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Monday, October 2, 2017

Enough

Like the rest of the country, I woke up this morning to the tragic news out of Las Vegas.  I was heartbroken that this had happened once again, but quickly, my heartbreak turned into pure, unadulterated anger.  When will enough be enough?

It wasn't enough after Columbine.
It wasn't enough after Aurora.
It wasn't enough after Fort Hood.
It wasn't enough after San Bernadino.
It wasn't enough after Sandy Hook.
It wasn't enough after Pulse.
It wasn't enough after Charleston.
It wasn't enough after any of the horrific massacres that have happened in the United States because there are basically too many to name.

And last night in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in the history of our country.  Is that enough for you?    Fifty lives lost.  Over four hundred people injured.  How about that?  Enough?  Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters: people listening to country music.  One night, one minute, and the lives of countless people are forever changed. It *IS* enough. It just is.

Prayer is lovely, don't get me wrong.  But the time for prayer after something this disgustingly appalling is long past.  It's time for action.  I know that people shoot people and guns aren't entirely to blame, but automatic weapons sure make mass murder a hell of a lot easier, don't they?  Those weapons have no place in our society because nothing good can come out of having them. I don't particularly care if you quote the Second Amendment to me because the world today is quite a bit different from when that was written, and everyone knows it.

Use your soul for prayer if that makes you feel whole, but you need to use your brain to make some serious choices about what happens next. If the statistics don't scare you, you're not doing it right, I promise you that.

Research.
Propose new laws.
Run for office.
Vote.
Decide that enough is unequivocally enough.  We are better than this, America; we have to be better than this.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

3,285 days

My sweet boy,

Today you are 9 years old, and every time I write a birthday post for you, I have no idea where the time has gone.  It seems like not long ago at all when I held you for the first time and watched you sleep.  I remember wondering what on earth I was going to do with a boy, and little did I know that you would inspire within me such a fierce and enduring love.








This has been a year of change for you, I think.  You are slowly but surely growing up.  You are still hesitant and cautious when it comes to new things, but you're more willing to try them now than you were a year ago.  Last year, you said, in your old man wisdom, that you thought Cub Scouts was too dangerous because there were arrows and bb guns involved.  I knew you wanted to do it, but there was something deep inside that was holding you back.  This year, you casually mentioned that you were ready to try Scouts, like you had never had any qualms about it in the past.  I don't know what changed in your mind, but I'm excited for you to have a new experience.  You are jumping in the deep end of Uncle Matt's pool with abandon and riding rollercoasters while you scream with joy.



You have become somewhat more confident in yourself and your abilities.  You still get easily frustrated when you can't do something right away, but you are allowing yourself some grace time to learn and make mistakes.  If you hurt someone's feelings, you are more forthcoming with an apology than you have been in the past, and I'm so proud that you are really learning to think about other people's feelings.  Dare I say that you are learning to relax a little, too?  You are always going to be someone who thinks about things deeply and often for a long time before wanting to talk about them, but I feel as though you are taking more in stride these days.


When it was time to go back to school, no one could believe how tall you had grown over the summer.  It won't be too long before you surpass Lottie, and then soon after, me.  I actually wore your slippers around the house one time for the whole day before I realized that they were yours, so your feet might overtake mine sooner than I think.  The summer brought you a sprinkling of freckles on your nose that you hate for some unknown reason but that I find swoon-worthy. Your hair is darker and longer, so it makes you look like a teenager!  Thank goodness your beautiful blue eyes and your dark, long lashes haven't changed because they are one of the things that melt my heart.



Although you have grown in so many ways, you are still the sweet boy I have always known.  You are just as happy with a good book as you are a video game.  You love to spend time with family, and you're up for any adventure than I plan.  Something as little as a new pair of pajamas can make you beam from ear to ear.  I hope that you continue to find joy in the small things in life.  Your kindness and love to the animals in our lives is boundless.  You love to lie on the ground with Sally and gaze deep into her eyes, and you are gentle and loving with Judy.  I know that when we ever get a dog of our own, you will help me take such good care of it.



I'm probably easier on you than I should be because you're my baby, my last child.  You will be the last one to leave the nest, if you ever do, and you're far more sensitive in most respects than anyone else in the house.  Maybe I should be more firm, maybe I should make you do more that you don't want to do, but my instinct tells me that it wouldn't be good for you.  What I have learned about you in the last nine years is that you'll get around to doing everything in your own way and in your own time.  You won't be pushed, you won't be cajoled, and you won't change your mind unless you feel like you are ready.  That can make parenting you difficult from time to time, but as an adult, I think those qualities will all serve you well.


I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of you.  You are your own person, and with each day that goes by, I appreciate that more.  You bring a unique joy to our lives that I couldn't live without.

I love you the most,
Mom

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Under pressure

There is a lot of pressure in being a parent: pressure from society, pressure from other parents, pressure to be perfect, pressure to know exactly what to do at all times.  None of that compares, though, to the pressure parents get from their children.  They don't necessarily mean to do it, but when they turn up the heat, they turn it up high.

Lottie was a little apprehensive about going back to school this year because of some issues she had last year with frenemies.  (Why does this start in 4th grade?  Why does it start at all?  I mean, sheesh. Can't kids just treat each other with a modicum of decency?) She was worried about how to deal with mean girls, what to say, what to do.  I told her that I expect her to always be cordial and polite to people, but no means do I think she has to be friends with every single student in her school.  She replied that it was easy for me to say because I like and get along with everyone I meet.  I laughed and laughed when she said that because um, no.  I certainly don't want to be besties with everyone, but neither am I outwardly rude.  If she really thinks that, I'm doing my job well of teaching my children how to be cordial to others, but it also means they're watching all the time, every minute.  Talk about pressure.

Then, the other night around bedtime, both kids came to our bedroom in tears.  They both wanted to talk to us alone, so Lottie paced in the hall while Dal took the first turn.  He was trying so hard to be stoic, but I could see tears welling in his eyes as his chin began to wobble.  He said that he and Lottie had been talking about college, and she told him that college lasts for four years.  When I said she was right, his head slumped down to his chest.  His breath hitched, and then he said he never wanted to live away from us, so college just wasn't for him.  Oh, boy.  I told him that there were a lot of people who lived at home while going to college, so that was always an option for him.  Trevor chimed in that he had lived at home during law school, so Dal could stay with us as long as he wanted.  I also reminded my sweet boy that he's only 8 years old, and we had plenty of time to think about his college years.  Dallas got some hugs and kisses, walked out the door, and told Lottie that it was her turn.  I had approximately four seconds to restock my sympathy.  PRESSURE.  (And, yes, I know he won't feel that way forever.  I didn't want to diminish his feelings by telling him that, though, so I left that tidbit out for now.)

Lottie was lamenting her sisterly behavior: she said she just couldn't help yelling at Dal sometimes even though she tried to keep it all inside her head.  I reminded her that spending a lot of time with someone meant that sometimes there were fights, and that's okay as long as they remember that they love each other deep down.  She nodded slowly, and then she said she didn't think it was fair to have to share a bathroom with him.  My sympathy broke a little then, and I enjoyed seeing her gobsmacked face when I told her we only had one bathroom when I was growing up, so there.  I sent her off to bed, and then I proceeded to think about both conversations all night.  In the morning, they had both basically forgotten about the night before, and I was bleary-eyed from lack of sleep.  And not for nothin', sometimes I seriously wonder who on earth approved my motherhood status because I have no idea what I'm doing.  How do you spell parenting?  P-R-E-S-S-U-R-E.

The thing that is the most pressure is that although Trevor is almost always around when these meltdowns occur, both kids will basically climb over him to get to me.  I am pretty sure I could be in another country, and they would both hold out until I got home to lose their ever-loving' minds.  They come to me for comfort, for homework help, for fashion advice, for questions about the world, to make them food, to fix Nerf guns..to fix everything.  What IS that?  Truth be told, I don't *hate* when they want me or need me because I know that those times will slowly disappear as they get older. And it felt pretty darn good when we picked Lottie up from her week-long camp to have her run to me first.  Sometimes, though, it would be nice to step out of the histrionics and just hear about the drama later.  Of course, each time I have a little getaway or time to myself, I miss the insanity that is my house more than I ever thought I could.  What do I want you to take away from this blog post?  No idea.  My brain is too scrambled to come up with a good ending, so I'll just say to the dads, solve some of the problems on your own from time to time, and moms, revel in the fact that although you find yourselves stuck in the pressure cooker, you usually manage to keep your cool.  Pat yourselves on the back, but don't get too cocky because tomorrow is another day.

***Edited to add that Lottie just called me into the kitchen to ask me for help with a project when Trevor was standing in the kitchen 5 feet away from her.  5 FEET AWAY.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Makin' her getaway

We dropped Lottie off today for her first sleepover camp.  She is attending a volleyball camp at Valparaiso University, so she is close to home.  In the days leading up to this momentous event, people have been asking me how I'm handling it and if I'll cry and if I'm feeling sad.  Maybe I'm just an emotionless automaton, but I'm fine with her being gone.

Look, this isn't the movie version of life.  Of course I'm going to miss my girl while she is gone because she is a pretty amazing kid.  I mean, she drives me bananas sometimes, but overall, I love being around her because she is a fun person to be around, my kid or not.  But I'm not going to mope around the house and gaze wistfully into her bedroom while I lean on the door frame.  Mama's got stuff to do!  I'll wonder what she's doing and how she's doing, but I'm not going to worry about her.

I have spent ten years getting her ready for this.  Well, I guess I wasn't exactly thinking about volleyball camp, but I have been doing what we all do as parents: preparing my kids to go out on their own.  Granted, going to an overnight volleyball camp isn't getting an apartment and starting a job, but it's her first foray out into the world without me.  If anyone was born to go out into the world and devour it, it's Lottie.  The bigger the party, the bigger the adventure, the bigger the hoopla, the happier she is.

My job as a parent is to get my kids ready to be responsible citizens who will somehow contribute to society and the world at large.  They won't be able to do that if I keep the umbilical cord wrapped around them so tightly that they can't move.  If I don't let go, they're not going to go anywhere but my basement, and I don't really want them living down there when they're forty.  (Who am I kidding?  Dallas might be there anyway because he is much more of a homebody than his sister is.  But, ideally, I would like for him to at least live in a shed in the backyard.)

This is only the beginning.  At the end of the month, she'll go to an overnight camp further away from home for an entire week. So instead of crying, I'm going to rejoice in the knowledge that Lottie is most likely having the time of her life, making new friends, and maybe even learning how to play volleyball.  When I pick her up later this week, I think I'll find someone who is ready to have more new experiences and spread her wings a little wider.  I'm going to be ready to give her lots of hugs and encourage her dreams, even when her dreams lead her away from home.




Monday, March 20, 2017

Hunger is not helpful

It's getting to be tax time all over the nation, and people are sharpening their pencils, grabbing their calculators, and pulling out their hair while they work their way through worksheets and numbers.  Sometimes during the process, they might make some popcorn or grab a bowl of chips to snack on while they work.  Some might prefer an apple or a handful of granola to get them through.  They might even take a break, eat dinner, and then get back to their calculations.

Now imagine all of that happening over a six and a half hour day.  Imagine people sitting at a desk or a table trying to work while hungry.  The words blur on the pages, and the numbers don't make sense because all these people can think about is the rumbling in their stomachs. Their heads hurt, their hands shake, and anxiety starts to take over their brains.  They get depressed because they know they can't keep up with the other people at the other tables who are doing their taxes better or doing them faster. What sounds like a ridiculous scenario happens to kids every day all over the country, and yet, they are still expected to grow and progress and thrive while taking their standardized tests even while their bellies ache from hunger.

Recently, Betsy Devos, the new Secretary of Education, made a joke at the Conservative Political Action Conference.  She tried to be funny by saying that she wanted to tell Bernie Sanders that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  The woman who is in charge of public education in the United States made a "joke" about free lunches, and she doesn't honestly seem to understand why that is not only inappropriate but also void of all common decency.  The free and reduced lunch program isn't funny; it's not a joke to the over 31 million children who benefit from this program every year.  Go back and read that again: THIRTY-ONE MILLION.

If that's too big of a number to chew on, let's break it down a little more.  In Indiana alone, there are over 493,000 children who eat on the free and reduced lunch program.  In Valparaiso, a little over 1,300 of our schoolchildren use the free and reduced lunch program, and at Flint Lake Elementary, there are 30 kids who only eat at school.  Let that sink in.  The real facts are that there are kids in this community, in every community, who only eat at school.  They have a quick breakfast and a quick lunch, and once that is over for the day, they don't eat again until the next morning.  Some kids could go from noon to 8:30 the next morning eating very little or nothing at all.

Then we have Mark Mulvaney, the White House Budget Director, who proclaimed that there is "no demonstrable evidence" that feeding kids in after-school programs helps those students.  Now...what now?  Feeding kids doesn't help them?  I don't see how feeding hungry kids could be anything but beneficial, but what do I know?  I'm not a big shot politician: I've only spent most of my life in education.  I imagine that ol' Mark has never seen a student put her head down on a desk because she's so hungry that she can't even begin to focus on spelling.  Markie probably hasn't witnessed a student with tears running down his face because he doesn't have a snack like the other kids do.  I truly doubt that Marko has spent any time at all at an after-school program to see what it's really like for the kids who don't have enough to eat, the physical, mental, and social symptoms that the kids present. And I question if MM has ever heard of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs: it's just that pesky pyramid that tells us that people's physiological needs must be met in order for them to be successful people.  You know, a theory based on scientific observations.  Science: go figure.

And the thing is, I hear so many people who say the parents are to blame for one reason or another, and I simply don't care. What I care about is that no child should have to spend the school day wondering when he will get to eat again or looking on while other kids gobble down a mid-morning or afternoon snack.  No child should spend the weekend waiting to get back to school so she can eat. When and where they are going to get food shouldn't be something that children worry about.  These kids need a little more to catch up to the kids who already have more: that's called equity, and that equity is necessary to get all kids on an equal footing.  We can't really level the playing field until the kids are all standing at the same place on the starting line.

It stuns me that so many people feel like this isn't their problem because, in reality, it is.  This is a problem for all of us.  I want strong, confident, smart people to run the world in the future, and we can't have that unless we give ALL of our children a strong and confident start in life. The next time you're at the store, think about putting a few extra things in your cart for your local food bank, or talk to your neighborhood school to see if there is a food program there.  If we want more out of our youth, let's give them what they need to exceed our expectations.  Enough judging about why some kids don't have enough to eat and more giving in order to benefit our community.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

For all

People tend to have pretty specific ideas about what life will be like when they have kids.  You know, their kid will never have a tantrum.  Their kid will eat whatever the parents eat and be happy.  Their kid will sleep through the night as a baby.  Their lives will hardly change at all.  And then the baby comes, and all bets are off.

We all do things we thought we would never do when we have kids.  We imitate a choo choo train just to get someone to take a bite of peas.  We sleep on the floor of our kid's bedroom because he is having night terrors.  We give in to tantrums sometimes because we're simply too exhausted to say no for what feels like the hundredth time.  we celebrate milestones, and we mess up, big time.  We try to make up for the mistakes.  Truly, we are all just doing the best we can at this whole parenting thing and hoping that our kids turn out to be halfway decent members of society.

In the end, we all want what is best for our children.  Lately, though, I feel like that is probably not enough.  Of course we should do what we feel is best for our families, but I also think we need to do what is best for all kids in all families.  We can't get into the minds of all parents to know exactly what that may be, but one thing I know is that the existence of charter schools doesn't benefit the masses.

C'mon, you know me.  You knew at some point I had to write about the ridiculousness.  We live in a country that was built on liberty and justice for all, and, quite frankly, that ain't happening.

One huge myth about charter school is that they are all inherently better than public schools.  First of all, charter schools are technically public schools.  However, you can try to get into a charter school, but it doesn't have to take you.  Charters can't discriminate, of course, but they can choose to deny an application based on test scores or special needs.  Just because you want your kid to go to a certain school doesn't mean he or she will be chosen.  One basic tenet of charter schools is parental involvement.  If a parent can't volunteer the number of hours a charter school demands, that's a problem.  Some parents have multiple jobs or childcare conflicts, and some kids may have foster parents or unique caregiver situations that make volunteering almost impossible.  Whether the volunteer aspect of the school means to be exclusive or not, it affects those children who are often most in need.  Second, teachers in some charter schools don't necessarily have to have certification.  They can be experts in their field, but they haven't gone to school to learn how to teach.  That matters.    I mean, I might be a Harry Potter aficionado, but that doesn't make me Albus Dumbledore.  Third, many charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated.  It's basically a corporate takeover of our public school system.  They take the public money, weed out the "bad" kids to lower class sizes, and end up looking like saviors to people who don't know how they really work.

Listen, no one in education thinks public schools are perfect: they're not.  But the public schools aren't irrevocably broken, either.  If we could stop throwing money at alternatives and start working on the public school system itself, we would be off to a pretty good start.  We need to return to respecting teachers and all they do, and we need to keep our strong ones so they can mentor the new, young teachers who have lots of enthusiasm but not a lot of experience.  I know young teachers like this: they are out there, and they are hungry to make a difference.  We need politicians who will stand up for our schools and demand whatever it takes to strengthen them.  Continuing to defund true public education is like taking away the only lightbulb in a windowless room: it ends up leaving us all in the dark.  We must worry about ALL children, and if you're not worried, I'm concerned.  As cheesy as it sounds, the children ARE the future.  The nurses and doctors who will care for us in the coming years are in elementary school now.  The future teachers, plumbers, police officers, computer programmers, mail carriers, parents, contractors, farmers, and chefs are all in need of our help to fight for what's right and what's just.

Vouchers are not the way to make our nation great; they are just another way to tear us apart.  It's time to unite and prove who we really are as a people.  Continue to do what is right for your family, but don't forget to do what's right for our nation and its future, too.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

3,650 days

My girl,

Ten years ago today, I had no idea how much my life was going to change.  You burst into our lives on a balmy January morning, and we haven't been the same since.







I distinctly remember taking you home from the hospital.  Dad's speed as we drove down Man O' War Boulevard was around 20 miles per hour because he was so nervous about having a baby in the car.  When we got home, I felt so overwhelmed that I looked at Dad and said, "What do we do now?"



Despite my first-time mom nerves, you immediately flourished.  From the beginning, you have treated life like the great adventure that it is.  There have been very few things that scare you, although from time to time, your fearlessness has frightened me.  As you grow older, you're still an open book, and you still like to take chances.  There have been many times we have shaken our heads and wondered what you were thinking with various choices, but you explain your reasoning with such earnestness that's it's hard to get mad or stay mad for too long.  Almost every conversation we have is peppered with "Yeah, but what if...?" from you.  That can be a slippery slope, but I know that at least half of the time, your mind is whizzing along with all of the what-ifs spinning around in it.  That must be exhausting, because on the rare occasions that you crash, you crash hard.  As a matter of fact, you rarely do things without doing them full-tilt boogie.



Your emotional intelligence has grown in leaps and bounds over the last year.  You're fairly even-keeled for someone who loves to be a total goofball.  I think one of the reasons you enjoyed your acting class so much was that it gave you a chance to really shine on stage instead of having to contain your hilarity to our house and our family.  Don't get me wrong: I love your humor, and I love that you make me laugh each and every day.  I was so proud, though, to watch you perform so well in front of others.  You constantly surprise me with your grace and poise.


As always, you are a wonderful sister to Dallas.  I know it's hard sometimes to be older and expected to watch over him, but it's truly in your nature to make certain he is always included and safe.  One of the best sounds in the world to me is hearing you both laugh together no matter where you are or what you're doing.  Keep being a good sister to him, and that goodness will come back to you the rest of your life in the form of your friendship with him.  After all, there are not too many people who see you at your best and your worst and still adore being with you quite like a sibling does.



Your kindness makes me want to be a better person.  You have never met an enemy in your life, and I don't imagine that will change any time soon.  You tend not to give up on people who have hurt your feelings, and you still find a way to stick up for yourself.  We desperately need that in the world, and I have no doubt that you will continue to sparkle in that capacity as an adult.  It makes me so happy to know that you are the future of our world.


Staying focused on one thing has never been on your agenda.  It used to worry me until I stopped to really think about it.  You're not afraid to try new things to see if you like them, even if it means you won't really be good at them; conversely, you're not embarrassed to say that an activity isn't for you and move on to something else.  It reminds me of a quote by Oona D. Mulkey: "Don't cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it." Somehow, you have the ability to realize that not everything has to be a stepping stone to your future life path; sometimes, things are just fun to do for the experiences alone.  You know how to laugh at yourself, and I admire that trait in a kid your age.  We all goof up, and if we can't laugh about it later, life is going to get pretty tedious. You have taught me that life doesn't have to be so serious 24/7 and that there is always time for dessert.
 


As the first kid, you're the one we have probably messed up with the most because we're just learning ourselves.  With each new phase of your life, I think Dad and I are getting more confident with our decisions, but we always will worry that we're not doing something right for our baby.  As you get older, we have to loosen our grip a bit, and that is going to be bittersweet.  Be patient with us.  We love you more than anything in the world, and we're trying our best every day to help mold you into a decent human being.  You have made it easy, though, because love and joy and forgiveness radiate from the depths of your soul.

I honestly don't know where life is going to take you.  I can tell you for sure, though, that I am thrilled to be along on the ride with you.  I am eager to see what your future holds and how far you will soar.  My birthday wish for you is to continue holding constant joy and warmth in your heart. Keep your genuinely sweet way of looking at the world for as long as you can because it is a huge part of who you are, and who you are is absolutely perfect.

Happy Golden Birthday, baby!!  Ten is going to be a fabulous year.
I love you, my bunny,
Mom