Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Rare and Unexpected Gift

This morning as I was driving my kids to school, a memory came to me, so vivid that I could have crashed my car because it felt as if I was in the moment. Driving home from Navy Pier with my grandmother, after having seen Henry VIII at the Shakespeare theater, she was singing in the car. In my head this morning I swear I heard her voice. I don't even know what she was singing - and didn't that night - but I could hear the joy in her voice as she sang.

That memory brought me to tears this morning. It's been a year and a half since she passed, and every day I still think about calling her. At least half a dozen times I've almost bought things for her, only to be hit again with the fact that she's gone.

A few days ago I was telling Daimean a story about her, and he told me that he's jealous because he never really got to know her. When she was in the hospital he'd offered to write her memoirs, because he was absolutely fascinated by her stories. That thought still makes me smile.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sunset Over Selma

***Here's one from the archives of Sept 2013. Not only did I have a wonderful week with a new client in NC, but I made a friend with whom I'm still in contact today. Someone I never expected, who I found to be funny and inspirational. The lesson here is to always keep an open mind. Or whatever. Oh, and stay the hell away from Bojangles.

This week I'm in NC for work. Here's what I know about NC from my short time here:
1. It's very, very green.
2. The food scares me a little. What the hell is a Bojangles?? 
3. No one is in a hurry here. I'm from Chicago, I do not have the patience for this. 

I've only been here for a few hours. Already I want to go home. It's going to be a long week. 

Most of what's on tv is all about 9/11. Of course I watch it, I'm a masochist at heart. Why? Why would I watch the retelling of a horrible attack on my country? Because this year, the tone of the specials has changed. It's got a very positive feel. Crazy, I know. But last night I watched interviews with people who talked about how they made it through, how they banded together to help strangers, and how they're honoring those they lost that day. Now, I don't believe that people have forgotten the hurt or the pain. I do, however, think it's healthy for those directly affected to be able to put their lives back together, and be able to be happy, and not let that day define them. And as Forrest Gump so succinctly put it, that's all I have to say about that.

A Year

What can happen in a year? What can change in a year?

The answer is both "everything" and "nothing" even though that sounds patently impossible. The things that have changed are mostly intangible, at least right now they are. Not one to be negative or down for any long period of time, I'm often even more positive and hopeful these days. I find myself downright giddy lately when I see the potential in our lives. As if we're standing on the cusp of something new that I can't quite put my finger on.

I expect I'll be back soon with details.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

This Too Shall Pass

In January, my grandmother, my beloved partner in crime, fell and broke her hip. After three grueling months of surgeries, infections and physical therapy, she came home for 5 whole days before she'd dislocated it again. More surgery, throw in an infection, and finally, her body could take no more. On March 24th, she passed out of this life. She graduated, if you will.

She was there in December for my much anticipated college graduation, she cheered and cried as she watched me walk across that stage. For that, I am thankful. For a million other things, for advice and laughs and hugs, I am infinitely thankful.

Each time I leave her house, because in my mind it's still her house, I sit in my car and cry. It's so fresh that I still have books of hers that I'd borrowed, and continue to think, "Oh! I've got to get this back to her" When I get emails on the upcoming opera season, I cry. I fear the day will some when I can no longer close my eyes and hear her voice. I fear my children will forget her.

She wasn't perfect, and she'd have been the first to tell you that.

After my graduation, she told me that one of the best feelings for her was when she was with my family. And by that, she meant my husband and children - not those other incidental people, most of whom she'd given birth to. She said that when she was with us, she felt so much love, and that our love included her, and never made her feel left out. That sticks with me now, and I'm so glad we were able to give her that, especially since there was so much turmoil in her life during that last year.

I miss her so much, and so selfishly. I'd love to be able to say, as so many others do, "At least she's not in pain anymore" but I can't. Because selfishly I can't see through  my own pain at having lost her. Terrible, I know. Maybe some day. Maybe some day I'll be able to think of her and not cry. Today is not that day.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pomp and Circumstance

I did it. I fucking graduated. Put on the cap and gown, wore my fancy honors medallion, walked across that stage when my name was called. That makes me a college graduate. Right?

Except that the idiot university I attended still can't get their collective shit together to figure out whether they're giving me my degree yet. The head of the history department did my academic review, because the Academic Advising department wouldn't see me. Or answer questions by phone. Or email. They were too busy fucking up the lives of incoming freshmen. So this nice man reviewed my record, recommended I take my last two classes at another school and transfer them in. I would then meet all the requirements to graduate. He signed off on it, indeed, even wrote a letter to the financial aid department (also known as my mortal enemies) attesting to the facts.

Some other person - who I am not allowed to go to directly, mind you - reviewed his review, and proclaimed it incorrect. Such efficiency, I'm surprised these people don't work for the government. They said I'd reached the limit of credits which can be accepted from outside institutions. "What are those limits?"I asked, as my student account clearly shows the limit being 90. The convoluted answer to that is that the limit is 60, except when it's 62, or sometimes 64, and yes, sometimes even 90. At this point, I enlist the assistance of faculty, because I figure they can help sort this out much quicker than I can alone. Aaaaand there's mistake number one.

The nice man who signed off on my graduation forms writes a petition to the Registrar, which is a very official sounding person, although I'm still not entirely sure what a registrar is or does. In it, he lays out what the issue is, but does not expressly state what should be done. He thinks it better to just WAIT AND SEE what the Registrar says. And so, for the next month, the Registrar says.... nothing. Graduation day is fast approaching, and I've already applied to a post baccalaureate program, set to begin in January. *Why have I applied to a program at another school? Because my idiot university only holds the classes for it during the day. Which is also why I had to take my last two classes at another school. Are you sensing a theme here? I'd like to point out that Access to Opportunity is one of their pillars of excellence. Mmmhmmm. Sure* Still, he does not reply. Of course I'd been pestering the petition writer to contact him again. I also went to another, highly respected (and slightly revolutionary, in the sense of he'd be holding pitchforks at the forefront of a recolution) professor and asked what else I could do. He suggested talking to the Dean and asking her to assist, and if that didn't help, going to the President. When I contacted the Dean's office, they wouldn't even allow me to make an appointment with her. What is she, the fucking Pope? They pushed me off on someone else, who also didn't return my call.

Turns out I'd met the president once, and had less than pleasant words with her at a Town Hall style meeting. What was the subject? I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count. I pushed her on why some required classes were only available during the day, and I didn't like her answer. She said it was a budgetary issue. I say it's a bullshit issue. If you know that you have students that work full time, and that your admissions department promises them that evening only classes will not be an issue, then you should either ensure all classes are available in the evening, or you should watch that stupid fucking cap you've put on transfer credits.

Anywho, the week of graduation came and I still had no response. It had been a full month already. The Registrar had apparently told my advisor that he would look into it and answer by Friday. Friday came and went with no answer. Monday was the Honors Reception, to which yours truly had been invited. At this point, I had skipped the other graduation gatherings, but dammit, I worked hard for that GPA and I was going to that reception. I went there, and I walked across THAT stage, received my medal, and smiled very nicely at the Dean and the President. That evening when I got home, I sent them both this email:

We shook hands at this evening's honors reception. I've got my medallion and graduation tickets, but after the graduation application audit, I don't have an answer as to whether I'll be walking across that stage this weekend with my classmates. Below is Dr. XX's letter to the registrar, written on my behalf, as well as the letter written this summer regarding the classes which are currently causing the issue. I respectfully request your assistance in helping clear this up so that I may graduate this Sunday. 

As much as I would love to have stayed at NEIU to obtain both my History BA as well as education, many required education classes are only offered during the day. This is what precipitated my graduation application, instead of my planned application to NEIU's COE. I've applied to an education program at another school, set to begin in January. Of course, it's contingent on the successful completion of my History BA from NEIU.

We've waited almost a month for a reply from the registrar, and while I understand he is very busy, my future has been put on hold. Any assistance you can provide would be tremendously appreciated.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this most pressing matter.

So you see, I was polite, was I not? There isn't a single f bomb in that message. The next day I gave it some time, waiting to see if either would reply. Well what do you know? Still no reply. My next step was to look them up on twitter and ask why I'd had no response from the registrar. Apparently that is what makes them take notice - the fear that potential students or their parents may see something negative about the school. The response was swift, but it wasn't complete. In that I mean that the registrar finally responded, but still did not resolve anything. My advisor responded, too, in a very unfriendly manner. He said that I should not have written to the powers that be, and I should not have gone on twitter because I wasn't doing myself any favors by complaining publicly. Oh, but I beg to differ. I got more response in one day than he got in a month. Not that it's done me any good, as now the school is on winter break, and I've still not received an answer. 

After everyone told me that the Registrar is the ONLY person who can overwrite the seemingly arbitrary transfer limits, he now tells me he is waiting for approval to accept these classes. Furthermore, he says I will be one credit hour short even if they do accept them. To this, I remind him that there are still three credit hours from community college which weren't transferred in when I moved over to this school. The reason at the time? They weren't sure what the transfer limits were, so they trasnferred just under what they thought the limit was, but said, "Hey, you can always move it over later if you need to." Ha, I say. Ha. He claims that the class was not transferrable then, and is not transferrable now. That makes me wonder if he's even looking at the right transcripts. 

And so, they're holding me hostage because of their own negligence and incompetence. I can't stay there to complete the education program, but they won't let me leave. Guess what, folks? No matter how long you sit there with your thumbs up your asses, eventually I'll finish school and become a certified teacher. For high school students. And guess which university I will warn them all against attending? Yours. Oh yes, with every breath I take, I will tell them what a horrid, backward institution it is, and that they should take their student loans and parents' hard earned money elsewhere. I won't be able to convince all of them, but I'll reach a good number of them. Especially when it's time to talk to parents about the college application process, and they look to teachers for recommendations. Will I be doing myself any favors then?


***Note: I did write this back in December, and have just received my actual, physical diploma. Suck it, NEIU.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard

Today, as Isaiah was talking a mile a minute in the car, I told him that when I was a kid, adults used to say that children should be seen and not heard.

Think about that for a moment. The huge difference between being a kid in 1983 and 2013. Not to put too fine a point on it, in 1983 kids were expected to entertain themselves and stay out of trouble. It wasn't just us kids that parents didn't want to hear from. They didn't want the school calling home, they didn't want notices from the library, they kind of just wanted to have a kid to dress up and show off at the holidays, and to sit down and shut up the rest of the time. There was none of this open up and share your feelings shit. Your parents did NOT want to hear it. If you broke up with your boyfriend and lay across your bed sobbing, they didn't validate your feelings and build you back up until you were in a better place emotionally. They told you to keep it down in there.

My uncle Sol would respond to emotional turmoil (or any turmoil, really) by saying, "By the time you get married, it'll be all healed." He said that for skinned knees, too.

When I was a teenager, my mother was horrified - yes, horrified is a good word for this - to find out that I'd had sex. Of course, sex was never, ever discussed prior to that day. When my mother found out I was taking birth control (courtesy of my grandmother insisting we visit Planned Parenthood) she freaked out, when maybe, just maybe, she should have said that if you're going to do it anyway (and I was) that it's important to protect yourself from more than just pregnancy.

Today my son brought home an assignment from his health class, asking students and parents to discuss appropriate ways to show affection, whether it's ok to have sex with someone you plan to marry, and how to prevent HIV. So we discussed, in both a clinical and (what I hope was) a realistic way. When my mother found out we'd had sex ed in 8th grade, all she said was, "Don't have sex." Oh well, I guess now I won't. Said no one ever.

It's amazing we didn't come out to be a generation of terribly emotionally stunted people. We were expected to not have any emotions or relationships until we left home, and then we were expected to embark on healthy relationships as functioning adults. Ha! Now parents are the extreme polar opposite, they want to be right smack in the middle of everything their kids do. It's as if they forgot how to parent and think they're simply older friendly type people who share a dwelling with these kids. Parents who think it's ok to accompany their kids to job interviews, and write letters to college admissions departments because little Susie deserves that spot even though she's only got a 2.3 GPA.

Wait a minute. Maybe instead of teaching us to be emotionally dead, or at least emotionally quiet, our parents were inadvertently teaching us the beauty of self sufficiency. You didn't get the part in the play because someone was better than you, now suck it up, kid. That made us suck it up and try harder next time. They sure as shit weren't writing letters to school administrators on our behalf. (See paragraph one, they didn't want to hear from those people, so they weren't exactly initiating communication) We had to do it ourselves.

Back there in the car, when I tell Isaiah that according to my parents' generation, children should be seen and not heard, he immediately told me that idea was woefully outdated. He said, "It's not the 80s!" and then he rolled down the window and screamed at the people on the street, "I am Isaiah! And I will be heard!"

Fuck yeah, kid.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Once Upon a Time, in Grown Up Land

Before I tell you this, you need to know something. I'm an adult, with a job and a mortgage, a 401(k) and life insurance. I have purchased and leased cars, and I understand payments and interest. I also understand risk management and credit worthiness, and the effect certain things have upon credit scores. 

Today I did something that felt dirty and explicitly wrong.

I applied for a credit card.

I know, that sounds crazy, doesn't it? How does a grown woman feel like a kid sneaking a cookie by simply applying for a credit card? Like any other good mental hang up, this one has a back story.

When I was just barely old enough to drive, I started getting credit card offers in the mail. And like most dumb kids, I opened a bunch of credit cards. Like, a whole bunch. And while I was responsible in that I paid the bills (well, the minimums) each month, I surely didn't track how much I was spending. Which led to my ultimate mortification of having my Carson's card turned down when I was buying a gift for my now husband. I stood there, defiantly telling them to check it again, when they finally said, "You've reached your credit limit, miss." I spent YEARS paying off those damn cards. 

Later, I was married and had a decent job, and started opening credit cards again. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson. This time it was two if us opening credit lines like there was no tomorrow. Thousands of dollars later, we entered a credit counseling program to pay off the cards. Strike 2! After some time, we were able to clean our shit up and buy a house. Cool, right?


Know what comes with buying a house? Furniture and repairs and broken appliances. Leaks and breaks galore. And when you run out of case for these things, you open up a Home Depot account. And a Lowe's account. And a Wells Fargo account. Then you take out a loan to consolidate, but end up opening more account afterwards. Then one day you take a look at your monthly bills, and all of a sudden a ton of seemingly small monthly payments adds up to eat away at a major portion of your income. Ouch. So you enter credit counseling. Again. 

A few years ago, stressed to the point of death by a job I hated, my return to school, parenting Thing 1 and Thing 2 and caring for my mother through her cancer diagnosis and treatment, I may have forgotten to pay a bill or 6. Like most households I know, I, the wife, managed the bills. Our cell phones would get cut off because I'd forget to pay them. Our car insurance lapsed. It's not as if we didn't have the money to pay them, it was simply that I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't think straight. So I took Jesus up on his offer of taking over the bills for Martinez, Inc.


Back when I managed the bills, I's sit up and night and worry to the point of physical sickness. If I was late paying the day care, I'd draft letters in my head to the director, asking for one more week to get caught up. I'd call our car insurance guy and beg for an extension. I was missing payments, overdrawing the bank account, double paying the cable bill. It was terrible. I'm so glad a responsible adult stepped in! Now, I don't even look at the bank account. I'm not even 100% sure when I get paid. Or when the car payments are due. All I know if that since he took over, we've actually had car insurance and cell phones. And he manages to pay for things like our new fence, and the sod that finally made our house look like a real house and not the scary dirt covered mess of a yard that it was before. 

My contribution to all this? Not using credit cards. (Let's not discuss my $40K in student loan debt just yet, ok? And the Bloomingdales account which is really for charity anyway....) I figure if he's managing the ins and outs of our money, the least I could do was not add to the balancing act. It's a little embarrassing at times to not have any credit cards. For my recent business trip, I had to go tell my boss that I don't HAVE any credit cards for booking travel, and so the company would simply have to do it for me. Yeah, way to be a professional adult there. Or when we had a collapsed pipe and didn't have any credit cards on which to put the thousands of dollars it was going to cost to fix. Yeah, had to go ask a friend, and we're STILL paying the monthly payment on that account. And probably will be forever (as I said, I do understand interest.)

So what prompted me to open a credit card? Especially after chiding a co-worker for her recent credit fueled shopping spree? Simple. Christmas is coming, and my dear husband manages our bank account. There's no possible way for me to buy him a christmas gift - which he tells me every year not to do, but really? - without him seeing exactly what it is and what was paid for it. And besides christmas coming, what if something happens and my kids suddenly outgrow everything they own? They are boys afterall. What if I need emergency shoes or coats or whatever for them? I can't exactly go to Bloomingdales for the essentials, now can I? Sure, that's my justification. It's rational. But it doesn't make me feel any less dirty.