Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Growing Up, Moving On, Hanging Tight: Kindergarten...High School


One morning, in the first week of kindergarten, the burgeoning parent group held a coffee and doughnut get together on the playground after drop off. Having survived a few days of leaving my children with relative strangers I was eager to connect with parents more seasoned and well versed in school matters. I knew no one and so lingered awkwardly near the coffee table while others chatted about teachers and after school programs and reading levels.

"Do you have a child here?", asked a woman on the receiving side of the table.

"Two actually, we have twins in kindergarten."

She was the parent of a first grader and was curious as to how we found her neighborhood school, a small grade school that had been on the brink of closing only the year before.

In Chicago you can attend your neighborhood school or, if you prefer, you can apply to schools outside your attendance area and hope. When our girls were starting kindergarten our neighborhood school was simply not an option; there had been a shooting in front of the school at 3:00 in the afternoon. Safety trumped all my other concerns, we filled out the forms and entered the girls into the vast school by school lottery. Their names were not drawn anywhere, there was no choice to be made. We entered the round two lottery: one four year old was put into first grade at a nearby school, the other found a seat in second grade at a school several miles away. They tested for the gifted and classical school program; one was put in a school in the south loop, the other on the northern suburban border, a distance of over an hour in a car. Jack walked into the CPS offices to appeal our situation. They apologized for the clerical error that put the girls into first and second grade but suggested that perhaps being in two different schools might be a good thing.

"You don't have twins then, correct?'

The veteran parent listened to my long story, offering sympathetic nods and an "oh no!" where required.

"You know, as horrible as that sounds, I've heard finding a high school is even harder."

We were day four into kindergarten, having survived the long and arduous process that ended in a wonderful school, a place that has now been our home for the past nine years. High school? Was this woman serious? High school was years into the future, further even than kindergarten had been from pregnancy. I dismissed her comment somewhat offhandedly, I had far more pressing things to concern myself with, high school was not even worth considering.

That was yesterday, maybe last month.

This past Friday Mary got her high school placement, Kate having secured her spot when she moved to a middle school in 7th grade. We were in Rome when we got the email, physically as far away as I felt from high school nine years ago. Against almost all odds the girls will be back in the same school this September, having been separated for the past two years. Somewhat surprisingly they are both happy about this; separation was hard but they have enjoyed these years apart, each finding their own place.

The search for a high school was, thankfully, far less problematic than we had been warned. Perhaps because this was the girls' search, their choice, helped greatly by their nine years of hard work.

Walking into school Friday I had a moment of finality, the very familiar feeling that something has come to an end. What has been an open ended question for months now has an answer, they have a place to be in September. They are both registered, they have school t-shirts, they are looking at after school clubs and sports. Finding a kindergarten was a relief, after months of unknown, as is finding a high school. But for something that has loomed so long on the horizon, having an answer to a question posed nine years ago seems an abrupt stop to a very long conversation.

Now I stand on the other side of the table, handing out the doughnuts. Finding a school is difficult, finding one that is hard to leave, even trickier. How lucky we have been to have called this place home for nine wonderful years.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

School Shopping List: No Guns (Arming Teachers is a Really Bad Idea)

I'm not ready to give up, and putting guns in schools sounds to me like exactly that.

Beyond the logistics of why arming teachers is a bad idea, beyond the cost and liability and training, is the idea arming teachers is a societal move that I just can't comprehend.

The irony being the very people who run screaming from universal health care, a far too socialist proposal, embrace the idea of one man one gun, the definition of leveling the playing field. Because if you arm teachers don't you then need to arm pastors, and post office managers, and concert promoters? Everyone on a military base is armed, that didn't help.

We have in place a police force; civilized societies organize and assign jobs. Visit a kindergarten classroom: one student hands out paper, one student wipes down tables, one takes messages to the office. If they all wiped down tables it would be madness. I'll continue to do my job, you continue to do yours.

This is not a sustainable solution. There are hundreds of reasons why it won't work, logical and tangible reasons, but none more important than the defeat it illustrates as a society. If you can't beat them join them? No.

The President seems to think this is the best he can do, I know we can do better.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Heart Breaking Plans: Run or Hide?

This post shooting conversation was different.

Perhaps because they are now thirteen, or maybe because they are both looking at high school in the very near future, or possibly because they are more political now than ever before, but this conversation was different.

They have a plan. My children have a tangible plan for what they will do if this kind of horror ever finds its way to their schools. No longer can we talk about the good, or look for the helpers; they aren't buying that line any more because they know that this is real and this happens and it could happen in the very places that they feel safe nine months of every year.

Mary has a hiding place, a spot she has identified in her school as a place she feels will shelter her from a shooter should someone get in her building. Kate has no such place but worries because two of her classes are held in rooms with one glass wall, "it would be like a fish tank Mom, a shooting gallery", so she'll run. They've spent time discussing this, and last week they discussed it with me.

No parent should need to discuss with their children where they will go when someone with an assault rifle gets into their school, and no child should ever have to make this plan.

But there we were, discussing the pros and cons of hiding versus running, the security measures in place at both schools, which teachers they feel will protect them, and the importance of speaking up if something feels wrong. There we were, last Thursday, having a very real conversation about what exactly my children would do if someone came into their school intending to kill them and their friends with an assault rifle.

Maybe this conversation was different because my children are no longer asking "why?".

They are planning and in that, accepting this as normal. It's not, it can't be. I'm angry, you should be too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Writing, Cleaning, Procrastinating, Not Writing At All

Rather than writing a story on a Chicago celebration, which I am supposed to have finished next Monday,  I am organizing my drive, which has never before been touched. Technically it's not happening now either, but I am discovering a bunch of things I wrote when the girls were much younger, scraps of notes on the floor of my disorganized google drive. I'm having a wonderful time!

Time Out April, 2009

There are several things in our home that are automatic time out offenses: hitting, screaming, spitting and often throwing. Today at lunch, for no real reason, Mary spit out an edamame. Time out.

After two minutes she was allowed to return to the table.

“Why were you in time out?”
“I would rather not discuss it”

Back to time out. Two minutes later she returned.

“Now, why were you in time out?”
“Let’s just say I’m sorry and move on.”

Time out is clearly a very effective method of punishment.

Book Time May, 2008

One hour of relative quiet each day, one hour to myself while the girls coexist in quasi peace in their bedroom amongst an enormous pile of books. Naps may have faded to the occasional but praise the Lord and pass the sanity, we still have book time, in theory. Today they compiled their allotment, 10 or so books apiece and marched in order to their assigned space, promised calm, and opened to the first page.

Foolishly I decided to sacrifice my hour to repairing our Internet connection, akin to me thinking the best use of this precious time would be to rotate the tires and check the brake fluid. I called India. A wonderfully patient and kind woman with a very strong accent answered, it took five minutes for me to explain that the problem was the Internet connection, I started with “my computer doesn’t work”.

“MOM, Kate is climbing on the bookshelf!”. The kind woman kept talking, “excuse me, one moment, just, excuse me”. I sent the child back to book time. Next we had, “MOM, Eleanor just threw up”, the woman continued. And then a scream, a piercing scream, which I assumed must have meant that Kate fell off the bookshelf and directly into the vomit. The woman kept talking. This tragedy allowed me five minutes of time in which I was directly confused and quite overwhelmed, and no closer at all to finding the problem with my computer.

“Mom, I have to go potty”, fine, yes that is fine, acceptable, preferable really to other options, off you go. A few more minutes, “MOM, come quick, MOM, the toilet is spilling”. While I may not know much about computers, or India, or auto maintenance, I do know that when one puts an entire roll of scrunched up tissue into a toilet it quite likely will cause a problem.

The woman was still talking. “Excuse me, I’m sorry, thank you for your help but my children have flooded my bathroom and I’m going to have to hang up”.

The flood waters have receded and I will be posting from the coffee shop tomorrow, again.

Meet the Flintstones August, 2009

To combat our open run on illness, I recently introduced Flintstone vitamins to Mary and Kate’s daily diet. At breakfast each day we discuss Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty, creating a great curiosity in the girls as to the daily life of the Flintstone family. Recently I discovered an old episode on a far off cable channel and the three of us sat down to watch Fred and Barney at the lodge while Wilma and Betty were at home with Pebbles and BamBam. They loved it, as did I.

Today I overheard this recap:

Mary: Kate, did you see the telephone? It was round, no buttons, you turned it to call someone. Funny!
Kate: Well Mary, they lived a very long time ago. Things were different.

Really? The car propelled by feet got by you but that archaic phone, similar to the one I used as a child, that was the ancient indicator.

It's been a wonderful afternoon. I always feel so accomplished when I write.







Monday, August 28, 2017

What I Want

It's been over one year since I have written anything here. I miss the corralling of thought this place gives me; instead I've been uttering in sometimes incoherent rants on twitter, occasionally Facebook. I am so completely immersed in politics that I've missed writing about the things that matter most to me: my children, my family, growing up, growing old. Rather I greet each day with news of what was said or done overnight, and each day I am genuinely horrified.

For two years (at least) I have been working on a collection of stories-those were supposed to be finished this summer. I've read about half as many books as usual. My morning quiet, extended this summer to at least three hours thanks to lazily sleeping children, has been consumed not with stories of faraway places but 140 character snippets of information, quite often leading me down a rabbit hole of hate and unkindness. I've given up far too much of my time, time that is really only mine for two months of the year.

What I've learned in allowing myself to be dragged into conversations that inevitably end in frustration is that there are people who still believe, soundly believe, that what is happening in the United States is a good thing, the right thing. There are those who believe that economic growth, attributed to this administration but factually part of an eight year increase, outweighs the other issues. There are people who believe that the other issues, as repugnant as I might find them, are the correct course for this country.

I do not.

My husband was asked if he had changed his mind regarding Trump given the economy. His response was brilliant:

Frankly, I find the question offensive, and the concept to be repugnant. To consider that I might be more OK with a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, unstable commander in chief , just because I would have a few more dollars in my pocket? Hell no. How selfish would that be? "Sorry Mary and Kate, your President says it's ok to grab women by the pussy, but we're richer now, so that makes up for it."

It was suggested to me that I watch inspirational videos on YouTube because in America everything is possible and that if you are offended by confederate statues or schools named after Civil War generals you should just move. In my life I know many people who don't have this option. Perhaps if we all watched inspirational videos on YouTube we'd find the way. I doubt it.

I want my life back.

I want to not worry everyday about what he might do or say, and who he might anger, or inspire. I want my children to grow up with a commander in chief who models dignity, kindness, intelligence, and compassion. I want to live in a country where hate is not fueled by fear, where hate is not tolerated, where hate is not the standard.

I want this to be over.

Allyson

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?


@silvermakinrebel
@paddyh
@nospectacles
@fairtrialjohnny
@iamnotapresident
@getthepoxout
@beernottea
@preznoking

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 book...no, 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


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