Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I am an Advocate

Those who know me personally, know that I am passionate about my own kids' education.  I believe that, without a doubt, no one will advocate on their behalf more than I will.  That passion rolls over to their elementary, middle, and high schools, to our school district, and to students everywhere who deserve to have someone looking out for them, making certain they have healthy and safe options and opportunities in education and their community.

So what happens when 200 of the most die-hard and like-minded advocates for students from across the state of New York State get together for the weekend in one location?

Leaders are born and inspired, and change begins to happen.

As the current Vice-President of my son's elementary school PTSA, and having also been recently appointed to serve my Regional PTA Board as the Education Chair (Because apparently I actually enjoy reading and keeping tabs on what's happening in education!), it just made sense to accept the invitation to attend this summer's state PTA leadership conference.  I thought about it for all of about two minutes, before I excitedly said "yes!" and agreed to attend.

I've been an officer in my local PTSA unit for the past seven years and I felt pretty confident that I had a decent understanding of policy, procedure, and the in's and out's of PTA.  I already knew that this was a powerful group of passionate individuals that do so much more than just local fundraising and the annual family fun night at school.  I understood that PTA is also a state and national association that collectively keeps their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the lives of our children.

Over the course of this weekend I sat in on workshops concerning:
  • the current hot topics in education
  • the differences between a PTA and a "PTOther"
  • improving the PTA-Principal partnership in our school (which, for the record, is already pretty fantastic!)
  • key issues with the current testing trend in our schools
  • taking action through advocacy and lobbying for change.
  • how to involve youth members in our unit (because, after all, we're fighting FOR these students, who better to stand alongside with us?), and
  • education updates for students with disabilities.

By the end of my weekend, I had come to a very vivid conclusion - I was in the midst of fellow advocates who understood my passion and were just as committed as I am.

I "get" that there are personal opinions that I hold onto that don't always completely line-up with the  position that the PTA has chosen to take.  What I've come to realize is that it's okay.  PTA advocates for every child.  Some of the opinions I hold on to are just that.  Mine.  Not those of every child or family.  But those differing opinions are still being brought to the table by other advocacy groups.  Awareness IS being raised, people ARE listening, and change CAN happen.

This past year in the state of New York, and across the country, education has been and continues to top the news media sites.  Politics are being played with our children's public education, parents either love or hate the Common Core, mandates and reforms keep us guessing. More than ever, we need passionate people who will step forward, and be a part of the change the will allow opportunities for our students to continue to thrive.

We are raising our own next generation of advocates!


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Meeting Jack In The Rain

This was one of those rare mornings when I was up, awake, showered, dressed, dropped a kid at designated location, and managing to run errands....all before 10:00.  These kinds of mornings don't generally happen very often when you're a "non-morning" person, and quite honestly, it amuses me when I find myself being that productive.

On this rare productive morning, I stopped at a local grocery store to pick up a few things.  It wasn't even my "normal" store, but one that I drive by frequently.  While I was standing in the check-out lane, I noticed that it was exceptionally dark outside...and raining.

Is there anything more frustrating than trying to load groceries in your car when it's raining?  How about when it's pouring rain?  Having to walk out into the rain with your shopping cart and dodge the drivers who don't see you but are only focused on the empty parking spot straight ahead.  Or attempting to avoid the small lakes that are forming in the parking lot, or shielding yourself from the raindrops - which is just physically impossible.

I stood just inside the automatic doors contemplating getting stupidly wet or waiting it out.  Knowing that my other two monkey children were waiting for me at home, however, made my decision for me.  I pulled up the hood on my jacket and got ready for shower #2 of the day (If only I had brought my body wash and shower poof with me.)

"I picked the wrong time to walk to the store."

I looked to my left and there was an older, distinguished-looking gentleman, in shorts and a t-shirt without a jacket.  I smiled at his attempt at levity and we both rolled our eyes at the wall of water falling outside.

I don't know what caused me to react instantly, but I did.

"Sir, where did you walk from? Can I give you a ride there?"

This gentleman looked at me in disbelief.  Yep.  I had just offered a stranger a ride.  (My poor mother  is probably reading this in horror thinking she failed at giving me the "stranger danger" talk.)

"Would you mind? Really?"

No, I didn't mind.  It was pouring rain and there was some minor flooding going on in the streets.  We could have rolled our eyes together at the weather and I could have walked out with my groceries, and not have had another thought about this stranger.

But I didn't.  The ride was basically just across the street and down the block a bit, but far enough that anyone walking would have been completely soaked and their bag of groceries water-logged.  And for that short 5 minutes, I got to meet Jack, and learn just a little bit about him (he used to work for the post office downtown for 30 years until he retired 8 years ago).  We exchanged a short pleasant conversation this morning at a time of day when I'm normally not even functioning.

As I drove home I thought about this chance encounter with Jack, and I said a quick thank-you for the opportunity I had been given to meet this gentleman.  May we never become so self-absorbed in our own little smart-phone worlds, or fearful of the evils of the world, that we miss the chance to help a stranger truly in need.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Hug Good-Bye

When you are moved in such a way to write about an individual, their life and their character, it's a telling way to remember them when they're so important to you.  It speaks volumes, however, when more than one person will find a way to express themselves, writing in such a way that you desperately want the world to know the importance of these people in your world.  My brother already penned his tribute to this special couple and he wrote the words that I couldn't find myself at first within those early hours.  Today my heart is sad because I will miss this woman's smile, but the memories of her are sweet....

Yesterday morning, I received a phone call from my mom (ashamedly before I had even managed to get out of bed on a lazy Wednesday morning) and her words echoed in my still-foggy brain.

"June's gone.  She passed away last night."

Sweet June.

When I think of June, immediately I remember her husband, Jiggs.  (Because the names "Jiggs & June" always rolled off the tongue together naturally.) He passed away some time ago, and ever since then, it just seemed that a piece was missing.

I remember as a little girl, our family would spend time at their home - and I remember thinking it was such a great house that was set back deep in a wooded area, with a driveway that twisted and turned and seemed to go on forever.  My brother remembers our family visiting while the men would discuss church business, but I just remember visiting because we would be in the area, "Hey! Let's stop in and visit Jiggs & June!" (See, I told you the names together just flowed naturally off of the tongue.) Whatever the reason for the visit, my family was always welcomed into their home as friends.  Jiggs would greet you with an enormous smile, a strong handshake and a slap on the shoulder, and June would greet us with open arms and would always hug and kiss us goodbye.  Much like my very own grandmother, whom she happened to be best friends with.

I remember my birthday parties, kindergarten graduation, extended family Christmas, high school graduation celebrations, and my own wedding....all of them included June and Jiggs as part of our family just as they had included us in their home.

It was a natural fit.

June also played a fierce piano.  On more than one occasion we would hear her practicing for Sunday's service - the sound of her fingernails clicking on the ivory keyboard and the music flowing almost effortlessly as she perfected the choruses that would be sung that weekend.  She had a gift.

It was not all that long ago when my mom received a phone call while living in Texas that would eventually lead her back to June.  A short time later, I had my own reunion with June and was able to introduce my children to this special woman.  I had moved out of state almost 20 years ago, but I wanted my children to know what she meant to me, and to be able to meet her for themselves.  Time and illness had caught up to us, and to June I was now merely "Shirley's daughter."  She no longer remembered me, but yet she still welcomed me into her home with a smile.

We recently returned "home" for a visit to mom during our Spring Break, and I was able to stop and have a quick visit with June in the facility where she had been staying. It was a mere 10 minutes, and she no longer remembered me even as "Shirley's daughter."  But those few minutes I was able to sit with her, and hold her hand while I visited with her were a treasure.

And in typical June fashion, she hugged me as I said goodbye to her.


Friday, March 27, 2015

The ACLU vs. Small-Town America

This week, I sat and watched from almost 400 miles away as the news broke on social media and online news outlets that the ACLU was taking issue with my alma mater in Ohio.  Small-town America at it's finest, it's a place I hope to never regret growing up in and graduating from high school.  

Since then, on more than one occasion, I've become angry.

To explain briefly, SOMEONE complained.  SOMEONE didn't like that the district was having religious assemblies prior to Thanksgiving and Christmas. SOMEONE didn't like that the school district values "honesty and Christian values" as stated in the high school student handbook.  Of course, who this particular SOMEONE is will remain a mystery for now, because they get to maintain their anonymity while the ACLU sends letters and makes threats on their behalf.

That angered me - because I don't do bullies.  Just ask any other education advocate in the state of New York right now.  We have one big bully sitting in office in Albany.
(But I digress...)

So is it really bullying?  I mean, let's face it...a public school system really CAN'T do those things.  So maybe I was just angry that said individual(s) didn't just make the attempt to handle it themselves with district leaders, but instead they went straight to the big guns.  Or maybe they did -  Had they been blown off?  

And all of THAT made me angry.

In complete transparency, I will admit that I have no recollection of having assemblies like those that are described by the complaint and what is being reported in the media.  I also don't recall the particular phrase in question from the handbook.  Shoot - I barely remember having a handbook!!  Whether that is because I'm older, and I simply can't remember those details or if it's because they just didn't happen 25 years ago - I have no idea.  

And that infuriates me (that I'm getting old)!

I was born and raised in this particular small town, and I don't think I could have had a more conservative Christian upbringing.  30 years ago, I might have even stood alongside my fellow Christians and yelled and kicked and screamed with the rest of them that my Christian beliefs were being infringed upon by attempting to silence these religious assemblies and unacceptance of a simple phrase of "Christian values".  

You know - I would have gotten angry.

I can just imagine the closed-mindedness of both sides.  Actually I don't have to imagine it, because I've spent the past few days reading it on social media as this story broke online.  There's just nothing like the ACLU taking on small-town America to make people go just a wee-bit crazy and light up the internet as they spout law, fact, scripture, and opinion to make their voices heard over one another.

Tonight, I am writing to hopefully help lift the blinders off of both sides of this argument that has unfolded on social media this week.  Online words of angry individuals who believed that this was a long time coming for the school district, and on the other hand, those who believed that their rights are being trampled on. Claims of intolerance, hatred, and ignorance - all tossed into that virtual arena as fast as fingers could fly across a keyboard.  

So here it is.   I'm going to make a statement that coming from a born and raised, good,  conservative Christan girl, it may just shock my former minister and Sunday school teachers back into their pews.

As much as it pains me to say this, IF  the complaint is accurate - and I have no certainty of this one way or the other - the ACLU would be correct, and indeed, "Houston, we have a problem."


Before you begin to write that hate mail, and before you begin to pray for me that my fundamentalist faith might be restored....


Because I would NEVER, under any circumstances, want or allow my own children to go to school and learn ONLY about Islam, or ONLY about Buddha, or ONLY about Wicca.  And it is that same freedom of religion that protects my children from that very thing happening, that protects other children from having ONLY Christian beliefs enforced on them.  It MUST work both ways if it is to work at all.

Be very certain:  Our children CAN read their bible in school and our children CAN pray in school. Nobody is taking away that right - not some unknown individual with the ACLU, nor any local leadership.  What can not happen, however, and what should not happen is the allowing of individuals in a position of leadership enforcing any singular religious beliefs as the "norm".  

So instead I offer you the following.  Let's teach our children to be strong independent thinkers who know that they can bow their head freely on their own in the school cafeteria and thank God for that meal.  Let's teach them to be strong and courageous enough to carry that Bible in their backpack to school and pull it out during independent reading.  Let's stop complaining that "God isn't allowed in schools" and teach our children about the religious freedom that they do indeed continue to have.

God bless us, everyone.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Orange Jell-O

Three days before Christmas, and here I am with my teenager as he recovers from having a wisdom tooth removed.

Yep.  A single wisdom tooth.  We both know it could be so much worse, but given that the teenager still has a mouth full of corrective metal (otherwise known as "orthodontia"), the surgeon suggested only removing the one tooth that could be counter-productive to the straightening process.

So we've been preparing for today.  Planning the soft foods that he may want to eat when he's ready to attempt eating again.  Soup, applesauce, pudding, milkshakes, Jell-O...

But for whatever reason, my kids have never taken to Jell-O.  It was the "go-to" food when I was sick as a kid, and it didn't matter what illness I was suffering from, gelatin was the cure.  The flu meant you got orange Jell-O  - because the red was just {ugh} when it came back up.  But if I was ailing with a non-regurgitating variety - like perhaps, a sore throat? Or one of the many Oscar-award winning performances I gave on what was surely my death bed?  That's when the cherry Jell-O came out.  Naturally, I've always tried to pass that goodness along to my children.  And they just don't get it.

At least I didn't think they did.

A few days prior to this surgery, I mentioned Jell-O to the teenager, and he was excited that the fruity jiggling fun was in his immediate future!  He even requested that his treat be orange flavored, and even though he was going against non-regurgitating sickness protocol by requesting orange flavored Jell-O when there wasn't even a chance of it making it's way back up, I happily added his request to my grocery list.

Something you should know - as a busy, over-involved mom, I've come to realize the importance of the shortcut and I think that the invention of the pudding cup may just be about the greatest thing ever - especially when there's a chocolate craving to be satisfied.  Not to be outdone by the pudding cup, however, there is also the Jell-O cup.  Ready made and ready to dip into.

There I was, strolling through the grocery store - with the teenager's orange request on my list, that I came across the Jell-O cups and went to grab a 4 pack off of the shelf.  I very nearly picked it right up and merely tossed it into my shopping cart without another thought.

Orange Jell-O - checked off the grocery list.


I couldn't do it.

As my hand reached forward, I thought about why I was buying Jell-O in the first place. Who I was buying the Jell-O for?

Ahhh yes.  My first-born and his unending oral care.

Then, just for a brief moment, my mind instantly raced back to all of the times that my own mother had made me Jell-O when I wasn't feeling my best.  How many boxes and packets of flavored dust did she tear open and stir into the pot of boiling water for the two minutes time it would take to dissolve?   How many times did I shuffle out to the kitchen and open the refrigerator door to see the little bowl shimmering and wiggling already prepared for me (This was before the day of the Jell-O cup convenience).

I don't know what it was, but at that moment I thought to myself that surely I can take the 2 minutes to stand at my stove and stir in the packet of flavored dust.  Surely, when my son will be feeling what is possibly the worst he's ever felt in the 14 years he's been on this earth, I can do something.  Mother-to-son.  A small act that shows him, yes, he's worth a package of Jell-O and 2 minutes of my time.

Because he's worth the world to me.

~ C.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Snovember 2014"

We were responsible.  We were prepared.  We were ready.

The cars were filled with gas.  I had gotten groceries just a few days prior.  I even had a plan of "family fun" for the monkey children.  We would bake cookies!  Play board games!  Build snowmen and snow forts and have snow ball fights!

We're Buffalo.  This is what we're known for, and it's what we do.  

It's Buffalo.
It Snows.
Deal with it.


Well maybe if you're not getting an entire season's worth of snow within a 3 day span!

I'm sitting here midway through Day 3.  That's 3 days of snow falling.  A LOT of snow.  Where I live, the snow is higher than me.  (okay, I'm all of 5 foot 2 inches, every place has snowbanks higher than me.)

There are travel bans all over - you know, IF you can actually dig your car out and drive somewhere.  Which you can't.  And if you do decide to be one of those few who make your way out into the street against the wishes of the local government officials, where would you go?  Everything is closed.  Or if the business is open, they're low on supply.  Gas Stations are dried up.  Grocery Stores aisles are bare.

The children have been home for all 3 days, and they've already called off school for tomorrow.  We haven't baked cookies, we've played one board game that resulted in an argument, and you can't build snowmen in a yard where the snow is up to your {ahem}, and the wind chill makes the snot freeze at the end of your nose.  

I'm going back and forth between being snarky, being the crazed mom, and being able to do nothing but laugh at the insanity of the position we're in.  

They say that by this time tomorrow the snow band will have shifted and we'll be able to dig ourselves out for good.  

It's like holding your breath waiting for Christmas to arrive.

Buried in Buffalo,

Friday, August 1, 2014

Make The Difference

Today was about remembering a friend, the legacy she left, and making a difference to honor that legacy.  For me personally, it was about getting in touch with the "powers that be".  My friend Cindy wasn't one to sit back and wait - she took action.  So that's what I decided to do today to help honor her memory.

One of my passions in life is my children's education.  I'm determined that the amount of money I pay in school taxes every year will be used to make sure that at the end of their school career my monkey children will have gotten the best, experienced the most, and they will walk out as accomplished and educated young adults because our school district will have excelled.

For multiple reasons...this has not always been an easy road to travel.

Over the past few years, I've learned that if you want to see change happen, you MUST get involved. The implementation of Common Core Learning Standards isn't sitting right with you?  Do Something.  Individuals and poor decision making skills at a local level?  Do Something.  Money being taken away from local schools while taxes are on the rise?  Do Something.

At the very least, become informed.

I made that choice to become informed and apparently in the process, individuals sat up and took notice.  The first time I heard the words "major educational stakeholder in the community" I thought, Who me?  You're kidding, right?  I'm just a mom!  Make no mistake, I quickly learned that there is no such thing as just a mom.  My choice to get involved in my son's education began with understanding the role of high-stakes testing at his grade level, then evolved into learning about the Common Core Learning Standards, and we moved on to what was happening at the local level, and don't forget about state-wide...and wait? What's this GEA thing and what do you mean our school (and others like it) have lost MILLIONS of dollars over what was supposed to be a one-year gig?

Yeah...I became informed.  And involved.  And today, in honor of my friend, Cindy, and the incredible education advocate that she was - I made a list of politicians and I called them.  I discovered in the process that I'm not a fan of politics.

Six politicians:

  • 2 state senators (1 from each party) 
  • 1 assemblyman 
  • 2 candidates for governor (1 from each party)
  • 1 candidate for state senator.  
Unfortunately, at no point during my phone conversations today was I actually able to speak with the individual in office, but was directed to an office staff member.  No big deal.  I like to think that even politicians really are busy and can't personally answer every phone call that comes into their local office.

State Senator #1 - The office staff member answered my questions and replied to my concerns immediately by blaming the "other party".

If you know where I live, if you watch the news, and you know the problems affecting my school district then you should also know that blaming others for the issues at hand is definitely NOT the answer that I wanted to hear.  Please don't play politics with my children's education.  Don't blame the other side and don't blame the other Legislative House.  Be a big boy, pull up your big boy pants, and  get these issues fixed once and for all.  If you tell me that you are just as concerned as I am with public education reforms and state funding -  Prove it.

State Senator #2 - I thoroughly enjoyed this phone call.  I didn't get a local office staff member, but received a return phone call from his office in Albany.  Bonus Points for effort!  Joe (yep, that's his real name) even answered my questions with real foresight into the future of the state of New York,  the role he believed our "beloved" education commissioner would play, and talked to me about the "2-year pause" on high-stakes testing and where we needed to go from here.

Thanks Joe, for renewing my faith in my own State Senator!

Mr. Assemblyman's office staffer was obviously annoyed with having to take my call and honestly I wasn't all that impressed with her either.  Buh-Bye.

Candidate #1 for Governor I had to email due to no phone # on her website.  Simple and to the point, will you repeal this if/when you get elected?  (In other words, "how badly would you like this registered Republican to cross party lines and vote for you?")

Candidate #2 for Governor - This office staff member seemed to think that all of the answers to my questions were on the candidate's website, which only made me think that they didn't want to take my call either.  If you want to run my state, you may want to get my vote...especially as a registered party member.  Just saying, you may want to try a little harder in the future.  The only reason I'm not giving up on you yet is, admittedly, I do like the idea of that "Stop Common Core" ballot line.   Make it happen!

State Senator Candidate - Again, no phone number available on the website, so I sent out an email expressing my concerns.  This is just a reminder to said candidate:  I have a choice to make between you and the Senator who already impressed me to pieces today.   I hope you remember to impress me with your reply.   (Side note...apparently our household received Mr. Candidate's "card" in yesterday's mail with a phone number on it....looks like I have another phone call to make!)

Look, here's the deal... Don't brush me off, don't blame the other party for not getting things done, and please - - PLEASE!  Tell me what I can do to make things happen.  I'm here and I'm paying attention, and if we all agree that these issues at hand are a problem, then let's fix it!

Are you part of the problem, or will you be part of the solution?