For Things You Don’t Need

On Saturday night, my buddies and I rewarded ourselves for a long walk – my Fitbit was already way past 20,000 steps – with a beer and a burger at Fraunces Tavern, which is one of the oldest pubs in Manhattan and worth a visit if you’re in town.

After several hours of talking, which included such lovely topics as the new studies that found a connection between menopause and Alzheimer’s Disease and flaky college students, we started talking about politics.

I asked, “So, what do you think about the proposals that Democrats are starting to float about student loan forgiveness and free childcare?” Two of us have kids who are nearly done with high school, and the other never had kids. “Would you vote for someone who was putting forward proposals that wouldn’t benefit you at all?”

Our town pool has a special section that is just for older people. Nobody under 18 is allowed to be there. Every couple of hours, the life guards blow a whistle and everyone under 18 has to get out of the pool for 15 minutes, so the older people can do the side stroke in peace. The public library has senior reading clubs, introductory classes on email, and daytime movies. Without the buy-in from older citizens in the community, there’s a fear among local politicians that old folks will vote for people to defund those services. I’m sure those fears are justified.

People care about schools for a relatively short period of time. There care from the time that their oldest kid is five to when they’re about a sophomore in high school. Typically, parents are much more involved in schools for their oldest; subsequent kids are on auto-pilot. And then they stop caring about the local schools when they start thinking about SAT scores and colleges for their oldest and after their oldest fails to become the class president or the football captain.

Schools make a lot of enemies. For every kids that becomes the class president and the football captain, there are the parents of the hundred other kids who sit at the unpopular table in the cafeteria who want to throw a pitchfork into the school principal. Parents who aren’t in the audience for High School Awards Nights will never, ever vote for a school bond issue ever again. Screw ’em.

So, there’s only about ten to twelve years, when a person has a real stake in making better schools. And that’s why there are places in the country where teachers are paid around $30,000 per year and students have few chances to make it to college.

Childcare affects a family for three or four years, if you have multiple kids.

Student loans can haunt a person for ages, but for every person that defaults, there are nine others who paid off their loans working boring jobs and doing overtime.

And let’s be honest. Our grandparents didn’t have the material comforts that we have today. I mean we put in more hours at an office and have invested more in education, but that generation cut coupons and never bought prepared meals at Whole Foods. So, when they look at younger folks complaining about childcare costs, they’re thinking about how they survived on one income and never ever went on a vacation that involved an airplane.

So, really the question isn’t “”Would you vote for someone who was putting forward proposals that wouldn’t benefit you at all?” Instead, the real question is “would you vote for something that you worked really, really, really hard to pay for on your own, making lots of personal sacrifices, and destroying your own health in the process. And then the benefits went to people who you perceive to be privileged, entitled, smug, and unwilling to help you?”

My generation is in the middle. Gen-Xers have a foot in both worlds. We can remember the difficulties of juggling childcare and work, but we’re also done with it. It wasn’t easy, but we did it.

Self-interest is a basic component of human nature. The founders knew that and created a democratic system based on that notion. With a system of checks and balances, ambition would counterbalance ambition. A large nation, divided up with federalism, would create a large state with a multitude of interests, all checking each other, so no one group would dominate and abuse others.

So, lecturing people that they should vote for schools, student loans, and childcare because virtuous people do that, is pointless. I think we should look to the model of the local town pool and figure out ways to make sure that everyone benefits from childcare centers, schools, and colleges. I’ve always thought that childcare centers and senior citizen centers should be housed in the same buildings. Invite people from the community to give lectures in the high school on their expertises and careers. Colleges could provide job training to people with autism or provide free tickets to concerts to people in the community.

Free childcare and student loan forgiveness might get headlines and tweets from the 30-something crowd, but it’s a tough sell to those who are freaking out about menopausal plaque on the brains and are counting their steps on a Fitbit.

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Travel and Trees

I finished tying up all the loose ends on some malingering articles just in time for next week’s trip to North Carolina. In fact, I finished a couple of days earlier than I expected, so I’ve been using the past two days to get caught up on house and family chores.

I tackled the vacation-work travel folder yesterday and typed up itineraries, booked a train, and fixed the frequent flier miles. We actually haven’t gone anywhere that requires a plane for ages, so the frequent flier situation required talking with somebody in Bangalore to get everything up to date.

We’re taking our first European vacation this summer, since our honeymoon. 22 years. Steve and I travelled extensively in Europe before we had kids. He lived in Austria for a year and student-taught in Germany. I had an English boyfriend at one point and a sister in Madrid. But then kids came, so we found ourselves on a lazy river in Orlando Florida instead of a cobblestone street in Florence.

No regrets. The lazy river was fun, too.

This July, we’re going to London, Edinburgh, and Inverness for ten days, and am totally psyched. We’re staying in adorable airbnbs in Scotland, which is the only way to travel with two nearly adult boys. They need their own rooms, and we need ours.

Before we go there, I need to finish more research on my odd, odd family tree. I must find out which side they were on at Culloden, so I can imagine them either under a headstone or executing officers.

I’ve still been haphazardly researching my family tree. The Fitzgerald side is complicated because there were about four hundred years, where they only seemed to have four names for their sons — Garrett, William, Maurice, or Edmund. And there’s a mash of family legend polluting the research of others on the Internet. I need some quality time to read through the peerage charts to see who’s who. But in the meantime, I’ve been reading some wikipedia entries on some of more colorful cousins.

There’s Lord Edward FitzGerald (1763-1798), an Irish revolutionary, who married Pamela, the illegitimate daughter of Louis Phillippe II, the Duke of Orleans. He died while resisting arrest for treason. And there’s his mom – Emily FitzGerald (1731-1814), who was sleeping with her kids’ tutor. DNA tests have shown that Lord Edward’s dad was really the eccentric tutor, not the Irish Duke. The Scottish side is equally crazy; I need to get this sorted out before we go.

We’re planning on making travel a bigger part of our lives. I even bought color coded packing cubes (I love OCD travel supplies). Getting older sucks in so many ways, but having the time and the resources to travel again, is definitely a perk.

Dinner Time Conversations

Today, we ate at the kitchen counter, because Wednesday is Steve’s gym day, so he doesn’t get home until about 8:00. With laptops next to dinner plate, we did a little multi-tasking — we call it “homework-dinner-combo.” Ian had to finish a personal essay about his personal hero (Steve), and Jonah had to finalize his schedule for next year. And we were chatting the whole time.

Jonah showed us a video about a guy who lived in the Paris airport for 18 years.

After telling us that his roommate is going to get a tattoo of Mac Mills, he announced that he wanted to get a tattoo of the Dortmund soccer team. I told him about the things that I thought I was cool at 19 and that I would be unhappy to have permanently affixed to my 53-year old body. Annie Lennox, for example. I did like REM back then, but I’m still happy that nothing is highlighting my saggy self.

And he told me that Grey Poupon is a very popular word in rap music, because it’s a symbol of wealth and because it rhymes with a lot of stuff. And then proceeded to freestyle a rap using the words futon and crouton.

I’m going to be really sad when he goes back to school.

Photo: Ian made an “I” out of hot sauce on his black bean soup.

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Hunting Sweaters

Beyond some boring paperwork (Gah! I hate invoicing) and a review of the education newsletters, not much work happened today. I did a weight lifting class at the local gym, which I hated. Give me some loud nasty music and a bike, and I’m happy to exercise as long as you like. Planks and barbells are the worst. But they tell me that after 50, it’s super important. Sigh. So, I forced myself to get there this morning.

Then I met up with my 83-year old mom at the mall with stops along the way at the Post Office to mail out a used book and the gas station. Well, I attempted to meet up with my mom. She was waiting for me at a Starbucks at a different mall. Because in Jersey, there are a bazillion malls with nearly the same name.

No worries. I had a lot to do without Sylvia slowing me down.

I first went to Macy’s and Sephora looking for gifts for my three teenage nieces, specifically affordable make-up kits that weren’t marketed by a former stripper. I was going for light pinks and blushes, rather than black smoky eyes and gold glitter and thigh high boots. Didn’t find what I was looking for, so I’ll have to go out again tomorrow.

J. Crew is having a big sale. If you get their credit card, it’s 70 percent off everything. So, I got this blouse, buttoned sweater, v-neck sweater, one for Steve, and a scarf for him.

Next up is some computer clean up, which I suppose counts as work, and then getting Ian ready for his holiday concert. He’s a percussionist. We’ll leave with his concert outfit on, pick up Wendy’s, and drive to my folks who live near his school. I need my Dad’s help with Ian’s tie. I’ve tied Jonah’s tie before using a YouTube tutorial, but my dad’s home and can do it better. Somewhere in there, I’ll eat dinner and meet up with Steve at Ian’s school.

Thoughts and prayers for Jonah who is taking his last final this evening. He’s doing very well in his humanities classes, but taking a thumping in his STEM classes this semester. Let’s hope the gods are with him this finals week, or he’ll be picking a new major over break.

Hunting Stories

A website that I occasionally write for asked me to do something on special ed. They are particularly interested in the urban school district that I taught at 25 years ago. So, I had to track down possible interviewees who weren’t afraid of a media exposé and were interesting. No biggie!

Also, this outlet likes upbeat stories that highlight innovations, which is cool, so I had to track down someone who had inspiring stories to tell about kids who are desperately poor, probably homeless, possibly abused, with intellectual disabilities, maybe physical disabilities, and definitely emotionally disturbed.

Took a few weeks to find the right person, but I did it. She’s a principal of a public school in the South Bronx that is the home of 600 kids who have gotten kicked out of regular schools, because their needs are so great. She called her students as “her babies.” Woot!

I might have to ask for hazard pay for this article, because I could get assaulted by the students, and my car might get stolen, when I go there to do interviews. (Not joking.) But it sounds fun, so I don’t care.

Because I started work at 7:00am today, I was all done by noon, so I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to get my mother a hard-boiled egg cooker for Christmas. It’s not exciting. But she’s 83 and that’s what she wants. I’m supplementing that gift with some cute dessert plates in a cobalt blue.

Christmas decorations are smeared all over the house, so I tried to neaten up the boxes and ribbons. It was too big of a mess to finish in an hour though, and I had to move on to the next chore… Dinner.

I had some leftover chicken stew, but not enough for a full meal. So, I made some fresh mashed potatoes and added it to the leftover stew along with some frozen peas to make a Shepard’s pie. I’ve got a salad, too.

On Tuesdays, I have to make dinner in the middle of the afternoon, because Ian has a drum lesson between 4:30 and 5:15. Lou the drum teacher just prepped Ian for his audition for the winter musical. I think he’s going to make it. The timer on oven just went off, so I should go and feed him before Kristina does reading tutoring with him at 6:30.

Well, this is a rambling “day in a life of a freelance writer/mom/blogger” blog post. Hope to be back later.

Eclectic Life

We’re up early in this house. Today, like most days, we were up around 6am. At 6:20, we were all huddled around the kitchen counter attending to newspapers, bowls of cereal, and deep cups of coffee. Not much talking at that point — just reminders about after-school tutoring and a warning that dinner would probably be take-out. At 6:45, Steve drove the 15-year old Toyota to the train station. 6:50, Ian gets on the special ed van to his out-of-out district high school. I stalled going to the gym for half an hour, but I got there and ran/walked for 45 minutes.

I did an amusing interview with an old coot later this morning. I’m rather proud that I got him to agree to talk with me. It took a little sweet talking, but it happened. He turned down an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Ed last week, so HA! I win.

I’m really loving my project right now, but I don’t think I should write about it here first. I’ll have 2,000 words coming out soon elsewhere. Then I’ll talk.

I just need to get the time to finish things off. The rest of the afternoon is shot. I have to go to Ian’s far away school for a meeting about his reading.

He’s never received any teaching to overcome his hyperlexia (super decoding skills, poor comprehension). I have asked every year for extra help with reading, since he was in fourth grade and the comprehension problems became evident. And they’ve done nothing. They just shove all the special ed kids in one room and then have them listen to books on tape. Special education sucks so badly.

There have been a whole bunch of new laws in New Jersey to protect kids with dyslexia. Our school district has had to spend beaucoup bucks on retraining their teacher for dyslexia. So, I’m arguing that Ian deserves the same additional instructional time for reading using specific curriculum. And I’m making a big stink about it.

They handle me and my demanding ways by testing and retesting Ian, by making me go to tons of meetings, and by stalling. Never saying no, but never saying yes. Special Education sucks so badly

I’m giving them one more chance. If this meeting is a waste of time, I’ll make a bigger stink.

But all of it takes time. Time away from my work. I’m going to have to make up those hours tonight. Sigh. That’s why dinner isn’t happening tonight.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

IMG_6705.JPGSteve is drinking posca, a Roman beverage (water, vinegar, coriander seeds, and honey), which was given to Roman soldiers before battle. It is supposed to give you energy and prevent cramps. He used to prepare it for Jonah when he ran cross country. His former teammates still talk about the vile “Jonah Juice.” Steve’s drinking it now preparing for the Glen Rock 5K Turkey Trot.

I wasn’t planning on running, because we’re in the midst of a record cold snap here in the North East. It’s below freezing with cold winds. I was going to huddle in the car for the race, but then I got there and couldn’t be a coward. I think I got my best time. Woot!

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Meanwhile, Steve cooked up a batch of cranberry sauce using his great grandmother’s(“Maymo”) recipe. I roasted the pumpkins, and Steve turned them into a pie with a Martha Stewart Recipe. I’m going to make some romaine-free salads shortly. And then we’re going to my brothers’ for a warm and crowded Thanksgiving meal.

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Jonah came home last night. Yay. Miss that boy so, so, so much. He surprised us all with a college growth spurt. He’s now two inches taller than Steve.

Hope y’all are finding time to read trashy novels on the sofa and appreciating family.