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.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Conversation with My Son ~ A Recollection in Prose


Yes, Sam.

You do realize it's not a big deal.

It is. I'm so excited for you.

Mami. You realize it's not that important.

It is. You're being recognized for your hard work.

 But Mami, why are you making such a fuss?

I want to celebrate you.

But Mami, why are you ironing my clothes?

I want you to feel good. It's a special occasion.

Mami, why are you doing so much?


Yes, Mami?

Because I love you, Sam.


Sam! Why must you fuss? Why are you so interested in what I'm doing?


What Sam?

Because I love you, too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hey Lady, Lean In To Your Own Life

Time magazine suggests in its March 18th 2013 issue that I should not hate Sheryl Sandberg because she's successful. If Time had any sense at all it would stop using 'hate' as a provocation, since I think we've got quite enough of that in the world and it never seems to serve a good purpose. Also, with this admonition, Time seems to conjure up a false scenario that I believe is infused in the entire cover story - at the same time that it portends to encourage women to stand up for themselves and believe in themselves, the editors suggest on the cover that we're still sitting in catty sewing circles, whispering nasty nothings to one another about a neighbor with a new dress.

I don't hate Ms. Sandberg. Why would I? From all accounts, she seems awesome and having no evidence to support a counter claim, I'll take that at face value.

However, some of the things she's saying in her one-woman show to re-boot feminism (a task assigned to her by Time, not necessarily something she's suggesting) offend me. I'll start with this: "My argument is that getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power." This, in response to the idea that fewer women aspire to senior positions as opposed to their male counterparts and that women have an 'ambition gap'.

I won't say that isn't true for many women. I'm sure it is. But the overarching idea in this cover piece is that her version of success is the one that all of us should pursue. Or at least more of us.


I call BS. Especially since Sandberg, herself, says "Ironically, having written a book about women and leadership, having, like the top leadership role is not the most important thing to me. I could have done that on the way out of Google. I had those offers."

Uh. What?

Amidst all the finger-pointing in this article concerning who's to blame for women not pursuing and achieving more senior-level success, up to and including Sandberg's point directly at women themselves, did anyone else notice that the author of this idea that women are to blame for their own stagnation is, herself, choosing less than what she could get?

Well, guess what. I choose that every day, ladies, and I'm fine with it. Very. I think a lot of people would suggest that I could do something else with my time. I sure could. I might be a million other things. But what people fail to understand about 'equality' is that it's supposed to be about opportunity, about choices. Ms. Sandberg truly believes that professional, successful women are not pursuing in greater numbers positions of power because they have some internal deficit counter that tells them they can't do it, it's not for them, they shouldn't even try.

But what if we actually have reached a greater gender equilibrium and women are exercising their choices? Don't like that answer? What if it's true? What if the more sinister of the possibilities is the reality: women don't want more positions of power. Maybe they're pursuing power in places where you're not acknowledging them.

More women aren't heads of state? More women aren't CEOs? More women aren't at the highest levels of ever organization and every policy-making body? Maybe, like me, many women ~ the majority of women ~ choose something else. They aren't telling themselves they can't. They are telling themselves they could do whatever they want - and they do that.

I don't value 'power' as much as I value 'home'. I don't value application of EQ (emotional quotient) in the workplace as much as I value it at the dinner table. I don't want to have to deflect questions about my domestic help or my childcare choices because "it's not a question you would ask a man".  I'll answer you head-on: I clean my house the best I can and I try to teach my kids, including my son, to do the same. And I take care of my own children, with a little help once in a while from family and friends. My husband would answer the same way.

That is my wealth. That is my power. I am at the top of my game. Nobody's bigger than me in my arena and not one of the people I care about would challenge that.

I'm glad for Ms. Sandberg and all the other women who get to pursue their dreams of success and senior-level authority in the areas where they want to be noticed. Ms. Sandberg needs to open up her realm of possibilities to include the idea that I am a woman of power and stature in the areas where I choose to be successful. Acceptance of that - by women - would be a real step forward - for women.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Just So You Know

The sub-heading of my blog title is "If I knew, I'd tell you..." which means it's on me to impart a little knowledge, now that I know some more stuff since the last time I said something. (We're using the term 'know' loosely here.)

First, Rand Paul is an impressive guy, as is his dad Ross Perot and his cousin, Paul Ryan... kidding! Lots of RPs and PRs in that group - do the Repubs letter-coordinate? No matter. Rand is an impressive guy - like his real dad, consumate presidential candidate Ron Paul - because he does not wuss out on his convictions. I think some of his convictions are batty, but they're fully supported by his actions in most cases. I know if we had more of that sincere discourse in our public arena we'd be an entirely different country. For the better.

Next, I'm quite certain none of us escape the "I know someone who" reference to children with special needs or gay men/women or people without medical insurance or someone who lost a job. We also know someone who works for or attends or attended a public school. We're likely to have at least one family member or friend who's got trouble with addiction and we've all had some interaction in some capacity with someone who entered this country illegally. (Set aside that if you're not Native American you or your ancestors entered illegally too.) So we've got to stop acting like all the public policy discussions around these issues relate to someone else. They relate to us. I know that lack of self-interest in protecting every single American or intending American is a failure to be American.

Also, this past week my children have not been assigned homework, other than to rest well and keep a balanced diet, as they engage in two-weeks' worth of standardized testing. I'll lay off my rant on standardized testing long enough to say, "Wow! What a relief!" We've had such a great week. We've played games together, cooked, had long conversations, kept TV to a minimum, and read lots. It's been so great and I've loved every minute. I wish every week could be like this and so I've contemplated speaking up at school to ask if we can have more of this time, even when not testing. The problem is I'm not sure every child is coming home to a family that can address the extra time with activities that are intellectually stimulating and emotionally rewarding. I'm not even sure most kids will go home at all, unless they have assignments they must complete. So I can't see my way clear to make a fuss about this at school because I know if I'm successful in instigating a change, it may not be in the best interests of many children.

Last, I'm not ideologically aligned with Rand Paul on most things. I'm not gay and I am legally married and I'm thankful not to include among my troubles a child with health problems or a worry that we'll be deported. My children come home to a family that is prepared for them and able to spend time keeping them safe and engaged. But that does not mean I don't recognize when someone different from me does something admirable, or when someone unlike me needs my support or care. I do recognize it and I try to lend my (some would say overbearing) voice to their concerns because I believe that is what makes me a worthwhile person. I hope others do the same for me, though I may never know it. I don't require reward or thanks. I know there is good in doing good for good's sake. (A quick slip of the keyboard might make that 'for God's sake' and I'm not sure that wouldn't be more accurate.)

So, just so you know, it's o.k. to celebrate and support some things that don't matter to you personally, because personally, I think it all matters to some person.