Monthly Archives: February 2011


Wisconsin. Hope.

This gallery contains 4 photos.

What is going on in Wisconsin is not just theoretical to me.  Nor as distant as you might think.  Besides having many close relationships there– I am still unemployed, after all.  There is something about this; about what does or … Continue reading

Wisconsin; 68,000-strong, continues to rock

I had the privilege of spending time on the phone with a woman very close to me who is a teacher in the Madison public school system– listening to her describe the local union meeting of attended by almost 3,000 people yesterday. She told me stories that made me laugh and cry– about how they didn’t have the technology to count votes on many issues on which they had to vote, so many times over they all filed out of the room and then walk back in either through the yes or the no door and be counted. She told me that she took the microphone and spoke of Nachshon who, when the Jews were fleeing Egypt and slavery, was the first to step into the Red Sea– not knowing, of course, what would happen.  As things always are– in a critical moment, there is always a person or a small group who take that first step.  Uncertain of what will follow, but knowing that they must take that step forward.

She told me how deeply teachers worry about public opinion and that the teachers worried about what is being said and thought of them.  She spoke of Rosa Parks, saying that when Rosa Parks sat down and refused to move to a different seat on the bus, they thought this would be a short, perhaps one-day or days-long boycott.  Which went on for a year.  And that when the all important bus boycott began, public opinion had not been on their side. That what was on their side was that they were right.

I listened to her as she figured out what she wanted to communicate when she will be one of a panel of speakers on a Madison radio station today– representing the viewpoint of teachers in Madison. As I have watched and listened, I understand more and more about how we can make each other hopeful and inspire each other to take bold action, to keep going, to do right, to not be passive and to believe that we can do big, significant things.   We need to keep letting them in Wisconsin know that we are watching, behind them, proud of them, on their side and standing with them.

There are about 68,000 people protesting in Madison today. I caught a glimpse of a protest sign that sums up my perspective on the meaning of preserving collective bargaining rights. It read: “Teachers’ Working Conditions are your children’s learning conditions”.

Today I cheer for the teachers, the parents who are supporting the teachers, the students out in support,  the firefighters and police who have resisted Scott Walker’s attempts to divide people, the working people not grumbling but figuring out alternative arrangements for their school children and for all of stand-up Wisconsin.

Here is the link to a NY Times op-ed piece called Wisconsin Power Play— about why this matters to all of us. The tag line is “What’s happening in Madison isn’t about the state budget.” I am glad that at least some parts of the mainstream media and the East Coast are catching on here.


If you long for many things to change in the world as I do, you may think a lot about the hopelessness and sense of defeat that seems so endemic (both of which feelings– defeat and hopelessness, I often experience myself).  When you periodically come upon the thrilling surprise, the amazing mystery of moments where a wildfire of activism, courage and dedicated, thoughtful, collective risk-taking, speaking-truth-to-power–are set in motion, you may wonder, “why did this moment result in forward motion rather than more hopelessness and inertia?”  I want to understand better and better what allows these hopeful, forward moving times to happen.  I want to bask in these moments of thoughtful, hopeful, determined action, and hopefully be part of one or more movements in which many of us will generate more moments that give way to action and forward motion.  So let’s talk about Wisconsin.

On Thursday, midday, I ran into a friend and neighbor who unexpectedly took me to lunch.  At the very end of our time together– she tossed out a quick comment about the wild uprising in Wisconsin.  I had heard from neither my sister nor one of my closest friends, both of whom live in Wisconsin.  I had no idea what she was talking about.

I raised a questioning eyebrow, she told me a tiny bit and we said goodbye.  I promptly searched the internet, and turned on CNN (despite an almost immovable policy to never watch tv during the day while unemployed).   I learned that in Madison, a mass protest was (and is still) underway led by roughly 35,000 school teachers, other public sector employees, and I think many students– in response to a bill that the recently elected, utterly dishonest Tea-party Republican governor, Scott Walker, introduced a week ago Friday– which would strip away most of the hard-won collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin public sector employees.

The bill was introduced on Friday, February 11 and slated for a vote on Thursday, February 17.  And the protest was going strong.  There are thousands of people who were and are still sitting in and protesting at the State Capitol in Madison.   I called one of my closest friends, a Madison public school counselor and learned more from her.  She had been at the State Capitol on and off for days and was involved as a member of her union, in the decisions made that set all of this in motion.  The reporting by CNN about Wisconsin consisted of truly reprehensible and utterly biased verbal attacks on the Democratic State Senators who had left the state house, in a legitimate strategic move to block a vote on a terrible piece of legislation that was going to be forced on the state of Wisconsin with less than a week’s time for public discourse, debate or amendment.  The CNN anchor kept throwing out accusations that in leaving the state to ensure that there wouldn’t be a quorum, that the Democratic State Senators were “not doing the jobs they were elected to do”.   In the most vicious and derisive tone.  When the spokesperson the anchor was beating up on, countered that the Governor had given no notice, no indication in his campaign that he intended to pass legislation that would strip workers of collective bargaining rights, the anchor said “Oh that’s just politics”.  Apparently lying in electoral campaigns is ok, but taking procedural steps, as an elected official, to block a vote on legislation with which you and thousands of your constituents have disagreement, is simply lazy.  If it helps to put all this in context, the Governor had sent the police out after the missing Democratic State Senators– to try to drag them to the State Capitol to ensure a quorum for the vote on Thursday.  I could and should go on and on about the distortions and bias of the CNN anchors on Thursday afternoon.  That what I heard from two different CNN anchors on Thursday afternoon pass as legitimate journalism astounds me.

But back to the subject at hand– I am deeply proud of the solidarity that is being demonstrated by the Wisconsin protesters.  And although I won’t try right now to articulate why; I think it is no coincidence– that this uprising, this saying of “No, we are not going to take these lies and moves to further silence working people” is happening in the Midwest.  I am proud of the Wisconsin protesters, of the history of protest in Wisconsin and I am proud that this is happening in my Midwest.

Although I have lived on the East Coast for over 20 years, I am a Midwesterner through and through.  This truth about me shows itself in many ways– for one, when I open my mouth and speak.  I was born and grew up in Chicago and suburban Chicago.  I got a lot of excellent higher education in the 70s and 80’s– all of it in Madison, Wisconsin.  I lived in Madison for about 10 years.  I learned a lot there– both in and out of the classroom.  I have often said that Chicago is my hometown but Wisconsin is my state.  So look beyond the mainstream media, and dig deep to follow this.  Although you won’t find much helpful or honest on CNN, Rachel Maddow, the Christian Science Monitor and many others have had some interesting things to say.   Wisconsin is important and what is going on there is profoundly important.  To you and to me and to all of us.

too cool part two

With important movement toward democracy going on in Egypt, certain important rights being eroded here in the U.S.– for example, in Wisconsin right now, you may well have had more than enough discussion of whether I am cool or un.  But given the chronic-ness for many of us females to be pulled toward being self-deprecating, and the increased chronic-ness of this in women as we head toward (or pass, as in my case) 50– I feel compelled to set the record straight.  If I actually listen closely to my daughter maybe I’m not uncool at all.

First, I read my previous blog post aloud to my daughter.  I don’t usually do this and she isn’t usually interested, but for the sake of a laugh together, I read her the previous post, the one that says I am not cool.  Her response was, and I quote, “Mama, you are too cool.  You rock.  I love you.” She is a kind-hearted girl, so maybe she just felt badly for me, but she told me to post her words on my blog.  But the evidence of “not so uncool” continued.

Second of all, yesterday morning she got up and got dressed to go to school in her skinny jeggings (a current girl thing that is a cross between jeans and leggings) and the tee-shirt from the much-loved-in-our-household musical about which I have written, “In the Heights”.  As I was fumbling around to throw on some clothes to get her to school, she came and stood in my room and said, “Don’t you have the same tee-shirt?  Is yours clean?”  When I answered each question in the affirmative, she said “You wear yours.  And your dark jeans.  I want us to wear the same thing today.”  I complied.  And I admit she looked great and I looked pretty great, but the thing is she wasn’t primarily sprucing me up (which she certainly doesn’t hesitate to do when she thinks it necessary)– she just wanted to be dressed like her mama and for her mama to be dressed like her.

And third of all– and most importantly– she has been asking and last night we did it– to start her own blog.  Now that is a pretty hopeful thing for the mama who thinks her daughter thinks she is uncool and for the same mama of a daughter– the mom who worries that the daughter is a struggling reader and writer.  She wants to write.  Just like I want to write.  She wants to write!!  She thinks it is a cool thing to do, to blog.  She is now blogging.  Just like her mama!  Because she is nine, I will not allow the blog to be very public.  But she wrote her first post and there it sits.  How cool is that?  Way cool.


I became a parent later than most– in my 40’s.  Although I wasn’t by any objective standard, I spent several years after my daughter was born and came into our family, feeling like a young mother.  I wasn’t a young mother, but I sure felt like one.  Things felt new and different and hopeful and exciting.  Walking around that first summer with my very new and small baby– it all made me feel like a young mother.  I had a couple of wonderful nephews by that time (I still have them, though they too aren’t as young as they were then), but they were young enough still (8 and under) that in terms of my family– I was still used to being the younger generation for many purposes.   Like for example my nephews weren’t clued in to pop music at that point.  If they knew popular dance moves at that point, they weren’t doing them– at least not in my presence.  Then they all started to grow up, and particularly my daughter.   

I have had to get used to no longer being cool.  She is cool.  I am uncool.  I still sometimes feel cool, but as she gets older she thinks I am not.    She wears cooler things than what looks good on me at this point.  She and my nephews know things that are passed on from young person to young person, things that I don’t know and have never heard of.  Music.  Turns of phrase.  Actors and tv shows.

It’s a really startling thing to have moved from cool to uncool.  I still don’t really think I am totally uncool, but it’s all very complicated and perhaps I really am totally uncool at this point.  My daughter can definitely do certain dance moves that I can kind of replicate– but well– really not.

Recently, we discovered together, some new music that we like a lot and I loaded it onto my Ipod.  I am not someone who walks around plugged into my Ipod all the time or even most of the time, but sometimes I do and lately, with this new music I do take the Ipod to the grocery store and out with me as I or we do things.  But I notice that I practically have to dance when I listen to certain things.  If my daughter is with me and I start to sway or bop even a little to the music, she tells me to “stop it, you’re embarrassing me”–  I think those are her exact words.  I don’t much like it.  Being embarrassing rather than cool, that is.  I do notice that other young people– people much older than she is but much, much younger than I am, listen to their Ipods all the time without so much as a twitch, let alone breaking out into hip-moving dance steps or belting out the refrain of a great song as they stand in line somewhere or walk past me on the sidewalk.  So I’m thinking that partly I’m just not cool anymore– that a certain part of cool just simply has to do with being part of a youth culture that no matter what I know, listen to or care about, I’ve simply aged out of.

And I’m also thinking that part of being a parent is offering yourself up as the uncool foil as your child or children age into cool-ness.  I do have a friend who is the mother of a very old friend of mind– she’s in her 80’s.  She is, and of course has always been, older than I am– since I met her 37 years ago, when I got close to her daughter, my good friend.  She (my friend’s mother who is also my friend) is, in my book, quite amazing and now, as she has moved into an age bracket that we often consider “old” I do consider her extremely cool.  She always was, but I am noticing it more now than I used to when I felt cooler myself.  I’m not in my 80’s but of course if I am lucky that is where I am heading.  So maybe I too am circling back toward cool, but for now, I just have to wait it out and try to walk around without dancing or singing as I listen to very cool music on my Ipod.  And I have to find and keep my own “cool” even as my daughter reprimands me for being just so not.

Cool, when she chooses cool clothes.

More of her style.

And then there's not even trying, just because she is. Herself.

We both like stripes.

Winners and Losers– part one

I started this post, as I said, before I got sick.  Now just coming back to it.  It refers to a sore throat coming on, which is, thankfully, old news but the ideas are ideas I’m just beginning to work to articulate.

For the longest time I have had a small post-it taped to my desktop computer monitor with a small hand-written list of topics about which I’ve wanted to blog.  Dating back to last year’s girl’s basketball season, when our school 4th and 5th grade girls team, coached by my partner and another woman, was undefeated until the final game, I’ve wanted to write about winners and losers.  I thought and wrote last season about the sweetness of seeing our girls win over and over.  But as the season went on, I began to think a lot about the girls on all the other teams.  Girls just like my girl.  The losers of all those games.

I’ve thought a lot about the topic for a long time, but especially since becoming a mother.  I know where I have felt defeated– and I know where I have kept fighting and where I have not, but since becoming a mother, and actually since becoming an aunt, I have hoped to create the conditions so that my nephews and now my own daughter– would never give up– never be left with that kind of final sense of defeat that we adults all have in certain places.  In many places, if we are that honest.  I wrote last year about watching my daughter run for Student Council several times and lose and watching her wrestle with the heartbreaking question that seems to have formed for her, “Maybe I am just not that kind of person– who can win something like that…”  It is not at all that I want to protect her from sad feelings or ever feeling disappointed.  Not at all.  But I never want her to internalize those feelings– nor any young person to internalize those feelings of defeat.  And I don’t want those experiences to come to define her narrative about herself.

I think our understandings of winning and losing and the things we do or do not question about the subject– are intimately connected to very deep and important issues– like racism and like classism, sexism, homophobia– anti-Jewish oppression and disability oppression– to name a few.  You know, the big issues.  How much we really believe that every single person is equally precious and deserving, or how much we actually believe that some people are truly better or more deserving than others (and our feelings about which groups we think we fall into)– are intimately connected to issues of winning and losing.  You may not agree, but at least for now, with a sore throat coming on, I’m just saying and not going to argue the point.

Watching my own daughter and other young people wrestle with the issues of being treated as losers in certain contexts and as winners in others is a big deal.  As the mother of a 4th grader watching the same young people since kindergarten, I see the ways the world has begun to narrow for each child, depending on where they have felt themselves successful or unsuccessful.  I also see the sense of entitlement set in for some children who are often designated as winners.  And frankly, it doesn’t look so good on either end of that stratification which suggests it’s a lousy system to get caught up in.  I’m thinking no one really wins when there are winners and losers as we know those things.  I think it’s all pretty important business.

So here are a few other things on the topic.  I like seeing these 4th and 5th grade girls get to play hard on the basketball court.  Really hard.  Trying really hard, and working on something full out– that seems a good thing.  But does this have to be connected to a winner and a loser?  In our culture, yes.  But I know our culture is so very, very limited.  Maybe, just maybe the answer is no!  This year our girls’ basketball team has won all but one of their games.  But the games have been much closer and everyone has had to play harder and figure out more about the game.  They actually seem to be having more fun than when they just creamed the other teams last year.  Still, I see the tears on the faces of the girls who have been on the losing end of the games lost.

I was especially interested in the conversation I had with my daughter in the evening after they lost their game.  I said, “well, it’s ok.  It’s not a big deal.  You all played hard and you played well and you lost– it’s ok.”   I’m not sure I really think it’s ok — but I do know that if there are going to be winners and losers it’s better the more evenly each designation is spread around.  When I told her it was ok they lost, she said to me– genuinely puzzled “Everyone says it isn’t ok.  Everyone says it’s bad to lose.”  And of course I am right that it’s ok to lose and of course she is right– that it really, really isn’t.  Completely right. I mean although we mouth that it’s ok to lose, any idiot knows it really is not.  That’s a pretty big lie in this culture, but you don’t have to watch more than one World Series or Superbowl or presidential election to know the truth.  No one goes into those things saying, “Well, I just want to try something out here.  But win or lose, whatever happens, it will be the effort that mattered.”

So I’m mulling this over– what it would mean to raise our children in a world that really does not call out winners and losers.  What could we do if we had never lost anything?  Never been designated the loser?  Or the winner, for that matter?  I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that you don’t know either.  None of us does.  Good food for thought, though.

When you’re sick, bring the sun inside…

While there are important, historic events moving along in the world outside, we are still inside, getting over our winter colds/flu/– mine, my doctor named bronchitis– something I’ve not had for a long time.  We’re getting better, but we’re not there yet.  Still, stay tuned.  Yesterday was a remarkable day with my daughter– really because we were home sick together.  Because things moved slow.  Because we had no place to be.  In the meantime here are all the forms of sunshine I could find to pull inside.  I picked up the items below on a very short grocery stop after my visit to the doctor the other day.  And my two girls. 

Oranges, tulips and some Emergen-C to carry us through. February, 2011

My girls, in pretty good spirits considering.... February, 2011

Update: sickness befalls the household

It’s many days again that I intended to write.  But days have gone by.  I returned from Seattle to a planned visit (it had been way too long) from my daughter’s brother and one of his moms.  I flew in on a red-eye and they arrived just an hour after I got home for about 24 hours on Saturday before last.  We loved seeing them and I especially love seeing the two young people together, wrestling, running, art-making and now, they began playing a certain computer game, side by side.  (Which I don’t love as much as the  wrestling, running and art-making, but every generation has its–things-that-younger-people-do-that-older-people-worry-about moments.  The time spent at the computer by my 9-year-old, is certainly one of my worries.  I do not discount it just because every generation has such worries.)

Then just two days after they left, my partner got sick.  Really, really sick.  Like staying-in-bed-all-day-sleeping-not-eating-sick.  The doctor said it was  just a really bad upper respiratory infection he was seeing a lot of.  We took care of her and I did all the rest– shuttling to and from school, dishes, homework, etc.  I knew my partner was really sick because she missed basketball practice for the 4th-5th grade girls team she is coaching.

On Saturday she was a little better.  Late afternoon we all ventured out together to a museum– which had an amazing exhibit of skyscrapers built to scale in Legos.  We liked it especially because about half the buildings represented were from Chicago, my hometown, and a place where my daughter has spent a lot of time.  She had brought paper and pencil and clipboard with her and furiously took notes and wrote a report about the buildings as she looked.  Which, in any case, but given her reading and writing struggles, was quite wonderful to watch.  I mostly want her to read well and write well because it is a joy, because she has and will have so much to say and to want to know.

We went to dinner at a close friend’s house with another couple that we’ve been very close to since our daughter was three. The adults sat and talked and caught up and the four children of our three families ate with us and played and played.  I was clearly on my way down, though.  By the time I got home I had a fever of 101 and I slept– really all day Sunday– I mean all day– and pretty much all day yesterday.  My daughter went to school without complaint, and my partner returned to work but only for 3/4 of the day.  In the afternoon, when she and daughter came through the door, my daughter stripped off coat and boots and hat and curled up on the couch where I had perched myself and fell into a deep sleep.  When she woke up we took her temperature which was 101 and then later 103.9.

All of us, down for the count.  I have a long history of asthma and this kind of respiratory thing really takes a lot out of me.  I am so glad that this is a team effort with my partner and me.  This is definitely my shout-out to women who somehow care for their one, two, three, four or five children on their own, through sick days like these– their own sick days or their children’s.

I started another more serious post last week after watching our girls play basketball– called Winners and Losers, about their games about the meaning of winning and losing in our culture.  I hope to finish and post it in the coming weeks.  But for now it is all about a house full of people who are sick.  Cancelled appointments, changes in plans.   Ibuprofen.  Did anyone eat anything today?  Has my daughter been drinking enough?  Have I?  Everything, postponed.

In the foggy haze of fever and sleep I did talk to my sister and my mother yesterday– to remember together that yesterday would have been my father’s 85th birthday had he lived that long.  I thought about him both in and out of sleep yesterday.  And miss him still.