Monday, August 1, 2016

No Excuse for Morally Corrupt Behavior. None.

Every day I wake up, read the news, and think "this is it". Every day I think that this new tweet, speech, or stupidity is going to be the one to force people to reevaluate the Republican nominee. Last Friday I was certain, how could anyone who purposes to support the United States and those who fight for this country not be offended by the comments made by the candidate in response to Mr. Khan's speech at the Democratic convention? Perhaps you don't agree with some of the things said by Mr. Khan but certainly the idea that the candidate likened his sacrifices to those of the Khan family, whose son died while fighting in the American military, is repugnant.

Once again, I was wrong. Comments in support of the candidate appeared immediately.

If Hillary Clinton had herself signed up Captain Khan for military duty, if she had been a judge who offered him the choice of either jail or military, if she had driven him to the airport or flown him overseas in her own private yet taxpayer paid for jet, if she had dropped him into the middle of the area where he was killed, it would not justify the comments made by the candidate.

How Captain Khan found himself in this position is another story but this one is the tragedy of a family loosing their son to war, of a family making the ultimate sacrifice in honor of a country they chose, and for the Republican nominee to slander, question, or belittle that is morally and horrifically wrong.

Captain Humayun S.M. Khan

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Other Side? Hate, Anger, Contempt, Disdain, Hostility, Deceit

"Take each other's side", she said.

My mother, who generally abstained from political discussion, was suggesting, as she browned hamburger or drained pasta, that we do what?

"Stop arguing your own side and argue the other. It will help, especially if you want to go to law school". Did I want to go to law school?

My mother voted for George Bush because he was handsome. She grew up in Texas,  home to a preponderance of Republicans, and the best reasoning she could dream up in voting for George Bush was his boyish good looks. Politics were not, and have never been, of any interest to her but the woman can argue with a calendar as to what day it is.

My father, a Texas Aggie republican, and his daughter, a burgeoning democrat, were momentarily silenced from the conversation that had been going on for years.

Note both practical conservative and liberal crunchy footwear.
Dad drew me in to politics, bringing home his love of history and debate to dinner every night, at no time more heartily than the summer of 1980, when Jimmy Carter was poised to lose the White House to Ronald Reagan. Reagan was everything Dad wanted him to be, I felt tragically sorry for Carter and all the tragedies of his administration, and John Anderson was an interesting, albeit idealistic, option. My father spent hours explaining to me the insanity of an Anderson vote (twelve years later he quietly cast his vote for Ross Perot unable to take any more of the Bush years). That summer I had knee surgery and spent a week in the hospital, the same week as the Republican National Convention. I remember quite clearly the nurse apologizing when she realized that then, in the days of only three network stations, the only thing to watch on my hospital television, was the convention. My week of bed rest was spent arming myself political ammunition.

Weeks later Sharie shut us both down with this simple idea, "take the other side".

For all the madness that is my mother this idea, her own nod to Atticus Finch, has served me well, not only in political debate, but in the day to day interactions of an adult, a mother, a wife.

And so, in this election, I have tried very hard to argue the other side. I have read countless articles written by people in support of Donald Trump, or in support of those things he propounds to believe. In years past this approach has worked, and ultimately, while I may have not agreed ideologically with candidates, I could find a level of respect for them and their beliefs. Not so this year.

In fact I am challenged to find one piece of good in either the candidate or campaign. Beyond that, I am horrified as I watch the unearthing of hate and anger which, it seems, has been lying dormant for years in a country that extols acceptance and equality as it's virtues. The ongoing rebuttal of fact, the creation of new rules and the lowered standard of behavior is simply mind boggling. No matter how many times I try to argue the other side I find there is simply nothing there to argue. I am at a complete loss as to the dismissal of intelligent thought when faced with this childlike and temperamental behavior. This alone would, and should, disqualify a candidate. It seems in 2016 his lack of moral compass and ongoing disregard for standards of civil conduct seem to only propel him further along. People finding their voice in this candidate scare me far more than the candidate himself.

I question the intelligence and temperament of anyone willing to vote for a man so completely unqualified and unprepared for this job, and I do not understand those that chose to not vote out of disgust for both options. You may not like or agree with one, but you must exercise your precious right to vote. Maintain your politics at the state and legislative level but don't forgo your chance to keep this republican out of the White House.

Dear Mom, I have tried, really I have to argue the other side. The truth is I can't see the policy for the hyperbole. I can't find the truth for the misrepresentation of politics and process. I can't find the good for the abhorrent and repulsive behavior. I have tried.

In my heart I know my dad, the lifetime republican, would do the right thing. Never a democrat but decent and kind and passionately tied to education and truth my father would vote to keep this man and his contempt for women, minorities, and the disabled out of the White House.

Take this opportunity to do the right thing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tweet Me Alexander Hamilton!

ally lang @northsidefour
@beernottea what would you dump in the harbor today? #teaparty What would cousin @fairtrialjohnny have to say about all of this? #RNC2016

One of the best things about pulling a new book off the bookshelves in our home is finding what odd scrap of paper I might have stuck in the pages for use as a future book mark. Our books are full of old plane tickets, sweet notes left for one or the other, assorted receipts from city subways , entrance tickets to museums and galleries and zoos, children's drawings, and this gem discovered yesterday.

Last summer the girls, after reading Johnny Tremain, created a list of twitter names for the Sons of Liberty, and other notable Revolutionary War icons. Not knowing just what to do with such a treasure, I stuck it in a book, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, to be found this summer.

How I'd love to tweet John Adams right now; surely that old blowhard has something to say about this madcap election. Can you name these founding fathers? And mothers?


In order:

Paul Revere
Patrick Henry
John Hancock
John Adams*
Alexander Hamilton
Abigail Adams
Samuel Adams
George Washington

Wishful thinking, as if Adams or Hamilton could keep their comments to 140 characters.

*Mary and Kate give me credit for @fairtrialjohnny, entirely possible as I have always respected Adams' sound belief in a fair trial for all, but I don't remember crafting this clever name.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Alexander Hamilton: Before We Rapped We Read

Hamilton with his nemesis Burr

Every year on January 11th, or, if that glorious day falls on a weekend, the nearest weekday, I read just one book to every class at Alexander Hamilton Elementary School, "Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words", by Chicago author Dennis Brindell Fradin (sadly attempts to lure him to Hamilton School have been unsuccessful). January 11th, Hamilton's birthday, is celebrated with great gusto at his namesake school, in fact the founding father himself has visited almost every year (quite confusing to some younger children who were almost certain that he was dead).

Before there was a healthy school, there were cupcakes for every child, and a school wide birthday sing along lead by the choir or the music teacher or a willing guy with a guitar (thankfully for my children this celebratory task was never assigned to me). My self designated role on the greatest day of the year has always been to read about Hamilton and to talk about his accomplishments and his shortcomings. To remind children that while what he might be most well known for, until recently, was his tragic death, that his list of achievements is long, and often overlooked.

Three things that students are expected to know:

1. He was never, ever a President,
2. But he was the first Secretary of the Treasury, and
3. His face is on the $10 bill; one of only two men to never serve as President honored in this way.

Older students get to listen to me blather on about his leadership in the creation of our system of finance (and his advocacy for reasonable public debt), his want of a strong Federal government, his role in the compromise to unify the states and locate the new capital in northern Virginia, and his mad writing skills, most notably found in that page turner, The Federalist Papers.

We do not discuss his indiscretions, poor decision making skills or Maria Reynolds.

Talking with children about history is fun and interesting. When you create stories, rather than facts, it's engaging. Of course when you create awe inspiring musicals that sing, dance and rap the story it's even better. Teaching children history is important because some day it might be cool to know exactly who this founding father without a father really is; students at Hamilton School already do (I hope).

Kindergarten classes are spared the tragic and sad story of the duel. Conversations with young classes focus on the idea of honor and the long held belief, and hope, that Hamilton shot into the air.

July 11th marks the anniversary of the duel, fought in Weehawken, New Jersey 212 years ago. 

Books We Love to Read

Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words, Dennis Brindell Fradin and Larry Day
Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider, Jean Fritz
Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History, Don Brown
The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, Judith St. George

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

An Apology Letter to Mrs. Chamberlin, Grade School Librarian

June 28, 2016

Dear Mrs. Chamberlin,

I am so sorry.

I'm sure there were reasons, possibly extenuating circumstances, but that's not an excuse. I do know that once I left my book outside on the patio and it rained, and we paid for that one, but I bet you had to send numerous notes home, and that wasn't right. I should have been more responsible and taken better care of my library book, but I didn't. And I should have brought you the money right away but I bet it took at least a few weeks. Before email I am certain there were notes lost, notes not delivered, notes purposely misplaced in hopes of finding the book. I know you had more important things to do than chase down an irresponsible child who had ruined a library book.

Maybe you don't remember, and quite possibly I shouldn't bring this up, but let me also apologize for routinely finding books that were not really appropriate for my grade or reading level. You know that shelf, the one that was directly across from the biography section? I loved those books, and I now realize that those books were there for children in the upper grades, and I should have waited until at least fifth grade to ask to check them out. Do you remember the time I found the book about the women suffragists; it had a black and white photograph of four women holding placards on the front, and I ran around the library showing everyone my amazing find? I think I may have been a little disruptive because you took that book away from me and stashed it behind the desk with Mrs. Osborn. I also have vague memories of sitting quietly alone for a good period of time following the suffragist book incident. I'm sorry.

I'm not making excuses here but I'm wondering if you still have those carrels, the ones that were on the floor and kind of comfortable? I ask because I know that more than once you had to remind me (and I'd guess Jim L.) to be quiet when we were in those carrels. Here's the thing, we were reading, but we were also talking, about the books. Have you read "Henry and Ribsy"? That's funny stuff. Wasn't there a story about Ribsy trying to save the garbage because he thought it was Henry's? Can you blame us for laughing? Yes, I'm certain we were too loud and I'm sorry. I bet Jim is also. You shouldn't have had to ask so many times, but you know, maybe had I been reading that suffragist, we would have still found something to make us laugh.

A few years ago I found all my old report cards; my mother was holding on to them for this exact reason. Attached to my third grade report card was a receipt, signed by you, for $6.00: lost book replacement cost, received of Allyson Lang. I saved it, made a copy, and hung it on the door to the library where I now work. It's a reminder to our students that everyone looses books and that no one should feel terrible about it, accidents happen. Between you and me, accidents happen far too frequently. There are some students who make a genuine mistake (say leaving a book on the back patio when it rains) and they feel terrible about it. But there are many who say things like "I never checked that book out" or "I already returned that book" or the absolute worst, "my mom forgot to return that". Mrs. Chamberlin! Did their mother check out that book?

Libraries are such an amazing way to teach children about sharing and community and responsibility. Imagine, you allowed me to take home a book every week of my grade school life, and you trusted that I would return that book in the same condition. I know I let you down but I'm grateful that you allowed me to pay for the book and continue to check out for the next three years. Mistakes happen, thanks for understanding that.

I hope you enjoyed your job, running around in those burgundy pantsuits and pixie haircuts, trying to maintain order in that sprawling suburban school library. It was my favorite time of the week, not just because I read funny books with Jim in the carrels, but because I loved finding books in the library that I was genuinely excited to read. Did you know that I read every biography of a first lady in the library? Every one. Abigail Adams was my favorite, still is, followed closely by Eleanor Roosevelt. On the table next to my bed is the new biography of Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy. I'll finish it this summer, and I bet I'll think of you and the tall shelf in the far corner, where you kept your biographies, when I do.

My apologies for all the time you spent chasing after me and my books. I'd like to say it was childhood exuberance, and that may have been a factor, but there was also childhood irresponsibility in play. I should have returned my books on time and paid quickly for those left in the rain, I've learned my lesson.

Thanks Mrs. Chamberlin, I really loved library.

Your former student,

Allyson Lang

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

PARCC, Opting In

My children are taking the PARCC test.

Not because we are making a political statement or because I really believe in standardized testing, but simply because it is offered, the expectation is to test, and I believe the more you do something the better and more comfortable with it you become.

The reality is that testing is now a part of my daughters' lives, and right or wrong evaluating through testing is the standard. I wish it wasn't. I also wish they would never fall down, be disappointed or find out that I'm not as smart as they think.

There are many questions regarding the validity of this test, whether or not it is a good evaluator of either teachers or students. There are uncertainties as to how the information gained from the test will be used and if the test has been properly vetted. There are concerns that I share about the time allotted to testing, meaning less instruction time in the classroom. The reality is that my children will test for a total of 12 hours over two weeks. It is not a weeks long all day test, as it has been represented in some information. I'd rather that time be used for instruction but given a choice between taking a test, and becoming more comfortable with standardized testing, or sitting in a study hall environment, I chose the test.

My children do not have great anxiety with regard to testing, and perhaps I would feel differently if they did. We have made it very clear to them that these tests will not in any way determine where they go to college or what career they will chose or whether or not they will live in Istanbul as adults. As with any test they take our mantra is to go in and show what you know, and what you don't. The discovery of what you don't know is, in my opinion, just as valuable as finding out what you do. That said I have no idea how they scored on PARCC last year, nor can I recite their MAP scores, which is perhaps indicative of the significance I place on testing.

We opt in, not because I am compliant but because I find value in taking the test, and I feel strongly that facing the challenge is an important lesson. Taking action, voicing your opinion and standing up for what you believe also matters, but we don't all wear the same size shoe, nor should we.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

So Bold, So Brave, So Smugly Anti Trump

Last week, when it was 70 degrees in Chicago and I was out running errands in flip flops, enjoying this break in winter like I enjoy the last glass of wine, all the while knowing that at some point I would pay for this frivolity, I smugly posted this on Facebook:

Seventy degrees in Chicago today; remind me again why you don't recycle?

That's not like me! While I may have many a smug opinion I rarely share them so publicly. I generally decline to opine, at least on Facebook. I was oddly empowered to share my snarky disdain for those who chose, for reasons I will never understand, to not recycle.

Several days later I posted a picture on Instagram of our dear mutt Russell, adopted last summer from a shelter in Michigan with this hashtag: #adoptdontshop.


It's true, I don't understand the logic of buying a dog from a breeder or pet store when there are so many dogs in shelters who desperately need a good home, and yes, I admit to a certain level of smug when I cuddle my seven month tenured shelter pup, but why did I need to share that?


My absolute disdain for Donald Trump has empowered me with an unfamiliar level of bravado. My new sense of superiority in almost every way to Trump supporters is translating into a new and mouthy me. Of course you should recycle! And I don't care if it's not offered in your neighborhood, bag it up and drop it off; how difficult is that? For that matter take the extra five steps at Starbucks to put your paper cup/napkin/bag/newspaper in the recycle bin (which is generally directly next to the garbage bin, requiring no fancy footwork at all).  And the dog? Adopt a beautiful dog or cat and take that $500 that you would have spent on a pedigreed puppy and donate it to the shelter, they need it.

It's the constant onslaught of information, factual information, that refutes most of what Donald Trump says, combined with the daily reminders of his total disregard for minorities and women, that feed my self righteous behavior. Not only cannot I not support a man who plays on fear and chaos, I feel a responsibility to look for the truth, share what I know, and push for reason. It's not all right to mock those with physical handicaps or insult veterans. It is not all right to belittle, badger and bully others, and it is certainly not all right to encourage violence.

Nowhere is that responsibility greater than in my interpretation of this madness to my children, children who understand the value of opening their homes and hearts to those that are in need. It is my responsibility to teach them to think critically, challenge what they are told and to always seek out the truth. Integrity matters, as does kindness.

Recycle, because it is the right thing to do and the actions of one can make a difference. Find your voice.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Rewarding Bad Behavior: Retrumplicans Finding Their Voice

When deciding where to go for dinner Tuesday our daughters' main criteria was finding a place with televisions so they could watch the election returns. They are, at eleven, actively engaged in the entire political process and eager to absorb as much of this election as possible. 

Name calling, bullying, lying; it's been quite educational thus far. 

Trump's behavior belies everything we teach our children about being good people. But that isn't the most concerning aspect of this campaign, it's the amazing amount of people who continue to support him.

What concerns me is not Trump's refusal to dismiss the endorsement of a KKK leader, or even his inability to accept responsibility for his misstep. What is truly concerning is that there is an entire population of people who have found their voice in this racist bully and that is much harder to explain to children.

Trump continues to offend. His debate behavior is patronizing and boorish. The list of people he has insulted, mocked or threatened is extensive. And yet, it doesn't matter. With each profanation his support grows, and that is what is most disturbing. At this point the truth doesn't matter and sadly Trump is correct; it seems he could fire a gun down Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes.

Trump wants to build a wall to keep out others; he may need to build a wall to keep in Americans. Living in a country where a majority of people support this kind of tyranny undermines the objectives of the founding fathers. Dismissing the behavior of one is much easier than accepting the racial, economic and social divide supported by the once silent majority of Trump supporters. Trump's unearthing of hatred is terrifying and in sharp contrast to the message of kindness and inclusion we are teaching our children.

Make certain there is always room at the lunch table for someone who hasn't anywhere else to sit. 

Cartoon, David Sipress, The New Yorker

Monday, February 1, 2016

He'll Say Anything To Get That Dog

He wants this so bad. He really, really wants this. And he's willing to say just about anything to get it.

Which is what happens when you really want something and you are willing to try every angle, without thinking through the entire argument. My ten year old children, who really wanted a dog, promised to always feed the dog. They would walk him every day, I would hardly know there was a dog in the house. They were even willing to find a way to fund the health care, if we would only get them a dog.

We got them a dog. But we knew that they would not always remember to feed the dog, and they would not always be able to walk the dog, and they certainly were not able to fund the dog. Children who really want something are willing to say just about anything to get it, but we, as parents, know that those promises made in the heat of the ask are not going to always be fulfilled. That's all right. We make the decisions based on reasonable expectations and facts, aware that they are emotions at work as well.

The problem here is that the facts seem not to be in play at all, and reasonable expectations are being cast aside en lieu of emotions. Mr. Trump has promised to overturn marriage equality, which he can't do. He is going to pack the court with the kind of justices that believe, as he does, that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Except that isn't going to work because there aren't enough liberal justices in the queue to retire to change the vote, at least not now.

But he's saying what he thinks the voters in Iowa want to hear, because he wants this so very badly. I'm just worried that they are listening, and not thinking through how badly he wants this dog.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas She Said

She smiled warmly when I stumbled in, "Merry Christmas" she said, in deeply accented English.

It was after 11:00 pm and I had spent the past six hours making a two hour trip, weather delays trapping me on the ground in a city I did not want to leave. There were no more than five of us on the plane, the last flight from Kansas City to Chicago, on Christmas night. It was snowing, in both places, perfect for Christmas, unless your Christmas is to be spent flying from one winter wonderland to another.

My dad took me to the airport. Even with an early dinner we had to leave before Nana's Christmas cake, a brandy soaked tradition. It was to be the last Christmas for my 90 year old grandfather, the year he repeatedly asked where he had tied up his horse. It was a Christmas that all seven kids had made it home, when my grandmother was still able to cook, my dad still able to carve the turkey and a family all together for one last precious time. Waving good-bye was like leaving the ghost of Christmas everything; taking me away from my family on Christmas is unthinkable, stepping onto a plane scattered with strangers, like torture.

Frustrated that I drew the short straw, that no one else, not even the other clerks and paralegals who weren't traveling, offered to be there on the day after Christmas, I moped and pouted with the time I did have with my family. I was angry at my horrible boss, the one who removed his glasses and used the end piece to clean his ears whenever we met to discuss medical records or boring depositions. The one who callously said "you know I'm Jewish, I could work on Christmas day" when I asked if I could at least come in late the next day; my need to repeatedly quote him not really enveloping the spirit of Christmas.

Because my father flew frequently, often three or four days a week, he was familiar to almost everyone at the American Airlines counter in Kansas City. Having Dad deliver me to the airport meant a seat in first class as they often extended this courtesy to his daughter when available. On this night, given that I was one of five people flying, my seat in row 3 was secure. He waited with me until they finally boarded, the two of us sitting in the lonely and cold airport, the bar closed and the place deserted. I encouraged him to go home, but secretly hoped he would stay, scared to be alone and wishing that maybe they would finally just cancel this flight and strand me, helpless and unable to get to work. The plane had to be in Chicago, the flight would go, even if we had to wait all night.

Two hours later they called the few of us remaining to board. Leaving home was difficult, saying good-bye to my father who was my Christmas constant, horrible. The plane was de-iced, we pushed back from the gate, and O'Hare closed to incoming flights. We waited. I buried my head in my mixed nuts, not at all interested in small talk with the nice flight attendant who was probably not exactly where she wanted to be either. I questioned all the decisions: grad school away from my family, the terrible job at the hideous law firm, the one that made me cry almost every day as the bus approached my stop. My dad suggested I quit, find something else, but I knew I was learning, more about what I did not want to do than what I did, and the miserable pay was better than nothing at all.

After almost two hours of waiting we took off. I cried when the wheels left the ground.

O'Hare was deserted, as quiet as I had ever seen it. My lone bag spun on the carousel, as lost as I was. I threw it over my shoulder and made my way out, heading to the taxi stand rather than the train as Dad had given me cab fare, not wanting me to spend the remainder of my night on two trains and a bus getting home. I stopped in the restroom before leaving.

She smiled warmly when I stumbled in, "Merry Christmas" she said, in deeply accented English. Merry Christmas said the woman who had spent her Christmas cleaning restrooms at the airport, away from her family and friends, working at a job I have always considered to be among the worst imaginable. My day of self misery was over; "Merry Christmas" I said to her, and thank you.


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