Thursday, September 6, 2018

3,650 days

Dallas Simon,

You are officially double digits! You are no longer a little boy, but you're not quite a teen yet. This is a sweet time for me because you seem to still enjoy spending time with us, your family, but you're also gaining more independence by the day.

We have had another amazing year with you: vacations, summer fun, winter fun, school, camps, Scouts. You went to your first overnight camp this summer, and other than the bugs, you had a good time. I didn't sleep that week because I was convinced that you would call and want to come home. You stuck it out, though, and I'm so proud of you for stepping out of your comfort zone.

You're still definitely more comfortable with a schedule. Don't get me wrong: you loved the last summer mornings and afternoons of playing on the Xbox. But I know how you get anxious if you don't know what's going to happen, so I think the school year beginning again was secretly a relief for you. You're continuing to surprise me by learning new things constantly and trying new things. This year, you joined the Spell Bowl at school even though you weren't really sure if you wanted to. I hope you begin to understand, and I think you are, that being afraid of something is never as bad as the regret you feel when you don't try.

You did things at Cub Scout day camp that I never thought you would like, too. You loved fishing and archery; you even loved shooting the BB guns. Usually, anything remotely dangerous makes you nervous, and you tend to talk yourself out of attempting to face your fears. This time, though, you jumped in feet first, and I am thrilled for you.

As much as you love everything that has to do with technology, especially your video games, I still find you quite often in cozy silence with a good book. You constantly quote facts and statistics to us, and when I incredulously ask how you know so much, you simply shrug and say, "I read it somewhere." You say some of the funniest things I have ever heard, and I know that's in big part to everything you read. I love that you love all books, and I hope that you continue to read all throughout your life.

As you get older, you and Lottie tend to pick at each other more often. When it comes right down to it, though, you love each other. I know you make each other crazy sometimes, and I also know that will continue for quite a few more years. I hope so much that you find that you're friends later in life as well as brother and sister. With your good and loving heart, I'm sure that will happen.

Promise me that you will always hold on to your soft, loving, and charitable heart. I know it isn't considered cool for boys to be sweet and considerate, but I want you, and the rest of the world, to make it cool. Be kind to others. Always remember what's in your heart. Love whatever and whomever you want to love. Continue to do your weird Fortnite dances with abandon. Do your full-body laugh as often as you can. Keep gently removing bugs you find to a safe place where no one will step on them, and never apologize for protecting them. Roll around with Minny on the floor. Stay soft. Find your strength.Believe in yourself. Believe in all the good in the world.

Nothing in life is perfect: that's a hard concept for you as a perfectionist. But know this: you are the perfect son for me. I can't imagine what my life would be without you. Silly, dry, smart, sympathetic, precocious, snuggly, forgiving, and introspective you.

You are and will always be my best boy,

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


It was interesting to follow all the news today about the National School Walkout day. Some schools were very supportive of the students' desire to make a statement; some schools tolerated the walkout but didn't exactly support it; and some schools denied the students an opportunity to join together with other kids around the country so their voices could be heard. Detentions, suspensions, truancy reports: kids, and likely adults, were punished in different ways.

The thing that made me shake my head, though, was the social media memes and posts from parents who were obviously against the whole idea. I mean, I'm not shocked that some adults found the walkout ridiculous because they tend to be the same adults who call Generation Z spoiled snowflakes who can't handle anything. I read posts from numerous parents who said they went to the walkout themselves just to make sure their children weren't participating.  One parent even said she told her son before school that if she saw him outside during the walkout period, she would "whip his ass in front of all of his friends." Classy.

Then there are the people who post the meme about how kids should just be kind to one another at school instead of doing the walkout because kindness can cure any ill. Don't get me wrong: kindness is a vital part of a happy and healthy existence. I think our world could use all the kindness it can get; however, it's not a panacea, and in our hearts, we all know that.

What I realized is that I envy the parents who feel there is no need for a walkout, that things are fine the way they are. It must be a wonderful feeling to wake up every morning in a cozy bubble of rainbows and puppies. When their kids head off to school, they probably feel completely at peace because nothing bad could ever happen where they live. Everyone smiles and bluebirds perch on beautifully blossoming trees when they're not helping princesses clean little cottages. At night, doors are left unlocked while families eat popcorn and read in front of a roaring fire. Such a lovely vision. I envy those people because I would love to thrust my head in the sand and keep the fantasy of a perfect world at the forefront of my mind. Sounds nice, right?

Instead, I live in a quiet, albeit constant, state of gnawing despair.  Every morning, I send out wishes and hopes to whatever deities or higher powers choose to listen to me to keep my children safe because I know what can happen. Our school system is no stranger to violence, so I can't pretend that we are completely sheltered. I trust our administrators to do the very best they can to protect our children, but I'm not so naive to think that's always enough.  Why? Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Red Lake. That's just in the last twenty years, and it doesn't even include universities.

I choose not to live my life in complete fear because that isn't living, but I cannot completely erase the insight that when I watch my children get on the school bus, I am sending them to a place that may or may not be safe, that may or may not become a target for a bad guy with a gun. My kids live in a time when school shootings are commonplace. They will never know a school that doesn't have a buzzer and a camera at an entrance that is flanked by bulletproof glass.They have grown up with the Internet, Taylor Swift, and lockdown drills.

I support the students and the adults who participated in the walkout today just as I support those who couldn't participate due threats of repercussions. I support the parents and community members I saw today in front of our local high school. What I can't support, though, are people who continue to insist that everything is hunky dory. We cannot maintain the status quo and expect anything to get better. It's time for change, big, BIG change, and I have faith that the kids who agree that they have had #Enough are the kids who will reconstruct the nation.

Every town for Gun Safety
March for Our Lives

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The ISTEP can kiss my...foot

It's no secret that standardized testing has spiraled out of control. Starting in third grade, students throughout Indiana take the ISTEP test, Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress.  Teachers start a lot of lessons with "This will be on the ISTEP." They prep, they assess, they prep, they assess. The students are reminded to be on time for testing, to eat a healthy breakfast, and to get good sleep. This is the way our state wants to check in on our children: test them. Choose the right answers and impress us so your school can get money. C'mon kids, go out and make the fat cash.

I hate these tests. I hate that our kids are made to feel that they have to fit into a certain box in order to succeed. Pass, Pass Plus, and Fail: that's all they get. There is no grey area, no room for individuality, no chance to show different types of intelligence, and no time for different points of view. We spend time teaching kindness, and fairness, but we test them on nothing but memorized facts: fractions, punctuation, state capitals, elements.

We decided to opt out of testing this year for Lottie. She has spent the last three years stressing over the test; no, she stresses over the results of the test. She does her homework with an intensity that should be reserved for heart transplant surgery because she knows the information will be on the test. Then the questions begin. Will she be held back if she fails? Will she be forced into remediation? Does failing make her dumb? Will we be mad if she fails? What if she's the only one in her class who doesn't pass? Will the other kids know? These are the thoughts of her eleven year-old mind.

Imagine our shock and disgust when we were told that our district doesn't allow parents to opt out of standardized testing. Not. Allowed. (Odd how there are other parents who have done that exact thing throughout the state, but no one here is allowed to rock the proverbial boat. Apparently the Fourteenth Amendment isn't recognized 'round these parts. Odd how a former superintendent of an Indiana school system assured me that Lottie couldn't be forced to take the test and that his system never punished students who did opt out. Odd that the IDOE doesn't have a policy on opting out because it knows it legally can't.)  I'm a product of this school system, and I was even hired once upon a time to teach in this system. We moved back here, in part, because I had faith that the schools were the best we could find. I thought this system would be different and treat its students like real people instead of statistics. Mea culpa. Big time.

I can't even keep her home on testing days because she'll be made to take the make up tests as soon as she returns. We have to put our daughter in the middle of this ridiculousness because someone in some office who has no idea or memory of what a real classroom is like has decided that we don't have the right to refuse an assessment that only assesses test-taking ability and not true knowledge.

So, anonymous person, let me tell you about my daughter and what she knows. She knows kindness and compassion. She can make you laugh like no other. If you're sad, she'll do whatever it takes to make you feel better. She can mimic any voice with absolute precision, and she can climb any tree in the world. She loves Taylor Swift, gymnastics, slime, her friends, and her family. I'm pretty sure her dream is to open an animal sanctuary for any poor creature who needs a home. She wrote a Valentine to her brother that would make you believe in magic. She is happiest playing outside with the wind blowing on her face. Her favorite books have scary plots, and she is counting the days until she can see an R-rated movie without my permission. She's easy-going and adaptable, and she knows how to let loose and have fun without caring how it looks. She wakes up with a smile on her face every single day. She knows so much more than you can assess with a computer. She is the sun and the moon, the brightest star in the universe. You don't have to love her, but if you meet her just once, you will.

If the district is so set on having Lottie take this unnecessary, useless, irresponsible test, it will get its wish. Fair warning: she will do it her own way with our blessing. If the district doesn't like it, it can take the Jumbotron and all of its other priorities and stick it where the sun don't shine because one thing my girl knows for certain is that in our family, we value hard work, joy, and heart more than test scores.

34 problems with standardized tests
Diane Ravitch: Why all parents should opt their kids out of high-stakes standardized tests
ust Say No to Standardized Tests: Why and How to Opt Out 
Truth in American Education
8 reasons to opt out

Thursday, February 15, 2018

An apology

To the parents and families and loved ones and friends of the people killed in the attack in Florida, I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that when you said goodbye to your child or spouse or parent yesterday, it was the last time you would see them.

I'm sorry that the last memory you may have is yelling at your child to get moving so he wouldn't miss the bus.

I'm sorry that instead of planning a Valentine's Day dinner, you're planning a funeral.

I'm sorry that the teachers had to use their lockdown training to save lives instead of teaching geometry or history or The Scarlet Letter.

I'm sorry that teenagers and adults alike had to cower in classrooms, closets, hallways, and bathrooms, all the while listening to gunshots and screams of terror and wondering if they were next.

I'm sorry that the people who survived the slaughter will never, ever be the same.

I'm sorry that the many lives lost will never have a chance to be completed.

I'm sorry that the shooter was able to obtain his gun legally.

I"m sorry that all we seem to have to offer you are empty thoughts and prayers.

I'm sorry that the term "yesterday's school shooting" even exists simply because we have to differentiate it from the one that will happen next week or next month.

I'm sorry that Columbine, Pulse, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and all of the other massacres haven't been enough.

I'm sorry that we have elected officials whose real constituents are dollar bills.

I'm sorry that the biggest elected official urges students who are lost or alone to reach out for help while simultaneously cutting our country's education budget.

I'm sorry that citizens cry that their right to own guns is more important than the right to keep our children safe.

I'm sorry that it's never the right time to talk about gun control.

I'm sorry that absolutely nothing will bring them back.

I'm sorry that we have failed you.

Moms Demand Action
States United to Prevent Gun Violence
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Every town for Gun Safety

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

4,015 days

My sweetest,

Eleven years ago, you made me a mom. It wasn't an exactly auspicious start considering I didn't even know I was in labor, but once you arrived, I knew I would never love anyone the same way that I loved you.

 From the beginning, you have kept me on my toes. When you were little, you were a runner; you didn't see any point in walking somewhere if you could run. These days, you prefer cartwheeling your way through the world. It's a rare occasion on a night at home if you're not doing a back bend, a crab walk, or a front walkover. I have no idea where you got your flexibility because I know it's not from Dad or me. For sure.

This past year has been all about gymnastics, making slime, going to sleep away camp, beauty experiments, and trying anything new. Not everything has been a rollicking success, but that never seems to bother you. You have the rare ability to laugh at yourself and ridiculous situations without taking yourself too seriously. I love when you try out new accents and spend the evening talking like an old Russian woman or Hermione Granger. You have an ear for language, and I hope that's something you continue to enjoy. Your imagination is enormous, and I get such a kick out of hearing the stories, thoughts, and questions that come out of your brain.

You continue to take such good care of the people around you. Whether it's other kids at school or me or your brother, you tend to put everyone else first. You want everyone to be safe, healthy, and kind, and you show them through example. One day at school last semester, you wrote letters to the custodians at school to thank them for taking such good care of the building and the students in it.  Your heart is big enough to hold the world inside it, and I have no doubt that it will continue to grow as you get older. Malevolence is simply not in your vocabulary, and you fight for injustice, no matter whether it's real or perceived, with your whole being.  I truly admire your willingness to see the best in people. You're not a pushover, though, and you know how to stand up for yourself.

In the next year, you'll be starting middle school. Thinking of middle school years makes most people shudder, so I know exactly what is coming. What I want for you more than anything in the world is for you to hold on to who you really are, no matter how hard it may get. You're so beautiful and good, inside and out, and you see life through rose-colored glasses.  There are going to be people who tell you to see the world for what it really is, but I say ignore them. Life can be any way you choose to see it, and I hope that you're always able to find the sunshine.  Don't ever let someone else tell you what to do or who to be: you are amazing just the way you are.  Find your tribe of people who are kind and who make you want to be a better person. With good people by your side, you can do anything.

I'm beyond proud of you, baby. You bring so much joy and laughter and weirdness and hope to our lives. I'm infinitely grateful that you're mine.

I love you,