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.