Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

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Every Child Left Behind

Posted on Apr 4, 2011 in Featured, School |

Every Child Left Behind

I want so badly to write a post about the No Child Left Behind Act that is tearing into schools and communities throughout California. I want to write about angry parents and saddened kids and politics of the whole thing. But in all honesty, it’s just too maddening a subject to write about. I don’t understand how we Americans could have allowed a bill into effect that could cause so much damage to all children.

No Child Left Behind seems to help no one. It doesn’t help the high performers, the midline performers or even the low performers it’s designed to aid. NCLB seems to attack the very notion of Darwinism. Who let this obscene form of standardized hell for children come into our schools?

I want to write what I’ve been hearing statewide for months: Why can’t there just be smart kids and dumb kids and kids in the middle? Why can’t we have support for all of our kids? Why do all of our needs have to go to the children who will never prove to excel academically no matter what kind of services we pour into them Why? Because there are smart kids and dumb kids and most kids who fall somewhere in the middle. It’s not pretty, but this is what’s being said on playgrounds from Sacramento to San Diego.

But I can’t write that.

Somehow I’m encouraged and paid to write about Earth Day, skin care products and diet options. But I can’t write about what matters right now. Right now I can’t write about political decision that affected every child I know. The fallout for NCLB in California is like effects of a tsunami, barreling through our communities and leaving disaster everywhere. Families that can leave public school are leaving in droves for private education, home prices are so out of whack because of the schools that we find ourselves trapped, unable to leave and unable to stay in public schools. It would be unpopular to write about the clear racism that stems from NCLB, where the Hispanic kids in California are seen as the little rodents that our dragging our schools down because they were not raised speaking English and have a higher likelihood of being underprivileged.

I can’t write about how painful No Child Left Behind is for the middle-of-the-road kids, or, how kids with true potential are falling through the cracks right before our very eyes because all of the support services goes to the underperformers. I can’t write about how frustrating it is to see midline children in need of a little boost get no support at all. I can’t write about the high-level performers who also receive no support or learning services of any kind.

What are parents left to do? Fight? Fight whom? Fight for what? And which battle should we fight first?

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The Broken Road

Posted on Mar 30, 2011 in Featured |

The Broken Road

I don’t really know Ed. Nothing but a company cocktail party and a brief office intro bind Ed and me. But Ed, Ed has become a household name for us and an endlessly interesting topic of conversation. Ed is running across America. With his legs. With his family. With his spirit.

We’re each driven and drawn to people and things that can do the unthinkable. There’s Alain Robert, the French Spiderman dude who climbs buildings with his bare hands. His sole motivation? The thrill of calculated risk and “mastering my fear.” And how about the blind Kenyan runner Samuel Muchai who is racing toward the London Olympics who brushes off fear daily, ““While we train on the roads, we sometimes tumble into potholes and stones, but I believe such experiences only harden us.”  And then, an athlete that moves me to tears for her stunning composure is Abby Sunderland, who at 16 set out to sail around the world alone, only to hit hard waves in the Indian Ocean and capsize, while millions of people watched and waited. “I’m living proof that things don’t always work out the way you plan,” she said, “but you can only plan so far in an adventure.”

Ed set out to run across America on March 1. Sixteen days later, beaten down by weather and some freak-of-nature elephantiasis-looking thing in his leg, Ed had to stop running. Like I said, I don’t know Ed well, but I can tell you this: a little rain and ankle pain doesn’t keep Ed from running.  Boom! Just like that, a trip of a lifetime squelched.

Suddenly, Ed’s run across America — a feat that less than 300 people have ever done —  became Ed’s long motorhome drive back across the country with an ice pack on his ankle and a lot of extra Coast-to-Coast  t-shirts hanging around. And although he had raised $9000 for Freedom is Not Free, Ed became one of the extraordinary athletes whose body sidelined its owner’s drive.

I crafted an email to Ed over and over again. La Gringa and I bantered about a condolence gift — a case of wine? A hefty bottle of Maker’s Mark? We even looked for an “I’ll Be Back” t-shirt to give him. But, there is really nothing you can say to an extreme athlete whose been benched. High expectations have a long way down when they fall short.

What inspires me about extreme athletes like Ed is their ability to push the mind and body simultaneously; to conquer fear and tune-out negative doubt mongers. As an afraid person, I am drawn to people who are fearless. Fearless and reckless are very different things. Abby Sunderland was rescued, but not deflated. Her life’s goal: to take her Wild Eyes sailboat and head back out around the world, cold and alone into the waters that nearly drowned her.  Ed will head back out across the country again when he is healed. It’s an extraordinary quality I wish I had more of.

If Ed had made it this time, he’d have a lifetime of stories to tell. Instead, now, the stories are in front of him, not behind him. The glory is yet to be had, but there is something equally inspring about grace in defeat.

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We’re Leaving… on a Jet Plane (and train, and bus and boat)

Posted on Mar 30, 2011 in Europe, Featured |

We’re Leaving… on a Jet Plane (and train, and bus and boat)

Two years in the making, dozens of conversations, one giant wall map, four plane tickets bought and zero plans.

We leave with our backpacks and children in just over six weeks for a six-week stint in Europe. We have no business doing this. None. La Gringa’s got a new job she loves, I’ve got full-time work on the horizon and the kids are missing a lot of school for this little nutso plan that started as a year abroad concept that somehow, between life and work became a trip of a lifetime instead of an escape from life. Somehow a year abroad seems a lot more manageable to me than six weeks on-the-move.

The plan is to be plan-free. I’ve done enough homework and traveled enough to know the gist of what we want to do and where we want to go. This isn’t a sightseeing-type vacation. Instead, we will plan on heading from the UK through a few countries in western Europe and a quick stop in Slovakia before La Gringa leaves. I’ll hunker down in Spain or Italy for a couple weeks with the kids until heading to Ireland with Aunty T. to see her home town. By then, I’ll need a good night in an Irish pub, no doubt.

I haven’t been afraid of this adventure at any point until now. I’m worried a bit about the stability in the Middle East, despite the fact I was in some pretty hairy jams when I traveled in the mid-east in 2000. I’m a bit concerned about money — gas prices, cash flow and inter-country travel is starting to make me nervous. And the kids told me that they are worried about where we’ll be sleeping. I want them to feel free, not afraid.

This week I’ll work on some modifications to the trip — a few hotel reservations, some goal dates to hit and maybe some pre-purchases of train and air travel within Europe so that I can get the best deals possible.

The purpose of our trip is to feel life without any restraints. As we approach departure, I’m noticing that the concerns are creeping into all of our minds. It’ll be my job this week to try and alleviate some of those concerns.

I’m not planning on going into the Louvre, but maybe playing tag on the lawn outside of it. I’m planning on showing the kids the Coliseum in Rome, but know they will care more about throwing Lire in the Trevi Fountain. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s perfect. We’ll go to Monza race track near Milan because Thing 1 read a book that describes the grand prix racing there. It’s also in the great book The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Long before I had children, I had the notion that I’d raise my children as people of the world, not just of a small community, a city, a state or one single nation. I wanted my children to be multi-lingual, have an open mind about people in the world around them. I wanted children that would have empathy for the needs and beauty of places beyond themselves. It is my hope that we, as a family, will grow from our journey together.

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Religionless Lent

Posted on Mar 14, 2011 in Featured, Thing 1, Thing 2 |

Religionless Lent

I knew when the kids asked about the meaning of Mardi Gras, that it was all over. Dang inquisitive little people are relentless on a mommy who doesn’t really want to talk about the murder of Christ while running carpool to ballet class. These conversations always happen in the car, and inevitably when I’m running late.

Where to start? Twelfth Night? The Three Kings? Magic? Dark magic Ann Rice-type stuff? Ash Wednesday? Sin? None quite appropriate for two smiley faced 7-year-olds. But again, my kids proved to me, as they always do, that they grasp the meaning of life so much more than I ever will.

I told them about Fat Tuesday and the meaning of the word Mardi Gras, I told them that the next day began a long, quiet time for Catholics who sacrifice something each year to remember Christ’s long, quite time in the desert away from family and friends. I told them when he came back that he was killed for the things he believed in. I told them, as to the best of my recollection from Catholic school,  that Easter was not about a bunny, but about Jesus rising from the dead. It’s hard to tell this story, because my own beliefs are more along the Spring Solstice than the death and rising of a man, but I tried to be objective. Yes, Fat Tuesday is a party, but it’s not just for party sake.

“I will give up ice cream for Lent,” my Thing 1 said frankly. “Me too. And guacamole,” my Thing 2 chimed in.

I explained that our family is not a family of religion, but of faith. I told them that this type of sacrifice was not necessary. They nodded at me in complete disagreement:

“I believe in the good of every religion. I believe in the good in every friend. I am going to do Lent with them, because if they are giving up something for what they believe in, they I should do it with them to make it easier.”

And so it was decided. My religionless little children, Christlike without knowing who Christ even is, decided our fate for the next 40 days.

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To Mom

Posted on Feb 24, 2011 in Family and Friends, Featured |

To Mom

Dear Mom,

You became a mother 40 years ago today on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. Your world at 20-something had moved into a new chapter, forever shifting your life’s focus to being a parent. I wonder how you felt that day. I wonder if you felt, as I did at the moment I became a parent, that you had just participated in a miracle, leaving you breathless and full of joy you’d never known — you had become a mother.

I gain my daily and my abstract inspiration from you, mom. Unlike me, you are Pollyanna, always finding the good in every situation. And as time passes, I have tried to learn a bit of that from you — call it a Pollyanna Placebo, if you will. Being a true woman comes naturally to you. I am reminded every day I see you, that being a woman means being as brilliant as your mind can take you, as kind as your heart can muster, and, as strong as your body will push you. Being a woman, I’ve learned from you, is never compromised by being a lady. Being a lady comes first. Mom, you are quite a lady.

Today, I am 40. Today, no different than yesterday or tomorrow, I will rely on you for guidance, and take only half of it. I will look for your nod of approval and then question it from every angle. Today like all days, I’ll not quite be complete without seeing you or speaking with you. Unless I don’t, and that’s okay by you too. Today you’ll make me beef stroganoff even though I doubt anyone in the free world eats beef stroganoff anymore, you’ll do it for me like you do every year on my birthday. And today, you’ll make me a lemon cake because I love lemon cake, even if you don’t. Because you’re a mom and I’m your kid and it’s my birthday.

I have a million birthday memories with you, mom. Most are happy, some hard, some just getting through the day. My first memory of my life is my birthday party in our backyard on Bundy. I was wearing yellow and you were wearing a white lacy shirt. You made my cake, of course, and brought it outside. It was a cold afternoon and my feet were tingling and wet from the cold bricks. There was a rectangular table and my friends and I wore party hats. I remember you bringing out my cake with candles on it. It had white frosting. I’ll never forget that first memory as long as I live: my beautiful mother and my beautiful life and my beautiful birthday cake in the backyard.

There are others too — I can remember a very rainy birthday party where you were sick, much like you are right now, and Aunt Maria was there. I remember feeling claustrophobic, playing Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey on the wall in grandma’s livingroom on Teakwood. On my Sweet 16, you took a chunky, friendless girl and made a magical day for me, despite my pathetic teenhood. I remember my 21st birthday in college with a massive box filled with 21 gifts from you, each with a clue written on it and hand-wrapped. The 21st gift was a string of pearls. I love my pearls, I’m wearing them today. On my 30th birthday you quietly told me to pick boys over girls, not for judgement sake, but because it would just be less messy. Pregnant on my 32nd birthday, you bought me a soft black dress for a small fortune in a maternity size extra large. You made me feel pretty — and surprised! — at that secret fete.

Today, Mom, I’m excited to be 40. I can’t wait to celebrate with you. It is February 24. It’s the day you became a mother.

I love you.

Samantha

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Rape, Fame and the Ass in the Superbowl

Posted on Feb 4, 2011 in Featured, Politics and Rants |

Rape, Fame and the Ass in the Superbowl

I can’t wrap my head around how the National Football League could allow a three-time rapist to star in the SuperBowl. I truly do not understand how the Steelers could employ a repeat rapist — I don’t care how badly you want to win, rapist belong in jail and in hell, not as the star of your football team.

I am a for second chances. I am a true believer in mistakes being catalysts for change and growth. Ben Roethlisberger has earned none of these chances. In the past seven years, he’s won two SuperBowl rings and raped three women — and those are only the women who have stepped forward. There are no chances left for this rapist — none. Go to hell and get off my TV.

It’s old news to hear of celebrities and sports stars getting special treatment, being allowed to return to play and work and lead teams (Hello, Charlie Sheen). People’s livelihood relies on big celebrities. One could argue that the Pittsburg Steelers wouldn’t have made it to the SuperBowl without Ben Roethlisberger. One could argue that he has done his time with league suspensions, slaps on the hand and a dropped third case. One could argue that how a guy throws a football has nothing to do with his misconduct off the field. One could argue the girls are drunks! are users! are seeking fame! But I am wondering why we continue to to find loopholes for men who rape women and then cheer them on to victory, Emmy awards and SuperBowl rings? [Don’t tell me about the fact he wasn’t convicted. Read the transcripts, the history, the court docs. The guy got off on technicalities and loopholes. That’s like saying OJ is innocent because he wasn’t convicted.]

I wonder what kind of courage it would take for players to refuse to play with a three-time rapist? I wonder how powerful and united a community could feel if it chose to tell its team they would not be fans of an organization that employed a three-time rapist. I wonder how defiance would feel by refusing to buy tickets to a football game to see a three-time rapist throw a ball. I wonder what kind of incredible grassroots support corporations would get if they refused to run ads during a game that is starring a three-time rapist. I wonder what kind of kudos, praise and viewership FOX would gain if they refused to air a game starring a three-time rapist.

It sounds like a pipe-dream, doesn’t it? But why? Why is it unreasonable to ask ourselves to be brave enough to stand against Ben Roethlisberger, the football player, the rapist? Why is it unreasonable to ask our sports teams to refuse employment to a man who forced his 250-pound-frame onto three separate women?

Ben Roethlisberger, the three-time rapist, will star in the biggest sporting event of the year this coming Sunday. He will be cheered and high-fived and will make millions this weekend, and, perhaps, another SuperBowl victory. And somewhere, the women he raped sit wondering why their courage is not matched by us.

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