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.

 

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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.

 

 

Everyday Fashion

Chris, my brother, on the phone: Hi, La. Happy Birthday.
Me: Thanks, Keek.
Chris: Whatcha going to do today?
Me: I’m actually working right now on the stupid xxx article and then I have a 9:30 spin class. At noon, we’re going into the city to go the fashion exhibit at the Met [the Catholic Imagination at the Metropolitan Museum of Art] and then we’ll get Chinese food or something.
Chris: the fashion exhibit? With the boys?
Me: Yeah, it’s my birthday, so they have to do the things that I want to do. So, we’ll walk around looking at dresses making witty remarks. Well, they’ll be slightly bitchy remarks, but we’ll call them witty —
Chris: — a Queer Eye episode in other words.
Me: Exactly. I have to do boy things for 364 days a year, so for my birthday, they have do a girl thing.

And my guys were champs and gave me as much time as I needed to ooh and aah over the beautiful dresses in a beautiful place and, really, no one was bitchy at all.

Here are some pictures of the exhibit. I want to go back again and reshoot the pictures with more people in the background. I love the contrast between people in their everyday tourist shorts and t-shirts and a few extra pounds gazing at the elegant manikin.

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Spring Shots

I’m downloading my cameras and thought I would share. April and May were marvelous.

Jonah’s back, but only sort of. He’s taking a summer class at our state college, so he’s already moved into his off-campus housing, aka the disgusting, sticky, six guys/one shower, party palace. Oh, yay. Note to self — Bring some hand sanitizer next you visit.

In between work and the usual chores, we’ve found time for a concert, a get-away night in a hotel for our anniversary, celebrations, and laughter.

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Grabbing Life by the Balls

Like everyone else, I was crushed by Anthony Bourdain’s death this weekend. Here’s a blog post that I wrote about his book, Kitchen Confidential, back in 2003. (Gee, I’ve been blogging for a long time, haven’t I?)

I think that’s little that we can understand about his death. Everybody’s depression is unique; we can never understand the demons that lurk in someone else’s brain. But what we can take away from his story is the passion that he had for life. That curiosity. That drive to do something new, to meet new people, to go places, to speak out about wrongness in the world. Unbeknownst to his fans like me, he juggled passion and despair    until he couldn’t any longer.

RIP, Tony. He was a local guy who done good.

I’ve been going back and forth within my own brain this week about what my next move should be.

Last week, I did what I love doing. I wrote an article. I talked with really smart people who taught me new things. The fact-checking process was intense – every word, number, comma was questioned by more super smart people, but there is also something thrilling about making it through that clothes wringer and making it out alive. The next person who shouts “FAKE NEWS” should just bite me. Seriously.

So, I’m doing what I like. The article will come out at some point, maybe today or tomorrow. And I’m lucky enough to get published at a place that will make sure that lots of eyeballs will see it. I have two or three other topics in embryo and a book proposal that I’m shopping around. In between articles, I can sit on the sofa and read the pile of books on the coffee table and on the iPad that range in quality from mindless fun to inspiring.

And at the same time, I can do it from home. I can stop working at around 3:30 and take Ian to activities. I can make dinner. I can go for a run in the morning. If the car breaks down or Ian’s bus driver flames out, I am around to handle the crisis.

But all this flexibility comes with a cost. There’s not much money in freelance writing, and there’s a lot of hustling. Maybe it’s time to take a less interesting, but full-time job at a foundation or a think tank in Manhattan. Farming out my household and parenting chores to others would be a necessity. I would have an hour commute on a good day. I have no idea who would make dinner, if I didn’t get home until 7.

I’m going to give myself one more year of writing full time to see where things go. I’m shutting down some of the volunteer work that I do in the community, so I can devote more time towards that goal. I want to squeeze as much awesomeness out of the next year, before I do something simply for a more regular paycheck.

When To Walk Away

One of my worst character traits is that I am unable to stop persuading people that I am right about something and that they should like me. When people disagree with me, I think that I simply haven’t explained things well and if I only just explain again using better words, they will see the logic of my argument and want to be my best friend.

This sort of reasoning often leads to one’s head banging up against a brick wall.  Unpleasant, indeed. I had two instances like that yesterday. I’ll tell you about one.

So, the school district commissioned a report on the special education system in town and found it lacking. After living in this town for six years, I have 100s of anecdotes from our own experiences or others that go beyond the scope of the report. Let’s just say that there are kids in dark places in the school building who are being babysat and not taught.

Now, my kid isn’t one of those kids. He’s in a really nice school. Whatever that other school doesn’t provide, I do. I hire tutors. I drive him to activities. I connect with other parents to find the best programs for him. I would like the district to provide him with extra reading help and after school activities, but in the whole scope of things, he’s okay.

So, while my kid is fine, others aren’t. So, I keep opening my mouth and complaining at school board meetings in front of cameras. That doesn’t make me popular with local school leaders. And it doesn’t benefit my kid. I really need to stop talking, but I can’t. Incompetence and inequity drives me crazy. Like I said, it’s a character flaw.

Alright, let me hint at problem number two that led to further head banging yesterday. So, I have a good story about an urban school district. I know it’s a good story, but I’m having a hard time convincing other people that it’s a good story.

One of the issues, I think, is that it is about urban schools. So, I’ve been writing about education for six years now. If I write about middle class suburban parent issues — School sports: Good or Bad? School Report Cards Suck: A Plan to Get Rid of Them — I get lots of hits and links on Facebook. If I write about city schools, there are crickets. No love whatsoever.

Why don’t people care about city schools and the millions of children that are educated there? I suppose it’s for the same reason that it took so long for people to care about the lead in the water in Flint, Michigan. Those kids look different from the middle class people, who read the articles in the magazines that I write for. They are far away. Their problems are different. And their problems seem too monumental to change. People don’t want to read sad stuff.

But I’m really committed to telling this story about city kids, so I’m going to do a little PT Barnum on it and keep selling and selling and selling. Because that’s what I do.

Price Tags and Service

So, Jonah’s been away at college for two months. Enough time to give some preliminary evaluations.

The good side is that he has totally drunk the kool-aid. Every item of clothing that he wears has the college logo. He proudly tells me that his school is damn tough. The kids are smart enough to go to Ivy League schools. Many of his friends were admitted to Ivy League schools. They just didn’t want to waste their money.

He has nice friends. He never calls home unless I’m sending him all-caps texts that say, “CALL. YOUR. MOM. NOW.”

But I’m pretty appalled at everything else. The advisement office put him in the wrong Intro to Physics class. There are two Intro to Physics classes at his school – one has a calculus pre-requisite. He took him a week to figure out that he was in the wrong class. It was too late to get into the non-calc Physics class, so they put him in the Intermediate German class and didn’t warn him that the class was pretty much only for advanced students majoring in German.

All of his teachers are adjuncts. And they tell the students that are over worked and under paid all the time. One got fired in the middle of the semester and was replaced by a very, very old adjunct who complains all the time about his physical pains. He said that he can’t do office hours, because his wife has to drive to him school.

His bio and calc classes have 400 students.

It can take a 40 minute bus ride to get to class, because the campus is spread out over several towns.

It’s very hard to get extra help for calculus.

A small private college would easily cost another $35,000. So, I still think we did the right thing provided we make some changes. I’m taking over academic advisement for him. I spent two hours going over all the course guides, syllabi, and major requirements for the spring terms. I called Deans. I yelled at some. We’ll pay for a math tutor. After we pick his classes, we going to lean into Rate My Professor and make sure that he gets better teachers next semester.

Perhaps this is why only 58% of students graduate in four years.