Time to Move On

Our Second Moving Truck

A year ago we FINALLY sold our condo. It took 3 long, agonizing years to do it. There was nothing wrong with our condo. We just got caught in the middle when the housing bubble burst. We could afford to move, but not until we sold our property.

I could create numerous graphs showing: how many hours our children spent in front of the television while we cleaned for an open house or showing, number of potential buyers who we never heard back from after they raved about our condo, and how many homes we visited in neighborhoods we wanted to live in. I could share horror stories of those years. This is the story of my last day on Clinton.

It began the Friday before. The movers arrived and of course we were not ready. Yes, there were piles of boxes and bins, but there were also closets and drawers still full of 11 years of life. Life that began with 2 adults and ended with 2 adults and 2 children. Plus all the paraphernalia of parenting. I had tried very hard to sort through all of our possessions  to avoid packing items that would eventually be thrown out or donated. I tried so hard, in fact, that I did not leave enough time to  pack. In a whirlwind of hours, the movers loaded up their truck, leaving empty rolls of packing tape and soda bottles in their wake. I was left with semi-empty rooms,  brimming closets, dust bunny colonies and an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I tried to reassure myself that we still had the weekend.

Monday morning arrived and we decided to park our children at the neighbor’s house to finish packing, cleaning and emptying out our off-site storage facility. Sponge Bob, Arthur and the Looney Tunes crew took care of them while I raced around, cursing myself for not being prepared. The invisible stopwatch in my head rapidly moved the day forward, getting closer to the 4:00 closing that would only be attended by our real estate agent. Just when I thought the kitchen was complete, but then I discovered a drawer full of utensils and instruction manuals. I dumped handfuls of unknown contents  into boxes for the sake of saving  time.

The refrigerator was still full. Why hadn’t we finished the juice and the baby carrots,  I asked no one in particular.  I hated to throw out food. I eased some of the guilt by leaving surprises in my neighbor’s fridge and freezer with a nice note  explaining my last-minute generosity.

I spent the last hour in the condo on Clinton cleaning while sending text messages to our Realtor about the status of the closing and when exactly the new owners would arrive. I still had a bathroom to clean, could he stall them? I couldn’t leave without leaving every space presentable. I was so sleep deprived from this whole excruciatingly time-consuming and life sucking roller coaster of selling our condo. I was unsure about the months ahead and I worried that somehow the deal would fall through at the last-minute and we would be trapped in our condo forever.

I took one last look around, remembering our life of the past 11 years when we: first moved in,  brought our cat home from the Humane Society, brought home babies from  the hospital, potty trained our kids, played hide and seek, survived the years when my husband worked from home, laughed about the blackberry incident, hosted our 3 Kings parties, had friends over for play dates,  had visits from out of town friends and family, let the kids zoom through the kitchen on the tricycle , received bad news.

I tried not to cry. I had wanted this for 3 years. Sometimes change is hard, especially when the unknown lies ahead. A Tom Petty girl at heart, I tried to comfort myself with the lyrics from his song, “Time to Move On”. I said a silent goodbye as I carried the remaining items that we would need for our upcoming Adventures in Tiny Condo (a future post), to the car.

My husband was unloading the second filled-to-capacity moving truck into the new storage facility. He had a flight to catch that evening and was depending on me to pick him up and get him to the airport. I brushed my tears aside, cranked up the radio and somehow made it happen.


Remedial Guitar?

The Cmaj chord in guitar, with bass in G

Image via Wikipedia

I began taking guitar classes last October. I had wanted to learn how to play for many years.  I used two criteria to “pick” which class to enroll in: the time of day and the instructor (his bio sounded interesting.)

Every Monday I went to class and played while pain erupted in the nerve endings of my fingertips.  As the weeks rolled on, I learned new chords, formed calluses on my fingertips, tried to jump my fingers into place (and pretended I was Sheryl Crow.)  I loved going to class and little pieces of  songs started bouncing around in my head.

In January, I had to change class days and instructors due to a schedule conflict. I really wanted to  stay with the same instructor. I liked his style, not to mention his song selections.  My new instructor warbled while she sang. I couldn’t help but think about how my Grandma used to sing. She tried to make us play Johnny Cash. I don’t do Johnny Cash.

My enthusiasm waned as winter set in. I no longer arrived home from class eager to play with lyrics trying to find their chord dance partners inside my head. I made excuses not to practice. When I did practice, I played songs from my old class.  Some of the students in my class whined about playing chords they perceived as difficult. I didn’t sign up to play the guitar with Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. If I wanted wine, I would drink it from a fancy glass, not listen to it sloshing out of mouths while I was trying to play.

I almost took a break from the next session, but I didn’t.  I decided to stick it out, hoping that soon my schedule conflict would allow me to switch back to Monday’s class. Then one day something happened. I took a make-up class and this is how it played out.

“Is this Guitar 2?” I asked before class began.

“It sure is,” the instructor told me as he handed out a course packet. (My instructor for the last 2 sessions did not even have a course packet. She just handed out sheets of music.)

I scanned the song selections and began to feel nervous. I saw notations for finger-picking. I saw songs indicating the need for a capo. I saw F chords. I began to wonder if maybe I had walked into an Honor’s Guitar class.

It was too late to leave, so I tried to strum softly to cover up my many mistakes. I felt awful for the man who sat to the right of me. I confessed that our class was not playing at the level that his was. He patiently showed me some of the finger picking-patterns his class was working on and gave me other tips. I survived the class and thanked him for all of his help. He smiled and said “you’re welcome”, but I’m sure he was saying a silent prayer that I would never set foot in his class again.

All the way home, I kept thinking about how much harder the class had been. It made me feel as though I had been in remedial guitar class for the past 3 months. I started to worry about my original plan to transfer back to the instructor that I enjoyed. I contacted him and expressed my concern that I wasn’t at the same level that his current students were at. He invited me to visit his class and play.

The material was challenging, but not unmanageable. Once again, I silently applauded his song selections. I knew that if I enrolled in his class I would have to practice more often and catch up. He told me I’d be fine.

A few weeks ago I switched classes again. I looked forward to attending my class each week,  and practicing too. And guess, what? Songs started appearing in my head again. I decided to make them more interesting by using a capo and adding some finger-picking. Good-bye remedial guitar.

Something Else to Read by Me

Hello out there to readers of my blog. I do not have a post today. I am however featured in TheSmartlyChicago. Check out the essay that I wrote about The Worst Birthday and feel free to leave a comment here or there.


Posted in All

Charlie and the Real Angels of Chicago

Todays post is dedicated to Charlie and the Real Angels of Chicago and all the other educators out there who sacrifice so much for the children who need the most.

All of you have probably heard of the female private investigation show, Charlie’s Angels from the 1970’s. Or maybe you saw the movie in the year 2000. Three trained police officers on assignment with an agency, putting themselves in dangerous situations to help those in need. This is the story of Charlie and the Real Angels of Chicago.

They met and formed a quick friendship at a rough school on the south  side of Chicago in the Fall of 2000. They were mostly new teachers at the school that year and were already living by the motto of “No Child Left Behind“, well before it became a well know phrase for fixing education. All of them taught middle to upper grade students, except one.

They coined the name after they went on a road trip to Schaumburg  one day after school. The occasion: a big name company that a friend worked for was closing an office. All items not taken would be sent to a Corporate America dumpster. For any teacher, this was a gold mine: free school supplies. More pounds of paper than all their weight combined, file folders, organizers, tape dispensers and enough boxes of staples to fill a small closet.

The name was suggested in fun, but little did they know that it would bind them together, impact their teaching and collaboration with one another and offer opportunities to break into a karate kick in the middle of the hallway. Charlie (the only male of the group) and his Angels were brought to life. They quickly called out their favorite Angel names: Jill, Kelly, Sabrina. Since their were 4 women, one Angel had to choose the name Kris, you know, the replacement Angel after Jill (Farah Fawcett)  left.

By day, these teachers tried to motivate their students, bring them up to grade level, explain things in their native language of Spanish and convince them that they could be somebody.  They were verbally assaulted by students and parents with words that are unfit for repeating here. They were always on the lookout for “Pelos Ellote”, who lurked around every corner, looking for ways to get the Angels in trouble.

Charlie, Sabrina, Kelly, Jill and Kris spent their money and time bringing dollar store trinkets and alley finds into their classrooms to make them more inviting, more enjoyable, and more engaging. They doled out tough love. They skated on roller-blades with students after school, gave out their home phone number and attended funeral services of their students’ relatives. They participated in committees and  got involved with after school programming.

For fun and to maintain their sanity, they called together The Meeting of the Minds. They tried to be clever with Secret Santa’s, Secret Shamrocks and Secret Missions.  They car-pooled to school jamming to Moby’s appropriately titled, “South Side“.

All of the Angels, except one, had tough upbringings. Once, while they sat around exchanging tales from their childhood, this one Angel realized she was the only one who had never eaten government cheese. She thought that coming from a divorced family with a dad who was often late on child support payments and had to shop at Kmart deserved some sympathy. Charlie and the real Angels told her she had no idea. Then they tried to one-up each other in their recollections of My childhood was so bad… Kind of like a Your Momma is so fat or ugly…… type of contest.

While they shared some of their most heart-wrenching stories, the faux Angel sat and thought. She should have known she was never really one of them.  She thought about how amazing it was that out of all the different careers they could have chosen, Charlie and his Angels all chose to be teachers. And what was even more incredible was that they chose to help the children who needed the most dedicated and understanding type of teacher. They chose a profession that gives back to those who need it the most.

Later, Charlie became a principal in a school that needed new leadership to help the students become successful despite the tremendous amount obstacles they faced each day. Jill went on to work with some of the most behavioral challenged students in the city. Sabrina has had the role of both principal and assistant principal and continues to work with the underprivileged. Kelly became a bilingual coördinator to assist students and families in understanding the educational placement and progress of children whose first language is Spanish.

Charlie and his Angels have put themselves on the front line every day. They have the difficult and nearly impossible job of educating students who often have many strikes against them before entering the classroom. They have seen their students arrested, had their vehicles vandalized and stolen, and thrown themselves into the middle of a fight to break it up. They have been spit upon, sworn at and attacked with scissors. They have called DCFS to protect their students and called the police to protect themselves. They have advocated on behalf of the ignorant and poorly educated. They have lent an ear, a shoulder and more when tearful confessions of accidental pregnancies spilled out of the lips of students.

Sabrina, Kelly, Jill and Charlie are four of the many unnamed  pillars of urban education  who have  the formidable task of preparing students for the future. Students that under other circumstances might fall through the cracks. But this isn’t a story of bad endings. Just like in the television show, some days and years have been more successful than others. Under the leadership of Charlie and Sabrina, and the support of Jill and other teachers, their school has shown remarkable improvement  not only in test scores, but in attitude. Now students show pride in their learning and are setting goals for their future. The school has earned awards. Kelly has had the great fortune of mentoring her students, watch them go off to college, earn  degrees in education and come back to work in the same environment they came from. And even better, acknowledging and thanking her for her support during the process.

So, what happened to Kris, the faux Angel? She left the south side to become a mother and write this blog, among other things. She remains in awe of the miracles that the Angels perform every day. She respects them immensely. She misses her adventures with the Angels and has fond memories  of carpools, secrets and trying to create positive changes one child at a time. She kind of misses those karate kicks, too!

Speaking of karate kicks,  if Charlie and the real Angels of Chicago were to meet those television starlets on the street, they would kick those bell bottom clad girls right on their butts.

The Strings of Kites

Kites that are used to lift skateboarders up i...

Image via Wikipedia

This week our school is celebrating teachers with Teacher Appreciation Week . I wanted to take the opportunity to post a few teacher and education related essays on my blog this week. Please add your comments and/or perspectives at the bottom of the post. Conversation makes it more fun.
The following is a re-post from about a month ago. I wrote it to honor my son’s teacher, who does an incredible job with the students she has in her second grade classroom. I dedicate this essay to Ms. O’Hara.

Have you ever met an amazing teacher before? They come in different shapes, sizes and colors, much like the intricate Lego kits that my son loves to build with. They have their own personality and teaching style, and it is electric.They come from all walks of life and when they become part of your life, you find that you will never be the same.

Early on, my husband and I started noticing differences in our son. He was fascinated with spinning items. It began with fans, then came to include wheels. This led to inquiries about how things moved and worked. I still recall him at one and a half years old trying to communicate with the cashier at Dominick’s that the wheels on the bus go round and round, and of him laying on the floor exploring how a spatula spun around, instead of using it for pretend play. His interest in motion grew with a passion, as did his quick grasp of letters, sounds and words. He was an early reader and at times I wondered if he had a book stashed somewhere in my belly before he was born. On most mornings he is nowhere near to being ready for the day and not in the least  interested in anything other than the book in front of him.

This year he is finally in an environment where there are all sorts of children with  similar, intellectual abilities, interests and intense personalities. Although they are all working beyond their grade level, some are stronger in math or reading than others. Some show traits of perfectionism and are afraid to fail. Some of them get distracted easily, while others have a hard time with transitions because they are so focused on the task at hand. Many have asynchronous development, which means that their social and emotional development is not at the same level as their cognitive development.

This year, he has one of those amazing teachers. She understands all the quirks of these children. At times I cannot even describe how she does what she does in her classroom of 29 students. I have volunteered often and have seen her effortlessly manage behaviors, distractions, interruptions, and misunderstandings. She has multiple groups configured  by ability, personality, gender, table and compass direction. Her students are engaged in their learning environment.

Everyday, these children arrive, like little kites, ready to fly. She has 29 strings to manage. It can not be done well if she holds them too close to her for the entire day. She has to consider the classroom barometer to determine what type of weather her kites will be exposed to on any given day.  Then she must check for tears and properly woven strings before letting them go, up, up, up into the sky. Each day, she has to decide how much string to let out on each kite, and when to reel them in. She makes sure that the strings don’t get tangled up, or carried away towards  trees and wires. Some kites need to fly closer to the ground, while others show their need for  space and freedom with little tugs. Some need to be close to others or to her. Occasionally a kite can only stay so long in the sky, before it needs to come down.  She watches each uniquely designed kite, and marvels at the dips, swoops and dances that occur in the air and can’t help but smile as she witnesses the extraordinary potential of them all.

I Forgot My Homework

We have an occasional problem in our house. When it is time for the 8-year-old to start his homework, sometimes an exasperated cry rushes out of his mouth, “I forgot my homework!”  he wails, with all the drama of an actor trying out for the Spring Play. Those four words turn our household upside down within a matter of minutes. I remind him to be more responsible. He admonishes himself for being forgetful. Then we all take a breath and try to figure out the next step.

The parents in his class stay connected through Google Groups. At least once a week, a parent posts that their child forgot a worksheet and kindly asks if someone can scan it and e-mail it. While this strategy comes in handy, especially when some children don’t start their homework until after dinner, I know that if my son knew it existed, he would expect me to take care of it for him. I have already helped him established a few bad habits (that I am trying very hard to break him of) and do not need him to start another one, especially when it is related to his education. What to do, what to do?

I decided that he might be less likely to forget his homework if he has to “work” at getting the information that he needs. I provided him with the telephone numbers of students in his class and coached him on telephone etiquette. Then it was his responsibility to call up his peers, explain the nature of the call and kindly ask if they could help him out.

This strategy killed two birds with one stone. He learned a bit about responsibility and how to conduct himself over the phone. Oftentimes, the child’s parent would help out over the phone, but still I wasn’t making the call for him. I did have to give a little explanation later about why he was calling instead of me. He actually enjoyed chatting with his classmates about other topics and later asked if he could call that person again.

Will he never forget his homework again? It’s doubtful. He is human. Now, we need to work on the proper protocol when someone you phone is not at home  and the answering machine picks up instead. Which reminds me, I need to send an e-mail to a classmate he called last night to explain that it was us who did not leave a message after the tone.

Welcome To The Neighborhood

I first noticed it when I went to the car, which was infrequently these days. Someone had let their  dog poop on our property. I am not a dog owner, and therefore am not accustomed to picking up excrement with a little plastic baggie. The thought of having a thin piece of plastic  be the only barrier between my fingers and some squishy poo was a little more than revolting to me. Yes, I had changed hundreds of diapers and cleaned up after the cat when she had an accident,  but for some reason I was squeamish about dog poo. I ran back inside to get the rubber gloves and not one, but two plastic vegetable bags. The poo would not separate itself from the rocks that served as our parking space, so into the bag they went. It was a good thing I brought an extra one for double bagging, because I did not want the bag to break open and get permanently cemented to the inside of my city issued trash bin.

The days went on, and I noticed there was always a present for me by the car. Each time, I let myself grow annoyed, but soon began to take hand sanitizer, gloves and bags with me on the way out the door. In the back of my mind I wondered who could be so rude as to let their dog defecate on another persons property without so much as cleaning it up. I would stare at it, thinking that someone had left their version of a basket of goodies on the porch with a nice note saying, “Welcome to the Neighborhood”.

We were relatively new to the neighborhood, so we kept this brazen breach of neighborliness to ourselves. The people I did see taking their German Shepherds or Labradors for a walk seemed to be polite and responsible pet owners. Would they dare to use my backyard, a formerly unoccupied space, as a potty for their pups? Probably not. I began to suspect it was someone from the other side of our alley, or even someone who lived a few blocks over.

The little piles continued to arrive, and I continued to seethe with anger.  I knew I would have to tough it out a little longer until we could get a new fence for the property. I began to view anyone with a dog with suspicious eyes. When I went to my car, I looked around at all the windows. Someone had to be watching occasionally, or else why wouldn’t there have been an encounter after so many months of enduring the poop fairy? If there had been, what would I say? “I have a plastic baggie, in case you’d be interested in cleaning up after your terrific terrier?”  or “Smile. I’m sending your picture to the city. The fine is now $250 for failing to scoop.” Or a sign that said “No Dumping, Private Property”.

I found myself falling asleep to plans of leaving dog biscuits laced with chocolate in the alley, setting up a poop cam in the backyard and  getting estimates for an invisible fence. I was giving this whole situation too much of my time and mental energy. I decided to stop obsessing over it and shortly afterwards, the dog decided to find a new outhouse. At least for now. Now, off to Google fencing companies.