The Worst Birthday

In honor of my birthday, I am re-releasing a post about how I spent my birthday one year. Take my advice and treat yourself nice. It only comes around once a year.
I was deleting computer files recently. I stumbled upon a document that was immediately memorable because I remember that I had to download, print, sign, then fax the document  to our real estate agent. Looking at it brought about old feelings of anger and disgust. My signature on the document gave permission for a popular television program to film our condo and use the footage in a future featured  home buyers choice episode. So, you ask: Why did negative feelings surface over this little piece of paper? Well, here’s the story of what did and did not happen.
We had tried to sell our condo for ten years (okay, it was only one and a half, but it seemed longer) and the market just kept creeping closer to the outhouse every day. It stunk that bad. Our realtor called us with what we thought was FABULOUS news. The program was having a contest for a lucky couple in Chicago to win the home of their choice.  Now it was time to film them and their reactions at their three favorite homes. There was only one problem. Sunday was filming day AND MY BIRTHDAY!
Let me tell you, I felt torn. I wanted to sell our condo so bad.  I was beyond the point of desperation (or so I thought.) I dropped our home sale into every conversation, brushed up on market stats, selling trends and tips for staging and showing. I worked as hard as our realtor. When I agreed to a showing, I agreed to a perfect presentation.  I also agreed to a cleaning regimen that would put Mr. Clean to shame. My house was so clean for each showing that potential buyers seemed amazed  that children lived here.

The dueling voices sat on my shoulder trying to decide what to do.

Voice 1 :“It’s your birthday.”
Voice 2: “You could sell your condo today.”
Voice 1: “The housing market is dead.”
Voice 2: “You’ll still have time to enjoy your birthday.”

In the end, I chose to spend my birthday cleaning. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to jinx the results, or have people think I was crazy.  I became paranoid that my cleaning wasn’t good enough.  A film crew would be in my home. I contemplated vacuuming the cat to keep her from shedding that day.

I finished just minutes before our realtor arrived. I was  sweaty and irritated with myself for saying yes to this slim chance that this would be our ticket out of condo hell.

Then came the waiting part. We had to stay out of the house for who knew how long. All four of us were hungry. We had plied the children with snacks until we left; afraid that lunch would a) take too long  b) leave another mess to clean up and c) leave lingering cooking odors that might  dissuade the couple from being interested. We hung out at the Metra train station food court, ate,  and waited for the safe to return call.

I collapsed on the sofa in my clean house.  I knew there would be no fancy dinner or cake to look forward to. The only signs that a film crew had been there were a few items out-of-place and some footprints in our bathtub. The worst part was that we never heard back from the program at all. Not even an air date. It all seemed like a cruel joke or a bad dream.

We did sell our condo eventually. I learned my lesson though. Birthday’s are sacred.

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.


In a recent second half of my group guitar lessons at Old Town School of Folk Music, one of the instructors passed around music for the 1965 song, “Downtown” by British singer Petula Clark. If you’re too young to know  the song, you can check out a version by Emma Bunton, former Spice Girl (a.k.a. Baby Spice) on YouTube.

Anyhow, I was trying to play the really hard F chord and a  ton of split measures. But my mind was wandering as I belted out the tune. (Um, yea, I know a lot of songs from the 60’s.) See, I used to live “Downtown” in Chicago. When people would find  out, the responses usually ranged from “Wow!”, “That sounds exciting!”,  and “Really?” to”You are lucky!” and “I bet it is so much fun!” In the beginning, yes. In the end, not so much. Visiting someplace is different from living there everyday, which we did for 13 years.

Here’s my piggy back version of the song, with a side of sarcasm. Enjoy!

If you have money and status is important,

Then you probably live – Downtown.

You have no worries,  have a pet that is furry,

And buy it clothes at a boutique – Downtown

Can’t hear your conversations, trains are screeching through the city.

See the great tall buildings, cover all the green that’s pretty.

How can you sleep?

It’s so much noisier there,

Go out and get drunk, take a cab everywhere,

Downtown – You think it’s great you live

Downtown – You’re friends are envious

Downtown – You have a great view –


Don’t stay inside, it is time to go shopping

On Michigan Avenue – Downtown

Maybe you’re hungry, but you don’t like to cook

In your upscale kitchen – Downtown

When you walk into N9NE Steakhouse , they all seem to know you,

They pour your favorite wine, and you place your standard order, Happy again

Take a walk by the river, see the buildings lit up.

Wake up with  Starbucks,  buy department store make-up,

Downtown – Show off at the East Bank Club

Downtown – Go get your nails done

Downtown –  They all have cleaning girls, too.


And you may find someone who can shack up with you

Someone who is just like you,  eventually you’ll marry

And find your condo tiny, set your sights on a house, where you can raise your kids. But of course it won’t be

Downtown – You’ll forget all about it

Downtown – Fall in love with suburbia

Downtown – Of course they have better schools



P.S. I just lived there. I didn’t follow the lifestyle.