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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,