Archive for the ‘Atlanta’ Category

Change is Not Always Linear

Friday, January 20th, 2017

This morning, I woke up to so much sadness and shock and dismay all over social media that Yes, this is really happening. A reality TV show star, completely unqualified for the position in too many ways to count, will actually be sworn in as President of the United States of America

I am not one to share every bit of outrageous news that I see on Facebook. I rarely share political items. In this political environment, If I posted every time I was upset or scared or angry or outraged, I would be posting ten to fifteen times a day. (Side note: I respect the right to speak out, but I fear the deluge of shared content contributes to overwhelm, desensitization, and normalization of the outrageous things happening in our world.) As a dear friend of mine said recently while discussing feeling inundated by the constant flood of information,

“I feel like I (we) are in a huge sandstorm, and the source of the storm is the turbulent funnel within. I do better focusing on the funnel rather than all of the sand, if that makes sense.”

Honestly, I am not shocked or depressed anymore. Am I happy about him being president? No. Am I still appalled at everything he has said? Yes. Is my reaction to this president different than it would have been for any other Republican winner? Most definitely.

But there is hope for those all over America (and the world) who are hurt, scared, and angry today. (more…)

I Voted For a Woman. For President. (And for The South & a lot of other things, too.)

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

I voted for a female for President today. Let me repeat that: I voted for a female for President today.

It is huge, absolutely huge, that I had the opportunity, with my daughter by my side, to vote for a woman for the highest office in the country and likely in the world. But that’s not why I voted for her.

There have been many times during this year that I wanted to write about my thoughts on the politics of this election. Every time I felt outrage or dismay, I would put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and dump it all out. But something kept me from clicking Publish. Partially, it was knowing I would probably change no minds. As the season dragged on an on, and the bar got lower and lower, I realized it was futile, because I had no idea the depths to which matters could possibly sink. I would have been writing something new every day and I am pretty sure I would have driven myself and everyone around me crazy.

Instead, I watched a bit, and read a lot. I watched friends and family tear each other apart online. There were times that I left discussions with my own parents in tears, anger, fear, or disbelief. People I loved called me a bigot and told me, publicly, that “I was not raised this way.” They way you are raised is important, and it is a powerful influence on a person. I know that I have tried hard to be true to the teachings that I received, but to weed out the ones that are outdated, deeply seated in fear, ignorance, and generations upon generations of resistance to change and a way of life that is no longer viable, realistic, kind or true.

The greatest gift (of many given to me by my parents) was the gift of education. My parents taught me to read. And once a girl can read, she learns to formulate her own ideas and think for herself. Yes, I read the Bible. I read the WHOLE bible. What a miraculous work of art it is. My parents gave me my bible. They gave my children bibles, with my blessing, despite the fact that I have left the church and will never return to Christianity. There is good in that book, despite it’s flaws, and those of its followers. And I took so many of those teachings deeply to heart. For hours during church, I ran the crocheted lace,  pink, blue, and white cross bookmark that came in my bible on confirmation day between my fingers and thought about Jesus Christ on the cross and what that meant for me, and how it could possibly save us.

But my parents also gave me The Little Engine that Could. And Go Dog, Go. (I took that one deeply to heart. I still love big dogs and little dogs and dogs of all shapes and colors, and dog parties.) And I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. As a child, that book probably affected me as much or more than anything I had read up until that point. That book is my first recollection of thinking about race, and of wondering what my part of the story was.

My grandmother later gave me her original copy of Gone With the Wind. I think that book is a rite of passage for a little white girl whose family on both sides have lived on Southern soil since before we were a United States of America. I wonder if Grandma thought it would make me privy to some great inheritance of what it means to be Southern, or if she saw Scarlett as a woman, flawed, but strong. Or most likely, knowing my bourbon-drinking, chain-smoking, card-playing, Charleston-dancing Grandma Vivian, she just thought that it was a rollicking good read. Maybe for her it was just a cultural phenomenon, like Star Wars or Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.

She, by the way, was born in 1907; Her mother, Ida did not at the time have the right to vote. My grandmother, as a child in Louisiana, witnessed a lynching. Her grandmother, as a child after The Battle of the Wilderness, wandered around Ellwood Manor looking for blackberries and came across a dead soldier. Both my paternal and maternal lines consist of both slave owners and confederate soldiers. My point here is that sometimes fiction is not just fiction. Sometimes, to a little girl growing up in Atlanta, it is a link to the past. Sometimes it is like reading a story about the people you know. Sometimes it is like reading about yourself; when other little girls the world over read that book, they probably thought, “what an interesting story.” When I read it, I was completely mesmerized and fascinated by the fact that it was set right here where I was born in 1972, and it was based on things that really happened here.

I will never know what my grandmother really took from that book, and boy do i wish I could have an evening to discuss that and much more with her. But what I took from reading that book, was yes, a strong female protagonist, and an example of skillful storytelling, but also my first real feelings of conflict over my families’ parts in the American history of slavery. It spurred in me an interest in the Civil War. Here was this story, based on “truth,” that discussed a battle that was fought on the very soil that I lived on today. It has become for me a lifelong interest in both family and local history and southeastern history. I started asking questions of the older folks in my family. I got a lot of answers about how we were an “old colonial family” and had grand plantations and lost everything in the war. I heard a lot about “state’s rights” and property and the like.

As I got older, though, I continued reading. I read Huckleberry Finn. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Red Badge of Courage. Beloved. Invisible Man. The Bluest Eye. The Color Purple. Their Eyes Were Watching God. I have so many more to read. So many more.

I started to figure out the right questions to ask. And i didn’t always get the right answers, or what i thought were true answers. Or I got whispered answers. When I got older, I knew to ply some of the older folks in the family with booze, and I would get more honest answers. That’s how I learned about my grandmother seeing a lynching. She had told my cousins about it when they were middle aged. She never told me a word about it.

It was the same way with reading about women. Scarlett was fascinating, because she was an agent in her own life. She was the actor, not the acted upon. (Yes, she was a white woman, a slave owner, and that is not to be excused, but she was a strong woman.) And again, i read books about strong women and interesting women. Catherine the Great. Amelia Earhart. Susan B. Anthony. Rosa Parks. The Awakening. “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” Some of the books I wrote about above were crossovers – Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Color Purple come to mind. Powerful books about feminism and race.

Growing up, i was taught to be ladylike (complete fail, obviously). And i was taught to learn to take care of myself: Change a tire, charge a battery, change a spark plug, tar a roof, etc. I was taught to respect my elders. I was expected to get an education. A college education. Looking back, i think that expectation was so that I could support myself.

But I also heard, “One day, when you have kids of your own. . . ” and that was not even seen as an expectation. It was just seen as fact. When I said, “I’m not good at math,” no one said, “You just need to work harder, that’s ridiculous. You are intelligent.” I was built up by having someone tell me, “You are a great writer.” And I think I am a good writer. But I wonder what else I could have been good at, or who else I would have been, if someone had said, “Get an education because it means ‘freedom,” or “you can be anything you want to be.” Or, “women don’t have to get married or have children.”

Those are things I never heard. I also never heard anything except, “No sex before marriage.”

This is not a criticism of the adults in my life. I understand they came to be who they are through a long line of people with strong beliefs and less access to books and diversity of thought than the one I found in my true church (the one whose chapels are libraries and whose cathedrals are lakes, trees, mountains, forests, and rivers). And i am thankful that they gave me the path to find those books and the time to think those thoughts.

Writing this post, I am not sure exactly where I am going with it, except that I have been overcome with emotion all day. I didn’t wear a pantsuit for Hillary when I voted, because . . . well, I’m me. I don’t own one, and that is the sort of thing I hope to never have to wear again. I didn’t wear white for the suffragists who went before me, because . . .it’s after Labor Day. I don’t own “winter whites.” I don’t even have a white tee. My wardrobe is all black, and the darkness of wine, forest, purple, plaid. And then I saw The Bitter Southerner* posted this on Instagram:


(You can get your own at

I was flooded with all sorts of emotion. I am a Southern woman, a descendant of slave owners. I had relatives in the generation previous to me tell me that during the civil rights movement, they hated Martin Luther King, Jr. One of them said he was happy that he was shot. (Try to wrap your head around that one.) I have struggled with issues of race my whole life. I have struggled with religion, and the bible and the hypocrisy of the church. And I have often felt, as a woman, and especially a southern woman, that what was truly expected of me, above all else, is for me to be a reflection of my family, the people that came before me, and in particular, that I was to be a positive reflection on the men who came before me. I should “do them proud.” When it comes down to it, I think there is still a huge belief in the South that a woman is simply an extension of the men in her life. Her greatest achievement is making those men proud, being a good wife, and raising good Southern children. It is difficult to say that out loud, but it is the truth.

I am proud to be southern. I am proud of my husband and my children, and of the people that came before me, even if I disagree with them in many ways. I am proud that in many ways, I have bucked the norm. I would wager that I am the first in a very long line of my family’s generations to openly and publicly reject Christianity. If you think on the long history of Christianity, that is actually quite a feat. I reject racism. I strive towards making my world better for everyone, not just the people who are not like me. And I am probably the first mother in a line of many women in my family that is actively telling my daughter, “Get an education, because it give you the options to be anything you want to be.” I have already talked to my daughter about birth control and sex and that her body is hers alone. That she can do anything a man can do, and if she wants to do it first, she should step up. No need to let the man go first. That if she wants things, she needs to state that she wants them. And if she doesn’t want them, she needs to learn to say no to those things, too. That she needs to speak up when she sees wrongs. That what I hope for her is that she will be kind, happy, and herself. Whether that means being a wife or a mom, or a teacher, or a scientist, or an artist, or a soldier. That she can be any combination of those, all or none of those, or something completely different that my mind cannot even imagine, but that she will see in her own mind’s eye. And that when she achieves those things she wants in life, (while she is achieving them, even) she will help others achieve their dreams, too.

And that’s why, when I painted my nails blue, and wondered what to wear to the polls this morning, I didn’t pick blue for the Dems (I am decidedly an independent), or white for the suffragists, or a pantsuit for Hillary. I decided to wear my Bitter Southerner sweatshirt**. It reads, simply “SOUTH.” I was weepy, trying to explain to my son and daughter about how momentous this day feels. I felt compelled to put down in words what I was unable to speak without seeming like a crazy, choked up, overly emotional woman. I wanted them to know all the reasons that it meant so much to me to cast my ballot today. I wanted them to know the thoughts behind my welling eyes.

You have probably heard by now about the “secret” pantsuit group on Facebook. I think I was first added to it when there were less than 200,000 members. The idea of it was, “wear a pantsuit, in honor of Hillary, when you go to vote.” As of this morning when I looked, it has now grown to more than 2 million members. All of them are not women. There are men, too. But they are all there because they are voting for Hillary Clinton. They are diverse, and smart, and their stories, which i have been reading for over a week now, are compelling, moving, inspiring, and life-affirming. They are from all over the world and all different walks of life. And many of them are posting the reasons that they are voting for Hillary.

There are many of them that feel she is the perfect person for the job. (I tend to be more of the Mark Twain school of thought on politicians – Not really a huge fan of any of them.) There are many of them that are voting because she is not Donald Trump. So many different reasons, from being an immigrant to race, to feminism, to . . . you name it. Their varied reasons for it all were staggering to me. They were definitive, and they were tentative. Some of them were voting for her despite never having voted for a democrat in their life. Some of them were voting for her, despite the train wreck that healthcare in our country has created for their families and their small businesses. Some of them were voting for her despite their devout religious beliefs about abortion. They ran the breadth and depth of the human condition – They are both specific to their own experience and yet they apply to so many of us. So, millions of them have posted their reasons for voting for her.

I have been thinking of my own reasons. I wish I could ask my grandparents about their thoughts on politics. Because I wish the women who are not bothering to vote in this election knew what it was like to not have a voice. Because I hope that one day my children (and maybe my grandchildren) will read it and know that I was a thoughtful person in the midst of history, that I gnashed my teeth over this one, and wept for the future of my country.

Here are some of the reasons I am voting voted for her (there are probably many more, but these are the things I can think of right now, or have been on my mind, and especially the ones that I feel deep down in my gut.)

  • First and foremost, I am voting for her because I think she is the most qualified candidate. Period.
  • I am voting for all of the women that couldn’t vote for so long. For women who had no voice for thousands of years.
  • For everyone who didn’t fit the white, male, protestant mold and was therefore not allowed to vote.
  • For the grandmother who was just dropped off by her husband at a hospital and labored for twenty four hours with a breech baby
  • For the one that went to work to support her family when her husband was gambling it all away
  • For the little girl who had to wear the white tights and black patent leather mary janes and a dress with a crinoline containing a bell.
  • For the little girl who drew a picture at church and they told her they thought little girls in pictures should wear dresses, not pants
  • For the only two little girls on the boys’ baseball team
  • For every girl who was told “boys don’t like loud girls”
  • For every one who was told “children should be seen and not heard.”
  • For my first friend, who always made her Barbies kiss each other, instead of Barbie and Ken kissing, but hid it from everyone but me.
  • For every little gay kid who had to play along while we played “smear the queer.”
  • For Graham, and every other gay or lesbian or bi person i have known since.
  • For the friend whose grandfather wouldn’t stop touching her
  • Because that guy in the neighborhood always whistled at us when we rode by on our bikes
  • For the girl who was pushed into a walk-in freezer, with a hand against her neck, and fought the boy who put his hand down her pants
  • For every jerk who ever groped or thrust his hips at me on a bus or a train.
  • For the boy who took advantage of a very intoxicated just-turned-fourteen-years old girl on a trampoline
  • For every friend one of his who started calling my house the very next day
  • For every person to whom I’ve had to say using the “N” word is not okay, and especially not in front of my kids.
  • That includes the jerk from two weeks ago at the bar who thought it was okay to say about football players on tv, and also the guy two seats down from him that whistled at me as I walked by him on the way back from the bathroom. It was 4 pm in the afternoon. In 2016.
  • For every woman who has been spoken over or interrupted in a meeting
  • For the same women who spoke up, and were called Bitch.
  • For the little Iraqi girl that was in my son’s class. She was 8. She spoke no English. She didn’t need to – The horrors she had seen were apparent in her eyes.
  • For my children and their friends who want to know if some of them will be sent back to the country they came from if Trump is elected.
  • For the amazing people from all over the world that came to this country, love it, and are living right in my backyard and teaching me so much
  • For all the sweet little African American boys that I have been watching grow up and who are in my heart and my prayers as they become teens.
  • For their mothers, who are strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family.
  • For my friends who had access to birth control; for the ones who had access to safe and legal abortions.
  • For my friends who choose to live their lives in non-traditional ways and are becoming more and more open about it.
  • For the things that are important to all of us, and help us achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: Love, forgiveness, charity, inclusion, independent thought, education, religious freedom, equality, art, music.

The emotions I felt this morning were more than just a woman voting for a woman. The woman voting this morning was a product of so many years of inequality and hypocrisy and misogyny, of pain and frustration, and watching others suffer. And while I am a proud American, I am an even prouder Southerner. And proudest to be a Georgian, who has had the privilege of seeing gay marriage legalized, and our first African American president, and hopefully our first female president: Three things I never thought I would see in my lifetime, much less in so few years. Three things I had the honor of sharing and discussing with my children.

I voted for her because she is the most qualified candidate. I voted against him, because of the rest of the list. Considering the political climate and the pain and division this election has caused, It was the easiest and most satisfying vote*** of my life. There was no question in my mind. This morning, at the polls, I was a Bitter Southerner voting for a bitter Better South.


My hand and four sympathetic kid hands, all in blue polish. 


Me and my girl. We just voted together. (Sporting our blue polish, our peach stickers, and me in my South sweatshirt.) Yes, I let her cast the ballot. #rebel – Photos by Rollie, who didn’t want to be in the photo because he is 13 and that’s “like, so dumb.” [sigh]



Hopefully she will never forget this. Or ever think that I regret having her and her brother. (“The” button.)


*  You need to read Bitter Southerner, especially if you are from a long line of southerners. I am jealous I didn’t think of it first. It is amazing, like reading stories written by your own family and friends, but the smart and enlightened, funny and interesting ones. If you are born here, you will enjoy it. If you have deep roots here, you will feel it in your bones.

** Okay. I have to admit it. About the sweatshirt. I also wore it because it finally got cold here in Atlanta today, and damn it, that thing is so broken-in and well-loved, it is super comfortable.

*** Also satisfying: Voting for two local candidates I really, really believe in: Good luck to Scott Holcomb and George Chidi.

A Love Letter to Santa

Thursday, December 17th, 2015
Inaugural year of East Atlanta Santa at Joe's Coffee. 2007

Inaugural year of East Atlanta Santa at Joe’s Coffee. 2007

Every year we see Santa in our old neighborhood, East Atlanta. I can’t remember how exactly it started, but a bunch of folks with little kids bemoaned the mall santa cost, lines, and hassle, and we ended up spawning this amazing fundraiser and tradition. Joe’s Coffee (shout out to Dawn!) offered up their back porch that first year. Friends and neighbors, most without kids of their own, offered to dress up as elves. Dogs and adults and all manner of kookiness were welcome. The cost was, I think, a gift donated to Toys for Tots, or maybe even that first year they donated it all to the boys and girls club?

Tiller with Sheila the Elf, at Flatiron. 2015

Tiller with Sheila the Elf, at Flatiron. 2015

This kind of DIY, easy, laid-back event is precisely what I miss most about EAV. (Okay, well, maybe I miss the people just a little too.) One of those neighbors voiced his dismay that some of us who have been every year since they started putting EAV Santa on are now the old veterans. Which just seems crazy; It seems like just yesterday that I was in Joe’s wearing Rollie in a Baby Bjorn. This friend later posted a retrospective of their photos, and I thought I’d do the same. Well, turns out my archiving skills are not up to par, so I didn’t even locate the earlier mall santa photos. I couldn’t even find the actual picture of the kids with EAV Santa that first year (2007), but I managed, with Todd’s help, to locate a photo outtake in the back at Joe’s, along with all the other 8 years with Santa.

I’m not gonna lie, there were tears shed putting this together. My babies are babies no more. But they will have to deal with our yearly tradition of seeing Santa at Joe’s for the foreseeable future. It’s probably my favorite Christmas tradition. (Since my cousins and I don’t exchange Turtle’s Gift Tokens any more.)

East Atlanta, consider this a love letter. I miss you often. Wishing the villagers and the rest of my loves a wonderful Christmas and an amazing 2016.*

Ages 2 and 4: 2007

Ages 2 and 4: 2007

Ages 5 and 3: 2008

Ages 5 and 3: 2008

Ages 6 and 4: 2009

Ages 6 and 4: 2009

Ages 5 and 7: 2010

Ages 5 and 7: 2010

Ages 8 and 6: 2011

Ages 8 and 6: 2011

Ages 9 and 7: 2012

Ages 9 and 7: 2012

Ages 8 and 10: 2013

Ages 8 and 10: 2013

Ages 11 and 9: 2014

Ages 11 and 9: 2014

Ages 12 and 10: 2015

Ages 12 and 10: 2015

* If I put it out there to the Universe like this, maybe karma will make my 2016 a little better than 2015. No, I won’t be doing a Facebook 2015 Year In Review. People would be wanting to gouge their eyes out or slit their wrists in the bathtub reading that.

A Love Letter to Santa

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

This is 41

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

A week ago yesterday, I turned 41. It was a Tuesday. Why does it seem like birthdays always fall on Tuesdays? It fell on Tuesday. I got up at 6 am at my mom’s house, put on my Dad’s underwear*, and went to work. My own mother forgot to wish me happy birthday before I left. (No hard feelings. I don’t remember that stuff either.)

I worked all day. Got home at 5pm or so. Started my period. (HAPPY-BIRTHDAY-TO-YOU-HAVE-CRAMPS-AND-BLOOD-AND-WANT-TO-EAT-YOUR-YOUNG-AND-CHOCOLATE-ITS-AWESOME.) Turned back around and got back in the car to go to the Japanese steakhouse, because that’s what you do when you are middle-aged and it’s your birthday. I’m not saying that it didn’t taste good, but sometimes after a long day at work, you are tired and you just want to have your cramps and wine in peace without someone throwing shrimp at you or singeing your eyebrows.

It was actually really nice, and my husband gave me a lovely necklace and my kids were good. (Okay, one was kind of a jackass, but he at least contained it until the end.) So, we came home, and the kids went to bed, and then Toddler and i decided we should watch “This is 40.” I totally didn’t get what people liked about this movie. Other than Paul Rudd is cute. That wife’s voice makes me want to jump off an overpass after about ten minutes. It didn’t really matter, because I ended my birthday by promptly falling snoringly dead asleep in the middle of the movie. Todd woke me, i wiped off the drool, thought “Huh. So this is what 41 feels like,” and went upstairs to fall asleep in my own bed in order to be able to start all over again at 6 am the next day.

So, I woke up and kind of felt. . . a letdown. I felt old. There’s a lot more to it than suddenly turning 41 and feeling old – aging parents, bad stuff happening, marriages around me on rocky ground, a general feeling of being tired all the time, change, change, and more change, and not having DONE anything with my life – more than I can recount here. But i woke up feeling old.
(Happiest wake up feeling old song ever.)

So, I finished out my week, with this . . . oldness. . . hanging over my head. I wanted my sister to have drinks with me on Saturday. She didn’t feel like it. God, I’m so old, i can’t even get anyone to go have a drink with me on a Saturday night. So, she says, “You and Todd should go.” And todd heard her, and suddenly, he is hellbent on going to see Camper Van Beethoven that night. And i was like, okay, i guess I’ll go. And my husband, when he decides he wants something, he is damn well gonna go after it. So, he managed to procure one precious ticket, which he just about wrested from the jaws of a giant EAV possum, and we went to the Earl, thinking, well, at least you have a ticket, and if I don’t get one, you can just take a cab home. But for some reason, i got out, and I sat at the bar, and i thought it would be a good idea to hang out there while he went to the show. So, i sat there, and I only had a couple of drinks, and I talked to some guy who knew about ten people that I know, and I talked to a few folks I hadn’t seen in a long while (we used to live in the n’hood, you will remember), and then I talked to some young people from out of town on a road trip who had just been to the Clermont for the first time. One of them thought i was a Crip. This was the funniest thing i ever heard. I actually think he might have been serious. And then the show was over (never did get a ticket) and then suddenly, i was heading off to the house of a friend of my friend Terri, and then we were drinking beer in a basement and listening to records. We were all of an age, and we listened to Beastie Boys and The Pixies, and the Meat Puppets, and I had to listen to this TV on the Radio song:

No idea why i love that song so much, but it always makes me feel good to listen to it. And one of the guys there, whom I didn’t know, told me as he was leaving that he thought i was “a rocker” and maybe he was making fun of me, but I took it as a compliment.

And then there were four of us, and I’m pretty sure that Terri and Todd were completely ready to go, but me and the vinyl guy were geeking out on Bowie, and we listened to my favorite Bowie song twice in a row:

And I got home at 4 am. And then it took me like two days to recover, but it was totally worth it. I didn’t really feel old anymore. I felt tired, but not old.

So, I already had plans to go see Ty Segall with my sister on Tuesday. I have turned into a person that listens to music all day long, at home or work or in the car, but who never has the time or energy or money or babysitters to go see music live anymore. I had mentioned in passing that I loved him and wanted to see him live, and that we should go, and then she kind of twisted my arm. I don’t usually go out and see bands on school nights. It’s just too painful to stay up til 1 am, and then get up at 6 am and then . . . think . . . for a paycheck. (It’s really the getting up that’s hard – not so much the thinking.)

So, there I was, downing coffee at 8 pm on a Tuesday night, one week after my 41st birthday, in hopes of being able to stay up until 10 or 11, or whatever time these young whippersnappers go on stage these days. And then we got there, and . . . wow. It’s been a long time since i’d been to see a “current” band. I usually go see bands, and there are some young people there, but it’s mostly people in their 30s and 40s. Let’s just say that I almost cried at how good the people watching was. You know when we were 20? I am pretty sure we were stupid. We looked stupid, we acted stupid, we acted cool, we thought we were hot shit. We were not. We were stupid.

I was amazed at how they all looked so much like people i knew. People I knew in 1991. You know. When they guy I was going to see play was about five. There were people wearing shirts for bands whose albums were released before they were born. There was a guy wearing silver sequined pants. The only things different were that you couldn’t smoke inside the establishment (Terminal West, by the way, which is a GREAT venue – i thought it was nice and the sound was great, and it was a really good size. Kind of 40-Watt-sized, actually.) and that they had craft beer. In cans. Tons of craft beers in cans. And when you’re 41, it ain’t that easy to pick out what beer to order when you can’t see the cans across the bar. Also, no bottles? In my day, you drank out of bottles and chanced the glass breakage! Oh. And in my day, we just watched the damn band. I wanted to shove everyone’s iPhones down their throats, what with all the video and camera flashes. Don’t get me wrong. I love my iPhone. But it stayed in my pocket.

No, seriously. All I could think was Everyone. Was. So. Young.

Then I ran into this guy, and i was like, oh, awesome, you are old too, and he was like, “you’re never too old for rock and roll!” and i loved him. Also, he was like ten years older than me. And he was right. Because as soon as the music started, I was super happy, and it was loud, and it could have been 2013 or 1993 or 1963. I wasn’t tired any longer, and people were stage diving and it was so fun to watch, even though they just seemed a little . . . weak. I mean, it just seemed very safe compared to ye olden days. It bordered on polite. Someone through a beer at a guy in the band and Ty was like, “Please don’t throw things at us; we aren’t a punk band.” And he was so polite. Mom me took over a little, because i really don’t want my babies being thrown around over concrete floors, and these kids, the ones around me, who were born when I was like 20? They have moms too, and I might have gone to college with them. But then I decided that hey, my sister was there, and she’s a nurse, so we were all fine.

It was something like this, but a lot less people.

And then I let go and i rocked out. I did that awesome thing where you watch live music and you just get lost, and sometimes it’s so loud that it almost affects your vision for a few seconds. I had forgotten that if you hold an empty beer can to your chest while the music is loud that the drum and bass will make it vibrate in your hand. And I smiled. I couldn’t wipe that damn smile off my face if I had tried.

And after a while, it ended. And I was sad. But also happy.

And I did not feel old. I remembered what it was like to leave a show all sweaty and feel the cool air outside, and feel complete and total release. I remembered that I can sleep when I’m dead. Or at least the next night. I felt like I should go see more bands I love. I felt like maybe I should learn to play guitar. I felt inspired to write again, because I’m happier when I write.

When you grow up, your heart doesn’t die. It just gets really tired.

And then I was thinking tonight, I am old. I am tired. But I should write. Because I did fall asleep on the couch on my birthday. And I did rock out last night. And Saturday night. And I don’t get enough sleep. But I need to seek out the things that make me happy. I need to love them and nurture them, even if I feel too tired. You know. To keep my heart from dying.

And so that I will remember, when I’m 60, that this is what it is like to be me now. That this is my 41.

*Follow me on Twitter, and I make more sense.

Why Parents Turn to Foundations for School Funding

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

eagletrekidentfinalThis is the shameless plug for money for my kid’s school. It is also a fundraiser for two organizations dear to my heart:

The Evansdale Education Foundation – I am a founding board member and OMG, I have put in so many hours on that board.
The Evansdale PTA – I am a committee chair on the PTA and they are just a great, hardworking group, with only the kids’ best interests at heart.

I won’t bore you with the details, because if you read my blog or follow me on FB, you probably know about the dysfunction in our county school board, about budget cuts, etc.

Actually, I will bore you with a few details, because I wonder if people not involved at the schools really understand why these foundations (501c3 organizations) are created by parents to make up for the lack of funding by their counties! The money that each and every person in the county pays (in the form of property taxes) to fund schools should be more than enough to make things work. When we are in an economic situation like the one that we are in now, our county school boards should have been saving for a rainy day. They didn’t. So, now, parents (and teachers) have to step up and fund much of it themselves. (Sit down with a teacher and ask how much of their school supplies are paid for by the county, and how much is paid for out of their own pockets.)

  • Teachers are making less and expected to do more, with less time. Rather than cut exorbitant administration costs, the county makes budget cuts on the teacher’s backs. We hear a lot about ineffective teachers, teachers who don’t care, etc., but in my experience, that is the exception, not the rule. My kids’ teachers have really, really cared. They have handled the crap they are given with grace and aplomb. I want to help them. And raising money to hire teachers and take more pressure off them so that they concentrate on teaching is one way to do that. Let’s just say that having 25 kindergarteners in one class can be too much. Or, if you look at the high school level, they have classes with upwards of 40 students. The county is very slow about alleviating crowding, too, when classes go over the max size. The kindergarten at our school is STILL waiting, a month into school, for an added teacher so that they can relieve overcrowding in the existing four classes.
  • Class sizes are OUT OF CONTROL. Our county raised maximum class sizes again this year. So, every class can have two more students than they did last year. Doesn’t sound that bad, but they raised class sizes last year, too. They just seem to keep going up.
  • Why cut costly administrators making $80,000 or more, and who never come into contact with a single student when you could just CUT PARAPROS? Parapros, or paraprofessionals, are the extra hands on in the classrooms. They help to reduce student/teacher ratios. They allow for differentiated instruction, and focused learning groups. They cost a drop in the bucket compared to administrators. The county cut a TON of them.
  • Did i mention the overcrowding? To alleviate overcrowding at a nearby school, some of their students were redistricted to our school. We were pretty much at capacity. Now we are at, last i checked, about 120% capacity.
  • Lots of those kids redistricted to our school don’t speak English as a first language. Some of their parents speak little to no English. What does the county do? Cuts translator positions. Brilliant.

You get the picture. There is more, but these are the issues that schools, parents, teachers, principals are dealing with all over the county. This is why my fellow parents and I created a foundation – to give us a padding when we have to pay for things ourselves. Should it be this way? No. The county should be a good steward for our money. But it’s not, and we are left to scramble to give our kids and the rest of the kids at the school, a great education.

Want to help? Please donate to our fundraiser. It’s easy and you can do it all online. It’s 100% tax deductible. Every dollar helps. And believe me, I realize that in these times, a dollar is a lot for some people. And when you’re done with that, think about following local education politics. We would not have to do this if more voters and taxpayers held our politicians’ feet to the fire on education funding issues and management of tax dollars.

Thanks for listening if you got this far. You’re a pal.

Emotions and Inequities

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I expected to get choked up at Honor’s Day. But not for this reason.

The elementary school holds Honors Day every semester, and the Principal gives out awards to all the kids (1st through 5th – no K.) They get awards like Citizenship Award, Academic Award, and Principal’s Honor Award. They get awards for finishing certain programs, like the reading program Accelerated Reader, Literary Guild (which introduces new genres to kids that they might not have read before,) and Math Facts in a Flash, which is a computer program that drills kids in math concepts. Each level gets progressively more advanced, until you reach level 50.

Remember a few weeks ago when I posted on Facebook that “I absolutely hate Lit Guild with every fiber of my being?” Basically, I had decided that rather than argue with my child about whether or not he was going to finish it (it’s optional), I would leave it up to him. If he finished, he would get the trophy, and if not, well, he would learn what it was like to watch all of his friends get the trophy, knowing that he didn’t work hard enough to get it. I decided that this was a good life lesson for him, and that me wanting him to get the trophy was really more about me, and my idea of how I wanted to present myself as a parent. (I guess that would be the kind of parent whose whose kids get Lit Guild trophies?) I decided that I was okay with it. My reasoning was that he was already reading well past the level of the lit guild books, that he enjoyed reading, and that he was reading what he wanted to read. He was reading for pleasure. Isn’t that what I always wanted for him anyway? Mission achieved; I didn’t need him to get a trophy to prove to me that I had done my job. He had learned the joy of reading, which is truly the gift that never stops giving. No one can ever take that away from him.

I sat a few rows back in the cafeteria today, and I watched him as his friends went up to receive their lit guild trophies. I watched his back, looking for some sign that he was sad or embarrassed that he didn’t get the trophy. I told myself that if he was upset, he would be learning a lesson. Instead, i saw my son cheer for his friends, clap at the appropriate time, and give a friend a high five as she went up to get her award. I was proud of his response.

The teachers proceeded to give the other awards to their classes. Each teacher stood at the podium, called out the student’s name, then called out the awards being given to that child. The child walks past the podium, receives the certificate(s), and shakes the principal’s hand. The audience claps for each child. It’s a pretty darn long process.

The first class completed their awards, and my son’s teacher stood at the podium, and began to speak about his class. He began by saying that it was one of the brightest classes he has ever taught. He spoke of their intelligence, their readiness to learn, the fact that they are all above grade-level when they came in the door, and that he never even taught from the curriculum or the book, because they all already knew the stuff. He said they challenged him, and kept him on his toes, and he acknowledged that much of that was due to the parental involvement in the class. He said that his class rarely came in and talked about what they watched on T.V. last night, but rather about the books they were reading and the things that they did outside.

I admit it – I felt proud and thankful that someone said aloud, in their own way, “you are doing a good job as parents.” Parents don’t get that kind of affirmation very often. It was a good moment. In the back of my mind, I thought, “Wow, I hope this doesn’t make the other parents in other classes feel bad.”

Pride goeth before a fall, or so they say.

The teacher started giving out awards. He read the names, he listed their awards, the kids walked across, got their awards, and shook the Principal’s hand. The kids smiled, and the parents clapped and their cameras flashed. But a couple of times, this teacher said a child’s name, and then he commented a bit more about that particular child. Things along the lines of (and I am paraphrasing, because i don’t have a tape recorder for a memory):

“This child reads all the time. He does nothing but read.”
“This child is doing 6th grade math problems. His success inspired the whole class to finish levels of the math program.”
“This kid is the most motivated kid I’ve ever seen. He reads books that look like ship anchors.”

There were four or five of them who were personally recognized for their exceptional characteristics. They were all boys. They are all good kids, with lovely parents, most of whom I consider friends, or at least really good acquaintances.

Not one of them was my son.

And I was sad, hurt, jealous, and angry. I was worried for my son and how this would make him feel. I clenched my fists, and I fought back tears. I clapped politely, even as the thoughts I was thinking were not at all polite. I am not proud of these reactions, but I am a very honest person, and I did experience them, and even if they were illogical, they were authentically and sincerely felt. I had a hard time sitting through the rest of the ceremony, as my son’s class finished and we moved on to the other three classes.

After the ceremony, I smiled at my child when he smiled at me. He evidently didn’t notice any discrepancies. I took his photo with the Principal and Assistant Principal. My son asked specifically to have his picture made with his teacher, whom he had told me just this morning, he was “going to miss.” And I must add here that his teacher was great – he inspired the kids and challenged them, and didn’t force them to go over and over things they had already learned. I knew in my head, when he stood up and gushed about the class, and the parents, and those particular kids, he was not doing it maliciously – He was doing it because he enjoyed teaching a class that was so ready to learn, and so challenging to him as a teacher. I took the photo of the two of them, and thanked the teacher, and I meant it when I said thank you. My kid learned from him, and he was inspired and enjoyed school this year, because he and his class were challenged.

I left school, though, and I felt very out of sorts, emotionally raw, almost irrationally angry, and ashamed for feeling the childish emotions I was feeling. I don’t feel shame very often. And I haven’t exactly pinpointed the root of my shame. Perhaps it was jealousy – something i almost NEVER feel. Perhaps it was shame that i worried what others might think of my parenting if my kid was not singled out as a superstar in his class. Perhaps it was doubt about my “let him experience failure” tactic when it came to these extra programs. Perhaps it was shame at the thought that maybe I was disappointed in my child for not living up to the standard set by this class? Because i am proud of my kid, so very proud, and I love my kids more than anything on earth. I would take a bullet for either of them without blinking an eye. I don’t think it is disappointment in my child. I think it might be disappointment in myself – did I let my child down by not being a Tiger Mom?

I spoke to a couple of parents as I left, and I think the teacher’s gushing did not go unnoticed, although others didn’t seem as affected by it as I did. My neighbor, who has two 2nd graders, neither of whom are in my son’s class, seemed to shrug it off, as if it were something to which she had long ago become accustomed. She pointed out that my child’s classroom is a bit of an anomaly. I agreed, and headed for my car, thinking of what she said as I walked and I tried to make sense of my flustered feelings.

And i realized, this must be what it feels like for many parents all the time. I remembered thinking as the teacher crowed about his class, “I wonder how this makes the other kids’ parents feel?” I am not sure how I managed to not ever feel it before, but it felt awful.

And this is where it all gets pretty complicated. . . .

Sidebar: I should take a moment (Lie! Many, many words to come on this!) to explain a bit about my son’s class makeup, and how it compares with the four other 2nd grade classes at our school. My son is in a magnet class. Specifically, he is in a Science and Foreign Language Magnet. This is a DeKalb County program at our school. It is the only one of its kind in the county. There are other magnet programs, but they are run differently, or have a different focus. Some are for “high achievers,” some are theme schools, like DeKalb School of the Arts. Slots in these classes and schools are all given out by lottery. Some have minimum requirements. For example, to remain in the magnet at my son’s school, one must maintain a B average. To qualify to put your name in the lottery drawing for Kittredge (the “high achiever” magnet) you must meet the following requirements:

>75th percentile Total Reading, ITBS
>75th percentile Total Math, ITBS
>85th percentile Complete Composite, ITBS
>3.0 GPA from the fall semester of the application year
Current resident of DeKalb County

You get the idea. Basically, it’s open to anyone who can meet these requirements, and then a precious few are chosen. They get, from my understanding, a more challenging curriculum, and they are no longer going to school with those children who could not meet the above requirements.

I digress, but my point is that there are only so many magnet and theme school spots in DeKalb County, and the application process, lottery drawing, and transportation involved are not for the faint of heart. The children that attend these programs are the product of parents who went above and beyond to get them there. They are also the product of luck. Sheer, dumb luck. The drawing of a number, out of a hopper. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch Waiting for Superman and then come back to finish reading.)

Now, my child would be attending this excellent elementary school anyway, because we live in the district. Even if there were no magnet at our school, he would attend the same school. The magnet program at our school is one magnet class, per grade (K-5th), made up of 50% students from the “Home” pool (our elementary district) and 50% “At Large” students (Dekalb county students who live in other elementary districts). There was much discussion among parents when my son was in pre-k (another program paid for by DeKalb) about whether or not to put our kids in the lottery drawing for a magnet spot in Kindergarten. Our kids were already in district, so we were not like the “at large” parents who were trying to escape failing schools by getting their kid in a magnet (any magnet!) at another, more successful, elementary school. Our kids would attend the school either way.

The main draw of the magnet class was that they would receive daily foreign language instruction in French. (Yes, I could write a whole other post about the choice to continue French instruction when Spanish or Chinese might be so much more beneficial.) Many parents were confused about the “science” portion of the magnet program – it simply means that we have a Science lab. Our Science curriculum is the same as that offered by all of Dekalb county.

According to DeKalb County Schools’ website: “The Evansdale Magnet Program is available to students in kindergarten through fifth grade who have an interest or aptitude in mathematics, science, or French.” The only difference in magnet classes is that they receive that extra hour of french language instruction a day, and the fact that the school has a dedicated Science lab. It is my understanding that no other DeKalb County elementary schools have a lab. Oh, and then there’s this little problem: This program is only available to those students lucky enough to win a spot through a lottery drawing.

Other discussions of whether or not we should put our kids in the magnet lottery revolved around “diversity.” To many, the fact that half the kids were from other parts of the county would make the class more diverse and exposing one’s children to more diversity is a “pro.” Unless it isn’t – Some parents, sadly, think of this as a “con.” This is all the more ludicrous, because those parents of “at large” children had to go to great lengths to apply and get their kids into the program, and then have a kid attending school in another area of the county. As I mentioned before, these parents are not passive bystanders in their children’s education – these parents went above and beyond to get their children into the program in the first place, and then continue to support their children in a school that might be many miles from home. That is a large commitment to a child’s education. These are good, caring parents with a strong interest in getting the best education for their child.

The joke is on the anti-diversity parents. And the parents whose kids just weren’t lucky enough to get a spot in the magnet program. Last year, during redistricting, our little school took in a lot more students. Our neighborhood demographics changed. Some of those new kids are on free-and-reduced lunch (a typical indicator of lower achievement), live in apartments, and have parents who speak little English. Class sizes swelled at our school this fall, and classes had to be added in some grades. Except Magnet classes – their class makeup is dictated by the lottery. When these new students came in, they were put in the regular classes, not the magnet classes. So, for instance, on the first day of Kindergarten my daughter, who is in a regular class (she was not drawn for a magnet spot) did not even have a teacher yet – she was in an “overflow” class with a substitute; The county had not even hired a teacher for them yet. She did finally get a teacher a few days later. This phenomenon is not a problem at the county level, or with the principal, etc, but simply a side effect of having kids show up on the first day of school who must be served, but for whom the school had no knowledge beforehand.) They added an extra class. Where did all the new students (the group which included the apartment kids, the ESOL kids, the free-and-reduced lunch? They went into the regular classes. The Kindergarten Magnet didn’t have to absorb any of them. The K magnet class kept it’s static student teacher ratio. This happened for other grades. For those grades whose class sizes went above the county mandate, new classes were created. (Again, I could write a whole post about the classes that were inherited by the last teachers to come on board. Let’s just say that there were obvious differences between those classes, and the earlier-formed regular classes, and again, more obvious differences between the regular classes and the still-untouched Magnet classes.) And the magnet classes, through it all, remained untouchable.

Remember? The Magnet classes are set. They have the most involved parents. The regular classes have the new students. And that last class put together to catch the overflow? It consists of predominately African American and Hispanic kids, lots of boys, and a few token white kids whose parents don’t happen to be active in the PTA or the school foundation. I wish I were kidding. I keep trying to tell myself that if i could look carefully, this is not the case – that it’s simply an error of perception, that i am just mistaken, and things really are done fairly. I have to admit that I have not viewed this phenomenon in grades other than my own kids’ grades (2nd and K) and that it may be so glaring because of that late-added class. I don’t know if it even exists in other grades, but I have not looked.

Disclaimer: I have not sat down with photographs and class lists containing the demographics. This really may just be my perception. Even if it isn’t, I’m not pointing fingers. I don’t know who, if anyone in particular, is responsible. Also, I am not saying there are not involved parents in the regular classes. There are, and there are a lot of them. But it is not so across-the-board as in the magnet classes. Oftentimes, there are a few involved parents pulling the weight for the whole class.

I mentioned that this is where it all gets pretty complicated. Because the core of my emotion in the moment of that presentation was a very personal reaction. It was about me, my perceived inadequacies as a parent, my disappointment that my kid is not always going to be the best or the smartest, and even if he is, he might not be recognized for it. It was about feeling that nagging feeling, deep down, that maybe I didn’t do my all for my kid, that maybe I failed him.

And while it’s a normal emotion, it’s absurd. I am a highly involved parent. We send our kid to school ready to learn. I co-chair a PTA committee, sit on the board of the school foundation, and always step up to volunteer whenever I can. And yet, I still felt inadequate this morning. Obviously, i need to get over myself. I should be thankful that i have such wonderful, smart, thriving, healthy children.

And the nagging takeaway for me is that this feeling of inadequacy speaks to a much bigger problem. A problem that has been jostling around in my head for a couple of years ago, and which has moved back to the forefront for me with the discussion of budget cuts and tax increases to cover the Dekalb County schools system budget shortfall. My child is benefiting from his lucky inclusion in this very special class. I felt inadequate because I didn’t schlep my kid around to find specific books and take tests and Tiger Mom him; What about the parents who feel like they have failed their kids by not finding them the same opportunities that my child has just by being in the same room every day with these other privileged kids. What would happen if the boys recognized today were spread out into four or five different classrooms, inspiring all of those classrooms to strive to higher scores in math? I’m not saying we should do away with things like Guided Math, and differentiated instruction or Discovery. I think we should have kids on similar levels in the same reading groups.

In the end, I think all the kids in my son’s class (and school for that matter) are going to be successful. They are going to do great in life. But how is it fair that we spend so much money on these special classes that give some kids the opportunity for a leg up, while others are denied that opportunity?

I did not intend this post to upset my fellow parents. I love your kids and was proud of their recognition. I love my kids’ teachers and the principal at our school. I love my own kid and I think he is exceptional in his own way, whether or not his teacher recognizes him personally for it. There were hundreds of parents in that cafeteria today that feel the same way about their own children. I am guessing there are hundreds of thousands of parents in DeKalb county that feel the same way about their children.

I guess I just felt like this was the kick i needed to speak up and write about something I’ve seen as an inequity for a long time. This program has the best of intentions, and some really good consequences for those involved, and even some for those not in the program. But in the end, it is patently unfair. In the end, maybe my shame stems from the fact that until now I haven’t spoken up about it.

I’m guessing that if you read this far, you are a parent. You might be a parent of one of these students, or you might be a parent at my kids’ school. You might think that i should keep my mouth shut, since the school benefits from this program. I’m sorry, I can’t. If i was on the board, i could not in good conscience keep these special programs open. Before we raise class sizes, we should cut programs like this one. Before we raise taxes, we should cut programs like this one. And before we do anything, the central office should be made a skeleton crew.

On my end, I’ll be getting some therapy for my own parenting issues. Or at least trying to see the forest for the trees. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Parenting is really, really hard.


Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Ooooh. . . Really, really, really want one of these prints from Old Try. There are different prints for different Southern states (Mississippi and Arkansas‘ are best, but I have no connection there), and then some that are just generally Southern.

I want this:

Or this:

But most of all, this:

I want it bad.

Via Garden & Gun, which is awesome, if a little hoity toity sometimes.

Radiohead: A Story of Starcrossed Lovers

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Todd and the kids and I had a great dinner last night. They are getting to the age where they are actually fun to converse with. We were fixing plates and the Radiohead song “Creep” came on, and Todd and I were singing along at the top of our voices, and playing air guitar on that bangy guitar part (you know the one), while Rollie yelled for us to stop, and Tiller rolled her eyes. And then Todd proceeded to tell the kids a story of star-crossed lovers back in the olden days. (You know, the mid-90s.)

There once was a boy living in Atlanta, who liked Radiohead. There once was a girl, also living in Atlanta, who – get this – also liked Radiohead. Now, this was before Radiohead was a household name, right after OK Computer came out, but before anyone except diehard The Bends fans had heard the album yet, before folks considered it the Dark Side of the Moon of the 90s. And so this boy and girl, who both lived in Atlanta, and who both liked Radiohead, both bought tickets to see Radiohead at The Masquerade.

And they both went to the show. And the girl was with her boyfriend, who was not the boy. And she stood watching the show with her left shoulder leaning against the sound booth. And the boy watched the show from the front of the sound booth. And they were mere feet apart from one another. And the show rocked their worlds.

And then three days later, she moved to Denver with her boyfriend.

But the story wasn’t over.

Because sometime later, the girl sat drinking beer in a kitchen in Boulder, Colorado, and she saw a picture on the fridge that reminded her of a girl she used to know. And a couple years later, the girl who liked Radiohead met that girl she used to know in a bar, and the girl she used to know introduced her to the boy who also liked Radiohead.

And now the girl who likes Radiohead and the boy who likes Radiohead sit in their kitchen with their two children, who really don’t give a shit about Radiohead, and they play the game horse face. Horse face consists of one person making a funny face and the other person having to match that funny face. And the girl who likes Radiohead makes a face, and it is so funny to her that she laughs until tears run down her face, her stomach hurts, and she almost pees her pants.

And the Boy who liked Radiohead and the Girl who liked Radiohead are happy together.

Parents For DeKalb County Schools

Monday, August 29th, 2011

Well, add this to the litany of reasons that I haven’t been keeping up on the blog. Sad, because i wrote daily for years on here, but real life is getting in the way. One of the projects I’ve been working on is Parents for Dekalb County Schools. A very concerned parent created the group to try and improve the schools in my county. He is doing some awesome work, and trying very hard to reach out to parents in all parts of the county. This video is part of that outreach. We are really trying to find more parents like Bernadette out there to join us in making DeKalb schools great!

If you are reading this, and know a parent in DeKalb, please consider sharing this with them. Kids in DeKalb need all the help they can get. And if you do share it, maybe I’ll think about writing one of my ultra-embarrassing, self-deprecating blog posts. It’s been a while since I’ve done that to myself. I might even include middle school pictures.