Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Chicago that once was

All this rain in Chicago lately has brought me back to a time when I was but a wee sprout.  It's a vivid memory of rain, flooding, roadways, and the things that went down in Chicago on a summer night in 1975.  As background, I grew up in Northwestern Indiana.  Then, it was a place of steel mills, Ford manufacturing, and houses thrown up in the 60s to accommodate the rush from the south to fill those jobs, along with the rush of soldiers returning from Viet Nam happy to use the benefits Uncle Sam gave them to set up housekeeping and raise a family.  It was a suburban place, in the shadow of the city of big shoulders, but it was also gritty with the residue of those factories.  Most dads worked, and most moms either stayed at home or held nursing, teaching, or secretary jobs "in the city" which meant taking the train into downtown.  As it is today, people there root for the Bears, not the Colts, The Bears, not the Pacers, but Indiana University basketball was the only college team.

One set of grandparents lived on the north side of Chicago, in culture a universe away from my neighborhood in Northwestern Indiana, but only about 45 minutes in good traffic.  The land traversed between passes some lovely neighborhoods that look onto the lake.  It also passes neighborhoods that had become crime riddled and still have issues today.  The Dan Ryan Expressway wound through 12 miles of the south side, giving a view of some Chicago housing projects that were beginning to become bleak, hopeless places to live. There were also many, many viaducts that spanned the expressway, connecting both sides for cars to turn around or people to walk across.  These viaducts had large drains that connected to Chicago's underground drain systems that were far from sufficient.  It wasn't unusual for these drains to back up and traffic to be at an absolute standstill for hours.  Chicago was in the Mayor Bilandic years, where the budget was cut to the bone and services weren't really helping people (Fun fact for non-locals!  Mayor Bilandic was literally defeated by SNOW.  An epic storm accosted the city, and in more cost saving measures, Bilandic didn't mobilize street cleaning crews for side streets for DAYS.  No one could get out, the city was near paralyzed, and it wasn't until days later people were free of snow and ice, just in time to vote in our first female mayor, Jane Byrne, who only had until then a small amount of the vote).

I don't remember why we were at my grandparents' house that Sunday, but I remember waiting as long as possible for the rain to die down. It was late by the time we'd left, and we must have been out of town somewhere, because we were transporting my cat home too.  I had to get to school and my mom to work the next morning, so we left when it was still raining, but less. We got to about 59th Street, and things slowed and eventually stopped.  The viaduct was flooded.  The rain stopped, and it was still flooded.  People got out of their cars to investigate.  We all knew it could be hours.  No one moved to go onto the side streets to try their luck, because night time in the summer then, flooding would not be a worry, but it would be replaced with others.

I remember cars, big glorious American made boats of steel.  We had a Gremlin (don't laugh).  But THESE cars, these were not the tame blue and white and maybe maroon or tan of my neighborhood.  No, there were purple cars, yellow ones that were so bright, they could have been the sun, with windows dark as night so it would be impossible to know of one or ten people were riding within.  An ice cream truck near us waited about half an hour before turning on his music and starting to sell off his cold, melting treats.  He was sold out in less than 20 minutes.  My mom, alone at night in a less than fabulous neighborhood, even by expressway standards with her 7 year old and a cat wasn't adventurous enough to take me to get ice cream.  I was crushed.

That was when a lovely caramel skinned beauty with a Tina Turner wig (the long red, not the spiky Thunderdome one) noticed me.  She cooed over my cat, cooed over me, turned to her ebony toned friend with teased out hair, and soon both were cooing over me and my kitty.  They were dressed in the fanciest dresses I'd ever seen. They had spangles and necklines cut so low little was left to the imagination.  What was left would be erased when the slits that went almost to their waists were seen.  My mom started gulping when she saw what we had coming toward us.  A giant of a man with a white fur hat (with a long feather in the band), a full-length mink coat, and a purple suit underneath was headed for us, not looking too happy.

The women, who called him "Daddy" a fact I questioned my mother at length about for months to no avail, told him they were sorry they'd drifted off, pointing out the unmistakeable cuteness of cat and girl.  Holding about 10 ice cream items in one giant paw of a hand, he looked at me, looked at my mom, the beat up state of our car, and he promptly told me to "pick you some, baby" and held out the ice cream.  Years later, my mom told me she was gulping air, hoping not to hyperventilate, on the other side of the car, as she could see beyond the ice cream, the coat, and the suit to the full gun holster that matched his size this man had strapped to his side. 

All of this took place over the course of about an hour.  It stayed dry, and soon we noticed people getting into their cars and starting to ease forward, only to stop again.  The ladies talked me up, and my mom made pleasant conversation with them.  As the man sidled over to my mom's side of the car, we heard a cheer from closer to the viaduct, and people scrambled to their cars.  The water had gone down, and we could pass!  My mom fumbled into the car, the ladies made sad faces we had to part as they licked their bomb pops, and the giant man came to my side of the car. He said "take care, baby" and shoved another ice cream in my hand, shouting that the ladies needed to get in car, and we parted ways speedily.

I looked at the sloppy ice cream I'd almost dropped because it was nearly melted through, my eyes getting bigger.  Then I handed my mom the $100 bill folded and wrapped around the package.  Mom told me to "be quiet" even though I hadn't said a word and drove on home.

The things that happen on a summer night in Chicago in 1975. . .

Friday, April 19, 2013

There's just something wrong with tweens and teens

In case you didn't hear, the Chicagoland area (I have a friend who HATES that phrase, says it makes Chicago sound like an amusement park, to which I reply IT IS!) nearly floated away in the wake of torrential storms.  Parts of four major expressways, along with countless streets were closed.  Our school remained open, where some others did not, but busses were cancelled.  This didn't affect us, as we live three blocks from the kids' schools.

Because I'm not a heartless beast, I actually drove my children to school yesterday.  My newly turned 12 Cubby has lately been refusing to dress appropriately for the weather because, um, well, he's 12.  I specifically told him to put on a water resistant jacket, NOT the gray hoodie he's been wearing around for weeks.  Just as we pull up to the school, I realize he's wearing the hoodie.  I launch into a stunning commentary (really, it was) on how tweens lose their dang minds before they get to 6th grade. 

As I pull up to the school, along with countless others, I see one, two, three, four cars spit out various 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.  Not a rain jacket or umbrella among them.  All in hoodies. 

They're all just brain damaged.  It's the only answer.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Are you tougher than a Boy Scout?

There's a show out new  many may not have heard of it you're not a devotee of the National Geographic channel or you don't have a Boy Scout in the house.  Obviously, I fall into the latter category.  We've been watching it like fiends, and while it has fallen into a bit of repetition, I highly recommend an episode or two.

Generally, it's a battle between present Eagle Scouts and men who are trying to relive their youth.  Sad but true, interviews with most of the adult men center around variations on the theme of "I almost made it, but I was just a few badges shy" or "I quit before actually becoming an Eagle Scout, and I want to prove to my son/daughter/brother/dead father I can still do it."  The problem with this premise is, they are adult MEN with sons/daughters/brothers/dead fathers.  They're usually in their late 30s or 40s.  One I think was hovering at the cusp between 20 and 30, but he's an anomaly.  And they're up against 16, 17, and 18 year olds.  You know, young men in the PRIME of their LIVES. There have been a couple adult males who won their individual challenge (all by only a small margin), but we've yet to see the adult males take all three challenges.  Usually, at some point, someone is wheezing and mentioning they thought they were in shape prior to the event.  I will also say, we've noticed the two who won their individual events had The Crazy Eyes, which you know when you see.  Even Brownie, who's only just turned 9, has commented on those individuals' rabid looks.

My point isn't that youth is great or to ask why no one in these adult males' lives informed them they were actually metaphorical lambs being led to the slaughter.  My point is, and I know I go on and on about the values of scouting, but here I go again.  Something has emerged in these competitions that warms my heart every time, and it makes me thankful for scouting.  Usually, the men--young and older--engage in a kind of relay challenge, where using the skills that would be earned in merit badges, they individually have to complete a challenge, then tag the next guy to go to the next location and do something else.  The scouts are usually off and running, but a small group of them stay behind until the adult male has finished too.

You'd think during this time there would be some significant trash talking going on by the scouts, but there isn't.  During the competition, there's a lot of "come on, you can do it" to their fellow scouts, but they don't negatively trash the other competitor.  While that may be the design of the show, I don't know, even more interesting, is they ENCOURAGE the other team.  The first time I saw it, it was after the scout competing had left the area.  The remaining scouts were giving advice about how to shoot a bag with a slingshot, telling the man to stay calm, breathe through the shot, etc. I made a point, in subsequent episodes, to look for this kind of interaction, and it came through every time.  There has yet to be a point where the scouts weren't gracious and exhibiting awesome team skills, even to those not on their team.

Think about that.  Extending team encouragement in the middle of a competition, to the OTHER team.  Where else do you see that?  Where else is competition had, and a friendly game is just that, a FRIENDLY game? I think about how we belittle helping others in our society, and we've become every man for himself.  The phrase "don't hate the player, hate the game" is really true.  These young men show that if we uplift the player, we uplift the game, and I'm glad that is being shown. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sexism! What fun!

So Cubby just told me something his science teacher said during their discussion of rocks and rock related fun.  He said when the teacher was talking about granite, he specifically said women really like it and asked if they knew why. 

Because it's expensive and heavy.  Women like expensive things and to make men carry around heavy stuff.

(crickets. . . )

What. The. Hell?! 

I know it was only a joke, but they're TWELVE!  Oh, science teacher I suspected was a douche to begin with, do we really need to put your bitter post-divorce archaic nonsense into the heads of sixth graders? Apparently, he feels that's a yes.

I feel an email coming on.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

I'm disliking these junior high years more and more

I've said it before, and I'll say it again that public education was not made for most boys.  Most boys, unlike most girls, aren't people pleasers.  They aren't motivated by wanting someone's approval.  They are motivated by exploring what they find interesting, even if that interest occurs at an inopportune moment.  They need to feel movement far more than girls.  That movement is what keeps them connected to the interest.  I've seen it time and time again in my son, his friends, when I've worked with high school students, and even in my college men.

This is all a preface to the issues Cubby has been having in school this year.  Not submitting homework is high on the list, but his teachers all of a sudden are hinting at that four letter acronym of ADHD.  Mind you, he's been in school for 10 of his 12 years.  He's chatty and moves around a lot, but not once has a teacher sat across from me and said "Wow, this needs immediate attention."  But this year, they're all over me to "get him evaluated." That would be fine, except I'm not a big proponent of medicating kids.  I know there are kids out there who cannot get through the day without medication to help them absorb ideas.  They need that medication, and I don't fault their parents at all for giving it to them.  But I don't think that NEED is there for Cubby.  He absorbs material just fine, even stuff he's not really interested in.  I think the teachers would be happier if he were quieter, but that's their need, not his.

Unfortunately, "evaluation" seems to be their only paradigm for helping Cubby to succeed.  We've got software where teachers can input students' grades and parents can check whenever they want.  However, I find the teachers wait a couple weeks, then post a myriad of grades, so I can't really catch Cubby on the cusp of doing badly, when only one assignment is missing.  He's often plunged into three or four missing assignments by the time I see the grades, which I check every other day or so.  I've asked for a list of the assignments prior to the due dates so I can remind from home.  They responded with "we want him to be responsible for himself" which I get, but he's newly turned 12, and that method isn't working.

The last meeting centered on "evaluation" again, to which I finally responded that if the goal of the meeting was to fast track Cubby to drugs, they'd better come up with a new agenda.  Having done my research (I mean, research is in my BLOOD, man), I'm even more against drugs for Cubby, and something new needed to be brought to the table.  They said they were setting up a new during school study group they had in 7th and 8th grade, and they thought "some" students might benefit from it in 6th.  The counselors taught it, and the counselors were given a list of homework due that was upcoming, so they could closely monitor if they were doing it (Doesn't it sound like what I was asking for? No matter, sign him up!).  Better solution, by far, than just getting an assignment book signed, when it wasn't forgotten at school or at home.

This started last week when they returned to school.  How many students is "some" you might ask.  Eighteen.  Eighteen is "some" and that's only for one counselor.  There are four counselors at the school.  Is it a mix of boys and girls you may ask.  No, it is NOT.  Twenty BOYS, whose parents I'm fairly sure were probably encouraged to medicate.  I just love how both Cubby and I were made to feel like he's an absolute anomaly, and there was something seriously wrong, when in reality, he's pretty darn common.  I wish there would come a time when our education system--and by the way, this is a stellar school and district--realizes all kids aren't the same, and they don't learn the same, because we've got a generation of boys who are getting the short end of the educational stick.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

My Best NCAA Final Memory

In 2001 the NCAA final was played on April 2nd, when Arizona went up against Duke's power house.  Why do I know this? Because I was busy trying to bring a human being into the world. 

Cubby was due on April 9th, and Hubbster declared early on that he would be born during the NCAA final.  Saying "all first babies are late," I declared he would come after.  Sad to say, a case of pre-eclampsia meant an induction, and more onerously, that Hubbster was right.

So there we were, 20 hours into some hard labor for me (a fact I relish reminding Cubby on his birthday) where I alternately told Hubbster his breath smelled too strongly of coffee, then said it was too minty.  I'd cursed him and his male kind, and I think I'd begged him to get a butter knife and I'd get this baby out.  The TV was turned to the game in an effort to give Hubbster some relief from my crazies.  I may or may not have flung a magazine at the TV at one point.  Really, I didn't get any air under it, as I was mid-contraction, so it looked like it dropped and could go either way. At some point the doc decided an epidural was mine, mine, mine!

The epidural doc who walked in was a bear of a man.  I yelled at him to get the lead out.  He got.  As he's about to do his thing with the needle, and I'm curled into a ball, he asked if anyone had watched the game, because he was an Arizona alum and had a few bucks on it.  From my near fetal position, I admonished him to focus.  He did, and I finally got a nap, after I'd professed my undying love for him.  For about an hour.  Then the lights went on, and they said Cubby's heart tones were bad. I needed an immediate c-section.

Scary as it was, this team sprang into action, and within maybe two minutes I was in an operating room.  As Cubby was taken out of me, with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and ankle, he wasn't breathing.  Hubbster rushed off with the nurses and Cubby, and I was left to still be worked on.  That bear of an Arizona alum held my hand the whole time, reassuring me that it would all be okay, and I don't even know his name.

In the end, it WAS all okay.  Cubby turned 12 yesterday, and there's almost no trace of that tiny little baby who gave us such a scare that day.  There is ONE spot.  They'd attached a fetal monitor to Cubby's scalp. In the effort to get him out NOW, they kind of ripped it out, creating a bit of a scab they assured me would go away.  It never did.  When his hair is short, there's a scar about the size of a dime in the shape of a heart on the side of his head.  It disappears soon enough, but I kind of like the first week into a fresh haircut when I can see it on the side of his head. 

I look at that spot and think of my little baby.