Monday, December 29, 2008

Rahm Encounters

I know, it's been a long time since I've posted. . . I've been thinking about pulling the blog down. Or maybe starting a new one in a different vein. Today I'm leaning toward the latter.

Anyway, I just got my automated "So long and thanks for all the fish" call from Rahm Emmanuel. And since I really haven't heard anything but negative Rahm comments from everyone I know, I thought I'd weigh in with my positive spin.

I've met the Congressman twice. The first time must have been about six years ago - when he was running for office - at my local Jewel. I recognized him at the door, and I literally yelled out, "Rahm Emmanuel!" He smiled at me and we talked for a minute or two. He asked what my issues were, and I remember feeling like he was listening (not just campaigning). I introduced him to my daughters and he was kind to them.

A few years later I saw the Congressman at a Rahm's Readers event. This was a program he started in the Chicago elementary schools that encouraged children to read. At the program end, he invited participants to an awards program/social event. My daughters and I attended, and the Congressman was there with his wife and beautiful young children. But the day wasn't about Rahm Emmanuel . . . he was really just in the background. The day was about the school children. (And too often it's not.)

Cool, huh?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Summer Vacation Plans

1. Avoid household chores
2. Read more for pleasure
3. Eat more potato chips

In other words, act more like my 12 year olds and less like Micro-manager Mom.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Summer Reading Dilemma

My daughter's copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream (No Fear Shakespeare) is perched on top of a tower of books. Hmm. . . .haven't read that in years. Next to it, on another pile, is Fugitive from the Cubicle Police Hmm. . .I am on vacation now.

Shakespeare? Or, Dilbert? Shakespeare? Dilbert?

I adore Summer. . .because there's time for both. But which one first?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

At the store this afternoon, I was thinking of something else my father told me once. This was his advice when we told him we were having twins:


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Father, the Unschooler

My father’s mother immigrated to this country when she was 11 years old, in 1919. As the story goes, she did not speak any English, and school officials put her in the second grade—with the 7 and 8 year olds. That, as the say, wasn’t working for my grandmother, and thus ended her formal education.

My father graduated from high school, but never finished college. School was never as satisfying to him or as intellectually rewarding as the public library.

Five of his six children have college degrees, though. His sixth child, never went to college. He was born in 1974 with Down syndrome, and went to school longer than all of us. He wore a cap and gown at his formal graduation—at the age of 26.

My father doesn't tell stories about his success at school, because there wasn't much. He tells stories about his success at life. My father is an autodidact. Growing up, I remember him writing and painting and reading and listening to music. To this day, he studies philosophy texts and books on quantum physics in his spare time. Right now, he's teaching himself how to speak Spanish.

He taught himself, and in doing so, taught us.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Very Good One

I’m sure there were many, many ways in which my father wanted to influence his children. Too many to list here. The crucial things, I absorbed unconsciously growing up in our big, loving family. For example, he wanted us to know he respected our mother. He wanted us to know he was available for us whenever we needed him. He wanted us to know he would always tell us the truth.

When I was all grown up and married, he told me he wanted to be a good father. How I love that he added the qualifier! Wanting to be a father wasn't enough.

He wanted to be a good one.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Lovely Night Out. And Yet.

I was thinking about my father’s “before the age of 15” credo on Friday night, at a dinner with a group of moms I’ve come to know through my daughter’s school. Our children are growing up together in an urban environment, and so when we get together, we talk a lot about what our children know and don’t know. About what academic (and life) lessons they learn (or don’t learn) at school.

At one point during the evening I realized that two of the mothers felt perfectly comfortable having their sixth graders read and discuss Night by Elie Wiesel, but felt completely uncomfortable having an in-depth discussion of the “facts of life” with these very same children.

This seemed inconsistent to me—parents who believe their children intellectually and emotionally mature enough to handle the work of Elie Wiesel, but do not believe the same children intellectually and emotionally mature enough to handle “the talk.” (I mean, I can’t imagine that a child’s questions about the human body are more difficult for a parent to answer than questions about the human soul.)

A healthy, honest, and meaningful dialogue with your children on the subject of human sexuality and reproduction takes time to develop. Years. What are you waiting for ladies? Fifteen will be here before you know it. . . .

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Thoughts on a Saturday Morning

My father—a father of six—once shared with me his personal parenting philosophy:

If you want to influence your children in a certain way, you should probably do so before they turn 15.

My father’s view is that after the age of 15, children aren’t paying much (if any) attention to their parents, even if you think they are. There’s a 15-year window of opportunity available to parents, and then the window snaps shut.

I love that imagery. It’s been a useful parenting tool for me. I don’t know if Dad is right or wrong, but as a mother of two 12 year olds, I’m guessing he’s closer to right. Interestingly, the closer our daughters get to age 15, the more right my Dad’s words seem to me.

This week at Barking at Kathy, I will reflect on my father’s wisdom, and on why his words reverberate for me.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

What I Saw at the Beach

When I moved to Chicago many years ago, I lived and worked within walking distance of Lake Michigan. I’d often go to the lake at lunchtime to clear my mind. Or, after dinner, to watch the day turn to evening. The lake calmed me, and I enjoyed its many moods.

Now, I live and work miles west of the lake. But I have a friend who lives right there, and when I visit this friend, I often take time to walk down to the beach. This afternoon, as I pulled away from my friend’s house I thought about stopping at the lake, and then about how I didn’t have time to stop, and then about forcing myself to stop and do something good for myself. Ultimately, I turned down a side street, double-parked my car, and walked quickly to the shoreline to soak up a little of Lake Michigan’s beauty. After all, the sky was blue; the air was crisp and clean.

But Lake Michigan looked dirty—the water was brownish blue. Way far out, at the horizon, I saw what seemed to be clear blue water. I stayed for just a few minutes, and I didn’t feel better. Today, Lake Michigan failed to energize me.

I don’t recall that ever happening before.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spring for the Organic Farmer

It’s time to sign up for a CSA if you’re interested in that kind of thing. Our experience purchasing a half-share in an organic farm was quite the adventure last year, and probably not the ideal experience for first-timers like us. Then again, maybe it was. We learned a lot.

Here’s Farmer Renee’s latest, thoughtful letter about organic farming. Always fascinating!

On this Easter morning, I wish her my best.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Race & My Formative Years

In a memoir-writing class I took last year, I found myself writing about story-memories like these:

In the mid-1970s—when I was in sixth grade—the only African-American child in our class and I were the shortest kids in the room. For every line-up, every assembly, every class photo, this boy and I stood side by side. Funny how one gets to know a person. Thirty years have passed, but I often think of him—and about the day some classmates of ours tied his hands and feet together and left him outside while everyone else went inside at the end of recess.

In the 1970s, I learned that it was practice for certain Asian-American girls to have cosmetic surgery on their eyelids to achieve a Caucasian-like crease. My friend underwent multiple surgeries to correct scarring.

I remember another classmate of mine, in perhaps second or third grade. Unlike the rest of us, this boy had brown skin and black hair and black eyes. His ethnicity is unknown to me, but I remember his beautiful eyes—with the longest, thickest eyelashes I had ever seen. After the other kids began teasing him about his looks, he cut all his eyelashes off with a pair of scissors.

Of course, there are many, many more tales to tell from my predominantly white, suburban, American youth—but those three stories bubbled to the surface first.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Worth the Time

Yesterday, it took me twelve hours to read Barack Obama’s speech on race. I started reading at breakfast, continued during lunch, and finished after dinner. (Such is my life, these days.)

Since childhood, I’ve always been interested in how people talk about race, and Barack Obama does it remarkably well. Which is why I’m remarking on it. Really, I’m not telling you who to vote for. I’m just telling you to read his speech.

It should only take a half hour or so, uninterrupted.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Easter Candy 2008

It’s not as much fun buying candy when your kids are wearing braces. That became very clear to me in the Easter candy aisle at Target on Saturday. I had to tear myself away from all those lovely jellybeans and Starbursts and Tootsie Rolls, but I bought a lot of chocolate—the best I could find. Our daughters can coat their teeth in the stuff, and the brackets will remain intact.

Still, I hung around examining the wares. The blood-orange colored Peeps made me gag. The mom standing next to me and I both agreed that the flavored, edible grass for the Easter baskets was just weird.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Trying to Reduce My Caffeine Intake

A while back, I tore this info out of a Chicago Parent magazine. I meant to share it with a couple of Starbucks addicts I know. I just found it in a pile of stuff on my dining room table:

Caffeine Counter (per 8oz serving, unless otherwise noted):

Chocolate milk—5mg
Decaffeinated coffee—5mg
Green tea— 25-40mg
Black tea—40-70mg
Diet Coke (12oz)—46mg
Mountain Dew (12oz)—55mg
Red Bull (8.3oz)—80mg
Coffee, drip brewed—102-200mg
Starbucks Coffee (Grande, 16oz)—320mg

I don’t know how accurate these numbers are. But there’s this, too.

Maybe chocolate milk is the way to go!

Monday, February 4, 2008

The CPS Middle School Vote

My daughter's teacher conducted a mock primary today.

Out of the 91 students he polled, 82 voted for Senator Barack Obama.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Musa, Musa, Musa

I’ve been watching my daughters’ Tae Kwon Do class since they started in January. I’ve learned a lot about my children sitting there as an observer. For instance, they’re impossibly flexible. They are also loud and fast and aggressive. I realize I’m not in the habit of describing my daughters with these words.

Earlier this week my daughter’s sixth grade class went downtown on a field trip to Chicago's Harold Washington Library to do History Fair research. While the children were diligently pursuing their assignment, a strange man approached one of my daughter’s classmates and asked her to follow him. She went to get her teacher instead.

I found out about the incident when my daughter called me after school with the worrisome details. She said the whole thing was creepy. There was a pause in our conversation—because, as you can imagine—she was creeping me out, too. But before I could come up with the words to make her (and myself) feel better, she made this statement:

“If anybody ever bothers a friend of mine again, I’m gonna practice my tornado kicks on him!”

Thank you, warrior daughter. I feel better already.

Friday, January 25, 2008

CPS Saps My Energy

Hubby and I send our twin daughters to two different Chicago Public Schools (CPS). It's a long story, and one I'm not going to tell now.

But over the last few days, I've been thinking about what we've gained by sticking with that decision. As a family, we've been exposed to diverse educational experiences; our daughters to a broader curriculum. We've found more friends, had more fun, worked with more teachers and teaching styles, and learned about the politics of different neighborhoods. Double-everything hasn't always been easy. (Truthfully, at times, it's been downright difficult.)

But I'm fond of saying that difficult things are worth doing. In this case, our decision forced Hubby and I to keep the big educational picture in mind. We could never just focus on one school, one set of issues. And that was worth it, because slowly we've come to see how all the CPS children and CPS educators and CPS schools are connected.

The downside of our experience is that we've come to realize the problems CPS faces are just too vast. Each year I ask myself, what program/
teacher/school won't be around next year? And now, after the CPS week we've had, I'm quickly losing confidence in our ability as a city and as a society to solve these problems at all.

If this is how I feel, as a parent, imagine how the teachers feel.

Monday, January 21, 2008

CPS Blues

The Chicago Board of Education's monthly meeting is this Wednesday at 10:30am (125 S. Clark St.) A lot of changes coming. . . .

Click here and start reading under the category "125 S. Clark St." to learn more.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

4 Excuses for Not Updating My Blog

The main reason I haven’t posted in a full month is because I started a new full-time job. I expected it to be an adjustment for our family—after close to a decade of freelance work—but we’ve all landed in 2008 healthy, sane, and a little richer.

It’s also true my blogging suffers because I share a computer with Hubby and two 12-year-olds. In the past, this hasn’t been too much of a problem, because I always worked while the girls were at school and Hubby was at the office. Now, we are all demanding the computer during the same chunk of evening hours. This dilemma could be easily resolved by purchasing a laptop, but I have feelings about that. Besides, these days I mostly want computer time to load up my new iPod (which is why I’m last in line at the computer and another reason why I haven’t been blogging).

So this morning, while the girls were still sleeping and Hubby was out to breakfast with some friends, I decided it was the perfect time to catch up on the blog.

Except my dog got there first.