Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Have I mentioned that we have not been able to file our taxes because we can't find Genevieve's Social Security card? Yeah, we haven't been able to. And I want my money. At the beginning of this school year, when BD made his annual pilgrimage to get replacement copies of the kids' birth certificates and such in order to register them for school, we had all four of their certificates and Social Security cards together in a manila envelope, and we put it somewhere safe. Very, very safe, apparently, because exhaustive searching has turned up Calvin's original, missing-until-now birth certificate, as well as Joshua's that could not be found at the beginning of this year, but not the most recent batch.

I tell you all this as background for the most ludicrous example of red tape that I personally have ever encountered. Having finally given up on the search, I decided yesterday to bite the bullet and just go get a replacement card. Before leaving work, I went to the Social Security Administration's website and patted myself on the back as I printed out the form and filled it in, then stopped on the way to pick up the older kids and got a certified copy of GK's birth certificate to show as proof of her identity. I continued on the midtown-downtown loop, picked up the kids from school, then stopped in at the SSA's office on Monroe before getting the baby from Montessori school.

I walked in and was directed by the security guard to take a number and stand behind the red line near window A. These directions were repeated in a sign posted next to the elaborate computer set-up that was there in place of the usual "Please Take a Number" ticket dispenser. I pressed the number one and "enter" and a printer printed out a numbered receipt-like ticket. That's thousands of taxpayer dollars well spent, I thought as I took my place behind the one other person waiting. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. The kids were in the row of chairs right next to me thumb wrestling and behaving reasonably well, but that would only last so long and I didn't want to be late to get Genevieve to the tune of $20 per minute for unplanned after-care. Jeez lady, I thought, studying the curly do of the woman at the window, just give it up already. She was having what sounded like the same four-sentence conversation with the two women at the window in a continual loop. I gave myself another mental pat on the back for being prepared. I'm not very smart, see.

When I finally got to a window, I told the woman I needed a replacement card for my daughter and handed her the completed application along with the newly-acquired birth certificate and my driver's license. When I say "completed application," I mean complete except for one blank: the one where her social security number should go.

"What's her social security number?" a voice droned from behind the propped-up application.

"I don't know," I replied, "that's why I need a replacement card."

"Uh oh," she said "you up the creek then."

That's right. According to an office of the United States Government, I can not be told my child's social security number because I do not already know my child's social security number.

We ran through a list of possible places I might find the number. School form? Pediatrician's office? That blank is blank, because I don't carry my child's card around with me, on account of I live in a crime-filled craphole and I don't want my kids' SS numbers used to open fraudulent credit card accounts. Last year's taxes? Um, not filed yet. I know, I know! We're working on it. I want that money too! So no, her number is not written down anywhere. We don't have it. We can't find her original card, that's why we need a new one. If I knew her number, why would I need her card? So she can apply for a summer job?

I went round and round with this woman. I explained why we don't have her number anywhere. She told me stories about how they can no longer do an "alpha search" for anyone's number because when they enter a person's name and DOB, more than one name pops up. And that might result in them, employees of the United States Social Security Administration, seeing people's information. Information such as their social security numbers. And that would be bad, see? And then I would say "Okay, I can accept that you can't look up the number for me. But there must be a procedure in place for this. I'm not the only person who has ever needed a replacement card and been unable to produce the number. What's the process here? What do I need to do?" And she would stare at me blankly and tell me there is no process. Then we'd start again. At one point she said to the empty area behind her head "Can anyone think of a way she can get her child's Social Security number?" Crickets chirped. She got up and made a show of criss-crossing the apparently empty back office. Then she sat down and we had the whole conversation again, with the added info that some schmoe earlier claimed that the east office had looked up numbers for him recently, and maybe they would do it for me, she didn't know, they're not really supposed to but you never know what people in other offices will do. So that was reassuring. Unwilling to drive a half-hour to the east office on the word of some guy who, for mysterious reasons, apparently has regular and repeated need for look-ups of unknown social security numbers, I countered her "There's nothing you can do" with another "I don't accept that." Tired of me at last, she waved me toward the waiting area and told me I could ask a supervisor.

Out of both time and patience, I growled at the kids to "Come on!" and stormed toward the door, cursing and muttering under my breath much like the three other people who had left the office during the time I had been there. Why had I been so smug? How had I assumed that I was somehow better equipped than the lady with the large body and tiny head who had left window C in such a huff? I realize I'm a screw-up for losing my kid's SS card and not having written her number on any one of many official forms, but I presumed that I was not the biggest lost cause the government had ever seen. I can't decide what's scarier: that I might be that bad off, or that the agency in charge of the nation's social security is stymied by such a small request.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Read 'Em and Weep

I just added book number 500 to my shelves at GoodReads. Catch me if you can, suckers!

(Click on my widget over there to join me.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

'Cause I Can't Stand to See You This Way

You may have read that BD and I had the pleasure of going to see Elvis Costello in concert last night at the New Daisy on Beale Street. BD is the big EC fan in our house, although I like him well enough. I don't have much to add to what he said about the music, except that strangely, my hearing is fine today in spite of spending two hours in front of a giant stack of giant speakers, and that although I involuntarily know every word to at least a hundred Costello songs, I knew maybe four he played last night. Oh, and we were, like, 20 feet from the stage, off at an angle so that even my short self could see perfectly the whole time, and I only almost had to take down one really testy trollish woman who was terrified that we would try to take "her" spot. At which point SAM was quick to assure me that she does not have my back in a bar fight. Like that's news.

So, see that up there, where the venue was called The New Daisy? Doesn't that sound all fresh and spring-like? It doesn't sound like a place where one would enter the bathroom and thank the goddess of tile that she had on a short-ish skirt instead of jeans because this stroke of wardrobe genius has spared her from dipping the bottoms of her jeans in a puddle of suspicious-looking "water." And yet, that is exactly what kind of place it is. It's the kind of place with general admission and no seating except in the balcony, and a high ceiling with black acoustic tiles missing. Back in the day, we would go to friends' small shows there (when "Jim" was "Tippi" and the band was Judge Crater) and, I kid you not, I would dance barefoot in front of the stage. Ditto the Antenna. That was then. Last night, I stood in my spot and danced an appropriate amount, in place, and my back ached a little and I wondered if there was a way to calculate how much sooner in my life I would go deaf as a result of this one concert. I'm old, my friends. O.L.D.

Although, although! I also realized as we stood out front killing a little time before the show and observing the people milling about in front of the Daisy and on the street, that I should really get out more because it is great for my self esteem. People, they do not look like they do on TV and in movies! It may be possible that I am not in as bad a shape as I think I am. Of course, it may also be possible that this particular crowd was exceptionally dorky and old, but we don't have to look at it that way. Well, when I think about that big group of old guys herking and jerking in front of the stage and looking like night of the living dead, I may be forced to look at it that way. And the one guy with his arm stabilized to his body with a big brace and his other arm up in the air making the rock and roll finger sign while he thrashed about, reminding me of Joan Cusack's unfortunate character in Sixteen Candles. Now that I think about it, the crowd was not only graying and bookish in a not-so-sexy kind of way, it was predominately male. There were women, sure, but there were a lot of guys there with no women. Of course, two girls who were way cuter than moi had to spoil the illusion by standing in my sightline near the end of the show, but their day will come. Won't it? Tell me it will!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Simmer Down Now

List of things we'll have to do before moving to parts southward and beachward:

1. Get our house in shape to sell. This probably includes getting a new roof.
2. Hope the housing market improves while we wait so we can make a little moving money.
3. Get our finances in order.
4. Get jobs in our intended destination.

This is all going to take at least one year. And as much as I'd love to pick up and run the day school gets out this year, I know we can't do that. It could realistically be two years before we can go, but that's my absolute deadline. Calvin has two years before starting middle school, so that could work well anyway.

I know that some of you are having a hard time understanding our motives or my view of Memphis. A lot of the current mood is the direct result of a rash of armed robberies that have affected people close to us. Once a gun enters the picture, it becomes harder not to think about how easily things could go horribly wrong. I don't feel scared all the time; I do feel fairly certain that my time will come, and that odds are that my kids will be with me when it happens. That's just unacceptable to me. Why would I choose to live in a city that had about 150 homicides last year when I can live in a city that had one. One homicide. And the beach! It's ugly here. It's beautiful there. I have always said and felt that life is too short not to live in a beautiful place. It just feels like a no-brainer to me.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Home is Where the Heart Is?

Big Daddy and I never planned to raise kids in Memphis. I spent my entire childhood and adolescence hating this town and vowing to leave. But then I discovered midtown, and I realized that my suburban existence really had nothing to do with living in Memphis. I got accepted to Rhodes College, which happened to be the only school I applied to in my haze of oblivion. Luckily it was a good school and a great fit for me, although it would have been nice if the guidance counselors at Kirby could have pulled their heads out of the student council's collective ass long enough to let me know that my ACT score qualified me for free tuition at just about any state school in Tennessee, if not elsewhere. Oh well.

We got married two weeks after I graduated from Rhodes, and about a year later, we did leave town. BD's mom, step-dad, sister, and two brothers lived in Panama City Beach at that time. We are both beach people, we both wanted to move away, and on a visit to his family, as we sat on the deck of a beach-side restaurant and watched the sun set spectacularly into the gulf, he said to me "See that?" I knew then that we would move. And we did, not to PCB, but to Panama City proper, on a little peninsula off downtown that put us a few blocks from the city marina, a bayou that housed a smaller marina, and the St. Andrews Bay. We lived in a tiny, generic little apartment but in a great neighborhood, and we broke the mold by being the two people who live near the beach and actually go to the beach. We rode bikes around the marina and through Bunker's Cove (imagine Chickasaw Gardens on a bay) and ate at Joe's on the bayou and Schooner's on the beach, where I also waitressed for a while. Those parts of living there were fun, and BD was happy to be near his family for the first time in a few years. But there were no good jobs, and the only culture was the culture of low-brow tourism. We left with the intention of moving to Taos, New Mexico, which lasted a week. That's a whole other story, but the end result was that we ended up, unexpectedly and against all my swearing that we'd never live here again, back in Memphis. In the next few months I learned I was pregnant, had a difficult miscarriage, got pregnant again, went back to the school where I had taught before the move, and supported BD in the decision to buy The Tobacco Bowl. So just like that, we were entrenched in Memphis again.

I noticed way back in elementary school that new kids who had moved all over the country came here and never moved again. I didn't understand until adulthood that relatively high salaries combined with a low cost of living combine to make the standard of living for the middle class enticingly comfortable. There have been a few times in the past few years that BD and I have talked about moving and looked around at jobs and housing in various places. But every time, in almost any city where we would want to live, I've faced about a $10K a year cut in pay and said "maybe not just now." Memphis teachers make the highest salaries in the Southeast except for those in Atlanta. And we're still poor! Money is the biggest reason we've stayed here so long, followed closely by proximity of family and friends.

But the list of reasons to leave is growing. Lately it seems like crime in Memphis is spiralling quickly out of control. Too many of our friends and family have been victimized. The break ins while no one was home were a lot easier to take than the recent and all-too-in-person hold-ups. At gun point. I don't like feeling like I'm just waiting for it to be me, or BD, or another person we love. I don't like wondering how I will help the kids feel safe again when, not if, our house gets broken into. When I feel like I'd carry a loaded gun strapped to my person if I didn't have kids, but at the same time like I need the gun to protect my kids and wonder if a taser will be good enough, I think we are approaching time to go.

There has been some exciting talk within BD's side of the family this week about all of us moving beachward, not to Panama City this time but elsewhere in the Florida panhandle. There are still a lot of details to work out, but I know that the idea of living near more of his family again, for the first time in adulthood, is very appealing to him. And of course, we'd love to be near the beach, and also to raise our kids in a place where the crime stats are not even close to the numbers we see here. The decrease in my pay is looking less important when balanced against the increase in peace of mind.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bragging Rights

Big Daddy's first installation of his new column in the local paper was printed today! You'll have to settle for the on-line version if you're not in Memphis, but it's so impressive all the way down the side of the front page of the "M" section!

Congratulations BD. I'm so proud of you!

Friday, April 11, 2008


We have a phenomenon here at The high school that, while assuredly not unique, does go by a name that may not exist outside this building. It's called Chip-Juice.

Chip-Juice refers to the practice of selling snacks out of a back pack. But not just any snacks. No, here at The high school, Chip-Juice means precisely Hot Cheetos and Capri Sun (flavors of Capri Sun may, however, vary.) The term Chip-Juice can be used as either a noun or a verb. It can be used as a response to a complaint or question, or in place of a person's name. For example:

Student A: "Man I'm hongry!"
Student B: "Chip-Juice!"


Student A: pokes head into classroom, obviously scanning
Student B: "Chip-Juice?"
Student A: nods head
Students A, c, and G: "They got him last period!"

Which brings us to another phenomenon: the Chip-Juice bust. A Chip-Juice bust is bad for everyone on different levels. For the Chip-Juice himself, it means loss of revenue and possible suspension, depending on his record (Chip-Juice is always male. Girls sell Fruities, which is a different post). It's bad for potential clients, because at any given time there are only two or three Chip-Juice in the building (the plural of Chip-Juice is also Chip-Juice) so they will have to go without snacks for at least another hour. It's bad for a teacher who happens to be housing the Chip-Juice at the time of the bust, particularly if said teacher's trash can is full of empty Hot Cheeto bags and flattened Capri Sun pouches, because this indicates that said teacher has turned a blind eye to the practice.

This morning during third period, the principal and two assistants came into my room on rounds. They were looking for two things: uniform violations and, you guessed it, Chip-Juice. One of the VPs was wearing a back pack, signalling his victory and showing that one C-J had already gone down in flames. The search was uneventful, but a few minutes later, a certain student who we'll call Mr. Chocolate (in honor of his promise to make me a chocolate statue of myself after a particularly merciful report card grade) returned to the room from Guidance. The class erupted into cries of "They came in here and they didn't even see your bag sitting there! They looked right over it!" Apparently Mr. Chocolate is Chip-Juice number one, and this morning he dodged a bullet.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Whole Lot of Wrong

I've been digging around, researching this Life Choices place. If I was angry before, now I'm horrified and enraged. Among the most disturbing information:

1. It's tax funded!

2. Although it presents itself as a "clinic," it provides no medical care and has no medically-trained staff.

3. It's tax funded!

4. One of their tactics is to make "patients" wait up to an hour for pregnancy test results while being shown gruesome footage of dismembered fetuses well beyond the development stage of a first-term abortion.

5. So-called "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" have received $60 million in tax payer money since 2001.

6. One example of where the Bush administration has sent tax dollars is the Tennessee-based Life Choices Pregnancy Support Center, where the staff believes "without reservation or qualification that the Scriptures teach that human life begins at conception.” The Post review shows that it had revenue of $81,621 in 2001. Two years later, the center received a $534,339 grant to teach “abstinence-only” programs. By 2004, annual revenue totaled $617,355. *

7. Girls who have been lured into these places thinking they will be presented with all options have been handed baby dolls and scissors and told "This is what your baby looks like now, so if you want an abortion, just take these scissors and cut this baby up, because that's what you'll be doing."

8. In March of 2006, the state of Texas announced $5 million in grants for crisis pregnancy centers. A report from the NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Foundation documents the other desperate health needs that are going unmet, just so that politicians can pursue their anti-abortion agenda:
  • Texas ranks 50th among states in the percentage of women with health insurance. Yet the state chose to fund crisis pregnancy centers rather than real medical care. Crisis pregnancy centers don’t even provide information about birth control options!
    • Texas ranks 46th in the percentage of women who’ve had pap smears in the past three years. Pap smears help detect cervical cancer, but instead of helping more women get this vital test, the state cut funds for the service.
      • Texas ranks fifth in teen pregnancies—but instead of investing in more sex-education programs, it’s sending money to crisis pregnancy centers. *

Nothing like an unconstitutionally-tax-funded religious fake clinic elbowing out a legitimate small business. Nothing like teaching abstinence only to pregnant girls. Thanks W!

* Numbers six and eight were taken directly from this article.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Not How It's Going to Go Down

When I moved Mothersville to Cooper Young a few years ago, I knew I was moving into a neighborhood that embraced the values my business supported. These days the store is owned by my best friend, and she recently became very excited about the idea of moving into the larger double bay on the corner of her current building at 806 S. Cooper and sharing the space with Trillium Woman Care. The new space and the partnership with the midwives would help Mothersville serve the community of mothers and support them in their desire to embrace motherhood and survive its challenges.

Unfortunately, it now seems that the space at 806 S. Cooper is to be leased to Life Choices. This is one of those despicable anti-choice organizations that masquerades as a resource to support pregnant women, when in fact its goal is to intimidate and horrify women in crisis into having babies they may rightfully believe they are not equipped to carry and raise. Their website presents marriage as an alternative to abortion. They also encourage men to stop their sexual partners from aborting, no doubt through any means necessary.

When I was pregnant with Genevieve, a crazy woman came up to me once and went on and on about how she "volunteers" to "educate" pregnant women by standing outside abortion clinics and yelling at them. She felt that I would appreciate this because, since I was pregnant, I must share her belief that if I can do it, anyone can. I do not share this belief. She looked at my giant belly and said "Well, I just look at you and think 'if she can do it, why can't they?'" I told her I doubt that most of the scared women and girls coming into those clinics are thirty-something, happily-married mothers of three who drive minivans and have good-paying jobs.

I just happened to receive an email from Planned Parenthood about Life Choices the other day. Here's the part I found especially onerous:

Anti-choice Commercial Appeal columnist Marilyn Loeffel advocates for crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in her April 8 column. As a board member of a local CPC, she encourages women facing unplanned pregnancies to visit her facility for "nonjudgmental" education of the "full facts that you need to make an informed decision".
Unfortunately, Life Choices, the CPC Loeffel endorses, neither provides accurate information nor enables women to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Life Choices does not offer birth control or sexually transmitted disease testing or treatment. Instead, it preaches abstinence to women who find themselves already pregnant.
Worse, Life Choices deceives women about the dangers of abortion. Women seeking the full range of options are warned, falsely, of "post-abortion syndrome," despite the American Psychological Association's insistence that no such condition exists.

Marilyn Loeffel is the same idiot who made a stink about the large public art installation at the main library because it included, among hundreds of quotations from a wide range of literature engraved on the sidewalk out front, the words "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." She also snarked that one of the columns included in the installation was "already broken," when in fact the object to which she was referring was a representation of a broken column from a ruin. Not the sharpest crayon in the box, to say the very least. The fact that she is on the board of Life Choices makes me more certain than anything that this place has Got. To. Go.

Life Choices does not serve women and it does not represent the values of the midtown community. I ask you to join me in letting the leasing agents know that Life Choices is not a good fit for Cooper Young. Write to the building owner, Joe Canepari, at 360 Roseland Pl Memphis, TN 38111, and let him know that leasing to Life Choices is going to bring controversy and disruption to his property that will likely lead to Life Choices being run out on a rail and breaking their lease after all the very expensive build-out they are requesting. Contact Life Choices at the link above and let them know they can take it someplace else. Join me in raising nine kinds of hell to keep these people at bay.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Story of an Hour

Last Thursday, it was determined that BD would pick the three older kids up from school because of various after-school activities, leaving me with a rare hour and a half between leaving work and picking the baby up from Montessori school. I offered to come down and have a late lunch with the husband, but was told it was silly to come downtown on the one day I didn't have to. I thought about going to the gym, but it's also downtown. Then I figured I'd just go home, but I was scolded that I'd just feel like I should clean or something.

"Go do something fun," I was told. "You always complain about not having time for yourself. Here's some time." I do not in fact always complain about not having time for myself, but I do occasionally chafe at the fact that BD has more freedom of movement than I do. It's not his fault; it's a result of our differing work situations. He owns his own business downtown, so he has some flexibility in when he comes and goes (although he works an insane number of hours) and can leave for lunch or to run errands and can have friends hang out at the shop. When he leaves work, it's just him, since he usually fulfills his child-related duties in the morning with the huge task of getting them all ready and to school. I don't begrudge him any small freedom he may have, I just envy it. I work shorter hours, but they start at 7:15 so it's all I can do to get myself up and to work on time. Approximately. I finish work at 2:30 if I don't have a meeting and pick the older kids up at 3:15. I squeeze in 30 minutes of gym time about three times a week, when I'm motivated enough, but that's about it. For all practical purposes, if I'm not at work, I have four kids with me. Even running errands can be a challenge.

BD wants me to have time to myself, and it's a source of frustration for him that I won't always jump at the chance to "do something for myself" when he suggests that I can or should. I think this is very sweet of him, and I appreciate the fact that he cares about my mental well being. But Thursday was a perfect example of why we aren't able to communicate well about this issue. He suggested I go to a new coffee shop that he has already visited a few times. Everyone is talking about this place, and he has enjoyed sitting with a cup of coffee and writing when he has an hour here and there. But while I did want to try the cafe, I do not like going to restaurant-type places alone. It's not because I'm embarrassed or uncomfortable about being seen alone; it's just not fun to me. Who am I supposed to talk to? He suggested I have tea and read (I don't drink coffee), which sounded lovely, but if it's just going to be me, I'd rather do it at home. And you know, maybe on another day, I would feel like sitting at the cafe alone, but that day I didn't, and that's where the whole issue of general freedom of movement comes in. Having one hour on one day and being encouraged to make the most of it just puts too much pressure on that one puny little hour.

So, I went anyway. I grabbed a book off my classroom shelf that I've been eyeing lately and headed over to Cafe Eclectic. I ordered the Charlie Brown, an ice cream sundae involving peanut butter and hot fudge, and a much-hyped Mexican Coke with the real sugar instead of corn syrup. I read my book. Sounds nice, doesn't it? And it was nice, really, except that I felt strangely agitated the whole time. I felt like I was wasting something rare and valuable doing something that wasn't really what I wanted to do. That's the whole trouble. An hour to myself shouldn't be so rare and valuable that the way I spend it matters so much. And again, it's no one's fault that it is this way. It's just the way it is. I ended up leaving before 3:30, even though I technically have until 4:00 to get Genevieve from preschool. That also irritated me, because if I'd gone home, I would have stretched the time as far as it would go. And I don't think I would have cleaned. I would have plopped down in my bed and read.

I knew that what BD wanted was to hear me say how nice it was to sit there on my own with no kids to chase or fetch for and just read. I know that time alone in a cafe is something he savors, and he wanted that experience for me because he loves me and he wants me to have time to recharge. But I just couldn't do it, so I didn't really say anything about it. He asked if I read and I said yes. I could feel his frustration with me so I tried to explain, but it's a hard thing to communicate that I just feel like my time is never my own, and one hour of one day can not fix that. And also that I crave time with him even more than I crave time to myself, so sitting alone someplace I know we would enjoy together is frustrating to me. When was the last time we were able to sit at a coffee shop with no kids and just talk? It never happens.

I know that things will not always be this way. I already feel like our kids are growing up so quickly. Most of the time, that's enough to help me bide this time that is never my own. Sometimes it's not, but that's just part of life as I know it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

What Happens to a Dream Deferred?

The city is awash in Tiger Blue today as people across Memphis show support for the U of M basketball team heading into the Final Four. At least, I think that's the deal. I'm not a sports fan, to say the least. Still, it's nice to see Memphians united for once, for any cause. Big Daddy made a special trip to the Tiger Book Store to get the kids shirts, since most of the district's schools granted special permission for students to wear Tiger Blue in place of their regular uniform shirts today. Even Genevieve and Mr. Baby got one. BD wore his Tiger hat. I don't own a royal blue shirt, and I'm not sure I could bring myself to participate in a show of sports fandom on any level, but I hope we're not playing anyone whose colors include red, because that's what I have on.

Nevertheless, it is April 4 in Memphis, Tennesee. It's the day that this city became a notorious symbol of racial divisiveness and violence. Politicians are here to parade through the streets in a show of bipartisan respect for the memory of Dr. King. McCain, Clinton, Obama, and who knows who else will be seen gazing at the wreath hanging from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights museum. I wonder what sound bites they will produce, what photo ops.

At my school, we will be hosting students from Central High Schools all over the country for a Pen or Pencil assembly. The "pen" is short for "penitentiary." I'm not sure what to expect from the two-hour assembly. It's the culmination of two years of work; the press will be here, and politicians are in town event hopping, so anything could happen. I'm gald that the day will be marked in some way, though. It seems wrong to let it pass without taking at least a moment to focus on the legacy of the visionary leader who was felled on our watch, in our home.

One of U of M's most promising players, Andre Allen, won't be on the court this weekend, or ever again, because he failed a random drug test and is now suspended for his final year under NCAA guidelines. Why did he so willingly trade his dream for a cheap, momentary high? His coach was on the news last night entreating the young man's friends and family not to be angry at him, and to pray for him because he's hurting and sorely disappointed. Footage of Andre happily cutting down a net after a good game showed a kid who looks a lot like many of my students. I couldn't help but wonder about the choices they will make as they leave my classroom and head out into the world. Some of them have big dreams. Will they fall just short of achieving them because you can take the kid out of the street but you can't take the street out of the kid? Is there anything I can do, anything I can possibly say that will stick with them, come back to them in that future moment of decision that could ruin everything they hope for?

What will happen to Andre now that his dream has been deferred? Does he have it in him to take responsibility for his actions, learn from the mistake, and move on with his life? I wonder if he has learned anything in school, or if, like so many college athletes, he has been prized only for his ability on the court and allowed to slide on the college part of the package.

What will happen to my graduating seniors over the next ten years? Do they have it in them to dream big and not fall short of their own expecations? Do we as a country have a future to even offer them?

What will happen to this city that still struggles and flounders under the weight of racial tension and a socio-economic divide that persistently falls along racial lines? Do we have any dreams left in us? Or do most of us just dream of leaving and raising our kids in a city with less insurmountable baggage?

I don't know. I just don't know.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Who's On First?

The kids have been looking forward to a book fair at their school for about two weeks. Yesterday they got to go down and peruse the offerings. Today and tomorrow, they get to buy what they have money for.

You may not know this about Joshua, but he is already training up a powerful shopping addiction. The child likes new trinket. It can be the cheapest, crappiest Happy Meal, Dollar Tree, plastic, made-in-China piece of soon-to-be garbage, but for the ten minutes that it takes for the new to wear off, he's on a high most people would need a Big Gulp full of bath tub crank to achieve. So as you can imagine, he was quite eager to make sure he'd be able to purchase something at the book fair.

"Mr. C said we need to bring five or ten dollars to buy something with," he told me repeatedly on the ride home from school yetserday. Ten dollars, really? That seemed a little steep for a first grader. I settled toward the lower end of that range and mentally planned to give each kid $5 for the fair. Or more accurately, to tell Big Daddy to give each kid $5, because I never have any cash. Never one to wait once he's got something on his mind, though, he started right in on the calculations and the money round up as soon as we got home. He somehow had three dollars, including two that he "found" somehwere. I'm still not sure where that came from, but my don't ask, don't tell policy kicked in once his mumbled explanation left me more confused than I started out. Apparently there was a "How to Draw Pokemon" book that he wanted for $4.99, but also some other book that cost $3.50. Gradually he came up with a zip-lock bag containing the three dollars of questionable origin plus a lot of quarters given to him by Calvin, which he may or may not have gotten from the jar of change BD empties his pockets into daily, all of which added up, allegedly, to about $6.50. "That's great!" I told him. "That's plenty of money to get the Pokemon book you wanted." This made him really happy. For a minute.

"But Mr. C said we need five or ten dollars to take. "
"Right," I replied, a little confused, "you have $6.50 to take."
"But that's for the book I want. He said we needed money to get something at the book fair."
"Yes baby. You have six dollars and fifty cents to take to the book fair to buy the book that you want."

We went on like that for a few rounds before he sighed deeply and said in his frustrated voice "I know! I just got a little confused up here," he said, pointing at his temple. He still did not have it straight, I could tell, but he wanted to drop it, so I did.

When I told this story to BD later, he said "But we're still not worried?" This was in reference to a sort-of on-going discussion we have about this particular offspring's level of normalcy. Joshua is really a lot like I was as a child. He's kind of off in his own little world, gliding through the blur of days somewhat obliviously. His occasional cluelessness doesn't bother me because I know what it's like to be that child, and because in most ways he's totally normal. Or as normal as he can be as the oddball in an odd family of kids.