Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Blue Line, Green Line, Chicken on a Bus: Getting There is The Whole Journey

The first time I rode on a subway I was about 6 years old, with my father, and, in all places, underneath Mexico City. A most unusual entree to public transportation for a girl from Kansas City but my father, whose usual means of transport while traveling was in the back seat of a car being driven by someone other than himself, thought it important for me to be comfortable on mass transit. Perhaps knowing that my future would not be one of backseat riding, he took me on the train in every major city we visited. By high school I understood the hilarity of my father having the driver pull over and drop us at a train stop, with instructions to pick us up a bit further down the line.

In Boston, following a minor traffic accident in the Callahan tunnel at the hands of an angry taxi driver fueled by a deafening Mahler, we moved on to the T. In Puerto Vallarta we rode a bus with a chicken. He left me to navigate the DC Metro alone, a first, setting me up for years of confident transit riding in Chicago, London, Paris, Philadelphia, and yes, Kansas City. Following a knee surgery, unable to drive, I rode the KC bus to work every day for weeks, which proved to be the source of amusement for many of my coworkers, as well as a good books worth of stories.

Last night we had dinner with the more adult than child daughter of one of my oldest friends, in town for a conference. The last time I saw her she was in a diaper, bundled mightily, and rocking in a basket in my living room. I expected a bit more than that but was quite surprised when, after dinner, she pulled out her phone and mapped the best route back to her hotel, "the green line I think" (to be fair I was also surprised that she ordered her own food, didn't drool once, and stood without assistance). It seems the ability to find your way, wherever you may be, is impressive.

This afternoon my daughter Mary texted me, would it be all right to go with friends to the Anti Cruelty Society after school? They needed to visit to complete a science project, due next week, "we'll take the blue line".

Thanks Dad.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Last night I put away the china. It took hours because in my years I have accumulated a hefty haul of the good stuff. And I was happy to do this because I found myself a lovely new china cabinet, actually quite old, at an antique auction that, for the first time in my entire adulthood, actually holds every single dish and platter and bowl and egg cup. Every single piece, which is to say that this is one gigantic old cabinet, moved to its new home in the back of a truck (hired via an app recommended by a dear friend who did not, understandably, want to move said cabinet herself) marked in grease paint: For Sale, $600 OBO. I'll dance around the price difference of cabinet and truck and note that I was noticeably nervous during the entire six block journey home (but happy to report that driver and helper were in fact most helpful and that we all arrived home safely scratch free).  But that is another story; this is the story of the contents, and not the cabinet.

My great aunt Margaret's china, a delicate old ivory pattern, fills most of my shelves . I have full place settings for at least 14, plus assorted creamers and soup tureens and finger bowls. My cousin has an equal amount of the same pattern; pooling our resources we could host a formal dinner for an entire classroom of kindergartners. I doubt we will do that, but we could.

Additionally I have 15 place settings of an old English china that I bought years ago at, oh dear, another antique auction (I'm drawn) because I liked it, and it reminded me very much of my grandmothers pattern, Autumn by Lenox. She collected and added to the pieces given to her at her wedding so that when it was time to share she had enough to stock the cabinets of several granddaughters. Many happy family dinners were served, and spilled, on those beautiful old plates. I trust that the tradition continues. My inheritance on the grandmother dining front came in the form of utensil, not dish, and for that I am quite pleased. But the china, and the vast quantity of it, always intrigued me. It was there for Sunday dinner, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, but when else was it dirtied? What would I do with all these dishes? I was barely beyond microwave popcorn for dinner when she explained, "my dear, you have china so that when your husband brings home business associates you can serve a proper meal for them". She was serious, I'm not kidding.

You're thinking about all those last minute phone calls when Darren called Sam to tell her that he and Larry were on their way with very important clients, right? And of course then Endora appeared with Uncle Arthur just as Sam pulled out a pork roast and Tabitha made a circus tent with baby elephants appear on the front lawn, and Mrs. Kravitz ran to tell her husband about all she saw just as Larry and Darren pulled up with their guests and... yes, I know, me too. But Jack has not once called late in the day to tell me that he was on the way with Sean and very important clients, and it turns out that Jack is not the only one with a job so there's that poop in the oatmeal.

Unwrapping years and years of bubble wrap and placing my precious pieces in their new home I made a decision. We will host a last minute but carefully planned dinner. There will be no very important clients (my clients tend to be, average, about 10 years old) nor baby elephants but there will be colleagues and conversation and wine and lovely dishes. Jack is none to certain about this mixing of bankers and teachers but I'm confident we can pull it off. Do you work with either one of us? Want to come to dinner? Mimi would be so pleased.

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.


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.


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