around it. Our school has its share of edu-speak parents, administrators and teachers on this bandwagon. I'm decidedly not on that wagon.

So, as I do every year, I cried tears of joy as I watched the children march down the halls in their caps and gowns, uncomfortably trodding along in too-tight shoes and make-up they don't know how to apply yet, fresh hair-cuts and pressed shirts, all grins and pent-up emotions. I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with some other PTA moms, the building engineer, the cafeteria supervisor. I stood across from giggly, wriggly 1st graders, awed into jaw-slack as they watched their, now-former, classmates march away into the unknown nethers of life after Peterson. The little ones, like we did, clapped and cheered, along with their teachers and every single other person in the building - all of us lining the halls to bid the Class of 2013 adieu, farewell, and good luck.

That's because at Peterson it is a (fine, spectacular, heart-warming, inspiring, bittersweet) tradition to have everyone stand in celebration as the 8th grade graduates proceed to their 'promotion' ceremony. There's an announcement over the loudspeaker a few minutes before they leave. "It's time..." you can hear the school clerk grinning into the overhead, "teachers, please line up your students." And all throughout the building, some 800+ children and adults stop everything they are doing, head into the hallways, stand together and clap. We clap loudly, enthusiastically and with emotion. And it is awesome.

I hope that tradition lasts. I hope all the graduates at Peterson get to feel that joy, that pride and thrill that comes from having their community stop to notice them, appreciate them and cheer for them.  I think we ought to do more of that, not just there but in other places. Everyone should get that some time in their life, and everyone should get the joy that comes from giving that pleasure to someone else. Every once in a while, we all ought to stop everything and clap.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

It's Who You Know, When You Play

"I love playing baseball with Theo and Jim," my son smiled at me.

"Me too," I smiled back.

As a point of clarification, I don't actually play - and neither does Jim, really. Jim coaches his son's team, one that my son had been on since he started Little League. This year, my son is on another team so now the boys occasionally play opposite one another. No matter. We all hug when we arrive, same when we leave, and our family can't help but root for Jim's son, Theo, when he's up to bat or on the mound. (This makes for some funny looks from the parents on our side of the field, especially when our Sam is batting against Theo, but we're o.k. with that.)

After the last game we had together I asked Sam what he and Theo were talking about during the game. Sam plays third and Theo had reached on a steal so they had a few moments to chat. I'd admonished Sam for what I suspected was some friendly trash-talking but he corrected me and said that both he and Theo's dad, Jim, were joking around, teasing Theo for some thing or another.

Jim's actually good for a few editorial comments during a game and most of them make me smile ear-to-ear. In this last game, one of our players made a gravity-defying play at 1st after which Jim remarked loudly to his team, "OK, you saw that, so when you get up there don't hit to R." I'm sure the kids wondered whether he was being serious or silly. He was being both.

That's because Jim totally gets it. He totally, completely, entirely gets baseball. He gets it and he loves it. You can feel that love coming right off of him and spreading out onto the field and running over the bases with the kind of glee only sticky-fingered toddlers understand. When Jim plays catcher to his son's pitches during warm-ups you can tell his son is feeling his dad's love for him. It's in the touch of leather against leather and the smell of dust and the pale of waning sunshine. If he doesn't get it then he must during the game. I think Jim levitates sometimes when Theo makes a great play or throws a screamer past an unsuspecting batter. The joy they're sharing with one another on the field tingles in the air around them and you can't help but smile at it and at them. And he's not selfish about it. Jim is just as giddy to see another player have his day, and he's terrible at hiding his thrill. That's what makes it so fun, after all.

By the same token, when Theo - or any player - needs a bit of encouragement or a mild correction, Jim is there with a quiet word or a plain-spoken suggestion. He's not soft, by any means, but you could never say he was hard either. He's just what you would need your dad or your coach to be when you needed him to be just that thing. And Theo's growing into his young man-hood with this dad by his side, stretching and reaching - sometimes away, I'm sure - but showing that good humor, a spirit of fair play and love of the game run deep in this family.

They do in mine, too. And that's why we love playing baseball with Jim and Theo.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Homeless People Don't Have Icy Hot

The other day my daughter was experiencing some growing pains in her knees so I scrounged around in a drawer and found a tube of Icy Hot and gave her a little massage. We both remarked at the immediacy of the mint in the air. (I remarked a little more colorfully as I forgot I still had the ointment on my hands and rubbed my eyes.)

My daughter went to bed, still feeling sore but comforted by the small attention given, and I went back to my laundry folding. The news played numbly on the TV in front of me and I paid little attention until a story about homelessness came on and caught my watering eye.

It struck me that one of the loneliest things in the world must be to be alone, and sore, and have no one there to comfort you or give you a little attention. There's no Icy Hot in a drawer somewhere to provide even a little relief when you are homeless. That's got to feel so overwhelmingly sad, especially as people march along importantly every day, knowing you are there, and doing nothing.

I lingered only a few moments in that melancholy and then I had to cast the thought aside so I could stay focused on what keeps me busy. I'm one of those callous marchers. Then again, this morning, as images of Oklahoma seeped into my consciousness through the jabber of morning radio and the shock of front-pages I had to think about my absurd level of wealth and how I fail to appreciate it and share it.

One of the women in the photos I saw had a french pedicure - white tipped toenails - on the feet of a (newly) homeless person. And I thought how little it must matter to have pedicured feet when you have nowhere to rest your weariness.

I'm pretty sure I have two tubes of Icy Hot in my house - one of which I care so little about I can't remember what drawer or basket or shelf it's in amongst the many I have. What silliness it is to have such luxury, I think. I think that sometimes and then, too often, I forget.

I'm praying today for the people who have lost their homes - not just during a storm last night - but ever - and for whatever reason. I'm praying they find comfort and relief somewhere. And I'm praying I remember - if nothing else - to be thankful for my riches.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Task of the Mother

The joy of motherhood is without question, the perils well-known, and the humor unending fodder. But what of her duties, her tasks? A mother finds herself with many tasks every day - long lists of tasks that stack and stress and wreak havoc on a calendar. But really, she has only one task: to come back.

A mother must come back to her child after his pout and his tantrum, after she has scolded him and doled out consequence.

A mother must come back to her child after the child's timid - sometimes bolder - venture across the line of permission.

A mother must come back to the table after the child has assured her he has wiped it clean, to remove the errant crumb.

She must walk away from the child who threatens with pudgy fingers not to obey, and come back to the child whose teen rant is a mask for pain.

A mother must turn, many times, from words delivered to her in distaste, dishonor and disrespect and come back with understanding, warmth and acceptance.

A mother must weather the friendships of some, the betrayal of others, the injury of many who will harm her child, and so her, to her core. She must come back strong, willing and open.

Her back will grow weary. Her hands ache with their tire. Her hair grays with the days spent worrying, praying. Her peace is only in her child's comfort, no matter how she strives to be her own self. The mother is only to herself what she sees reflected in her child.

And so she comes back. That is her task. It is a mighty one indeed.

With thanks to my mom for always coming back with love, and appreciation for all the moms in my life and my children's lives, who share some of these gifts with me and my family... Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Let's Get Rid of the Music

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting my children's band practice as they rehearsed with a another school's band for an upcoming joint performance. I stood there with my back to the wall and watched the music fill the room. Like people leaving a concert, groups of three and five notes tiptoed forward, and then more, filling, spreading, seeping through every exit until a throng of musical bodies in every color and pattern forced a broad tide into the open and then disbursed, leaving behind a tingle, a touch, that would not dissipate.

Everyone felt it.

I came home and, later, thought a bit about recent goings, conversations with friends, with my children. It's been difficult for the past few weeks, watching some stumbles and some falls, scraping our knees on the parenting pavement. I suppose they're not called growing 'pains' for nothing.

As I reflected I thought about the struggles of my own youth, about wanting power, not knowing how to channel power, feeling power that scared me, finding the immensity of higher power.

There is certainly power in risk. There is thrill and blur in it, heart race and dry throat. But what comes after the moment of risk is the test of its value.

Risk a drink. What do you get in return? Risk a note. What comes? Multiply the risk - what then?

In my life I was fortunate that my risks were met with grace and I was endowed with chance after chance to right myself. Mostly, I think I have. I believe my education saved me more than once when the good Lord decided to let me figure it out on my own.

When people talk about education - especially public education - and they think about ways to cut budgets, many (myself, sadly, included) will suggest that if children must lose out on something, they cannot risk losing out on math or reading. If something must go, let it be art or language. 'Let's get rid of the music,' we might suggest.

Truly, nothing could be more dangerous. In that room the other day, where all those children sat expressing, reflecting, managing the power of music, invaluable lessons were learned about how you can have and use power, about how others can have and use it to, about how cooperation creates something beautiful and transformative. Peace was received and extended in that room.

What more important lessons could we teach?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

I Have Had Dreams

I have had dreams. As everyone does - or those with hope, at least. I've had grand, wild dreams of unattainable opulence and shameful disregard for the prudent. The dreams of my younger self were fantastic and as I grew, exponentially so. I have had dreams so far away from my living days I could giggle to myself that I could even imagine such purple and gold.

And then I had you. And I realized, I never even knew how to dream.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I'm Fat and Ugly and Dove Knows It

The Dove “Real Beauty” campaign is something different in advertising. An April 18th article by Erin Keane in Salon.com asserts otherwise. 

In the article, Ms. Keane offers this observation of a Dove “Real Beauty” ad: “since the target demographic for this ad is clearly women over 35 with access to library cards (which is to say, women who have had some time to figure this reality out), it is baffling that Dove can continue to garner raves...”

Is Ms. Keane really suggesting that library-attending women over 35 don’t have what she calls ‘body image baggage’? I find that comical. In fact, that statement should be placed in a box next to a rational statement and used as one of those ‘list what’s wrong with Box B’ puzzles.

Women over 35 have as many, if not more, body image issues as younger women. We’ve suffered longer! And most women over 35 aren’t going to the library to read up on feminist body image protocol. They’re going to entertain the kid for an hour so they can lean against a bookshelf and sleep.

So why is speaking a truth now considered pandering? The truth, as they say, shall set you free. All of those women standing longingly in the cosmetics aisles at Bloomies are not there because they love their chins.

Our critic friend, Erin, goes on to scold, “The only interesting thing Dove has done since it began this campaign... is overtly shift the emphasis from sexual attraction to peer approval. The real take-away is still that women should care whether a stranger thinks she is beautiful.”

Gasp! Women want to be both sexually attractive and beautiful? Shocking! Tell me why that’s bad, again?

“That’s not radical,” the article continues, “It’s the thesis of every beauty product ad campaign ever.”

Yes. Dove sells soaps, lotions and beauty products so its ads sell - you guessed - soaps, lotions and beauty products. Also, the ship sinks at the end of Titanic.

But there’s more. These Dove people are pretty darn evil, as Ms. Keane establishes, “It’s never OK for a woman to admit that she knows she’s kind of average-looking and she’s OK with that.” 

Yes! So many places we, as a society, extol the virtues of mediocrity: work, school, sports, the bedroom. Embrace the average! It’s patriotic!

“In the radical world of Dove, nothing matters more than being perceived as beautiful — not being a kind and generous friend, not being a smart and talented professional, not even being decent to kids,” Ms. Keane warns.

Right. Wanting to feel pretty and have soft skin means you kick bunnies. That’s what those Dove ads mean. (This gal is good.)

If the Dove ads speak to women who’ve had a hard time finding clothes that fit in the women’s department, or women who’ve grown their bangs so they can hide what they perceive to be a too-long forehead, or women who’ve used their palms to pull back their cheeks to emulate a younger self’s skin -- if Dove wants to acknowledge those women exist and target their product needs I not only have no problem with it, I’m glad for it.

In the end, the gist of Ms. Keane’s critique about the Dove ads is that they don’t really change the conversation around women’s sense of self. We’re still encouraged to care about how we look, but from a different point of view, in these advertisements.

I think it’s about time a health and beauty company asked us to do just that.  If Ms. Keane doesn’t want to buy health and beauty products and would prefer a deeper examination of women’s self-identity issues may I suggest she stop lingering over online advertisements and check out the library?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Do You Deserve?

Try it. Try saying "I believe the children are our future" in any conversation with anyone familiar with Western pop culture and a good number of them will finish that lyric with fine diva flair.

Those next few words, 'teach them well', popped into my head as I was digesting events over the past week or so, and I couldn't shake them.

First, I had taken one too many blows at work, too close together, and I could not distance my rational self from my maybe-I-should-throw-it-all-to-hell-and-move-to-a-cave self. Also, I was angry. I was so angry I couldn't put it on mute long enough to keep it from bleeding over into my conversations around the kids. Not, what I want to teach them about handling disappointment.

Then the explosions at the Boston Marathon happened. The news was shocking, the images disturbing and the reality a seeping memory come back to life, starved for attention no matter how well fed. Many of the same emotions I'd felt over my petty little business loss were flashing back at me on the news, but this time with justification. I talked to the kids about it, but nothing satisfies the 'why?' of a child in these situations. 'They didn't deserve to die, right?' the kids wondered. Of course they didn't. So how do you explain? What do you teach a child about a horror scene like that?

You don't always get what you deserve.

Sometimes you work very hard, you try your best. And then you lose and it feels terrible. You don't deserve that. Sometimes you go on vacation to share an experience with your friends. And then you die because some sick person planted an explosive near where you were standing. Certainly, that's not what you deserved. Maybe you're born into poverty or hunger or illness. You do not deserve that pain.

If I teach my children well, they will accept that despite their best efforts they may not get what they deserve. And that's no reason not to try their best every time; many times they will succeed. That's no reason not to go cheer for a friend in a race; many more times than not, there will be triumph. There is either sadness or glory in defeat, a stall or a march forward.

I'm going to teach my children to choose glory and hope. Because the fact is we are the now and the children are the future and what we teach them, not just in words but in deeds, will be the next reality. If we don't choose wise words and good deeds we may get precisely what we deserve.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Good Night, Sweet Saffey

Good night, sweet Saffey...

spelled S A F E, if I'm being correct. We could never have known how meant for us you were on that day.

"That one? Are you sure?" we called from across the room.

"Yes, yes!" our Sara jumped up and down.

How many she'd declined before she saw your face and knew, knew certain as certain could be.

She was so right. No greater gift has ever been shared among us.

Good night, sweet Saffey...

With thanks for giving us so much and asking so little. Thank you for keeping my Sara warm and my Sam busy and my Lucy feeling important and needed. Thank you for giving Daddy purpose at 5 AM and reminding me I was never alone, especially during my most sleepless nights.

Thank you for all the sticky petting you suffered, not just from us, but all the family and a host of neighbor's children who now will walk past our doorstep wistfully wishing you were there. Thank you for chasing away the field mice and for leaving some at our back door - I couldn't have known what precious gifts they were, at the time. Thanks for being the most quiet but most constantly good and giving member of our family. You were, indeed, and always will be a magical spirit in our lives.

I'm so glad you passed to the next life on a bright and happy day, outside where you most loved to be when not snuggled with someone inside.  I hope you're resting well and lolling about in a rich field of green, green grass, warming in the sun, knowing that we are missing you so desperately but wanting nothing but joy for you in your next life. I hope we'll have the chance to hold you again some day.

Until then, good night, sweet Saffey...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Be Happy

I'm sure many have heard me recount one of my favorite parenting stories about my oldest daughter's reply to an interviewer's question about what she wants to be when she grows up. "Happy," she replied, much to the interviewer's dismay and my own delight.

I've thought on that moment often, since, just as I dreamed of it prior. Lucky gal, am I, that her children have taken to heart the most important of my lessons. One may wonder why I consider this the most important in a sandbox filled with granular lessons: do not pee pee in your pants is a pretty important one, too, I suppose.

The answer paves its own pathway. How does one become happy?

Are you most happy in a selfish moment, whether practicing or partaking in another's? Is greed what brings you comfort? Are you joyful in your exclusion of another's care? Does deceit or neglect quiet your restlessness? When you turn from need in a child's eyes, or fail to offer water to a wilting spirit, are you happy then?

I've long ago surrendered to the idea that no matter how many desires I may have - there are plenty - I have so richly had all my needs filled - and by so many I cannot thank - I have no joy but to make sure I tend to others' needs with as much of my time and devotion as I can. So I go to and linger in the places where I can be most useful, where I believe my power is best used. So that every person can vote. So that a child can learn. So that a community can grow. And I'm not there to be seen. I am there to be felt.

For me, that is the path to happy and I go well-accompanied by my faith, which both teaches me to be strong and carries me when I falter. I neither deny another his path nor obstruct it with my own beliefs that he should do otherwise. Rather, I do my best to enjoy his journey from the vista provided from my own.

Should my children grow to follow their own paths to happy, shedding selfishness for sharing, providing warmth to the shivering, embracing the left-behind, I believe they will be walking in the steps of He who went before, as I hope I am. Then again, really then, I will be happy, too.

Happy Easter.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Another Conversation with Sam, The Best Brother in the World

Me: Sam, so Victoria's Secret...

Sam: Yesss (wide grin)

Me: ... is coming out with a line of undergarments

Sam: I know, I know... for little girls. I saw it on the news.

Me: Yes. For Middle School-age girls.

Sam: I know.

Me: So is it o.k. for your sister to wear a pair of thong underwear that says "Feel Lucky?" on the backside?

Sam: Absolutely not.

Me: You think it's o.k. for Victoria's Secret to be marketing to girls her age?

Sam: No. It's stupid.

Me: Why?

Sam: Because they're not ready for that.

Me: Nature says they are ready. Your bodies can make babies now.

Sam: Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

Me: So, is it o.k. for them to market to the sexualization of your sisters? To have boys your age thinking about what their underwear says?

Sam: I already answered that question. ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Me: OK Sam, let's go blog about that.

Sam: Absolutely not.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

That's It! We're Leaving!

Did you ever misbehave enough where your mother just brought everything to a screeching halt, grabbed her purse, and you by the scruff of the neck, and marched out of a place with those words?

"That's it! We're leaving!"

The long walk to the car often included some of these fine admonitions:

"I cannot believe you!"

"That's the last time you'll ever see the inside of a [grocery store, laundromat, cousin's house]!"

"I've had about enough of you, missy/mister."

and the ever-fabulous

"You just wait'll I get you home."

"You have no one to blame but yourself."

This last one was usually in a seethe so toxic you were already getting sick from the smoke.

Of course, one week later you were in the same darn laundromat faced with the same decision about whether or not to use the carts as vehicular tools of destruction. Sadly, too many of us make the wrong choices here.

The same is true in the school-closure-planning-teacher-contract-botching-standardized-test-taking mess we allow to pass for school administration in Chicago. And it's why so many people grab their collective purses and their children and head for the door when they're confronted with having to place their children into this system.

Of course, those are the people with purses and the options to move. Many do not have either. Many, many, many do not.

I'd say just as many of us don't care. We do not give a hoot what's happening in some poor neighborhood on the other side of town. We're too busy desperately trying to keep our own situations from becoming disasters. That's the truth.

The additional truth of racism is a truth that exists everywhere, so I'm not going to parse it out here for purposes of this conversation, but please do not fool yourself into thinking that if all the kids on the Southwest side of Chicago were caucasian and of European descent they'd be in this situation. They would not.

That's fine. We can only do what we can do. But then please don't get all worked up when one issue is highlighted in the news and you have to pay attention in order to chat intelligently with co-workers at lunch. The fact is schools in Chicago have been failing for a long, long time. Teachers and their contracts have been a mess. Buildings have been half-empty in some cases and kids have been spilling out of closets in others. You know darn well when you avoid certain parts of the city it's because you're afraid to go there. But you also know children live there and have to go to school there. So don't act surprised when people freak out over having to walk their children four blocks in another direction, across myriad traps and urban land mines, just to get their children to school. Please be genuine and act like you know and don't care. That's the truth.

And policy makers? Please don't act like you care and have always cared. I'm fascinated by folks who have been in the same jobs for 20+ years publicly declaring their outrage over problems that have persisted for over 20 years. Um. You don't see a connection there? What problem could I have had with my budget or my leaking roof or my broken appliances that I would not have had to address? What client could I have failed to serve for over 20 years and still think I'm going to get paid? This disconnect between what a policy maker's job is and what the results of his/her labors are is something we ought to chart and publish every day until people get it. At least, however, have the decency to stop degrading our relationship with this dishonesty. (Other dishonesties, fine, but this one, please. Just stop) You don't care, you act like you don't care, your speeches that you care are impotent, and I keep electing you because I don't care. That's the truth.

Friends in the problem-solving and advocacy business? Thank you. Yours is the one voice in tune in this chorus. Please forgive me if I'm not always at your side, holding a banner or rocking a voice. I hope I'm helping in other, still meaningful ways. Please also forgive me when I question your methods or your reason. Don't be mad if I disagree with your conclusions. Sometimes I'm afraid to say I don't agree with one point or another because I don't want to be kicked off the progressive train. But the reality is that some of our "oooh - we could do this!" ideas are pie-in-the-sky unachievable. I want to first do what we can do and then do what we dream we can do. That's not a condescension or an admission of weakness. That's a pathway, a stepping stone.

And before we take one more step, we need a comprehensive city plan. We need a plan that addresses public safety, transportation, education, commerce, building, environment and all the other bits and pieces that go into building (and sustaining) a healthy metropolis.

The way we do it now - one panic attack at a time - clearly is not working. Our transportation is a disaster, our infrastructure always under construction and yet still always a mess, our schools are suffering, our communities are fragile, at best, and commerce in Chicago? We have whole sections of the city that don't even know what a department store would look like.

So the haphazard way CPS has managed this school closing situation is no different than the haphazard way they handled the start of the school year and the teacher's contracts. It's in line with the chaos that is our city government, no different than the slop they serve as a budget in Illinois. It's the poor cousin to the disaster that is our federal legislative branch.

CPS is no better and no worse than any other of these bureaucracies.  And we're the ones to blame.

That's the truth.