Thursday, February 28, 2008

Let's Lighten Up On The Labels

Yannick started kindergarten in September and in making the transition from pre-school to a more formal classroom set-up, I must confess, he’s exceeding all of my expectations.

It’s not that I don’t know my son’s an incredibly smart, creative, thoughtful, funny boy, but his pre-school experience was based on the Gardner method of education, where individuality and self-expression is valued far beyond fostering the traditional classroom structure. Yannick not only thrived in this environment, he was also loved and doted on daily by the teachers and staff.

I’m not sure what I expected, but so many of my friends warned me that boys are very different than girls, and Olivia has always been so easy about everything, I couldn’t predict how the boy would do. I am now happy to report that my boy seems to be, for the most part, making out just fine.

Yannick’s teacher, Maestra Maricarmen, is from Venezuela and she runs a very tight ship. She's a wonderful, energetic teacher and the children love her. Maricarmen includes a comment notebook in the kids’ homework folder everyday, and recently she’s sent messages about Yannick’s chattiness in class. The messages all begin with, “Miss Mango Mama (not really, she does use my real name), Yannick is being a bad boy by talking to his friend during class time.” So far, we’ve received three of these notes in the last two weeks.

Loverman and I have been quite responsive to these notes and talked with Yannick at length about paying attention to the teacher, not being disruptive in class and so on. We cut out all TV, no ice cream after dinner, the whole bit. I know this boy gets it, but I must admit I was heartbroken the other day when Yannick referred to himself as a bad boy. I explained that he indeed is not a bad boy, but talking out of turn in class is unacceptable. He’s free to talk up a storm during lunch and at recess, but while in class, no habla ingles or espanol.

Thankfully, there were no notes today or yesterday, and Yannick says he kept his mouth shut, but I may talk to Maricarmen about telling Yannick he’s a bad boy. Kids are so impressionable at this age and it’s such a crucial time because if they’re turned on (or off) to school and learning now, it will inform their impression of school for years to come.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mommy's Home

Well folks, I’m happy to be back! When I headed off to another meeting in New Orleans on Wednesday evening, I was looking forward to catching up with any new developments in the 9th Ward since my December visit, touching base with colleagues and heading down to the flea market to get a funky new hat, but when I awoke on Thursday I felt as if I’d been hit by a Mack truck. I was down for the count for two and a half days.

That’s right, I spent 60 of my 72 hours in the Big Easy flat on my back in a hotel room, thankfully outfitted with a full-size fridge, microwave, cooking range and dishwasher. When I fist got to NOLA I had a roommate, but as my symptoms intensified, she packed her bags and got her own room. I can’t blame her, I was feeling, and probably looking, pretty funky and let’s be honest, when you’re suffering through some unnamed lower GI issues, you can do without an audience.

During my brief moments of lucidity, I felt guilty for missing my meetings. I was down there to offer input to a strategic planning session and all my expenses were being paid by the meeting’s host, but I couldn’t help it and when all is said and done, none of the other attendees wanted to get hit with what I had. I must also confess that if I’d been struck with that pesky bug while still at home, my kids would never have allowed me two full, glorious days of uninterrupted recuperation. Nope, it would have never happened.

Yesterday, mommy returned home feeling almost like her old self, maybe even a bit better than I left, because at least now I’m fully rested.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Moving Past February

I’ve spent most of this afternoon helping Olivia with her Black History Month project. She’s in the 3rd grade and this is her first big school project.

The assignment is to select a notable African American, read their biography, preferably a book, and next Monday make a visual presentation to the class and submit a two-page report detailing all you’ve learned about your selected hero/heroine.

On its face, I appreciate the teacher’s efforts to engage everyone in the class in learning more about African Americans, but to be completely honest, I bet when Dr. Carter Woodson first launched Negro History Week in 1926, he had no idea our nation would still be so woefully negligent in acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of African Americans, not to mention that of Latin Americans, Asian Americans, women, etc.

I also take issue with the teacher’s requirement that the source material for the selected notable be a book. In fact, when we went to the library to get a book on the subject of Olivia's report, the librarian noted that due to budgetary cutbacks, most small libraries have limited collections and librarians often direct patrons to use the Internet for this type of research. She stressed the need to teach students how to identify credible Internet sources.

In the grand scheme of things, there are very few biographies written about a great number of notable African Americans. As much as I respect and honor the contributions of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, there are countless other, untold stories that need to see the light of day, and children shouldn’t have to wait until February to learn about these folks and their contributions. Hell, why not be truly revolutionary and integrate them into the daily lesson plans, so when teaching children about the American Red Cross, mention Dr. Charles Drew’s system for storing blood plasma; and how Garrett Morgan’s invention of the traffic light saves million of lives daily; and let’s not forget to mention Dr. Selma Burke, a sculptor who designed Roosevelt’s image on the dime, when teaching children about the denomination of coins.

Let’s move beyond African American history people and call it (and teach it) what it really is… AMERICAN HISTORY.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Should of seen it coming

I understand man’s right to bear arms is written into our Constitution, but why in the hell would someone of sound mind and body need to purchase four guns in the span of six months?

It’s been reported that the fool who went on a rampage at Northern Illinois University purchased two guns on Feb. 9 in a Champaign gun store and he bought one gun, from the same store, on December 30 and his first gun purchase, again from the same vendor, back in the summer on Aug. 6th. Instead of protecting this sicko's Constitutional rights, someone should have alerted authorities and gotten this kid some help.

Sure, I may border on being a pacifist, but even if I begrudgingly understand one’s desire to own a firearm for hunting purposes, or even protection of one’s family and home, owning four different types of gun, by one person, can only be described as excessive and cowering behind the tenets of the Constitution offers little solace to the victims of this latest carnage on a college campus.

I’d also like to offer a small suggestion to anyone out there considering following in the footsteps of this idiot, or the ones who preceded him, be a real maverick and instead of mowing down unsuspecting, innocent people, simply take the gun, put it to your head and pull the trigger… now you’ve done the world a great service.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Moth

"A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens--second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day's events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths."
--Reynolds Price

I love a good story, or should I say a well-told story. In fact, my ipod has more downloads from This American Life than music.

Now, my girl, Lori, has introduced me to The Moth, an incredible New York phenomenon that beckons folks to step on stage to tell their tales. The Moth welcomes both celebrities and everyday folk, with the simple mission of celebrating the art of a well-told story.

Since my first visit to The Moth’s website about a week ago, I’ve ripped through the sampling of stories they offer on their site and invested in a collection of more stories I found in the itunes store.

Check it out and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What's an Evangelical?

Can somebody tell me what the heck an Evangelical Christian is? What’s the distinction of an Evangelical Christian from the other denominations, i.e., Methodist, Baptist, A.M.E, Episcopalians, etc.? I was raised Catholic and even went to Catholic school, but I attend a Baptist church these days.

When I hear Mike Huckabee speak and identify himself as an Evangelical, and then I see his supporters and there’s not a brown face among them, I get the sinking suspicion that Evangelical may be code for White conservative Christian. Am I wrong, and can somebody out there give me the heads up as to who these folks are and what sets them apart as Evangelicals?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What's Your Poison?

Every morning, immediately following our daily duet to get the kids out the door and to school on time, Loverman and I make a beeline straight to Dunkin’ Donuts and order our regulars… one large hot tea with lemon for him, and a large tea with milk and extra, extra sugar for me. No chi chi latte for me, no sireee, I need only the pedestrian cup of Black tea to get my head on straight. Without this daily morning hit, I’m doomed with a dull, yet insistent headache for the remainder of the day.

I’ve never been a coffee drinker. I don’t much like the taste and whenever I’m forced to drink a cup of coffee because of a lack of options, I end up feeling like a speed freak after just a few sips. Even as a kid, in addition to not liking the taste, I bought my mother’s admonishments that drinking coffee would stunt my growth and at a mere 5’2”, I didn’t want to take any unnecessary chances of not growing any taller.

I’ll never forget the first time I spent the night at my girl, Kim’s house, we were about 14 years old and I was shocked when one by one, she and her two younger brothers stumbled right for the coffee pot first thing in the morning. I sat at her family’s kitchen table, waiting for her parents to say something, but they didn’t. To this day Kim must consume a strong cup of java to get her day going.

I wish I could step down to only requiring a gentle cup of green tea each morning, but it’s not going to happen any time soon, not with the pace I’m forced to keep these days. For the moment, I guess I’ll assuage my D& D tea addiction with the fact that it’s not costing me a mini fortune everyday, because the cost of those chi chi lattes ain’t cheap.

Flawed Rationale

On Monday I saw a clip on the news where Hillary Clinton explained she expected to lose Louisiana to Barack Obama because of the state’s heavy Black population and she understands why the Black voters of Louisiana voted the way they did.

Sounds reasonable, but what about Obama’s sweep of the following:

Iowa, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah, Nebraska and Maine

Last I checked, there aren't significant numbers of registered Black voters in these states.

See, this is what happens when an otherwise intelligent person gets scared. They start spinning all sorts of flawed and weightless rationales.

Yes We Can!

Friday, February 8, 2008

'nuff said

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Route 17

I didn’t grow up in the city. I’m from the ‘burbs and in fact, I now live about 10 minutes from my childhood home. My mother did grow up in the city and when I was a child, I used to visit my grandmother, Nina, who still lived in the city.

I would spend weekends with my grandmother and the two of us would have a grand ‘ole time. She’d fix me silver dollar pancakes and serve me hot chocolate made with milk in a teacup. Nina wasn’t very tall, just shy of 4’11’ and she wore a size 5 shoe. She was the youngest in a family of four girls, who were so fair they often passed for white when they ventured out of their South Philadelphia neighborhood.

My grandmother didn’t drive, but of course that didn’t stop her and we’d venture out on our little adventures which often included shopping at Wannamaker’s or lunching at Horn & Hardarts, but no matter what trouble we were about to get in, to get there we had to hop on the 17 bus. When I was really small, I remember being frightened of all the different passengers and would hold my grandmother’s small hand as tightly as possible. I didn’t like it when we couldn’t sit together and I'd choose to stand by her seat instead of taking one of my own. I don’t know when these unsubstantiated fears subsided, but they eventually did and during these bus rides, I’d make up little narratives of the passengers getting on and off the bus.

When home on college breaks, my grandmother and I would go in town, shop in the Gallery and grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants in the mall, where we would treat ourselves to an afternoon cocktail. With all my college sophistication, I introduced my grandmom to Banana Banshees and on more than one occasion we headed home on the 17 with a bit of a buzz. Nina would nudge me with her elbow and instruct me to “take a wing,” as we made our way home from the bus stop.

In my late 20s I moved into an apartment, which was in the house that my mother lived in with her parents when she was a little girl. A few years later, Loverman and I lived in a house next door to this very apartment and once again, I became a frequent passenger on the 17.

The 17’s route travels north on 20th Street and south on 19th, and to this day, just seeing the bus triggers the most comforting and happy memories, while reminding me of who I am and where I come from.

Monday, February 4, 2008

More Lessons Learned

If anyone read my blog yesterday or earlier today, you’ll notice I removed my latest post. I removed it because the subject of the post (a high school student) asked me to and although I did not identify her by name, it’s become apparent that my post and its reach made things a bit stressful for her and that was not my intention.

I wrote the post in an attempt to gain perspective on a situation and I solidly stand behind what I wrote. If the subject of the post had been an adult, I probably would have let the post remain. But my experience with this young lady was neither wholly positive, or negative, and as a mother of a young girl, I am particularly interested in the space where teenage girls currently inhabit and I realize that as a teenager she is still growing and learning.

As I told the young girl, her actions have repercussions, and again, I meant her no harm. I, too, have learned an important lesson, that in spite of the limited responses I receive to various posts, people are reading and my reach and scope may be deep and wide. It also reinforces my personal mandate to continue to be as truthful as possible, as well as mindful of how my words may impact others.

Friday, February 1, 2008

How to Raise a Reader

For me, reading is almost as essential as breathing. It hasn’t always been this way, when I was in kindergarten my dyslexia was diagnosed and I became extremely self-conscious when reading in front of my classmates. It wasn’t until 5th grade, when all of the tricks I’d learned from tutors seemed to click and reading became effortless for me. Since then, I’ve been a ferocious reader and books my constant companion.

As I headed into my teen years, I ripped through every Judy Blume I could put my hands on, from The Dog Ate My Homework, to Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, and Deenie and who could forget Forever? All the girls in my 7th grade class passed this book around with underlined passages detailing the PG-13 sex scenes.

I admire the way folks remember a specific song marking a personal milestone, like… “when I was a dating Mr. X in 1992, so and so was always playing on the radio,” but for me, I’ve marked milestones by what I was reading at the time. For instance, the first care package my mom sent in college included a paperback copy of The Color Purple and the cover was stained because the jar of peanut butter my mom included in the package cracked and leaked in transit. I had just finished reading Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaaatje, on May 22, 1998, the day I met Loverman. Days before I’d finished Chasin’ the Train by J.C. Thomas. Some people need a little cocktail to relax, but for me a stroll through Borders, usually puts my mind at ease.

So, if reading is fundamental to raising intelligent and insightful children, what steps can adults take to engage children in reading? Here are a few we use in our household and I welcome any additional suggestions:

1. Read to your children daily
2. Surround yourself with books
3. Let your children see you read, children mirror their parents behavior
4. Take your kids to the library and let them select age-appropriate books
5. Be flexible, encourage reading in any form, my son loves comic books
6. Talk to your kids about what they’re reading
7. Let your kids know how much you enjoy reading