Friday, February 27, 2009

An Ah-ha Moment

I had two moments today when I realized my life is not like the world I lived in when I was in D.C., as a young person in a double income, no kid situation.

One is that a friend of mine  got an awesome gig being the "wedding photographer" for an informational presentation by a Yoga clothing company that prides itself on being green called Lululemon. They apparently started in Canada (which of course grabbed my attention) and have created franchises in all the urban sectors of the world. The presentation is for brides, so they can learn the benefits of having a "green" wedding. (Bride  = Consumer)

And you know me, I'm all for being nice to Mother Earth. But the whole event made me shift in my seat because even though the event is to do something ecological, the idea of a cupcake party at a yoga clothing company with a collection of women who are looking to spend a lot of their money in a down economy made me call rat. That ain't about Mother Earth. That's called laying a trap. Bait-the-consumer. (Again Bride = Consumer)

So I went to I clicked on their exercise clothes, and of the four items I clicked on, not one had a price. The hint of money was in the air, like when you sit down in a restaurant in New York or Vegas and there are no prices on the menu. So I googled it. $100 for yoga tops. $100 for pants give or take. People striving to find tops for $74 on Ebay.

I sighed. I don't have $200 for a yoga ensemble, I don't have $40 for a fancy yoga ensemble from Target. Those things aren't in my weekly budget. Um, those things have never been in my weekly budget. I yoga in $7, 7-year-old workout pants with an old ratty t-shirt. But, that might just be a preference, so it made me wonder, who still has that kind of money? 

Maybe, maybe double income no kids? If I wasn't married and was still in D.C. and someone said, "cupcake, eco-friendly wedding discussion, rich yuppie (ain't that an oxymoron that turned out true in the 21st century?) yoga clothes = good time" would I jump at the chance to go? 

Are the cupcakes vegan and are the ingredients locally grown? 

But from where I am, I am so far removed. The whole event is mind boggling. Am I that out of touch? Or is it the other way around?

The second crazy came from The Superficial, so you know, it's grain of salt time. But K-Fed making a line of "reasonably priced clothes" because he's sick of  boutique kids clothes that sell a pair of jeans for $200 a pop tells me that rich parents need a seminar. I think I'll bake some cupcakes and host it at my local consignment shop and talk about how green hand-me-down/gently used clothes are. We could take a field trip to the Orpheum's Kids Stuff Sale March 7 and 8th.

Mmm, I see a business plan for reasonable parents everywhere that see more than green as the new black... I think I'll start by sending a registration form to K-Fed, Brad and Angelina, Katie and Tom... 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

South Side Elementary School

The second school I toured was South Side Elementary. It is at the corner of Pine and John Streets just south of Green Street, one block from Prospect.

Southside is the smallest elementary school in the district with less than 300 students. It only has two classrooms at each grade level (a 2-tier system) and touts personal connection with students as being one of its leading strengths. 

I have to admit, I liked it. It felt the way I think an elementary school should feel. It's intimate. Everyone knows everyone, no matter what grade they're in. So if your kid is acting up somewhere in the building as a third grader, chances are more than likely a fifth grade teacher will be able to identify him/her by name and get them on track. Not only that, but the administrator, Mr. Jeff Scott, who gave the tour, talked about how that kind of responsibility extends to the kids as well. That it's not unlikely for a fourth grader to look out for a kindergartner she just met out on the playground at the beginning of the year. 

When I was in the library waiting for the tour, students were clamoring for graphic novels, but one of the teachers apologized and asked them to be patient because they didn't have enough to go around in the school library for every student who wanted one. The librarian, who was very helpful and welcoming to me, said she spends her time between South Side and B.T. Washington. 

I also learned on this tour that all the schools teach the exact same curriculum pretty much on the exact same day no matter what school they're at. And when I walked into the rooms, I saw the same art projects, social studies projects, etc. as I saw hanging at Barkstall when I was there. 

The difference between the two schools so far is that South Side does seem more laid back, more familiar. Teachers here teach in a variety of clothing. Some in jeans and sweaters with hiking boots. Some in dress pants with button down shirts and high heeled shoes. I was also grateful for Scott for taking us in a reading room. We could see the teacher's set up for how she tracks readers in every grade. She had a private coding system, but we could see that about 3/4 of the students were either at expected level or above, and that there were only a few below. 

We spent a lot of time visiting some kindergartners in music class. The teacher had a smart board, which made one of the U of I professor parents a little jealous. :-) One of the kindergartners was using a mallet to manipulate the board so they could alter the songs they were playing on their instruments. Another half of the class were plugged into computers using keyboards and music software. Scott explained that the music teacher was a Fulbright Scholar and had brought back a lot of "World Music" instruments that she introduces to the classes.

Which brings me to the School of Choice Theme, according to the Unit 4 web site and the flyer handed out -- it doesn't appear to have one, which makes me wonder (since it wasn't brought up at Barkstall during the tour but was on the flyer) if this SOC theme business is going away since everyone is working their hardest to meet No Child Left Behind testing standards.

South Side does promote the fact that it has an "award-winning" Parent/Teacher Association, although I have to admit I don't know what that means, other than they must be pretty involved. In addition, some kind of connection with Windsor of Savoy and a Mr. Peter Fox has helped South Side obtain Smartboards for every classroom. Half of them will be installed this spring, the other half in the fall. 

There are computers in each of the classrooms, even in kindergarten. Most of them are PCs, but I did see an old eMac in the music room. Scott also stressed that he has many teachers who have taught for years at South Side, which, to me, shows a commitment not just to the school, but the neighborhood. Although, Scott and the principal have only both been there one year.

We peeked in on the gym class. The gym and the cafeteria are in the same place at South Side. There the second kindergarten class was learning volleyball skills with balloons as they listened to House music. They were adorable trying to learn to set their balloons while their butts wiggled to the beat of the music. 

Lunch averages to around 17 minutes to eat and 17 minutes to play. That seems fast to me, but apparently it's the standard timeframe from other parents I've talked to in the district. I do wish they got more recess. But Kindergartners do get a "chill out" time for 5-10 minutes every day where the teacher turns off the lights and they rest their heads and reset for the afternoon's lessons.

My early ed teachers would also be thrilled to know that South Side has blocks. The big kind. The kind kids can create roads on. They also have centers and their own private locker areas so they don't get overwhelmed by the big kids.

South Side bells are at 8:30 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., and when I left, I felt like this school felt more in line with me personally (in terms of the small school environment). What can I say, I like intimacy. :-) We'll see what's best for X-man when we know a bit more about him in the next couple of years.

Oh, and no air-conditioning in the building (it was built in 1923), but they're on a standard schedule with long summers and short spring and winter breaks. The doors were locked. You had to push a button to get let in. Not welcoming, but secure.

Barkstall Elementary School

This morning I arrived 10 minutes late to a tour of Barkstall Elementary school. Currently tucked between two cornfields and at the end of a long driveway off of Curtis Road, Barkstall is a relatively new school building (11 years old in 2009). 

It's the closest elementary school to my house in Savoy, and the closest one to where X-man's pre-school is, so I knew I could get there quickly.

A short run-down of information I gathered on this tour.

Barkstall elementary school serves kindergarten through fifth grade. It is the only school in the district to require uniforms (uniforms being khaki or navy blue pants/skirts/shorts and red or blue polo-shirts or Barkstall t-shirts). Kids relay info back to the teachers that they like uniforms because it helps them all look the same (which as an adult isn't usually a plus in my book, but as a fat 4th grader, as I was, probably would have been comforting, plus it makes laundry easy for parents). 

It runs on a balanced year school calendar, which means the kids attend for 9 or 10 weeks and then get a two-week break. Summer breaks are six weeks long, so that the kids will allegedly have an easier time adjusting back to being students. And, yes, they do have air-conditioning for starting back to school at the end of July instead of the middle of August.

The building was large, really large. It was very clean and very neutral colored. In order to liven it up children's artwork was hung everywhere. The school of choice theme for this school, per the flyer they handed out is "Academics through the Arts" but not once was the school theme mentioned in the tour. 

They have an amazing gym that they share with the Champaign Park District for indoor playtime and a separate, smaller cafeteria.

The kindergarten rooms are near the office. They are large, well lit and well organized. They have carpet space and table space and individual bathrooms in each classroom.

According to the tour guide, this school site (similar to the other schools) has an enrichment room with a special teacher in case your child qualifies for a gifted program, but you decide not to send them there. They also have reading recovery for students who might need a little extra help to keep up with "standards." I noticed on the walls outside the second grade area that the kids wrote letters to President Obama. There was a definite spectrum of writing and spelling skills represented in the work, which I liked. 

There are computers in each of the "pod" areas of school, as well as in some of the classrooms. They appeared to all be PCs.

In addition, like some other elementary schools, they have a band teacher that travels to their school to teach instruments (mostly stringed). The instruction is free to students who want to participate, but parents will need to cover the rental or purchase price of an instrument for them to use. 

There are three extra large fish tanks that greet you when you walk through the main doors, and there are currently anti-bullying posters on the door to every classroom in the building, which made me wonder if they had bullying issues or this was part of an anti-bullying grant. I also noticed that the PTA is in the middle of trying to raise $10k for the school according to a large poster near the head office.

I want to go back and get a better look at the library, which wasn't presented during the tour -- just pointed out. So, when I take MacTroll along to look at the final three (two years from now), we'll have some details to review.

I was excited that the tour guide, who had been teaching at Barkstall since 1998 did know kids who approached her by name. A few of them came up and hugged her. 

The school hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., which means not super early for parents like me who think the clock should at least say 7 a.m. before anyone gets out of bed. The doors of the school were not locked down when I got there (no buzzing for permission to enter the school was needed).

Overall, my feeling about Barkstall is that it's the kind of school you'd find in the suburbs up north. Over 400 students, new and placed in an upper-middle to upper class neighborhood... and a cornfield. 

When I left, I felt encouraged. I felt comfortable that if X-man was chosen to attend there I'd be comfortable sending him there.

Education Crisis

When I first had X-man I thought the weirdo dichotomy between breastfeeders and non-breastfeeders was frightening. I'm not a militant person by nature nor am I an absolutist. I think each family does its best, so the fact that I was berated for giving my child formula by a stranger in the baby food aisle at Target was about the same as being blindsided by a giant truck full of manure two weeks postpartum while on drugs to keep some post birth complications under control. Whatever my personal situation was didn't matter. And the words I've seen on the Internet condemning one practice over another is disheartening.

Now as elementary school approaches, I'm seeing the same disorganization, confusion, self-doubt and bewilderment as I did when I met other first-time moms who realized that they'd been sold a bill of goods about the "beauty" of motherhood and learned very quickly that the "beauty" is not in the destination of birth and arrival of a baby, but in the hard, every day work and intense love it takes to parent.

Like most other parents, I worry about my child's education. I want him to want to learn. I want him to be open minded and tolerant regarding people and theories. Period. I want the natural curiosity that comes with that learning. He might be what the school district calls gifted based on scores. He might show an aptitude for the arts or physical fitness. He might just be X-man, my cool kid who tries exceptionally hard but doesn't have critical thinking come naturally to him. Whomever he is, I just want him to have options. 

Over the last 2 years, X-man has been attending Next Generation Early Childhood Center. He started when he was 15 months old while I was teaching at Millikin. I liked that it's a small building. I liked that the kids are taught social/emotional, physical, language and cognitive development. They have structured activity time and a lot of indoor and outdoor playtime. And when I think about kindergarten, I wonder if we'll end up following our love of their Early Education Center and enrolling him in their Primary School. 

But MacTroll and I went to public schools, and, well, we can buy a whole lot of college and fun family vacations with the money we'd spend there for private school. But when MacTroll and I talk about school and our experiences, it's obvious that we came from two very different public school systems. 

MacTroll grew up in an upper-middle class suburb of Peoria called Dunlap. It was a small school district where there was no racial diversity in the student body or the teaching staff. The high school kids drove nicer cars than their teachers. I visited every once in a while when I was in high school. Besides getting used to everyone being the same color, I was kind of taken aback by the newness of things they had in their school: supplies, technology, chairs, etc. Plus, there were parents, mostly rich moms around volunteering during the workday with weird 1990s nylon track suits on with expensive running shoes and big diamond rings (Okay, there were two in the gym that day, but holy cow did they obviously make a "money" impression). They had Xerox machines while we still primarily existed off of dittoing. Plus, if you've read the Sun Times lately, you know that DHS was ranked 17th best high school in the state last year.

I went through the Rockford Public School District where a group called "People Who Care" sued the school district in the late 1980's, when I was in middle school and on my way to high school.

People Who Care were a group of citizens in Rockford who were upset over the school district's plans to move away from neighborhood schools and, instead, replace them with larger schools. It doesn't sound like a big deal, except that "this plan placed the greatest burden of school closings and transportation on minority, low income and high-risk students who lived on the west side of the Rock River, Rockford's natural dividing line.

Ouch. So ouchy, when the school district got nailed for it and other acts of segregation in court by a Federal judge, NBC National News came to my high school. 

My sister went to neighborhood schools through eighth grade. Then my parents had her tested for the high school gifted program, where she was bused across town to Auburn, the only public high school left on the west side of town. Two years later, my parents had me test for the gifted middle school program, and I began busing to Wilson and then West Middle School, when Kennedy and Wilson were combined. 

My middle school had three times as many students as MacTroll's high school. When moving to West, I saw students doing coke in the unwatched stairwells, I saw a 13-year-old girl who was at odds with someone in her gang bring a gun and put in in her gym locker, and I swear to god, the police paddy wagon made a stop so frequently outside our middle school that if it wasn't a scheduled pick up/delivery place it should have been. This was not a building that facilitated learning, but being in that building was incredibly important for me in my social development, because I got to see humanity at its best and worst in the middle of that prison hopped up on hormones. 

So, given that introduction, it should be no shock to anyone that when I got to high school I got sexually harassed and groped at my very first pep rally, kids had Jack Daniels in their lockers and/or got baked during lunch hour, someone got shot in the parking lot, the student assistant in my art class committed suicide, after some argument in an overwhelmingly overfilled gym class someone apparently got pissed off at some other kid and threw him through a plate glass window near our courtyard, and I got pleasant experience of being questioned by police officers when my father's house was robbed once my stepmother told them which high school I attended. (By the way, the kid who was shot was hit by two east side middle school kids, should you think that only kids on the poor side of town have weapons and a desire to hurt people).

The whole time I was in high school, my mother taught at a private school. A private school with chapel time and dress codes and restricted book lists. It was small and quiet and structured. And I would have felt like hanging myself if she had made me go there, although at the time, I told her that I'd rather go there than get sent to our neighborhood high school... and I still agree that probably would have been a better choice for me.

Seeing how MacTroll and I have very different ideas of what school looks like (he was often bored and annoyed at his, while I was overprotective and slightly proud of my broken down, forgotten school even though I couldn't wait to get out of there), we're approaching the idea of kindergarten for X-man with different values and priorities.

And as my school experience taught me, a little investigation, observation and tenacity will eventually lead us to make the right choice for our child, knowing that the same choice won't be the right for everyone else's kids. 

I bring all this up because there are very few times a year when schools open up for open houses and tours. And I'm on a mission to find a school that I love as much as I love X-man's early childhood experience, but for a cheaper, already paid-for-in-my-taxes kind of price tag. 

So today I am visiting two local elementary schools for their tours. Unfortunately, I can't attend the Champaign Unit 4 open house time tonight due to a conflicting meeting, but I have 2 years to figure out this conundrum, so from time to time, you're going to see me update my reviews/information on the schools. Maybe they'll help you or maybe you'll have more information to offer me because I'm a newbie, and I know some of my readers are old pros when it comes to navigating the school district. 

And for the record... not once after I started school did I think my parents made a bad decision about where to send me.

Oh, and, um, did I mention I used to be a newspaper reporter in college? 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Superman v. Batman

When I was a little girl, I loved Superman. I'd watch the old black and white TV version in reruns before naptime; I adored Christopher Reeve, and when I grew up I wanted to be just like Lois Lane (except without the pink underwear or the dorky poem). The movie came out in 1978, when I was 2 years old. I'm sure I watched it sometime between 3 and 5.

Superman was my clean cut, midwestern, heart of gold superhero. He had a clear view of right and wrong. And besides the fact that I always thought his get up was way too over the top, I appreciated the kind of comfort he had to have in his femininity to wear it. It also broke my heart in a thousand pieces when in the miserable third movie Superman went "bad." And like any real fan, I even dragged my butt to Superman Returns, where although I thought the overall movie was lacking, I could see what Bryan Singer was doing to pay a little homage to the films that came before it.

When the first Batman movie with Michael Keaton came out, I was in my early teens. Suddenly a superhero that didn't have any magical powers, but used his brain to create technology seemed brilliant. Unlike ordinary people, he was stepping in to help out folks in his community. But like regular folks, he was broken and tormented in too many ways to ever be repaired. He wasn't straight laced. There is nothing wholesome about Batman.

Batman was a more complex superhero to me. And although I had watched the old Batman episodes with the "Pow" and the "Bam" (also questionable fashion sense), the Tim Burton Batman always appealed to me. But more to the point, Bruce Wayne rang my bell. Here was a superhero that was human and became super because of tragic loss as a kid. 

Thus, a long line of broken superhero lust was born: Spike, Angel, Michael (from La Femme Nikita), Veronica Mars, etc.  I also was able to look back at past favorites and understand why I loved them (Han Solo, Indiana Jones, etc.).

The other day I was in a store with X-man. He looked up and saw a picture of a superhero. Normally he'd ignore it.  But yesterday I was faced with the fact that X-man now knows who superheroes are, even though he's never seen any one other than Superwhy from PBS at our house. "Look Mommy! Superman is flying!" 

Followed by "Watch Superman, please?"

And so it begins... "They could be a great people Kal-El, if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. This reason, above all, is why I send them you, my only son."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009


The Quigs fam came over tonight to play and have dinner. MacTroll and I needed a break from building with X-man (8 hours of pretend hammering and changing tires was enough). Bubba is 17 days younger than X-man, not surprisingly they are developmentally similar. They have similar sharing issues, they're similar in size, they have around the same speech ability and they love a lot of the same stuff. As they get closer to 3, it's becoming almost impossible for them to keep their hands off one another. X-man likes to put blankets over people's heads, knock them down and say, "I gotcha" to instigate play and show his affection. Bubba likes to stand 3 feet away and laugh this maniacal laugh to try and entice play and show he's having fun and enjoys your company.

Bubba has parts of Thomas and Yo-Gaba-Gaba memorized and can put magic spells on you or dance and sing to the songs. X-man, this morning, was talking and singing along with an episode of Diego. 

It's comforting to have so many friends with kids within a year of X-man's age. There's a sense of understanding between the parents, because our wily toddlers turning pre-schoolers all have some crazy behavior or another. As we move forward, we're all getting closer to surviving the 2's and rearing up for a year of 3's. We're looking forward to losing the diapers, gaining more language and understanding, but not so much the wandering away in supermarkets, talking back and negotiations about everything. But with the good comes the not so good, and we'll deal with it one step at a time.

And yeah, my kid's the nose picker. :-)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Things I Get

So Special K and I have been walking every week. Last week she asked me if there was something she and I could do together for my birthday. I suggested going to see a movie. She liked the idea, so we went tonight to see Slumdog Millionaire. And while I'm usually Miss Movie Preview, I have to admit, I hadn't seen this one. 

What we did have was countless glowing recommendations from close friends and family to go see it, along with a generic description of a boy who grows up in poverty (somehow that word isn't strong enough after seeing it) in India to become a contestant on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and is questioned (replace with tortured) by the police to prove that he wasn't cheating through some incredible (traumatically violent)  life stories . 

Special K and I can only stomach so much violence against kids, let alone domestic violence against women before both of us feel like walking out. Thank god there wasn't any violence against animals.

I was ready to leave after the first 20 minutes. Apparently, so was she. The only thing that kept us in our seats -- we didn't seem to talk loudly enough for the other one to understand the other wanted to leave.

So we sat through it. All the way to the Bollywood ending, which people raved about. And when I think Bollywood, I think about the scene that played when the credits rolled. So I had no idea how we were going to get from multiple really, really bad places to a funny, laughing dancing place.

We should have left. We should have gotten coffee. Because now it's midnight and I'm wide-awake and it's all I can do to not go upstairs and wake up my boy and hold him. Seriously, I think I'll stick to Adventureland

I can deal with teen angst and corn dogs.

Lesson learned: Watch the previews and ask about violence levels before going. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Pick-up

On Thursday, I picked up X-man from school. He, as usual, had no interest in going home. I sat down on the floor with the Turtles for a bit and talked to a lot of them that know me. There's a new student in X-man's class who does not speak any English. We're learning bits and pieces about this in one of my classes at school. There are several bilingual students at Next Generation, which is awesome. I love it when I'll talk to one of them in English and then their parents will come to get them and out flows their first language. I am often jealous, and feel a bit like the dumber American with my elementary French language skills. But in this economy we won't be living in a place where my child will learn a second language by submersion.  Of course MacTroll spent 0-5 years in Europe and pretty much lost all of his French, only to have it in high school and lots in college -- and now at 33 is at the same level as me. So... I'll give myself a break.

The other thing that happened was that I met a parent by name. This often doesn't happen. With everyone dropping off their children at different times, you know the kid, not whom he or she belongs to. Today I met Dave, bringing the total Dads in the C-U area named Dave that I know to five, I believe. Dave has an awesome little girl who is very chatty and sweet. I love her enthusiasm. I see Dave the most out of all the parents because we have similar drop off/pick up times. So it's nice to know him as something other than his child's Dad.

On the way out of school, we ran into Golden Girl, a former Turtle who has turned three and moved up to the next classroom and her mother. Golden Girl was a great classmate too. Her mother was also sweet enough to bring up that she had read my blog and appreciated my review of the Children's Museum in Chicago. (I'd link to it, but I'm so lazy this a.m.)

It was the first time anyone had called me out about my blog in public, which was kind of nice. Mostly since lots of other blogs I read I'm excited about because they have a purpose like reviewing local food or keeping the community updated on local businesses or keeping family updated on their children. 

My blog doesn't really have an exterior purpose other than to prove as a centering mechanism for me. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Things I don't understand

1. That apparently it's expected by a certain group of parents that you get "professional" photos of your child every three months until they're 1 and then every 6-12 months after. I take photos of X-man all the time, does this not count? I mean, it doesn't anger me that this happens. I just wondered how the concept of it became such a social norm. I had never heard of it before I became a parent.

2. Showers when they refer to parties. I'm reading the baby lists on Facebook and most moms had 2-3 showers for their first kid. I have been to two "baby showers." One as a guest and the other as a host. Both were pretty intimate. When I got married the folks at work threw something, but I refused to let them call it a shower because the whole thing freaked me out. Another colleague was getting married the month before and she was all into it. I just wanted to wander off and get married, have a vacation and then get back to work. She appeared to spend the three months before her wedding doing nothing but wedding planning while at work.

3. Competitive parenting. Seriously, this is some kind of race? I know a slew of parents who raise their children very differently than I raise mine. And I love them and their children. You do the best you can and work as hard as you can, and ultimately you have no control. I know it doesn't stop the guilt and the worry, but seriously, lay off each other.

4. Complaining about the time it takes to drive from one end of this town to the other. The whole area is like 9 miles by 5 miles. You can walk that. "All the way up there" is so crazy subjective now that gas isn't $4.10 a gallon. 

That's my list from today. These are things I've been thinking about for the last week... I thought some readers might have a better take on them than I do. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Come on March!

As usual February is way too busy. I sprint here. I sprint there. There are birthdays and a holiday and illnesses and weather and school starts to get intense and my kid is BEGGING for it to be his birthday every day. I am also not adding anything to the CARE calendar next month that I am hosting. I have a lot of midterms and papers and observations coming up.

I've been sick, busy with a sick pet and overwhelmed with planned events in the last three weeks. I'm tired. And I've had as many good times as bad, which is a nice balance, but does feel a bit like riding a roller coaster.

This morning I made it back to the gym for the first time in three weeks. And I love going to the gym. I was not alone though. I ran into one of my friends who was having the same come back experience. Her family had been ill for a bit, too.

So, I'm going to have a month of March that is all about me (and X-man's birthday, apparently). I will go to the gym. I will enter my zen eating mode rather than the cram and run. I will make sure to take time with my friends. I will get outside with Riley. I will take my family to Indy for a weekend. I will plan a trip south to see Captain Patrick for a day in April. 

Because most of my days this month are 12-hour days of just one thing after another. 

But for right now, I'm running to class. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Courage Campaign

My friend Mary Kay posted this on Facebook. I thought I'd share.

My second favorite day of the year

If you know me, you know that Christmas is my most favorite day of the year. I like the start of winter. I like the cooking and the giving of gifts. I do my shopping all year round and am always done by Nov. 15. Things are wrapped and tagged and shipped to family by Dec. 10. It eliminates a lot of stress for a woman who hates standing in line, large groups of insane people and, well, traffic. 

My second favorite day of the year has become the annual Center for Children's Books sale held by the Graduate School for Library Sciences at the University of Illinois. And today is that day! 

But before I swing by and pick up Quigs for the festivities, I have to get a large amount of homework done for school. At 10:30 a.m. I'm observing my focal child. I have to type up my observation of the class I visited last Wednesday for my program planning class that's due tomorrow. (I wrote it on Friday while I waited for my tires to be changed, but I forgot to take my laptop, so I've got to type it and put edit it.) 

I also failed to finish my psych reading, so I have to do that and take an online quiz before the 11:55 p.m. deadline tonight. 

Thank goodness MacTroll is home this entire week. Its the first and only full week in February he's home. So we've got a lot going on before he has to run off again. 

Oh, and by the way, if you see my son around, he's a bit birthday obsessed. He's very excited about being three. He's very excited about his special day, and unlike his mother who has terrible birthday karma and wishes, most of the time, that the day would just come and go unnoticed, X-man loves his birthday. We've been practicing blowing out candles without spitting with my birthday cakes. Like at Christmas, I love watching X-man get excited for special days. Special days that are all about nothing but fun and enjoying them with the people you love. 

But the coolest part is that X-man was born the opening weekend for Jarling's in 2006, which means his birthday is always likely to coincide with that date. And if Jarling's is opening then warm weather is just a few weeks later. I don't call anything before May 1 a guarantee of warmth because I've had school canceled as late as April 26th for snow... 

So, hooray for good stuff like books, birthdays and frozen custard. 

Update: Nearly $400 worth of new children's books for $96. It was awesome to read new books with X-man all afternoon.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Brick hitting

I've been cleaning out my files lately because, well, the top of my desk is a mess, and usually when it's that way I don't notice when a little midget wanders off with my bills or thank you notes, etc.

Plus, hooray, I can start shredding things from more than 7 years ago. (Don't worry, I recycle.) 

In the mess was Looseyfur's vet records. And I pulled them out and thought, come April, the county will send me her rabies renewal and I'll have to fill out that she is deceased. There was also her microchip tag, which I guess I should tell AVID is, for sure, burned into ashes right now, although they haven't been delivered back to Dr. Mary yet. 

But I was holding the manilla folder in my hands thinking that I didn't need her vet records any more. And suddenly I wanted my cat back. It's weird how you can get to a point in your grief where you are able to exist every day and do what you have to do. And then you see something, smell something and it makes you cry.  

My strings get pulled at things like little kids and animals. But I don't know why I can't shred them. I mean I have pictures and movies and memories of her. What difference do her health records make? Why do I want to leave them in my drawer?

I guess it makes me feel like part of her is still here. Like she' still mine. And for a moment I wondered what it would be like to drive up to Dr. Mary's and pick her up, but she's gone. I did this when my grandparents passed away in 1992. A couple months after the funeral, I dialed their phone number. I knew they were dead. But I wanted them to pick up the phone. The phone company had already reassigned the number. Life went on. I still have their address in Florida memorized. The route from the entrance into the graveyard where they are buried is etched into my mind. I know I won't see them again. 

I guess with all the homework, visitors, birthday, house stuff, etc., lately, I got so busy that I just didn't have time to bring it to the front of my mind. Then on Friday we got a card of sympathy from Dr. Mary and her staff. Now today, the vet records. 

I'm going to go read a bit of my psych chapter, so I can take the quiz tonight. We'll see if that gets my mind off of things.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On this day 33 years ago...

I guess I'm supposed to blog about something. But nothing is really coming to my mind. 

And, of course, the masses that read this e-mail know it's my birthday.

But it's not just mine.

It's Beth Siemer's and Belena Vincetti's, two friends from high school. It's my friend Sara's niece's birthday -- she was born this morning.

It's also the 200th birthdays of Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin, who historically speaking are way cooler to hang with today than me. (I mean, Abe gets Obama! I just have ice cream cake. :-)

Arsenio Hall, Judy Blume and Cristina Ricci all share my birthday. 
If you don't know who those people are... you can imdb them.

I've got bigger fish to fry. Like, what the hell do we want for dinner?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Damned if You Do...

Every person who has ever had a job knows that vacations are a pain in the ass. You need to get away from your life before you kill someone. You need to blow off some steam. So you scrimp and save all your cash selling off vacation time so you can actually take a week of time off (doesn't that seem crazy) out of the two weeks they actually unchain you from your desk (oven, patrol car, whatever thing you feel tied to). 

But if you have an office job or a job with paperwork, there's a mountain of stuff to get done before you go. And then after being gone for a week you have between 400 and 1400 e-mails in your inbox of things people have dumped in your lap or projects that apparently can't move forward without your input or approval. And you spend an extra 4 hours a day wading through all the crap you missed while you were out, which makes you just mourn the cool city you visited or the beach where you slurped up your fancy drink with the umbrella and read your bad mystery novels. 

Being a stay-at-home mom/student/community organizer/volunteer is no exception to the truth that you're damned if you don't take a vacation and you're damned if you do.

I left at 2 p.m. on Friday. I returned at 9 p.m. on Sunday. Before I left I paid the bills, did my homework, finished the CCHS newsletter, cleaned my house from top to bottom, did all of my laundry, changed the sheets on my bed and e-mailed out last minute emergency contact about a meet up that I organized that I couldn't be at because of my vacation, so that anyone who couldn't find where they were going could e-mail the group that had us over and find their basement set up in the bowels of a U of I residence Hall (which by the way is an uber-cool model train set up... but that's another post). 

I arrived at my house which I had left spic and span to find it a demilitarized zone. It was a wreck. I am disappointed. I am angry. And I'm trying to keep in mind that although I know that my child was happy and fed and cared for while I was gone, my house wasn't. The 8,000 things I do every day completely escapes the attention of my husband. I know that it's okay to do things differently when he parents, but what he did was leave behind another mess that I didn't make to clean up. He'd argue that he doesn't think it's my job. But the truth is that he doesn't see the mess. Therefore, he doesn't understand what the big deal is. He doesn't see that the house gets like this whenever he's home, which is silly because he's an extra grown up with an extra set of hands.

He doesn't understand how many hours it takes to undo what he's done in such a short time. Or what he's perpetuated for X-man by not teaching X-man to respect his house and our things by cleaning up. Clean up does not have to be a chore. Clean up can be a game. But it's hard to do that when you spend a lot of time on your phone or in front of the computer and then turn a blind eye to things.

I always hoped that spending more time with X-man by himself would somehow give him some sort of sense of understanding of how challenging my life can sometimes be. I guess I hope that he'd grow some kind of respect for all that I do from first-hand experience. But I was wrong. My expectations were again much too high. 

And here I am waging war in my brain and crying in my heart. Because I don't know how to balance all this shit out. What's the point of me getting away if I have to work overtime in an already packed week to clean up after him. And where did he get this blindness? 

School says biology is not destiny. It influences sure. So the penis might have something to do with it. But most often it's environment. It's something he learned as a kid.

I've lived with MacTroll since 1998 and this has always been an issue. And no amount of talking about it seems to help. I've tried a general chore chart. I've tried assigned chore charts. I've asked. I've pleaded. I've screamed. I've shouted. I've just taken all his stuff and dumped it in his office or his side of the bed (boy that pissed him off). Most of the time I just put it on the back burner because all the big stuff, the value stuff, we have always agreed on.

But this shit just drives me absolutely mad. Seriously. We'd do better in separate residences. I guess it's good that he's away more than he's home, right? Cause at least in hotels, he has someone who gets paid a wage to pick up after him. Cause I ain't no maid.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

From the Road 2

This was my first trip to Phoenix as a "grown up" (notice the quotes). And even though it was dark when I arrived, I immediately started having Orlando flashbacks as KAP and J drove me to dinner at Loco Patron in Old Town Scottsdale. Everything was shockingly clean for a place where it rarely rains. KAP and J had never seen what I immediately identified as a retention area next to their apartment complex with water in it. 

We ate dinner and chattered. It was awesome to catch up. KAP isn't a phone person. We converse mostly through short e-mails, Facebook messages and letters/funny cards at birthdays and Christmas. I've known her since I was 12 and loved her since I was 14. She and J have been together for over five years, and he's a pretty amazing guy. But holy crap, can they hold their liquor way better than me.

On Saturday, after seeing where KAP works and a bit of shopping (The economy woes seem to be hitting Phoenix pretty bad. Stores like Peek and Artafax seemed overjoyed with me making purchases... even going so far to say, "We're just so happy you're here!") we went to Zipp's sports bar and sat outside in the lovely 68 degree weather watching the Michigan/UCONN game while the three of us and two of their friends (the friendly Tim and lovely Staci) consumed a bucket of domestic long necks, followed by 4 (or was it 5?) pitchers of beer. We shared nachos and wings for dinner. And then we thought we'd go to a movie, but instead, we went back to the apartment, changed into jammies and sat around talking more. 

It was fun to be social for the weekend, to be their guest and to see life in the desert, which was a lovely 68-72 degrees each day. 

But I have to admit my body freaked out at the sunshine. It was like the joy Illinoisans feel on the first day of spring when everyone goes giddy and starts driving around with the top down and all the U of I students suddenly take up jogging in next to nothing apparel-wise.

At the apartment complex, they had bushes with flowers, damn it. Swimming pools were open everywhere, although none of the locals were in them. To them -- it was cold. Outdoor seating is available everywhere, including PF Chang's where we had lunch one day.

And as we sat in the apartment shooting the shit from 8 p.m. to midnight with our comfy pants on and mixed drinks in hand, it began to rain like mad. 

This morning, the retention pond had a lot of standing water. To me it was normal, but to folks who have been in the desert for a year and a half, it completely weirded them out.

So I return to Central Illinois to where it's warmed up significantly over the weekend, but alas, is not yet spring. I've never craved, in February, to see my tulips before. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

From the Road

Every week MacTroll visits a plethora of places around the country. For example, next week he'll visit D.C., Miami and New York in three days. He flies over 100,000 miles a year primarily on American Airlines, which qualifies him for Executive Platinum Status.

What the hell is that you ask?

What it means is that although you and I might plunk down our cash for a coach seat with our (or others') shrieking children and overweight thighs that make it impossible to get the service tray to lay flat for our non-existent food -- MacTroll is privileged.

When he buys his tickets in coach they instantly work to try to upgrade him to first/business class for free. He rides up front with his fellow professional travelers enjoying free alcoholic drink service, complete meals that don't suck, cups of warmed mixed nuts, a closet to have someone else hang up his coat for him, clean blankets and extra-wide seats with two times the leg room of a coach seat.

He enjoys access to the fancy clubs at the airport where there are free snacks, free internet, loads of empty, large leather chairs to sit in and free soft drinks. The bathrooms in some Admiral Clubs have marble floors and doors that extend from the floor to ceiling keeping your gassy identity top secret, so no one can identify you as the smelly one by your shoes.

I don't fly a lot, but every six to eight months I get on a plane for a Loosey-only vacation. And each time I use MacTroll's frequent flier miles and each time I get upgraded to first class, where I am reminded how much I am NOT used to be waited on. I sit next to all baby boomers with Louis Vitton luggage and $90 haircuts. I drink water, instead of a mixed drink, and I scarf down my nuts fearful that one of the well made-up, excessively smiley crew that are appointed to the first-class cabin will identify me as a fraud by my old tennis shoes and discount fleece jacket and rip the little ceramic bowl out of my hands.

Today is one of those experiences. I'm flying next to a guy on his way to a conference in Phoenix. He's got a manilla folder on his tray. The tray the uber friendly flight attendent assumed she had to tell me how to use as I refused their fancy smelling dinners. "I'm having dinner with my friends when we land," I said politely.

No one cared, but as a Fat girl it killed me to pass on the glass of ice cream with the hot fudge sauce they handed out 20 minutes later.

Currently my co-passenger, who began our flight arguing with a co-worker in the seat behind him about whether 6B or 6E was the best seat on that particular model airplane due to the extra 1/2 inch leg room -- they apparently once measured, has had his Crackberry out the whole time reading ugly plain text. He tries to put it down, lasts 30 seconds, and then picks it back up again.

We've been in the air for 2 hours. During which I finished my second book of the year (It's a big accomplisment for me you readers! So stop snickering.), Laurie Novaro's "Guide to the Idiot-Girls' Adventure Club."

It was the only book I brought -- for obviously slow reading reasons. Hence my impromptu blog via my school notebook and then typed so diligently on my friend KAP's laptop.

Anyway, when forced with flying solo I get a lot of quiet time, which I use to eavesdrop.

My favorite were the Chicago businessmen enroute to Phoenix where they would be golfing, probably during the same conference as my seat buddy. You can tell the guys were from Chicago because they all had Mike Ditka attributes: Black jeans, white New Balance tennis shoes that are as wide as they are long, black socks, collared shirts underneath fleecy sweatshirts that have either colleges or sports teams on them. Their bellies hang six or more inches over their belts, that seemed to be pulled extra tight for some reason and over-emphasized the years of Budweiser drinking and shouting at the TV. Don't forget the hair either. The short spiky haircuts that match the same gray bushy moustaches.

As the gate agent called for first class to board first (they have to make sure the privileged have a chance to suck back a complete gin and tonic before take off), one of the Ditka replica says to the other, "I didn't get an upgrade, so I wonder how many employees are hogging those seats."

When he finished, I stood to get ready to board. I felt his eyes scan me as I walked to the line, handed my ticket to the gate agent and proceeded down the jetbridge.

As my people boarded 10 minutes later and moved to the cattle car in the back of the plane mooing, I sat with my eyes in my book. Head down. Dont' make eye contact! Refuse a drink! Do not draw attention to yourself! And I wonder how long it took MacTroll to get used to riding at the front of the bus with wings after flying coach on discount airlines when we ran our own business. I also wondered if he'd ever be able to go back to just flying coach.

I mean let's face it. He lives a life of $300 hotel rooms withnmaid service and free pints of Ben and Jerry ice cream when he's on the road.

At home, he gets a wife who runs around hurriedly trying to keep the household in clean underwear, wiping down walls she's glad they paid the extra money for to upgrade to eggshell coatings so that it makes removing dirty toddler finger prints off of them easier, running off to class and meet ups and leaving him with stuff to do or a kid to care for. In comparison to his travel life -- he definitely married a woman who is the epitome of coach.

One that is full of kids who kick your seat, spill their drinks and make you feel grumpy and cramped.

But maybe that's why he upgrades me to first class each time I actually take the time to make time away for myself. Maybe it's his way of saying thank you for grounding him in a reality where sleeping in a pile like puppies with your familiy is way cooler and happier than 1,000 count Egyption Cotton sheets.

Maybe, but I'm too busy losing at the sudoku in the inflight magazine to think about it too much. :-)

More thoughts from class

I'm loving my Infant and Toddler class at Parkland. I take away lots of new things every class to use not only with my focal child (our lab is to spend time with a child under 24 months each week and record specific observations) but with my own child. 

It teaches me to take a step back and not be so emotionally involved or strung out every day. A few months ago, a number of local bloggers, who are mothers, talked about how they feel as their kids move into the toddler realm that they're yelling becomes the primary source of communication. "Don't touch that! Don't hit your brother! Don't pull the dog's tail! Don't eat food off the floor! Don't pick your nose and eat it!" I have the same issue. 

These kinds of things get repeated over and over and over again. Along with "Good girl! Bad Boy!" It's frustrating to realize we're only speaking in the negative or that we're issuing time outs every 20 minutes, or we're giving unclear compliments, where if you're hearing good than at some times you must be "bad." Instead we should be telling our kids what we like about their behavior or what we don't like.

For example, yesterday morning, X-man was stalling when getting into the car. I asked him if I could help him. He refused. Two minutes later he's still dawdling in front of the car. I had given him a warning that if he wasn't in his car seat by the time I counted to 20, I was putting him in it. He tested that. I picked him up and placed him in the seat. He screamed, hauled off and smacked my glasses off. Mommy's red alarm went off. Steam came out of my ears. Before Infant and Toddler I would have issued a time out or I may have even shouted at him that he was a "Bad boy" before I shouted about how hitting hurts. 

Instead, I tried to follow what I'd learned in class and be specific. "Hands are NOT for hitting!" I said it loudly, but not screaming. "You hurt Mommy! I do not like being hit!" 

X-man immediately started crying and reached for my face, kissed my cheek, handed me my glasses and tried to help me put them on all while saying, "Sorry Mommy!" When he calmed down, I took a minute to talk to him about how we use our words when we're frustrated, and how Mommy is trying to keep him safe and on schedule. She's not trying to be mean by making him get to school on time.

Do I think this will prevent hits in the future? I have no idea. But I did see a big difference between this and both of us sitting in the garage crying after we both had a dose of regretful behavior. So, um, I'm calling it a good choice for X-man.

In addition, the time we spend with our kids where we do have quality time with them is often directed by adults. "Is that a blue block? What shape is it? Is it a square?" As adults we get in kids' faces and ask them all these questions. Then we tell them what to do in loud, demanding, critical voices. We hope to teach them right from wrong. We hope to teach them colors, shapes, numbers and letters. We hope to teach them to share with their friends, to be cautious, to be independent, to be kind. 

It's a huge, huge job. And one that no one I've ever talked to feels like they've done a good enough job no matter how much effort, blood, sweat and tears goes into it.

In class, I'm starting to learn to do things differently. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But the ways that Nancy's teaching me to interact with children makes  lot of sense. A lot of it, I've always done naturally. But I'm working on changing from a parent who commands all of the interaction to a parent who just sits on the floor and lets their child lead. Make it all about the child and his/her choices rather than make it about me and what I think the child should be doing. 

And that's the stickler between generations. It's a complete cultural change from the way people used to think about child rearing. It used to be that kids were supposed to follow their parents commands. It was a sign of respect. But behind that "respect" was a healthy dose of fear of getting in trouble. And "trouble" could mean a wide variety of things depending on what discipline was like in your family. So not only was there actually no respectful behavior going on toward the parent when a child followed directions out of fear, but the lack of respect was reciprocal. Parents who think they should be able to drag their kids wherever the adults want to go when they want to go is disrespectful to a child. There are excursions that are NOT developmentally appropriate for children. 

For example visiting someone's home can be a large problem for both a parent and a child. If a home is not childproofed and has a lot of nicknacks or fragile pieces near the floor, a parent spends the whole visit following a toddler around moving things or saying "No." It takes a lot of work on behalf of the parent and is discouraging for a child. He or she simply won't want to go back there if the place is like a museum. Infants and toddlers like to explore and try new things. They get messy. They're amazed by how things work. They need environments that support that, which may require others to travel to them rather than expecting a family to always be on the move.

A long time ago, before X-man was born, MacTroll and I agreed that we were going to put X-man's safety and our own sanity first. This means we've had to think about things in a different way. People who haven't had hands-on experience with toddlers in a while might not understand why we do things. They may think critically of us and think we're spoiling our child. But apparently, our gut instinct when X-man was in utero reflects a lot of the theories behind modern infant/toddler educational theory. Not that we ever feel guilty about the choices we make, but it does help to know that we've got research on our side when we worry about people taking offense to the fact that we decide not to attend things or go places because it's not in the best interest of our child at that particular day or time or age.

Parenting is a hard job, and my readings all support that every adult that works with small children 8 (or if you're a stay-at-home parent -- 24) hours a day need substantial breaks to step away and regroup so they can continue positive interactions with their kids. And most of the stay-at-home parents with small kids that I know don't get one -- ever.

So it's not surprising that we all go bat shit from time to time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's all over...

I wish I had good news. 

Lovely, Letterman. Just LOVELY.

Illinois' former governor made another TV appearance, this time on Letterman, where David didn't hold back.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Love Your Library!

Something you may not know about me is that I love working in public libraries. I worked at the North Suburban Library in Loves Park from 1991-1996. I started out shelving and putting the metal sticker strips that make the security alarms go off into all the materials. As I got older, I did a lot of work in the children's section. I created a database for parents and school teachers who were looking for high-quality books on particular issues like divorce, diversity, potty training, death, etc. I also worked as a children's reference librarian, which rocked. I also worked the circulation desk and assisted the community outreach person with the monthly newsletter. The job let me see all aspects of public libraries from the overactive children who climb shelves, to the homeless people searching for warmth, to the die-hard romance readers who mark each paperback so they know which Harlequins they've read. It didn't pay a lot (my wage ranged from $3.62 to $5.00 over five years) but it was very flexible to my high school and college schedule. 

When we moved back to Illinois from Virginia, I wanted to work part-time, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I ended up being hired as a circulation clerk for the Champaign Public Library. It was a temporary position while another employee served overseas in the military. I trained at the main library and then worked at the Douglass Branch, where my circulation duties and my past experience with children's programs blended. I was sad when my time ended at 10 months, and I thought I'd like to go to library school. Unfortunately, I didn't get into the University of Illinois that year. When I applied they warned me that the down economy was driving up their application numbers. And let's face it, I'm good, but children's librarian isn't sexy. At least not as sexy as the librarians who want to reinvent information management. I mean, I'm impressed by that. 

Regardless, I've never given up my love for the library. And on Feb. 15, the University of Illinois Center for Children's Books is having their annual sale. I had to miss it last year because I was on travel to California. But this year, I'm excited about going. Yes, it costs $20 just to get into the door. But once your in, books range from $1-2 for paperbacks and $5 for hardbacks. I take along a canvas bag and fill it for X-man and then come home all excited about reading all of my purchases. 

The sale itself is a big rush. Kind of like one of those Christmas morning releases. They put everyone in a holding cell in the order they arrived and then they set us free and people rush around shoving books in boxes. These are new books, mind you. Schools, churches, daycares, pre-schools, they all send a posse of people with boxes and crates and dollies. Other libraries use it to pick up books, too! There aren't very many individuals there. But I find it worth it every time I go. I'm usually in and out in under an hour. But my rush lasts for days. 

Because the one place I love more than the library -- is a bookstore.

Which makes me completely panicked about the current closure of Pages for All Ages. Seriously. It makes me sick to my stomach to drive by their parking lot and see it empty and the lights off with the evil signs up that they've closed for "THE DAY" for inventory. 

And that's not just because I have a gift card I'd like to spend. It's because I LOVE that place. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Something Silly on a Sad Day

MacTroll and I were driving home from Target on Friday. We passed Bottenfield Elementary about the time school was letting out. A red car pulled out with an advertisement on the door. 

MacTroll said: "Hey! That new mediterranean place is opening north of downtown!"

I said: "Look at the phone number."

MacTroll stared really hard. A moment of silence passed. "What's wrong with the phone number?"

"Doesn't it look familiar?" I asked

"Should it?" he replied.

"It was only our home phone number from May 2003 until we moved in August 2007."


So, um, even though Champaign Taste said the service was really slow at Jack's Place -- she did say the food was yummy. Those of you who lived in town and remember the old number (217) 355-0599... you'll know who to call fif you have a falafel craving. 

As for the rest of the day... my eyes are still a bit puffy. But Nyssa is all over me with purrs and cuddles. 

Goodbye Looseyfur

I said goodbye to Looseyfur this morning. We adopted her July 31, 1998, and she passed away this morning Feb. 2, 2009. Since she was adopted as an adult she was between 14-22 years of age. Fancy Cats thought she was 4. Our vet in Virginia said she was between 8-12 years old... so she was ageless. She set the standard for awesome cats everywhere. We loved her very much, and she will be missed.