Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Make a Wish

You’ve long since been an adult in so many ways, my little Sean, this year marks only a number by someone else’s measure.

You’ve long since been patient and thoughtful, wise about the things that matter.

You are decent and sincere today, as you have been.

Years have gone and never taken your innocence from you, or sullied your joy.

That doesn't mean there isn't work to do.

There are times when you are not in synch with the music of expectation. The honest man will tell you that is part of the becoming, too; where would the drummer find his own beat?

As part of this you are mired in the years of real discovery, of test, and knowing what is true, not for others, but for you.  It can feel like a clouded time, but trust. The fog will part. There are no wishes that make you a man. The work of your life will do that.

In fact, I expect despite all your other accomplishments, in rising to the occasion of adulthood you will really shine. You are as sunny a person as I have ever known.

It's ok to be deliberate, so your arrival has your intention behind it. You own and keep this place for yourself. I don’t doubt your success.

You are loved, Sean, deeply, and with that (and some chocolate) (and peanut-butter) (and now, tequila!), there’s no telling how far you can go.

So, close your eyes. Make a wish. Then work to make it real.

Happy Birthday, Sean. I love you, my little baby.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Rant You've Been Waiting For

I watched the Trevor Noah interview with Tomi Lahren. I probably shouldn't have done that before bed, because I woke up with this. Know that these are not necessarily my true feelings, or at least not the breadth of them, and the purpose in sharing this is so that you know that I, in a blue city, have lots of pent-up unhappiness and unreasonableness and failure to fact-check, just like others in red cities and states have. The difference is, I hope, I try to lend my more rational self, my more composed and - yes - my more faith-centered self to my civic responsibilities. Country first, friends.

Having said that, it's not exactly brain surgery to be a jerk. Allow me to demonstrate:

Here we are, celebrating the so-called win of Middle-America. The red, the red-hatted, the down-trodden and defeated white man and his hair-sprayed suburban wife have won the day. The ‘yippee’ unfortunately escapes me at the moment. And those who stand with me, agape, watching the heart of our country demonstrate its bigotry, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia by and through its de facto leader are being asked to shut their mouths and march lock step like the good subordinates they should be. Of course, if you’re blonde, or fake-blonde which is the new blonde, thin, tan, or fake-tan which is the new tan, and able to spew vitriol at 60MPH you can talk and have a show, but only if you’re taking people to task for carrying soccer trophies and whining about outcomes that don’t favor their positions. If that’s your schtick you’re hot, smart, and, well, hot again. Guess what, bimbo, it’s not that hard to be you and Clairol Number 27 is only going to get you so far. You wouldn’t know that, though, because you’re about as dumb as the box your color came in.

In fact, so are a lot of the people who watch you. Because if this election and its attendant commentary have not demonstrated in vivid color that America has failed to educate the country, nothing will ever get that point across. In every way possible the thinking that got us here collapses under the weight of even pebble-sized tests of logic and those of us who can think straight are left to watch the wreck in slow-mo with nothing but wonder.

The people in the center of the country have just signed on to ruin themselves and they’re happy about it. One wonders how cheerfully they’ll receive the news that are also receiving the majority of benefits distributed by the Affordable Care Act - it belongs to the country not the President, read a book once in a while. And the ACA? It’s paid for by the people on the coasts, in the so-called blue states. That’s where the jobs are, no one disagrees, and where the money’s at. So who do you think is paying for your stuff?

Red-State Middle-America, sandwiched between the evil blue states where patriotism apparently goes to die, is asking for manufacturing jobs and farming jobs and build-it-with-your-hands jobs to come back and favor them because they’ve been neglected and screwed by the Blues. But that’s not what happened and the 'rise of the phoenix manufacturing plant' is not happening either. The world has moved on, Sparky, and you and your checkered-shirted friends need to get with the truth. The Wal-Mart culture was not birthed in urban centers where the evil Blue man and his Muslim BFF live. Wal-Mart culture became the savior and sanctuary of rural and suburban America, where pies and plaids are valued, and everyone’s a humble Christian, and everyone wants to have the same level of luxury as the hoity-toity people they mock in the cities. The problem is our farm and field friends don’t want to educate themselves, train, and work the jobs in the places that get them that stuff. There are brown people there - ACK! So instead they hop in their huge gas-guzzling trucks and drive forty minutes to and from huge warehouse stores to buy the plastic knock-offs of the real things and give themselves the same buzz they think the urban folks get from a visit to Trader Joe’s and Barney’s. 

You know what the consequences to that are? We still buy our stuff downtown. We’re unaffected. You’re getting the cheap crap from China, driving two towns over to get it, and the companies that own those businesses, the manufacturers, distributors, oil and gas companies, and all the rest - those are the apple-red titans of industry that are currently populating every position of importance in the new administration. Those fellas try to get materials and products for as cheap a price as they can so they can make the most money they can from rural America. Because the number one principle of capitalism isn’t ‘help your neighbor’ it’s ‘screw your neighbor, make money’. Plastic isn’t free, Red, Americans want benefits and days off and increased minimum wages. So off to China and India those great-making guys go to get the stuff and ship it back and sell it. To Middle-America. You’re the one paying for our jobs to go elsewhere.

So let’s talk about who needs to adapt and suck things up. You think you’re threatening liberal America with your ideas about free markets and jobs? We get free markets in the liberal world. You forget that we still have jobs, we still make things, we still sell and buy. When the free markets shift, we follow them, adapting, changing, and keeping pace. That’s what a reasonably good education will get you - smarts and adaptability to change. You might want to try it. Blue states are not to blame for job flight, red states let them go. Blue states aren’t working agricultural jobs and losing them to Mexicans. Red states are. Blue states didn’t fail to keep manufacturing in our country. Red states did. You want to talk about who should be pissed? Let’s. 

Which one of us is the stupid, lazy, entitled one, exactly? My kid with his soccer trophy and his congratulations certificate is learning employment-ready skills for use in the real world, not in the fantasy 1950s retro world of your imagination. I’m the one who is bringing you down? The one who is working and feeding her family and making use of public schools and transportation that she pays for with her city property taxes? Or is the drag on American greatness the one who feeds off my city services, my city tax dollars, my city jobs, and then gets pissed because she’s not getting enough and needs someone to help her make America great again? You want to blame me for your red-state malaise? Get yourself some bootstraps friend, and pull your self up. 

While you’re working on that you’ll have to forgive me and my friends in the big bright blue if we refuse to apologize for accidentally getting shot while being black, or for wanting to keep our private parts to ourselves, or for demanding equal pay for our work, or for wanting to breathe clean air instead of the filth that comes from untended and unregulated manufacturing plants like the ones we had when America was so damn great. 

You’re feeling bad that you’re out in the middle of nowhere and your needs aren’t being met? You don’t want Mexicans to steal your jobs? Stop whining, to borrow a phrase. Stop hiring John McCain to be your Senator when unregulated immigration is your number one concern. Immigration is a federal and national security issue and John McCain has been your representative to the federal government for nearly thirty years. ISIS, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton have got nothing to do with that. 

Get the cotton out of your head, Chet and keep your rubble-faced, twang-laced, dumb-assed in-the-car videos to yourself. Better yet, get out of the damn car and look for a real job. Try the coasts. Look up a fella named Sam Kinison. Go where the food is.

Until then, please do not step to me. I have a lot of pent up urban rage and I know how to use it.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Do I Always Say?

I said to my daughter, "They have always been there."

I talked to my daughter mid-morning. She hadn't slept. Minority students were flooded - flooded - with messages from all corners of the university, they would be excused from classes, they would be allowed support services, there would be gatherings. The night of the election a theretofore silent group of pro-Trump revelers had burst into the common area lounge with their excitement. Their rhetoric, unfortunately, frightened one of Lucy's closest friends (a Mexican-American girl) so badly that she fled the room and called my daughter for help. They were holed up together, afraid.

I urged her to not give in to despondency and defeat. I gave no play to her sobs or sniffles. I told her to accept it, that what until now had been purely academic was real, and we had been telling her all along it was real.

"The lights have been turned on in a room where all these people have been sitting. You may not have seen them in the dark but they were always there," I told my daughter.

A short while later, I learned that on her way home, my youngest daughter was harassed and threatened, cursed. She kept her composure and came home. We talked and I encouraged her to keep her wits. The situation could have easily turned the wrong way. She needed to be careful.

"Putting your finger in a pot of water is one thing," I told her. "Putting your finger in the pot when the water is boiling will get you burned."

I called my oldest daughter a bit later to see how she was. Still rattled. Still raw. I pushed again, urging a steady, casting sand on the heat of her fear.

"You have everything you need to be strong, no matter what comes," I told my daughter. "Put your armor on and get out there. You don't lay down. You don't let this take you. This is why you are there."

'We are afraid,' she told me. 'We don't know how to be strong.'

I ignored that. "Get on with it," I told my daughter. "Do what you can to get everyone together. You are strongest together. There are tools," I told my daughter. "Use your tools."

She is mad at me for not allowing her softness, not accepting her moment of sadness and fear. I can't. My daughter has just learned for the first time in the most real terms what everyone learns at some point: it's real. Racism is real. Bigotry is real. Misogyny is real. Homophobia is real. Cruelty is part of the human condition.

And lest we find ourselves alone and smug on this side of the righteousness divide, let's remind ourselves that the white man is not universally bad. In fact, he is incredibly good and without him we have not made any of the progress we've made. He has been hurt, too. He has been afraid of us at times, and with reason, as we have not all been so good and so fair when the power has been in our hands. The white man is good and sincere and not to be called to account for the ignorance of some, any more so than our Muslim friend must apologize for the acts of animals or our Mexican friend must bow for the faults of his countrymen. Let's stop that, please. Badness is just as much a part of living as goodness and neither is the domain of one class or one color.

I got off the phone with my daughter and stayed in the living room a while, my husband and son watching a movie, my daughter singing upstairs, my mother puttering around downstairs. I dozed on the couch. When it was time for bed and the lights were off, I laid there for a moment and cried. Because I don't want my children to be hurt. I don't want my daughter to be afraid. I half considered calling all the men in my family, including my sweet baby cousin who comforted my Sara, telling her he had her back if anyone ever threatened her again - I considered calling them all and saying, "Let's go get Lucy and show those kids on that campus that they are not alone. That we will not roll over for fear."

I considered it and then half-laughed at the thought of my own opera.

Nothing has changed. What was good yesterday is good today, and when the lights came on in that room, there were your uncles, Lu, there was your dad, there's your brother, your cousins, all your aunts, I am there, your friends - strong, proud, wearing their flags - are there. Your grandparents, survivors every one, are there. The lights are there for you to see the people you might not have known. That's ok. They have always been there. But so have we, and we're not going anywhere. Let them come with whatever they bring, baby. They don't scare us. They don't stop us.

I always say to you when you head out, not "Don't go" but "Con cuidado."  Así, mi vida, pero siempre pa'lante.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Picture

You just saw Chicago. And whether you believe it or not, you didn’t see the best of Chicago. You saw everyday Chicago.

You saw Chicago today because the spotlight was on us again, except this time the cameras weren’t trained on our faults and our failures. Today, the show was about the good. But, really, what you saw depended on what details mattered to you.

I saw public school students - there was no school today so they were out in droves. Did you see them? Smiling, cheering, participating. Is that the picture you usually have of Chicago Public School students?

I saw black people - tons of black people from every corner of the city come to cheer on the city’s winning team. They, too, were joyful and full of civic pride. Is that the picture you have of Chicago’s black residents?

I saw white people, Asian people, Hispanic people - all one color - Cubbie blue. They were high-fiving one another, hugging, swaying, singing together. Common ground covered enough space to accommodate millions and millions of people in Chicago today. Did you see that?

Did you see the police and firefighters and EMTs and CTA personnel and troopers and streets and sans teams and service workers? Were they aggressive or weird or posters for ignorance and intolerance? Nope.

Today, you saw five million people in Chicago doing what Chicagoans do every day: being black, being poor, being a police officer, being young and foolish, being old and foolish. You saw incredibly gracious presentations by some pretty talented folks in business, finance, sports, and performance all drawn to Chicago by its magic, all remarking on its uniquely warm, familiar culture. These are the people who are best at what they do, top of their games, as the saying goes. In Chicago by choice.

Tears were shed today, and not for our crimes. That happens, too, and I get that we have problems. I get that we fall down. A lot. But don’t ask me if I’m afraid to have my children attend public schools. I’m proud that my children attend public schools. Don’t ask me if I’m afraid to be in the city. I’m grateful to be in the city. Don’t talk to me about my city’s problems, I know them well, unless you want to talk to me about solutions. This is my family. This is my city. And I am heart and soul a Chicagoan today and every day.

The Cubs have been a blessing in my life in so many ways, for so many the same. Today, the Cubs gave you an opportunity to see my city. When you picture Chicago, remember what you saw today. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

For KP, And All My Friends Who Suffer

SFSSD is a well-known stress-based illness that strikes mostly parents, but some children, during Science Fair Season. SFSSD (Science Fair Seasonal Stress Disorder) can manifest itself in sweats, unexplained rashes, shortened temper, loss of sleep/appetite, unrestrained sighing, random face-palming, head-scratching, and irate social media posting, among other symptoms. It cannot be cured. The only remedy is time and, in some cases, liberal doses of scotch. Intravenous is not recommended, but understood. 

The cause of the disease is stupidity. Science Fair, like most educational opportunities, could be a fantastic exercise in satisfying an intellectual curiosity through independent learning, experimentation, critical thinking, discussion, and multi-pronged presentation. Think about answering this question: I wonder why…? or I wonder if…? Isn’t that what children intuitively do anyway? Touch things, push things, smell things, taste things, etc. to figure them out? How many times did you as a child, or as a parent watch a child, stare at ants, crouched low on the sidewalk, desperately curious? Science Fair is supposed to be that, with the informed and intentional guidance of a teacher nearby to ask questions, nudge in the right direction, and encourage. 

It is, instead, like going to the DMV wearing an eye patch, carrying 400 loose marbles in your hands, while suffering an incurable itch on your nose. And you’re late for something. The hapless conductors of this torture ride know they're making America want to bang its head on the wall again, but they, too, are victims. Like cafeteria ladies spooning luke-warm disappointment onto tired metal trays, held by prisoners of a system selling dismal like it's on sale, they simply service the line. No one wants to take the cold shower before getting in the pool. No one wants to do Science Fair.

Why, you ask? Why do we do it? 

RED FLAG! Searching for logical purpose or meaning in Science Fair can aggravate the condition. If you find yourself searching, stop immediately and call a friend with a child in college. There is no mandatory Science Fair in college. DANGER: If a friend has a child in college who is intentionally pursuing a course of study that includes presentations on tri-fold poster boards run, do not walk, away. Do not make friends with people who enjoy Science Fair. They are highly infirm. WARNING: Keep away from discount multi-colored construction paper after a bout with SFSSD, it could cause flashbacks.

To maximize comfort during an episode of SFSSD, passively accept your doom, keep shuffling forward, good eye on the exit. There is spray-glue-free air and reason on the other side. At worst, it's a seven year condition with intermittent breaks for emergency contact forms and strikes. When it's all over you just have to fill out the FAFSA for four years. Continuously. And then you die.

Each chocolate whenever you want.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Oops, I Did it Again. Or Did I?

I'll cede that I'm an ass. It's the natural consequence of my barely veiled arrogance and my big mouth coming together to conspire against me. I don't deny this and while I am always working to be a better person, I've come to the conclusion that I have many fine qualities and I have faults. Surprise! Most of the time, when I come to my senses after a foot-in-mouth episode, I recognize myself as the ass I am and retreat with apologies to the offended. Sometimes, I don't come to my senses and someone has to point out to me that I'm an ass so I can implement the exit strategy. I comply; I'm getting too old to keep fighting foolishly.

In this case, I'm not sure it's me.

Earlier this week, among the reams of documents I received from my children's schools as part of the annual start-of-the-school-year redundancy initiative, I received the course outlines for several of their classes. I read them, which is the first thing I'd like to point out. (If you've ever had my child in a class you already know this about me. I read everything.)

This year, as in years past, the course outlines included some errors, typos mostly, but some had faultier grips on best practices than others. For most, I clucked to myself in disappointment and moved on. When I got to the AP English Language and Composition outline my stomach coiled. The overview began with this
AP English Language and Composition functions as a demanding college-level course designed to encourage and empower student writers through a demanding course of study in reading, rhetoric, and composition.
Does this stand out to you in any way? It does to me. A demanding course designed to do something through a demanding course? I kept reading.
Students will... enter into a dialogue with the texts they read...
Students are allowed to ring a water bottle to class.
Students will develop their abilities to analyze and interpret... argumentative technique.... and will be able to explain how such... techniques lead to the effectiveness...
... good attitude is more important that aptitude. 
... in his/her pursuit for improvement
... Students will have to print out grades every three to four weeks and have the reports signed by his or her parents. 
Students will routinely respond to the texts...
This project allows students to engage in a discussion with a non-fiction text... 
... further strengthening students ability to connect... 
And my personal favorite
Students must place their assignments in the designated slots... Before doing so, students must make sure the following is written in the upper right hand corner of the paper before it is given to the teacher:
Last name, first name
Name of the class and period
Date the assignment was assigned and when it was due 
In the left hand corner, on the first line, the full name/title of the assignment and page number (if applicable)
 So the left hand corner of the right hand corner? Before or after? Or before, before?

This was five pages, double-sided, and while some of the errors were more technical than others (and I've since learned you can use 'between' when describing certain choices of three or more - learn a new thing every day!) there wasn't one page that didn't have at least two items of concern. My kid began to sweat the redder I got.

I took pics of some of the examples and, in my heat, posted them to a parent group on FB that focuses on advocacy for Chicago Public Schools. "Talk me down," I said. I did my best to ensure I was not providing any identifying information. I also sent a note to my child's counselor and asked what would be the appropriate course of action for having my concerns addressed. I thought it might be uncomfortable for the teacher to receive my marked-up copy of her course outline, and it might also affect her treatment of my child in the class, so I skipped that as a first step.

So that's the second thing I want you to know. Yes, I posted my mini-rant with evidence on social media, but I also took the serious step of asking for help via conventional channels. Interestingly enough, I got a reply - several of them - on FB, but none yet from the CPS person I approached for help. She's overworked, I know.

I was sad, really sad, to find that most people who replied on FB, including teachers, thought I was being too harsh, that the teacher was probably overwhelmed or overworked, that she hadn't had time to proof or edit because she was so under the gun, that I should overlook such errors if the class otherwise met my and my child's expectations. A few expressed some sympathy and agreement that it was unfortunate. One woman private messaged me and hoped - since her child is taking the same class at the same school - this wasn't from her child's teacher. Ultimately, one teacher took me to task for 'outing' someone on social media, quite comfortably wagging her finger at me for being so unthinking and unkind. I think this is what led the moderator to remove the entire thread from the page. I apologized for overstepping and also sent a message privately to the offended teacher thanking her for her perspective.

There are a few questions that stay with me from this experience. Have we arrived at the point where we no longer care to be excellent? If I want my children to work toward excellence, will I have to assume that their school communities will not be leaders in this endeavor? They'll do their best, they'll try hard, but they can't take the lead? That breaks my heart. I'm not a teacher and I don't know how to do some of this work, so I'm likely to fail my children. That breaks my heart, as does the fact that we've somehow managed to drive ourselves all the way from one end of the spectrum to the other, such that we not only accept mediocrity and failure, we defend it. It's ok for the person who is supposed to teach my child 'language and composition' to be, not accidentally, not incidentally, but repeatedly and clearly owing to a deficiency, faulty in her own usage. Really? Multiple instances of describing situations where students will engage in dialogue with an inanimate object? Is it me?

The teacher who spent several (well-written) paragraphs on FB, and later in a private message, fortifying her case for why this is ok felt it important to mention the citywide ranking and statistics that should make me feel better about the education my child is receiving at his school. God help me, he is at one of the best-ranked schools in the state. If this is what our struggle is for, our fight for fair funding, our storming at Rahm, our railing against Rauner and charters, if I'm wearing red for this?

Talk me down.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Don't Let the Wrong Thing Define You

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

The Great Depression.

Pearl Harbor and World War II.

The Vietnam War.

And then ours.

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

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

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

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

Man, I wanted in on that!

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

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

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

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

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

And you can respond.

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

Sunday, August 7, 2016

I Know a Woman

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

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

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

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

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

You know this woman.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Rational Republican

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued...

Monday, July 25, 2016

No, thanks.

Please don’t pray for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

If I Wrote The Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

I Can't Write

The white of a blank page is something I revel in and look forward to, like plunging my face into a cool pool on a hot day, feeling the water swirl around me, silky and luscious. I can swim in a blank page for hours without once realizing the time has passed or that my fingers have long-since pruned. Even when I know I don't care. I love a blank page.

But this blank page is so hard and cold.

Because FBI Director Comey seems to me like a pretty honorable guy. His grasp of the situation seems so right and so righteous to me. He's like the real-deal American, right? The distance between me and people who view him as a pariah for his unwillingness to BRAVO TV his job frightens me.

I had a screaming match with my daughter last night - screaming, both of us at full volume, for the first time ever  - over my wanting her to come home instead of sleep at a friend's house. I don't ever want to do that again and fear that for my fear we may. That frightens me, too.

I am at once gripped and repelled by the news of the last three days, each day worse than the one prior, herald for the collapse of our framework, our absolutes. The war is not over there, friends. The war is right here, right here where we are.

As it turns out, my words fail me when the real thing is happening, when what matters is action and not words. I'm not trained or talented in that arena, and for my worry over my impotence I am rendered more so.

I keep looking for the comfort, the 'helpers' as Mr. Rogers would say. I see them but they don't bring me peace. They look weary, too.

I appreciate that God is there and that I can call out to Him, as I'm sure countless others do every day in every way known to man. But what does God have to do with it all, exactly? Nothing, I think, except to show us how far we are from Him and to compel us to do the little work.

I do that work, but fear I am deeply, drastically, irrevocably outnumbered, outmanned, and quite literally, outgunned.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

I'm Not Ashamed At All

My husband and I attended a concert for our children several years ago when a woman came over to us and blurted, "You should be ashamed of yourselves!"


This was a woman who we'd known only casually from the neighborhood; her daughter attended our kids' school, she lived a block or so away, and we knew her face and her name but not much else.

At the time, my husband and I were both elected officials on our Local School Council.  The school was dealing with a principal who was struggling, and we on the Council were struggling to manage the situation. We were working through a bureaucracy of rules and regulations, mindful that the children needed their school to function at its very best, teachers needed an appropriate environment in which to work, and the principal, however unfit for this particular job, deserved fair treatment and consideration for his career and his livelihood.

There were forms to complete and a process to follow that was lengthy and onerous. There were those who were vehemently for and others passionately against just about every effort we made. And while all this swirled about there was a bit more. Unknown to many in the school at the time, the principal's wife was very ill. They had no children, no help as far as we could tell, so he was working extremely hard to take good care of her while holding a position of considerable pressure and responsibility. All this while under the intense scrutiny of a committee-based performance review. It was not an easy situation.

Ultimately, he didn't wait out the process and found himself another job. By all accounts he's doing just fine there, and our old school is also doing fine, with an excellent group of people on the local school council, and an outstanding principal.

The woman who came over to us at the concert was clearly agitated, having convinced herself that whatever the problems were, our magic wands were not being put to good use. She felt comfortable berating us in front of our parents and friends, along with everyone within earshot - quite a few people - as if our positions somehow provided carte blanche for this exercise. She insisted we were letting down the community, we should be ashamed - she threw that in a few times - and then, having had her say and not much interested in our replies, she sauntered off, smoothly telling us over her shoulder how relieved she was that her daughter was graduating and wouldn't be around to be deeply affected by our failures.

Gee, thanks for stopping by.

I've never spoken about this publicly, but I share it with you now here because I want you to know there's a difference between sitting at home, hearing what you think is the truth, and knowing the truth, and working to do something about it.

I won't say that many elected officials aren't corrupt. I'm sure many are. I won't say that sometimes the 'looks like a duck, quacks like a duck' rule of thumb isn't the most true. But I will say that sometimes it isn't what it seems and if you don't know, you shouldn't act - or speak - like you do.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Scenes From an American Experience

The Declaration of Independence concludes with these words:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
 Two things there stand out to me.

First, in the eyes of our forefathers the declaration needed both their support and a reliance on divinity. They understood the declaration was meaningless if the men and woman represented by it did not fully stand by it, did not act upon its intent, and did not hold the purpose of the declaration above self-interest. Further, our forefathers were sure enough to put it in writing that some power greater than the human power would need to be employed to make sure the declaration's ambitious objectives could be met.
It was bold stuff, to be sure, and not to be undertaken without some careful prayer and consideration.
Interestingly, though, our forefathers did not name the divine entity whose providence would be relied upon for the support of the Declaration, I find it possible that for the Buddhist, Buddha is the understood presence, where for the Christian it is his God, and for the Muslim his, and so on, where in all cases each is bound by his reliance on the providence of his trusted divinity, without ever there being a cause to retreat from the purpose of the Declaration.
I find that so comforting, and true.

The second thing that stands out for me is that the authors of the Declaration felt it was important to articulate what they were willing to put into the pot, so to speak, so as to back up their announcement. They should give up their lives.
They should give up their fortunes. They should give up their honor. What would we do today? For whom would you give your life? A family member? A close friend? How about a neighbor or complete stranger? Would your member of Congress give up his life for your sake? How about his fortune? Would any of the candidates for president do so?

The last of these sacrifices is the one that most impales me, however, the one that most devastates me. We don't talk about honor enough, and especially not in the context of our politics or governance.
We have come to accept not only dishonor but the scorn of it as norm, and we've diluted our expectations so much so that we, ourselves, are not even shadows of the honorable men and women we should be in our support of this Declaration of Independence. We refuse our higher selves, and really most often it seems to me, for laze, not for ignorance, although I'll cede a bit of the latter, myself.

I attended an event a couple of weeks ago at an outdoor venue in Chicago, where a series of Mariachi students and professional performers put on a rousing summer concert for a crowd filled with bright color and food and sweetness. The event opened with the Mexican national anthem and while I'm not Mexican-American myself, I stood with everyone in the crowd and smiled as so many - young, old, in between - belted out with great emotion words that felt familiar even though they weren't to me.
The song ended with whoops and applause, great cheers, and I had the fleeting thought scurry across my mind that these folks ought to be singing an American song; we're in America, and singing the national anthem of Mexico seemed a little provocative for some reason. I couldn't hold the thought in my head for long because just then the arena filled with music again.
Oh-oh say can you see...
I stood there, heart racing, feeling terrible for my ignorance, and listened. A grandmother to my right, feeble and crinkled, held fast to her grandson's hand, singing reedy, proudly. A young woman in front of me wearing every bit of that jumpsuit just right held her hand over her heart, sincere and lost for the music. A group of men, still wearing rainbow beads from an earlier stint at the Pride Parade no doubt, sang full-throated, broad smiles, arm-in-arm.

I thought for those few moments of that song I might just sink into the earth for shame. Here these families who no doubt know that one of the candidates for presidency of this country has called them rapists and criminals, who no doubt know that across the street and wide into the city and across this country there are those who would wall them off, those who would presume them false in their Americanism, those who would turn their noses at their social advances even as they'd thank them and call them 'amigo' for care of their lawns or their hotel rooms, these families who continue to be treated like the nation's whipping boy for all things wrong in the economy, in the security of our nation, these beautiful, bright, warm, amazing Americans were mutually pledging their honor to our country in song.

That music was beautiful, that moment - for me - unforgettable, and that triumph of the truly American spirit will stay with me forever and a day. We are these colors, these scenes, and we can only hope to be this honorable.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Keep Talking. At Your Own Risk.

How do I do it? Magic mom, right? Nope. Regular mom. Magic kids! Nope. Regular kids.

Set aside for a minute that my kids work damn hard for every bit of their success. They practice, read, write, blow off their friends to work, and keep their eyes on the prize. Nobody here is a genius, but we do have some darn hard workers and I'm prouder of that than anything. But no matter how hard they work, and how much we support, none of that goes anywhere with out one thing.

Public school. Public school does it. Same as the other 34 kids who were at UC with Lucy. Same as all the kids on the math team circuit who are headed to some of the best schools in the country. Same as the other two children from our neighborhood - not magnet, not selective enrollment, neighborhood - elementary school who received full-tuition scholarships for university this year alone (and those are only the three I know about). My kids are friends with children whose parents come from all over the world, who have all kinds of income levels and no income levels, who have extraordinary abilities and disabilities, who sing, paint, write, compute, design, dream.

Who do you think is going to public schools? Some of the most wonderful, interesting, ambitious, hard-working kids ever go to Chicago Public Schools.

My kids, like all the city's kids, deserve and are eager to take advantage of outstanding public education. When children are given the opportunity, and teachers are supported in their efforts to teach children, the possibilities are endless. To borrow a phrase,  public education is what makes America great.

So when my public school is threatened, I am threatened, my children are threatened, all our children are in danger. Word to the wise on this issue? It's a dangerous thing to threaten a person's children. That's the kind of thing a fella might think twice about before he keeps talking.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Replace the Word

All you have to do is replace the word, or words, to test whether or not it sounds ok.

The people responsible for certain crimes are part of radical 'Christianity'.

We need to employ a temporary ban on visitors from countries with a proven record of having 'men' engage in acts of terrorism against us or our allies.

'Men' are the only ones who have engaged in these acts of terror, so it stands to reason they have a problem with America.

It's important that we look more critically at people from the 'U.S.' who wish to impose their way of life on others.

Does this make sense to you? It does not to me. Still, to be fair, I continue to question whether I'm making a grave mistake.

If I am, this American daughter and granddaughter of immigrants goes down believing that the country that allowed me my great fortune and set the stage for the bright futures of my own children, did so on the risk that those who came before me were different, but not inherently bad.  My country was right. And that's what made America great.

Last night, I sat for my daughter's graduation from a city public school and listened to names called - Ashley, Emily, Haydon, Abbey - and Roshandeep, Muhammed, Pablo, Roble - there were roars and cheers for names like Marhuq and Bidemi and Chris. These are the names that make America great. These faiths, languages, colors. These are the instruments of greatness in our country and they only work when they are together.

What we're doing now? Makes America _________. You replace the word.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Wonder First.

Before we go too far let's remember that Dillinger was not Muslim, and for his crimes we did not persecute all Christian men.

Let's remember that Capone did not speak for all Italians, although he's been the poster for too many.

Timothy McVeigh. Is he your ambassador?

Did the Uni-bomber speak your thoughts?

Hitler was white; for his crimes should we all be called to account?

We would do well to remember that most of the men and women responsible for the recent, and prior, economic collapses of this country did not come from overseas. We birthed them here, at home.

Our guns are manufactured by white men, in factories owned by white men, in supposed service to a second amendment written by white men.

Is it any wonder we are so furious with all brown Muslim men for the few who commit crimes?

We might do well to wonder about just that before we speak our words of hate.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sorry I Tricked You, Ma

I tricked my mom into going to Gospel Fest last night. We’d been planning a night out and I wanted to set up an evening picnic at Pritzker, a lingering affair under the twinkle of my favorite city, is what I had in mind.

But ma was not having it. She was convinced it was going to pour rain, and insisted she could not picnic at her age, couldn’t sit on grass, couldn’t be so far from a bathroom - a litany of ‘nos’. I protested, but you know how that goes. So I tricked her.

I arranged an early dinner at the Park Grill, a restaurant tucked under ‘The Bean’ at Millennium Park, just a few steps from the pavilion. As we were leaving, she heard a rumble and said, “You see? It’s going to rain.”

I looked up at the cloudless sky and smiled.

“That’s not thunder, ma.”

We led her around the ramp just south of the restaurant and while she toddled along, cane in one hand, my hand in the other she kept looking up, trying to find the source of the bass.

“That’s music!” she discovered.


“From over there!” she looked back at Michigan Avenue.

“No, ma. From over here,” and I pointed toward the picnic area just south of the Pritzker stage.

Slowly we made our way closer, and as we did, a sway of  people drew us in. Arms outstretched, eyes closed, all ages, a poster for the case against all divides, compelled by the man on stage exhorting everyone to ‘BE GRATEFUL!’

We couldn’t help but sing along.

At one point, we were all encouraged to turn to a person near us and say, “I have a reason to be grateful to God.”

We did. Everyone did.

A few moments later we sat on a ledge nearer to the stage to rest, but ma stayed on her feet, dancing, electrified.

A tall, handsome older man approached her and smiled, saying something I couldn’t hear. She answered and they both laughed.

He came over to where I was and asked, “This is your mother?”

“Yes,” I smiled.

“I’m having a very hard day,” he intimated. “But your mother’s spirit. I could see it. It’s so bright. I just had to come over. She’s beautiful. Her spirit.”

“Yes, I know,” I thanked him.

We chatted for a bit. He is Sioux-American, and had spent the day attending a funeral service for a young friend. He’d come downtown for a walk to clear his thoughts and had been drawn into the park by the music, and drawn to my mother by her glow. He was warm, and kind, and taught my children a few words in his language, among them the term for ‘until I see you again’ before he left. There is no word for ‘goodbye’ in his tongue.

As the music ended, the song that carried us out reminded us that God makes all things better, better, better. Indeed.

We made our way to the car accompanied by a parade of concert goers in bright colors, laughing, chatting. 

My mom beamed, “I danced under the shadow of the Bean!”

“I know,” I squeezed her hand.

“That was grand,” she said softly.


I suppose she’ll forgive me for tricking her this time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Yes, You Are

I attended a commencement ceremony yesterday. It was simple, less than 40 graduates and their families, a few professors and administrators. Among the speakers was a young woman who rose to provide remarks as a member of the graduating class. I happen to be a bit of a public speaker myself so I always attend these things with a probably-too-critical point of view.

But I was impressed. This young girl was articulate, poised, grammatically correct (very important!), and succinct. All that, and I actually loved the content of her address.

As she concluded, the young woman recalled for the audience a conversation she'd had with one of her classmates. This friend, trying to console her during a difficult time, told the young girl about a time when he watched a rocket launch with his grandfather. The young man had been devastated when the base of the rocket had fallen off, he was sure the rocket had broken and all was lost. His grandfather had reassured him that all was as it was intended, and the young man now reassured the girl, "Some things are meant to get you to a certain point, and then they just fall off."

I smiled at the bittersweet of this.

And then our daughter - our daughter who we had launched with the force of a million tiny pushes, and countless dreams and prayers and wishes, our daughter who had been propelled by our own hands, the hands of a thousand other people in her life, and the most important hands, that come from a much higher place, our daughter, this elegant, refined speaker - our daughter smiled and turned to her graduating class of Collegiate Scholars at the University of Freaking Chicago, and said, "We are the rocket."

And I'll be damned, Lu, you really are.

Monday, May 9, 2016

I Was No Mother

I stood out on the porch with a cigarette in one hand and dialed the phone with the other. When my mom picked up I said, "I'm just not cut out for this."

All three children in diapers, husband out busting his buns trying to keep it together, houseful of un-met priorities, and crying. Crying, whining, complaining, needing - and that was me! I was at my wits' end.

I laid out my case for why someone would have to come rescue me from this clearly devastatingly bad choice I'd made. I was no mother.

She listened patiently and then on the beach filled with grains of excellent advice my mother has given me over the years, she laid this, "Of course you are. Just do the best you can. Don't think about the whole thing. Just handle this minute, if necessary, this second. Get past this one and go on to the next one and do the best you can with what you've got. That's it. That's the job."

She was right, of course, as she always is, I've come to find.

So here's to doing the best you can with what you've got. Here's to doing it if you're a guy, if you're a lesbian, if you're Christian or Muslim or not sure. Here's to doing the best you can if you're feeble, or hurting, or tired. Here's to doing it on days when it all turns out exactly right and, too, on the days when every single thing fails and you spill food all over yourself, to boot. Here's to your kid turning out a little screwy, but you love her anyway and it's not your fault. Here's to your kid being a total rock star, and needing someone else more than you for a time. You're still always going to be the mommy. Here's to all the people on the planet who make it without all the best ingredients and still turn out to have a good life because their moms taught them to just do the best they could with what they've got.

Do good, do your best. That's all you can do. That's the job. And it's great.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

En El Rincon de Mi Niñéz

I stepped into the room as if crossing the threshold of a portal.

At once adrift in the perfume of my childhood and grounded in the sense of my own days, I surveyed the mirrors that called me Ita, when that was my name.

With just a glance away and back the cool girls had become women, their faces smiling at me with the same tender, sometimes the same fade.

The younger girls I cared for and loved were women, too, wearing the stride of hips that carried their own children.

The handsome young men I'd admired, now greyed and serious, spent wistful smiles at the heat and power of their own sons and daughters, those sifting in and out of the room as one does when one is still floating, untethered.

Beyond these, the air in the room had gone cold at the point of absolute void, where his mother stood weeping, silent and lost. I went to her and mumbled some foolishness about how he was being well cared-for in the next life. I presented flowers in her favorite shade, my frail attempt to bring Mima into the room; she was my comfort. I held her again and whispered that I loved her, as I do.

I have the most fractured of families, like a mosaic taken from broken porcelain, some of it so fine and lovely, some of it not so much. The pieces in this room are among the most brightly colored of the tiles. I remember them alive, beautiful, rich, laughing, holding me, feeling as if I belonged.

I smiled to myself, remembering.

When I turned to leave, I looked at Marco, still his cherub face, and closed my eyes to say good bye. He was a baby I had held. I held him on my lap and wrapped my arms around his soft little baby skin and sang to him and played with him. I had teased him at parties and ate the salad from his plate. When the occasion brought us together, less and less as we went our ways, he was a little baby to me no matter how old he grew. I hugged him, he me, and no matter how cramped the moment always I found the space to complain about his faulty baseball affiliation. He would smile. I loved this boy, now this young man, and he is gone.

He is gone and forever safe where I will keep him. In the sweetest corner of my childhood.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

This You,That You

I told you once that this is one of my favorite photos of you. When you asked why I didn't give a clear answer, maybe because I, myself, didn't quite know why. I only knew that the photo made me feel proud of you, made me remember you - as if I'd forgotten - and it captured you, the essence of you.

It occurred to me some time later that the picture was familiar, and I thought maybe that's why I loved it so much. But familiar why?  I looked for the reason in the only place I knew to search. It's here. In this picture from your 1st year baby book.

Same face! I remember when I snapped this shot of you as a baby I was laughing. It was one in a series of photos I took as you argued, mostly in babble, for control of the TV remote. There you were, this little pee wee, against your big, strong daddy with his giant hands, making your case, pulling, smiling sweetly, threatening tears. You must have worked for a good ten minutes, which in baby time is an eternity, until you got him to give up. (I suspect he intended to give up all along; you've had your daddy wrapped around your finger since the moment you arrived.)

In the photo above, you are steeling yourself for a live performance at the Abbey. You were having  a hard day, if I recall, and you were setting yourself away from everyone to get ready, to prepare because there was a task at hand and your focus had to be turned away from your own needs and to the job in front of you.

Shortly after both photos were taken you were smiling, gregarious, charming - your usual self - your public self. I love that you, the hugging, funny, kind-to-everyone you.

But I also love the you in these photos. The determined you, the hard-working, self-sacrificing, undeterred by 'no' you.  This is as much you as the other and I so admire and respect this you, as this you works in the background so the other you can be out in front. No certificates for this you, although we know the truth. This you is truly remarkable.

As you head off into your adult years, as in all the years before, I encourage you to seek adventure, to taste new things, know yourself and take the risks that make sense for you, and a few that don't (as long as it's reasonably safe to do so). And as you walk further and further away from the baby in that picture, remember that she was a little force, who's become quite the power, and there is no limit to where she can go.

It'd also be great if you'd leave your dad and me the remote for the TV. It's been eighteen years. Cut us a break, would you?

Happy Birthday, Blue. We love you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Gratitude: First in a Series

I'm reading a book recommended by a friend that provides some thought-provoking exercises on how to become a happier person. Among the suggestions: write letters of gratitude to people who have been or are meaningful in your life. I think I do write about people who are important to me, but it's been quite the while since I wrote to someone. I think this is an exercise that can be both intimate and shared, so I'm going to begin with this message, to thank the friend who recommended the book.

For not being what I expected at first at all, and then for being so interesting to watch, and then for including me a little bit on the trip to your better self, thank you, John.

When we first met I think we were far enough away from one another on the life spectrum so as to not find threads in common, and that was fine in its time. Proximity and circumstance gave us some chances and I will say some of those early interactions were not easy on me. I'm sure we had one or another conversation where you might have hoped I had less of an opinion - not my strong suit then, and not now either. But people are never all what they may appear to be, a lesson I've learned many times over, and again with you.

Your strong opinions contrary to my own have been mostly wrong-headed, but your devotion to family, your appreciation of culture - your own, mine and so many others, your taste in food and music (and the attendant YouTube advertisements), your intellect and willingness for self-reflection, self-correction, and your migration to a life lived as opposed to spent, all these have been so fascinating to talk about, learn from, and watch. You've been private, as you should be on matters of import, but not unfair about what you have learned. Moreover, you have been as interested in me as you have been in expressing your own thoughts - not too much, not so little as to seem disaffected. It's really been just the right touch, and not just for me, but for Sam and Tony, too. I'm grateful to you, and I don't think I've said that.

So, thank you. I'm glad to have been around for this part of your life, and I'm more glad you have been there to be a part of this time in mine.

This does not mean you do not owe me my own decadent dinner some time. You totally do.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Crappy Day in the Life Of

Yep, kids are great, mom is great, everything's grrreat! Blah blah blah blah blah. Some days, even though everything is great, everything is crap.

Yesterday, I had to get up early to show a listing. Blah blah blah the people think the house is so cool, the house is so old and classic, the house is so blah blah blah. You know what? I know the house is old and cool. I think it's a classic, too! But chatting with you endlessly about it at 9AM, I gotta be honest, is not the only thing I got going on. So enjoy your day, enjoy whatever house you're going to buy that isn't this one - because that's the kind of day I'm having - do whatever it is you're doing, but for the love of cheese and crackers, stop yapping so I can get out of here.

In this frame of mind, I came home. To the usual mess, laze, and all-around moist-sock smell that has become my home. You know what? I HATE that. I hate it every time. I hate coming home to my pretty home that I'm trying so hard to keep, finding everyone's 'descuidado' (which is, roughly, carelessness but sounds more ominous in Spanish) splayed about like badges of 'screw you' being advertised with gusto.

And I'm tired. I'm tired of cleaning. I want to sleep! But did I fly into a rage and make everyone miserable at the start of their days? No! I'm a reader! I read lots of books on how to be happier and how be a better mother, a better wife, a better person. I'm so busy being better I think better must be reading books about being me!

So I put all that good bullshit to work and took control of my own issue. I started picking up, cleaning up, and putting things away. That task always takes longer than one expects, and in my case was made exponentially more difficult and maddening by the slow drip of teenagers that began to make its way in and around the messes I was trying to clean up. I can only imagine what a nuisance I was with my dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, dish-washing, windexing, and all the rest while there was so much important snap-chatting and gasping-picture taking going on.

By 3PM I still hadn't eaten. I still had to work and had report cards to pickup which entailed going to the schools where - in one, I don't volunteer hardly at all and I feel like an anonymous wall-hanging every time I walk in - and in the other, I volunteer plenty and still feel like I should have been there helping out all day. Schools are literal volunteering vacuums. I felt terrible when I saw another mom alone at the table I was supposed to be manning, and even worse when I told her I couldn't stay. I didn't get to talk to any of the teachers I wanted to, really, and the few teachers I did speak with seemed to ignore the fact that I had my youngest daughter with me. They only wanted to talk about my oldest daughter.

Hey - I get it - it's great that she's smart. Yes I'm proud. Yes she's awesome. But I have THREE children and I actually think all three are pretty great and smart and I'm proud of all of them. The one I have standing next to me, for instance, is a person. She has ideas and aspirations and she works hard and wants to be excited about her future and wants everyone to greet her like she matters, too. And my son does just about everything my girls do with nearly zero fanfare, and I'm sure once in a while he'd prefer not to have to suffer another joke about how great his sister is and what a loser he must be by comparison. He's actually not.

I walked out of there pissed and emotional and feeling like a failure. And broke! Because I owe exam fees and book fees and graduation fees. Shoes and flaming cripes the world freaking runs on charging me fees!

I came back home famished, but I couldn't make anything to eat because Tony was meeting me so we could go to another appointment. I sat down, knowing we had just minutes to make it on time, and waited. He came in a few moments later and as I began to gather myself to walk out the door I saw he went straight to the kitchen to get himself something to eat. When he came back into the living room he told me, between mouthfuls, that he and the client had agreed on a slightly later time.

Did I screech and rail against the forces of humanity that had delivered this wretched day to me? Nope. Super calm.

We went to the appointment and, all things being what they are, two hours later we were on the road back to the house. I had not yet eaten and dinner had to be made. It was already 8PM. So we made a financially disastrous decision and ordered pizza, which Tony can't eat because he's gluten free, and went home. When we got back, already a new mess had been installed where the old one had been removed.  Whew! I thought we'd be missing the mess and funk for a day, but thank goodness slobbier heads prevailed.

I told the kids we'd ordered pizza to celebrate report cards and I got snarky 'Bad parenting move' comments in return. When the food arrived one of the kids tried to take pizza and salad upstairs so as to not eat with us because the marathon snapchat that has become her life was still in play and I think she'd rather eat with electronic company than suffer fifteen minutes across from me. I ate the wrong slices of pizza and had to give a half-eaten piece back to Sam, because he's meat-free, and then I had to eat pizza I didn't want, now cold because the box had been left open.

At the end of the night I reminded one of the kids about dishes, and that the dishwasher was broken (it was a crappy day, what can I tell you?) so they'd have to be done by hand.

The Cubs won, and if I had to have a crappy day, that was certainly a fine attempt at turning it around. I worked through most of the game, but will admit that the sound in the background does bring a smile to my face.

I feel asleep on the couch and had to be tucked in by one of the kids, who also wanted to know if I could get up a little earlier than usual to take her to school so she could do some make-up work. Sleep? Who needs sleep?

I got up early, as requested, and went into the kitchen. The dishes were still there, all piled up, creamy salad dressing and water lifting bits of lettuce and carrot along the salad bowl that had been left on top; ants were carrying on a rave, Studio 54-style. I blinked at this and decided to make coffee before I murdered anyone, so as to improve my precision (always thinking about the mess).

While the pot brewed I went to get dressed and found that I'd not managed to get laundry done so I had no socks. I slipped on a pair of Tony's which could double as leg warmers if you're putting a positive spin on things. I decided to go sans. My feet are freezing.

I tried to check email and found that my password wasn't working so I got locked out of all my work-related sites. The early riser wanted to know if there was enough coffee for her to take some. 'Sure!' She got it all together and we left. I came back from dropping her off to find that another of my sweet darlings had taken the remainder of the coffee I'd made and had left a joyous mess of sugar sprinkles and a little half 'n half on the counter. One can imagine the glee of the ants.

I have so much work to do my face hurts just thinking about it, and as I write this I am on hold with tech support. That can't be good, can it? I still have a sink full of dishes and clearly I need to do laundry, plus the no-socks thing reminds me I've needed a pedicure for about a month. That's not relevant at all, but it pisses me off that I can do so much God blessed crap for everyone else but I can't get a God blessed pedicure.

I'm telling you all this because I have a beautiful life. My children are amazing, I love my husband and he's a great guy, my mom is a cutie pie, I'm healthy and have a happy home. But everybody has crap. Real life includes a lot of crap. And the less we hide our crap, the more we can treat one another with a little kindness and compassion when we're having an o.k. day and someone else isn't.

I hope your day is going ok today. If it's not, if it's a crappy day, I hope you have a better day tomorrow. Hang in there. They can't all be bad. Can they?


Tech support just hung up on me.