Monday, December 27, 2010

Da Mayor

Two weeks ago, I attended the Raise Your Hand Coalition/Better Government Association's Mayoral Forum on Education. Only four candidates were present: Gerry Chico, Miguel del Valle, Carol Moseley Braun and James Meeks. Danny Davis was voting in Washington, and it was said that Rahm Emmanuel didn't want to acknowledge the other candidates as competition by appearing in the panel.

At this stage of the game, I'm pretty much a one-issue voter. And that issue is education. So it was with a vested interest (although apparently not one that represents "the people of Chicago") that I attended the forum, listening closely to each candidate's answers to Andy Shaw's questions. It was a fairly calm event, put on in the style of a panel of pontification rather than a discussion or debate—heated or otherwise. We heard from each of the candidates in turn as they responded to both Shaw's and Walter Payton H.S. students' questions about the problems and proposed solutions—whether theirs or someone else's—on the table about lower education in the city of Chicago.

My impression of James Meeks hadn’t changed since I first encountered him on the PNC Bank-Tribune panel in September: he’s great for comic relief, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with his “we at the legislature want accountability” stance on public education. It doesn’t really matter: he nailed his political coffin shut with his prejudicial remarks on minorities and then dropped out of the race.

Gery Chico started speaking and I initially liked what he had to say, as the former president of the Board of Trustees of CPS. I’d like to examine his record—just because someone touts a positive action as his/her responsibility doesn’t make it true. (I can’t remember the last time someone took responsibility for a negative action/inaction or mistake.) The whole idea that there were six years of educational reform and progress in CPS seems amazing. Is it true? It probably depends on your point of view and/or an in-depth analysis of the politics of education in Chicago over the past 10 years. Can anyone point me to a policy/results comparison of 1996-2001 and 2002-2008? I can’t be sure, but the fact that Mayor Daley was critical of Chico recently is probably a positive indicator of his ability to run the city and the schools.

I was less impressed in general with Miguel del Valle, although I give him snaps for not taking campaign contributions from city vendors. I started tuning out on his plan after he suggested community learning centers as the answer for poor education/parenting.

Another candidate I liked at the forum was Carol Moseley Braun. Part of the reason that I don’t like Sarah Palin is that I think the person running the country/state/city should be smarter than me. Moseley Braun has the kind of C.V. and poise that leaves me in awe. This will probably mark me as an elitist, but the thought of her representing the city of big shoulders to the outside world makes me smile. That said, her comments were very high level; I found myself wanting more “meat.” If we’re going to hold “the schools accountable,” what does that mean? Her characterization of past Chicago events were spot-on, but so what? Knowing where you came from is important, but it’s not a solution. Give me the goods.

What about you? Did you attend the Mayoral Forum? Are you watching any mayoral candidates?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Extending the Day

Yesterday, I spent an hour explaining CPS kindergarten matriculation to a co-worker. He was surprised to learn many things about CPS, but none threw him more than the average length of the CPS school day: an abysmal 5 hours and 45 minutes. He was also shocked to learn that unlike the suburban district in which we both grew up, the start and end times of the CPS school day are inconsistent across the country’s 3rd largest school district.

Coincidentally, my friend Sonia sent me this Catalyst story yesterday about the average length of school days at CPS versus elsewhere. It was published nearly a year ago, in January 2010, but with the mayoral election and just about everything else in Chicago (politics) in flux, now is the time to rally the cry of a longer school day for Chicago students. On the whole, they probably need it more than their well-heeled suburban counterparts.

As the conversation builds, I cannot help but look to my children’s school as an example. It’s an example not only of how the extended day can improve educational outcomes, but also of the cost such initiatives bear. While other schools fundraise for a climbing wall, auditorium update or a red-tape-defying exercise room, we’re spending countless volunteer hours to bridge the gap between the CPS budget and requirements for our teachers’ (much-deserved, in my opinion) salaries and stipends. I’m told that that the fundraising push will have an end-date when the school reaches full capacity not long into the future. Thank goodness, because I am not sure that half the school's families can continue to bridge the budget gap without developing a sense of entitlement, frustration or both.

Admittedly, I have elementary-aged children who are in 2nd grade and kindergarten, respectively. Except for The Boy’s disastrous preschool year at a local parochial school, I have no parental experience with other schools, or educational or curriculum models. Only time will tell if it’s the right choice for The Boy, The Girl, The Tot (Who Isn’t) and their 309 school and classmates. To some extent, I have faith in the system, in the teachers who say that the longer school day allows them to get deeper into subject matter and give students the tools and time to follow their imaginations. Besides, it’s what suburban districts do, and what experts increasingly say is the right answer.

In my late teens, I lived with a family in France who had 3 young children who were in K-4th grade equivalents during my stay. They attended class every day from 8 until 4, and a ½ day on Wednesdays. I have no idea if the French are as well-prepared for a successful working life as the rest of the world -- (they also have a lot of roadblocks to the educational system, beginning with the prémier bac en français, which can keep students in high school until they are well into their 20s) -- but they certainly emphasize the importance of classroom learning (and a full hour to eat one’s lunch and run around).

Quality of instruction issues aside, the truncated school day is yet another example of a policy decision that ultimately punishes working Chicagoans. When I suggested to my co-worker that he check that the school hours worked for his family's needs, he sputtered, "You mean, they are not all the same??" How on Earth are you supposed to get to work on time when you have to drop your child off to school at 8:30, or pick him up at 1:45 p.m.? Although some Chicago firms allow workers to flex their schedules, many do not. In the Chicago Tribune's list of top-100 Chicago-area companies, almost half were located outside the bounds of the city. Positive cashflow may be good for the mayor, but does it create an ideal urban environment for the worker?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Choosing the right school for your child - glimpses of life on the other side

I sometimes feel as if I’m a character in a plebeian version of The Nanny Diaries. As an activist, blogophile, volunteer and mother to three children within the Chicago Public Schools, I am often asked what I think about the system as it stands now. Do I like my children’s school? Do I regret not sending my children to an SE program? Would I make the same decision? How did I know that the school is the right fit for my kids? How do I know that now?

The people doing the asking are much the same as I was a couple of years ago. They are concerned about the arduous and very important task of educating our children. They are unable or unwilling to consider private schools, and are committed to city living. They are also worried and scared about what is going to happen in the next 5-6 months, and how those decisions—entirely out of their control—will affect their children.

The truth is: I don’t know these things. I was not sure if the school I chose for The Boy was the right one for his style of learning. Before we had ever seen the inside of a classroom, met more than one teacher or the principal, or had any idea what the school would actually be like, The Dad and I were attracted to the technology aspect of the school. I’ve heard Karen Lewis say that, although we're living in the 21st century, our school system is still based on a 19th century model. While it may be the only issue upon which Ms. Lewis and I agree, that technology is integral to the success of our society, both now and in the future, seems indisputable. 

How can a parent accurately judge what kind of learner their 5-year-old is? I often try to be deliberate and thoughtful in my parenting, but trying to figure out how to match the tab to the slots feels like rocket science: infinitely difficult. My criteria for choosing The Boy’s school went something like this:

1. He got in
2. It’s walking distance from our house
3. It’s got a technology focus
4. It’s a new school with new equipment
5. Its teachers are well-spoken and well-dressed
6. It’s backed by Boeing

Some studies suggest that it may not really matter anyway: family involvement is critical to student success.

And if The Boy’s kindergarten year was any indication, The Dad and I were very involved in his academic progress. I think this was the hardest adjustment for me. When I was in K in 1979, I went for 2.5 hours, sang songs, drew pictures, learned my letters and how to get along with the other kids in my class. I didn't have daily homework until I was in 7th grade. But my kindergartner had daily homework in the second week.

The current educational climate expects children to do more work at a faster pace and at more advanced levels than it did when I was in K. It seems like K is the new 1st grade, preschool is the new K. And the level of teachers' and administrators' expectations of children is so much higher than it was 20-30 years ago.

I was wary of the academic pressure on a 5-year-old who hadn’t yet decided that learning was a fun activity. Was I doing the right thing? Why weren’t my friends’ kids doing so much work? How much is too much? But: the teachers were so nice and so passionate about their work and the kids. The administration held fast to the belief that this was the best way. So we stuck it out, gritting our teeth at first until we became accustomed to the level of work required of our 5-year-old.

I’m a pragmatic decision-maker – this means I like to see results rather than every data point under the sun. And I can see the results in The Boy’s academic progress. Two-and-half years later, I’m still not sure what kind of learner The Boy is. But I do know this: he is thriving.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Reform Movement Builds

While Ron Huberman may not have been the person to overhaul the Chicago Public Schools, the winds of change may be picking up speed with today's announcement. Michelle Rhee may have been no match for the D.C. public school teachers, but she has re-surfaced in California's capital city with a new reform project.  

I'm not entirely sure that the answer to the problems in the U.S. educational system lie with Waiting for Superman and the changes Rhee enacted in D.C., I do know that something has got to change. Because the system, as it stands now, just doesn't work. I feel like this is well-known at this point. But the idealist in me is heartened to see it go national.

I feel fortunate that my children's school is a school that works. My children have great teachers. I am continually in awe of their drive, passion and dedication. I'm a passionate writer, but I don't think I have half the skills required of good teachers.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lincoln Park, the Suburbs and High School

On Sunday, I went to dinner for the first time at John's Place in Lincoln Park. I knew only that it was kid-friendly and had to have good food because Melissa has spoken about it. Our party of 9 adults and 3 kids was there for a little over 2 hours. The magician and balloon-blower who came to provide entertainment to The Boy, The Girl and The Tot (Who Isn't) was able to get in some real humor with our audience. He had just blown up balloons for the two kids, two dads and a pregnant mom at an adjacent table. In our time at the restaurant, that table turned over twice while the rest or the restaurant stayed fairly empty. Both times, the table was populated by babies and toddlers and their REI-clad parents.

I remarked upon this with a bit of surprise to my closest urban tablemate, The Dad's cousin's fiancée. She was not surprised, telling me that the neighborhood comprises her peers (mid-30s) with their young children. In fact, she said, one of her friends with two kids used to live in the area until she'd outgrown her condo and moved to the suburbs. 

Ah, the suburbs. I've been a Chicago resident since 2002. This Thanksgiving is the 9th I've spent in this house. I joke to my husband that he'll have to drag me kicking and screaming to the suburbs. And yet.

There it is. Always. Looming over me. Although it did surprise me to learn that the average demographic of Lincoln Park is now essentially a rolled back version of me, what follows doesn't particularly surprise me: Grown-up Trixies and Chads get married, buy condos, have babies and flee to the suburbs. Where the grass is always green and the schools are always good. Or so I'm led to believe. 

Sociologically, I find this phenomenon interesting. I was raised in the suburbs by two former urbanites (NYC). The Dad was raised in the suburbs by one suburbanite and one rural Hoosier. My father (Grandpa Texas) spent my son's first three years trying to convince me that I'd want to move the suburbs. That I should want to move to the suburbs. But, to quote my friend Sonia, I just don't want to.

And I do wonder: what's wrong with me that I don't? After all, it is what people with means do. Among the women of my moms' group, who are all like me: educated women with the means for mobility, whether upward or outward, there are more of us who have moved outside the city than who have retained residency. 

At the moment, I think my reluctance to leave the city has much to do with both luck and a deeply ingrained stubborn streak. In 2008, The Boy won the CPS lottery, gaining admission into what is turning out to be a great public elementary school. By luck again, CPS changed the policy for sibling admissions and The Girl also attends the same great school. Luckily for me, The Dad talked me into a single-family house in what is a really great neighborhood, so I have a garage, patch of grass and three floors upon which we can scatter our stuff. 

The big unknown, of course, is high school. We're still five to six years away from the high school decision, but if time flows at the same rate as it has since 2003, it will be here before we know it. My biggest concern is academics: Will The Boy get into one of the six current selective-enrollment schools in the city? And whether he does or doesn't, how can we hold our schools accountable to meet a high academic standard? What is the formula in the suburbs that makes suburban schools regarded as universally better than Chicago public schools? And can we replicate it? Is there a way to solve the fundamental barriers to success for some CPS students?

The Dad's biggest concern in the high school picture is the social influence: how to keep The Boy out of trouble? Will we hurt our child's overall chances for success if we keep him in an urban school environment? Can you make a "good" kid bad? And how far are we willing to take the social experiment of trying to even the playing field when it comes to our own children's future success or failure, happiness or misery? 

The statistics about high school students' success released by the Chicago Public Schools are grim. These statistics report that only 30 of 100 H.S. freshmen will go on to enter college; only 6 will go to highly selective schools. They consider the University of Illinois one such highly selective school. Yikes! Twenty percent of my suburban high school went to the University of Illinois -- and most of us considered it "slumming it" because we weren't headed for an Ivy. These stats were drawn in part from a 2006 University of Chicago study that suggests that, once again, luck will be on our side in the high school and college admissions process. This reassures me on an academic level, but does nothing to relieve The Dad's concerns about the potential for bad influence.

And it doesn't discount that staying in the city surely promises a lot of work in our future. I'm not sure I have it in me to dig into turning around the local high school.

What about you? Are you planning to stay in the city for the long haul? Do you plan to move to the suburbs? Have you already moved to the suburbs? Do you think there's a way for CPS to turn it around? Are you involved in the CPS process at any level?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Transparency in Politics

On Monday, politicos--would-be and otherwise--kicked off the mayoral race by filing their petitions with the city. The Sun-Times reported that the mayoral race could "energize voters." 

I have to say: I am still in the period of dread. It's not that I fear change. God knows, I was looking forward to defeating Daley in February. But I surmise that the city's budget is a horrible mess. And I don't see how any politician is going to get us out of it. (And if s/he did, what would Ben Joravsky write about?) That these politicians think they can shows either incredible courage or incredible naivete. Perhaps both. 

I'm likely a campaign manager's nightmare because I don't watch live TV and I don't pay attention to the ads. But I stopped the TiVo to watch Emmanuel's ad tonight during Glee. My reaction: I'm tired of the platitudes already. I love Chicago (just ask The Dad, who'll have to drag me outta here kicking and screaming), but the past few years have opened my eyes to the realities of city politics and dealings. I think Chicago needs to focus its efforts on becoming a world-class city. Forget about losing our grip on a precarious hold. I don't think we can pat ourselves on the back yet, guys.

Throughout the tumultuous spring and early summer of budget crises, education cuts, union troubles, school-related challenges and a surprise visit from Ron Huberman, I believed that the great Chicago machine (which also controls CPS) was obfuscating budget and process from its citizens. At the time, I wanted more transparency and communication about what was going on. I still want that. But now I think one reason that few in official capacity are willing to Tweet as often as Kanye West or Kim Kardashian is that they realize that if they are forthcoming with information, everyone will know that they have no idea what the hell they are doing. That Emmanuel and Moseley-Braun want to take a stab at it reveals their courage.

Despite my current discomfort with lies ahead for Chicago, I'm an unfailing optimist. I am quite sure that my dread will turn to excitement in a couple of weeks after a few rounds of mudslinging between Moseley-Braun and Emmanuel (with a little comedic relief from the Rev. Meeks thrown in). A parent and activist just announced his aldermanic bid for the 39th ward; things are looking up already....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Another post on writing

The problem with blogging and getting followers and really putting oneself out there is that every post feels like An Article. I can't just write an off-the-cuff diatribe. Even though that is what blogging is supposed to be about. The beauty of self-publishing on the Internet is that you can get your message out fast. The ugly of self-publishing on the Internet is that while bloggers sometimes masquerade as journalists (I have been guilty of this myself), they have even less credibility than journalists. And that reputation is rightfully deserved in many cases. There's a lot of garbage on the Internet, opinion dressed up as fact, live-blogging and recording and sharing in real time--churning out copy and content so fast after the experience--sometimes during the experience that it seems the most followed bloggers can barely enjoy the experience for the need to blast it out to the world. 

For the record, this isn't a slam on bloggers, having a following/fan base, or seeking (or achieving) fame and fortune through blogging. After all, as someone remarked about me recently, I am a writer, a blogger, a communicator. I almost feel compelled to share my knowledge and/or analysis with my friends and associates. Email and blogs are the perfect outlet for me to unleash my need to communicate with the world. 

However, I struggle with this need for information--reading it, analyzing it, disseminating it. Which is funny because I don't generally watch the news, and glean what's going on in the world from The Dad's Reddit links, education blogs and a once-weekly cruise through The New York Times app or NPR. Or calling my mother, who is as addicted to MSNBC as I am to writing about education, parenting, society norms and my children. 

As a writer, I am drawn to the need to share my story, my opinion, my analysis of a situation or event. Or maybe being a writer has nothing to do with it--maybe it's just because I'm opinionated. And have no editorial calendar. 

I'm also a big believer in transparency. Perhaps because I try to be transparent. While I recognize the right and importance of privacy in many things, I probably would exercise it less than I do now if I were not contractually obligated to keep a lid on it. But where is the line between transparency and oversharing? And should everyone know what I think as soon as I think it? Is there value in getting information out there as soon as it is known? Or is it better to take a page from Lane Smith's book* and just "shut your big yawp"? 

* John, Paul, George & Ben. I highly recommend it. It never fails to delight The Boy, The Girl and The Tot (who's no longer a tot). That particular quote pertains to Ben Franklin and his frequent dispensation of free advice.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

On writing

The Boy is back in school and back to hating the act of writing. Although his fine-motor skills are excellent, he dislikes the mechanics of writing as well as the creative part. As a professional writer, I'm totally horrified that my oldest child is so bothered by writing. But as a professional writer, I completely understand his point of view! Procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate, yell, cry, pound the table in frustration... then sit down and begin to writing. 

That's kind of how I feel about this blog these days. Its purpose was to record all the fun stuff I did in Chicago with The Boy, The Girl and The Tot (who is no longer a tot). But the days of exploring museums on a daily basis are pretty much over for me. I see a lot of moms with infant-filled strollers and belly bumps in and around where I work, near the Tribune tower; day trips to Lincoln Park Zoo and the Peggy Notebaert, and annoying commuters by schlepping a stroller onto the CTA in rush hour are their domain now.

I've been writing this blog since 2006. I'm not in it for money, fame or a book contract. Although there's often long stretches between posts, I am not ready to give this blog up. I'm pretty sure I still have a lot to say.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chicago Forward: Education

Last night, I met both Karen Lewis and Ron Huberman. They were two of five panelists at a discussion on education put on by the Chicago Tribune and PNC Bank. Admittedly, I can be easily impressed by power--or the perception of it.  I'm not sure whether Ms. Lewis and Mr. Huberman have real power or give people that perception. I suppose only time (like 10-15 years) will tell. The other panelists were Rev. James Meeks, Harriet Meyer and Sister Mary Paul McCaughey.

The event was the first in a series of four, designed to increase public awareness of and find possible solutions for issues in Chicago, according to the Trib's editor, Gerould Kern. It was an interesting discussion, but I didn't really learn anything new, unfortunately. There was a lot of sparring between Ms. Lewis and Mr. Huberman, and Ms. Meyer reported some interesting facts about early childhood education gaps. I'm permanently annoyed with Roman Catholic* education after The Boy's year at St. Bartholomew. The Rev. Meeks provided comic relief, but no real contribution to the conversation. 

And here's where the perception of power comes in.... I realized after a 90-minute discussion that the people in charge don't know the answers either. They have no solutions to the educational mess that is Chicago Public Schools, despite modest gains in the past 20 years (Mr. Huberman called them "substantial," even after admitting that 48 percent of district elementary schools received a district grade of D or below [based on 2008 test data]). I'm not quite ready to give up on CPS, but come on. I felt like I did after reading Sudir Venkatesh's Gangleader for a Day: that was an interesting read, but where's the solution to the problem you've spent 300 pages identifying? 

I went to the event with Amy, Wendy and Patricia from the Raise Your Hand coalition. Over 700 people filled the auditorium. It was a Trib Nation event, which Gerould Kern said was the Tribune's attempt to engage people in their city's issues and newspaper. Given the branding, I think it's an attempt to introduce 20somethings to the idea of a newspaper. I don't think it's working, given the age and consumer tastes of the audience last night.

That said, they had a lovely reception afterward, with wine and hors d'oeuvres. The reception is where I met Ms. Lewis (and her husband!) and Mr. Huberman, and a bunch of Burley parents. I don't know if things will be that fancy for every event or if it was for the benefit/pleasure of Gerry Rohr, the president of PNC Bank, and Gary Knell, CEO of Sesame Street Workshop, who were in attendance. But it was not a bad way to spend $10 of an evening. 

The next events are Economy in Recovery on November 17, Health Care on January 18 and Philanthropy/Giving Back on March 15.  

* I anticipate that this will not be a popular opinion. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

I want my two (hundred million) dollars

Raise Your Hand is not letting the city off on this one. Tell your alderman that you want him or her to vote to give back the TIF surplus this year. Let's stop borrowing against our children's future!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


My latest escape fantasy involves a little house in the southwest corner of Michigan and plenty of lazy walks, bike rides in the country, organic apples and blueberries, old furniture and beach time. I don't think it's happening in the long-term, but it was fun to dream this weekend during our annual trip to Bridgeman. Our 3-day trip was the perfect mix of beach, friends and food.

I took the day off on Friday, intending to participate in The Boy's and The Girl's planned last-day-of-camp fun (kids v. grown-ups). But when I gave the kids a choice between last-day-of-camp fun and going to Michigan, they chose the Great Lake state.

Friday was our best beach day, with blue skies, hot sun and warm water. The Tot and I, and The Dad and The Boy spent most of the afternoon bobbing up and down with the tide. Then a giant wave smacked me and The Tot, his giant noggin bounced off my chin, and I was done with the beach for the day. Afterward, we went back to the "cottage" (which The Tot invariably referred to as "college," much to my initial confusion) for baths, clean clothes and a brief visit with the cottage owners. We headed up to South Haven for dinner, where we met Natty for dinner at the fabulous Phoenix Street Cafe (there wasn't a wait for a table, let alone an hour-long one at the dark [and oddly famous] Clementine's). Dinner was yummy and I'm a sucker for blueberry cobbler (The Tot ate my a la mode ice cream). Didn't try the infused vodka; did have some cool Michigan reisling. As it turned out, this dinner was the highlight of the trip for The Girl, who spent the evening of Natty's last day with us crying inconsolably.

On Saturday morning, I met my friend Katie at the farmer's market in St. Joseph. She recently edited The Family Guide to Berrien County*, a book that any parent going to Michigan's harbor country should purchase. The book details all sorts of out-of-the-way places and activities for families, including many that I was unable to find last year in my pre-iPhone days. I'm already planning a fall visit so we can go to the Four Flags Apple Festival or St. Joseph's Harvest Festival, which I wouldn't have known about before the book. Katie served as my own personal tour guide to the St. Joe farmer's market, where I picked up 5 pounds of organic blueberries that I'll make pie or cobbler with if I don't eat them all before I can get to it. And some fabulous cookies from the Mennonite bakers. Katie also gave us the history of the St. Joe Carousel, which we all rode twice, accompanied by an old-time and superloud mechanical pipe organ.

After picking up groceries at the Harding's back in Bridgeman, we headed to the beach again on Saturday afternoon. It was much cooler, and the previous evening's storm had churned up the water significantly. The Boy and The Tot and The Dad went in, but The Girl and I stayed on the beach, soaking up the warmth of the sun and doing crossword puzzles (me) and lying in the sand complaining (The Girl). In fact, she complained so much that The Dad dubbed her our family's own sand crab. 

I had a brief snooze after de-sanding back at the cottage, while The Girl, The Boy and The Tot watched Pixar shorts on The Dad's laptop. We then had a few Raise Your Hand friends over for a potluck. The Dad grilled out, I poured wine, and The Boy, The Girl and The Tot were in heaven with the three 7-year-old and one 4-year-old boys and one four-year-old girl with whom they could play.

* I can't quite decide if I should tell you that this book was written as a school fundraiser. Given how often I talk about school funding these days, it should come as no surprise to any reader.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Kids

Ask The Tot where his mama was on Saturday morning and he’ll proudly tell you, “Education.” He knows that has something to do with school, and that it’s important, but he probably can’t tell you what exactly Mama’s work for education means. I’m not sure I can either, but it feels good to at least learn what the heck is going on.

On Saturday morning, I was down on the south side, at Ariel Academy in Kenwood. Sonia Kwon, Jill Wohl and I bypassed the floods and the Cubs traffic and made it to the humid, slippery auditorium in time to hear Karen Lewis’ rousing speech about CPS, the state of Illinois and the state of education. Lewis reported that the powers that be at CPS are repeating the same, tired schpiel that all people in power repeat when their motives or actions are called into question: Won’t someone please think about the children? Oh, please. Like CPS teachers are in it for the money? Like involved parents’ primary motivation are not their children? Were we all giving up a couple of hours smack-dab in the middle of a summer Saturday for some other reason but the children? As Lewis said, it’s about money and power. Like everything else in Chicago, it seems. Same-old, same-old.

Lewis also said something that struck me as pretty powerful. In 2004, she said, 62% of the CPS budget went to personnel costs. In 2009, that number dropped to 49%. What changed? Why? I wish I could say that I checked her facts against existing data to substantiate her claim, but getting the city to share its “datapoints” is harder than getting a willful toddler to eat smashed peas.

But her ire was not directed only at CPS, but at the state as well. She suggested that we all call our state representatives and senators and tell them that they are late in their payments. “And we’re not even charging you interest.” Good point.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Will someone please think about the children?

"As if, you know, the kids are really what all these machinations are about." I want to be Ben Joravsky when I grow up.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Work-Life Balance

In late March, the White House hosted a symposium on workplace flexibility. Of course, I could not watch it live because I was at work, but I did watch the opening session online that evening. (They've since added all the breakout sessions to the blog.) That the White House was even having a public discussion about this stuff is pretty compelling to me. 

The work-life question is a popular topic of conversation among my friends and peers, whether our primary-waking-hours job is employment outside of the home or caring for our own children. Truthfully, I know very few people who work full-time or stay at home full-time who are 100% happy with that. SAHMs long for more intellectual stimulation and/or some financial independence. Working moms long for more flexibility and/or time to themselves and/or time with their children.

Back at the White House in March/April, Michelle Obama spoke of how she brought Malia in a stroller to a job interview because she didn't have adequate childcare at the time. That she brought a sleeping toddler to a job interview in the late 1990s is no less shocking to me as is the fact that they gave her the job

Obviously, Mrs. Obama's interviewers recognized some quality in her that would let her perform well in paid work despite a small child. Was she lucky? Or is that kind of workplace flexibility and work-life balance a common occurrence? In a world where women earn only 70-80% of what their male colleagues earn, I'm fairly confident that Mrs. Obama was lucky, or magnetic, or both.

The 1970s manifesto of equal wages, equal treatment, and fair valuation of housewifery is yet to be realized in 2010. That SAHMs have intrinsic value is somewhat recognized; that their work should have a monetary value is decidedly not. To wit: a 7-year argument I've had with my husband about whether childcare necessarily involves (or should) housecleaning. After all, when modern couples outsource these tasks, they are generally to different service people. While both can be (and often are) mind-numbing, busy-work tasks (and to be fair: so can any job in corporate America), they do require different skill sets.

After nearly a year of full-time work after 6 years of very, very part-time work, I can firmly say that I wish Chicago was a more flexible working town. Although I do know people with flexible working arrangements (some of them even in my company), it seems that most of them paid their dues as full-time workers for a period of time before negotiating their time down to 2/3 or 3/4-time. This would be the difference between reported flexibility arrangements between employers (one half) and employees (one third), as cited in the Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility study.

Monday, June 28, 2010


This is what can happen when you have a voice.

Breaking the Clique

I've "heard" that there is a perception among the parents at The Boy's and The Girl's school that the existing parent groups are "exclusive" and "cliquey." I can understand that; after all, the same 20+ people often show up to everything. I am happy and grateful to those volunteers (like myself) who want to be really involved or really informed. But: why aren't more people involved? How can we create a warm and inclusive parent community/culture? How to create more opportunities for involvement? And a confession: I often feel that I am on the outside of the circle.

In talking to other parents at other schools, this feeling of exclusion is common--even parents like myself who are what my friend Ami would call Super Volunteers. Last week, during a community-building session at Nettelhorst's CPS Symposium, one parent, Patricia O'Keefe of Friends of Alcott, shared what she had done to "break the clique" at Alcott, creating a community culture that really, truly values parent volunteers. It's simple, really, but so smart:

Everyone who wants to be a room parent, can be a room parent.

I know what you're thinking: well, how does that work? Basically, at Alcott, they broke up all the tasks associated with classroom activities and made it more manageable for everyone to get involved:

#1 Teacher Contact. This person fulfills the normally associated duties of room parent, meeting with the teacher as-needed, assessing classroom needs, and communicating with the teacher and the rest of the room parents about what is needed. Teacher preference goes.

#2 Communications. This person does everything associated with communications: putting together a class list, helping with the directory, sending out emails to parents, etc. Some teachers at Alcott even have the communications room parent help or do their weekly newsletter.

#3 Social Butterfly. This person coordinates social time for kids, parents, moms, dads, etc. outside of the classroom: pizza parties, MNO, DNO, parent socials, etc.

#4 Volunteers. This person coordinates volunteers needed for classroom events, putting together a schedule, getting the information on classroom volunteers from the teacher contact, etc.

#5 LSC/PTA/FO Contact. This person is the liaison between the classroom and these organizations. If a classroom project needs to be done for an auction or other event, this is the person who works it out.

#6+ Ad Hoc Time. This person or people may have 4 hours/week or 1/2 an hour a year to support the classroom. They'll work with the classroom volunteers person to make sure that the teacher has all of her bases covered in and outside of the classroom, lending a hand here and there as needed.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Viral Marketing: It Works!

Yesterday, I read CPSObsessed for the first time in awhile. I found this. Save one sentence in the middle (long-term solutions), I wrote the text and blasted it out last week via email to my Chicago-based email lists. Although I am not a marketer, I love it when the viral marketing machine works.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hearing Ron Huberman

As The Dad says, I have become my own version of CPS-obsessed these days. I'm generally less interested in the aggregate as how things affect my own children's school, but the education budget crisis (called by Sara Feigenholtz as the worst she's seen in 20-30 years in state government [she started working for John Cullerton in 1982]) has made me re-examine that. And in the past three or four months, as the budget crisis has caused me to become re-engaged in the political process, I've become more interested in how we can work together to improve the system.

In April, I became involved with the Raise Your Hand coalition. I am seriously in awe at the power and dedication of the men and women spearheading this effort. They are committed city-dwellers, passionate activists, and deeply networked. They ask the hard questions, and are not afraid to push the envelope to varying degrees.

Over the past six to nine months, since my friend Ami asked me to attend a “Friends of CPS” meeting and take notes on her behalf, I've become more interested in what is happening at other schools. Although my children's school is in a unique position (really!) in terms of size, funding, seed money, history, etc., we still have so much to learn in terms of not only funding, but community-building.

It is because of this that I gave up my wedding anniversary, first Saturday of summer vacation, to spend 8 hours sweating in an elementary school (though admittedly fabulous) auditorium and learning parent-led school improvement best practices at the CPS Symposium.

It was such an interesting day. I walked away energized and ready to tackle some stuff. The reality is that it's summer and my affiliated group has no elected leadership, but I will get to that later. For now, I'd like to share what would probably be most interesting to the casual reader interested in CPS:

Ron Huberman made a special appearance, showing up to speak to the crowd and take questions from the audience (note: if you are sitting in the middle of the row, you won't get the mic). At this point, I am going to report directly from my notes, without my own analysis of Ron Huberman's comments. He first said that his office studied “great” schools the world over to determine what they have in common

1. A great leader.
Without a great leader, you don't have a great school. To that end, CPS will “exit” (his term) 150 principals this year. He said that these were “tough decisions.”

2. Great teachers.
In Chicago, great principals hire great teachers. Great teachers are engaged with their students. In the context of this point, he also said that his office is planning to institute a teacher evaluation process based partially on principal review. He noted that they are "empowering" principals to evaluate teachers, and that they want to make the process as transparent as possible.

3. Data for analysis.
Great schools report and measure data to ask questions: are kids learning? Are they learning what we want them to learn? If not, why not? Is it the teacher? Is it a professional development issue? Is it the curriculum? He noted that some great schools in Chicago already practice this data measurement and analysis, but CPS plans to implement this method district-wide next year. He also said that states are under pressure from the federal government to show improvement every year, and intimated that the way they do that in Illinois is to change the ISAT. He wants CPS to have its own assessments outside of the ISATs.

4. Meaningful parent involvement.
He said that they found that even when schools have the first three, they will not become truly great, their improvement will flatline, if they do not have a committed and involved parent community. He suggested that parents can achieve that in a few simple ways: physically taking your child to school in the morning when you can, showing up to school on report-card pick-up day, knowing your child's teacher by name and giving him/her your number and asking that s/he calls you when/if there is a problem. He did say that there were really two things surrounding this, but he never got back to the second point.

After he reviewed what makes schools great, he addressed the budget issue, saying that CPS is “fundamentally a state-funded agency.” CPS does not have a budget yet. They've delayed releasing it in the hope that the state legislature will reconvene to pass a budget. They have a “best case” and “worst case” scenario that they've been considering. He said that every day, it's literally a white board exercise trying to figure out the budget. In the “best case” scenario, there will be a $427 million budget deficit. In this scenario, they'll restore full-day K, junior varsity sports, and “lower” class sizes. However, they have no idea when they'll get a budget from the state, and they may have to pick an arbitrary number upon which to base their budget for FY11.

Historically speaking, Huberman said, when the state of Illinois said it would fund something, they'd do it. But Illinois has stopped paying its bills. They owe CPS ½ billion dollars....which is why CPS (got permission to) took out an $800 million line of credit last week.

What has Huberman done to fix the budget? He said he's laid off 1,000 classroom positions, cut $165 million in contracts, depleted CPS's cash reserves, cut capital projects, and reduced the number of administrators – all to preserve spending at schools. Also, non-union staff and administrators have taken furlough days that equate to a 6% pay cut. They've made non-school based cuts across the system.

Sonia Kwon and Jill Wohl from the Raise Your Hand coalition asked him questions about what the city is going to fix the budget deficit, mentioning TIFs. Huberman said that the mayor has raised taxes to the cap allowed every year that he has been able to do so, but it creates a massive inequity in funding when the state doesn't fund what it is supposed to fund. He said that TIF funds have actually funded a couple of schools on the northwest side and funded capital projects at schools that would otherwise not be possible without CPS bonding off its operating budget.

He also took questions about general school process issues, specifically the changed admissions policy for magnets and selective enrollment schools, and selective enrollment schools. He said that there is no plan to de-magnetize the magnets. They did go back to 5% principal discretion at the SE schools, but not at the magnets. The reason for this is that SE schools have objective criteria against which they can measure candidates, but magnets don't have any such criteria: they are a pure lottery. He said that what is the on the table now is not the existence of magnets or SE schools, but the enrollment process.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hacking the politics

On 6/15, the Chicago Board of Education held an emergency meeting and voted 7-0 to give Ron Huberman the power to raise class sizes to 35, secure $800 million in credit, and fire tenured teachers. Jonathan Goldman of the Raise Your Hand coalition addressed the board. Illinois constituents, driven largely by CPS parents, sent over 150,000 emails to legislators to reduce state education budget cuts by hundreds of millions; why is CPS still talking about classrooms with 35 kids?

CPS still has a $275 million hole in the FY 2011 CPS budget. How to plug it in ways that don't mean 35 kids in a classroom? The Raise Your Hand coalition believes that the answer lies in the city's TIF program, which diverts millions of property-tax dollars away from schools and into economic development. Through this petition (, the Raise Your Hand coalition is asking Mayor Daley to reform the TIF program and restore sustainable property-tax based funding to schools (and parks and other city services) across the city of Chicago. Won't you join us? Here’s how you can help:

1. Attend the next rally at City Hall – Thursday June 17th @ 10:30 AM
2. Sign the online petition (see above link), and/or
3. Print the same petition in hard copy and collect signatures

Additional reading on 6/15 Board of Education meeting:,CST-NWS-skul16.article,chicago-public-schools-class-size-061510.article (WBEZ coverage)

Additional reading on TIF:

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Free for a Week Update

A few years ago, I created this schedule of things to do that were free or low-cost for each day of the week. Some things have changed, and I know my schedule certainly has, but if I ever get a week off, it might be good to take my children on outings that do not involve IKEA, Target, or playdates.

Monday - 10 a.m. Morning Glory Mondays @ Garfield Park Conservatory (scroll down)
Tuesday - Farmers Market @ Lincoln Square
Wednesday - 10 a.m. Storytime @ Women and Children First Bookstore
Thursday - Free Day @  Peggy Notebeart Museum
Friday - 11 a.m. Storytime with Nili @ The Book Cellar

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Today, I took a field trip with The Boy's class to the Naper Settlement. Despite the fact that Grandma & Grandpa Naperville have lived in Illinois's second largest city for 20+ years (and I've been married to their son for 11 of them), I'd never been to Naper Settlement before today.

A walking history museum, Naper Settlement is sited on what is left of George Martin's expansive 1883 acreage. It's like Illinois's version of Colonial Williamsburg, but smaller and forward in time by about a century. We started the tour with the Martin Mitchell house, a circa 1883 brick-and-limestone building described to our little group as "the smart house of 1890." I learned a few interesting little tidbits in our 4-hour ramble around the grounds, including the fact that the Spanish silver dollar was once the standard monetary increment and two-bits is actually 1/8th of said coin (or 12 1/2 cents). Grandma Naperville met us there, and we had a nice visit with her as well as with the other chaperones in The Boy's class. The kids were well-behaved and seemed to have a great time.

Monday, May 31, 2010


The Dad, The Boy, The Girl, The Tot and I went to visit Super Grandpa (as The Boy calls him) in Indiana this weekend. Super Grandpa is a nearly lifelong (save his Army time and a stint as a United tech at Midway in the 40s) resident of Syracuse, Indiana (winter population: about 3000). He lives on a channel just off Lake Syracuse (and Lake Wawasee), has a wood workshop in his cavernous garage, and likes to fish off his pontoon boat. He has led a very long, very interesting life (so far). So for the 3-day weekend, along with Grandma & Grandpa Naperville, we went to visit him. 

Grandpa Naperville docks a speedboat at Super Grandpa's property, so we spent much of our time going "full-speed ahead" (says The Tot) around Lake Syracuse. We also took out Big Mable and I spent several hours bumping behind the boat in the wake with (alternately) The Boy, The Girl, and The Dad. The weather was great and the water temperature was amazingly warm for Memorial Day weekend. We also got custard and ice cream at Joe's, spent one very long and uncomfortable night with all 5 of us in the hotel room, spent one night with just The Tot with his parents in the hotel room, which was kind of fun, watched The Boy fish with Grandpa Naperville, and took a sunset cruise along Lake Wawasee with Super Grandpa.

Oh, and I almost forgot: The Tot almost drowned himself in the canal on Saturday. Super Grandpa has a large lot with a large back deck, an expanse of green grass, and then a 1' wide concrete retaining wall before the channel. The Tot was drawn to that retaining wall like bees to pollen. Nothing we did or said could deter him from playing on the wall. And then he went in. Fortunately, The Dad was right there when it happened, so he leaped in after him, scraping his knee on the motor of the speedboat in the process. The Tot and The Dad were both dripping wet and screaming, but fortunately, both were fine afterward. The Tot stayed away from the retaining wall after that. The Dad's iPhone was totaled by the dip in the channel, but an iPhone, while expensive, is replaceable. Our youngest son is not.

We woke up this morning to overcast skies and arrived at Super Grandpa's house from the hotel just before it started to pour, so we waited out the worst of the storm before getting on the road. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

National Train Day

Dreamed up by Amtrak, presumably to revitalize a dying industry/mode of transportation, National Train Day was an unexpected adventure for The Dad, The Boy, The Girl, The Tot and me last weekend. The marketing materials for the event weren't very robust, leaving us no idea what we'd find on Saturday afternoon at Union Station. Initially, we were overwhelmed by the crowds milling about the central hall, but managed to find some fun along the rails. We got "passports" and got punches at various places. The Tot was transfixed by an infinitesimal Lionel model track with both a very long Amtrak train and a short Thomas train. The highlight for me was walking through several CNR, Illinois Central, and private rail cars. I also learned that there is a rails/national parks program and now I want to go on a rail tour to a national park!

Monday, May 03, 2010

No to 37

How many kids is too many in a classroom? How many can one teacher handle? Shouldn't the focus of a teacher's attention be on teaching his or her students over merely handling them? 

If we thought the threat to PFA last year was bad, this is a million times worse. Thanks to Blago, and before him George Ryan and Jim Edgar, the Illinois budget is a mess.  And if our politicians don't approve a new budget that keeps education funding at its current level before Friday, we are going to be in trouble.  

But: Illinoisians are speaking up and speaking out via CPS parents are speaking up via the Raise Your Hand coalition.

Monday, April 12, 2010

High School

As I reached the train platform this morning, I noticed a high school girl wearing sweatpants and a backpack who had just exited the train and was walking down, presumably to go to school. I assume that she was on her way to nearby Schurz High School. In about 6 years, high school for The Boy will be on our minds. It's really not that far away. If schools get better by parent/community involvement and marketing power, maybe it's time to get involved in the local high schools in the hopes that by the time my 7-year-old is ready for them, they'll be worth attending?

However, high school is still a daunting thought to me. First, there are only a handful of selective enrollment high schools in the city, which means that competition is fierce. One group, the North Side High School Initiative, is trying to start the process to improve options at the high school level. Unfortunately, this group is from/focused on wards 32, 42, 46 and 47; I'm in ward 39. 

Second, and slightly more upsetting, is the issue of school violence at the high school level. Last week, I attended the League of Women Voters' lunch talk on school violence in CPS. Unfortunately, I missed the first 5 and the last 20 minutes of the presentation because I had to work, and missed the speaker's name. However, he was an administrator with Chicago Public Schools and presented data from a September 2009 PowerPoint deck on school violence. While the deck did present some good information (80% of school violence takes place in 38 schools, for example), the presenter had taken the CPS spin class, and could/would not give me specific answers to some of my questions (like the names of the 38 schools). 

I'm committed to CPS through 8th grade, but will we be city-dwellers after 2017? It has nothing to do with street cred; I'm not sure I can hack the politics of everything. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Too Good to Be Real

That's how The Girl described her Snookelfritz sweet mint ice cream. I would describe it as too rich for my milk-intolerant self (the things we do as parents...stopped drinking milk when The Tot was a babe and haven't been able to tolerate much of it since), but: if you love milk, ice cream, and fresh ingredients, I highly recommend that you try it. We found Snookelfritz and lots of other organic goodies (farm eggs! fresh cream! a giant pretzel bun! arugula!) at the April Green City Market at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, where The Girl and I began our long Saturday morning Mama-The Girl playdate. (Yes, my five-year-old is weird: her idea of a good time is helping me at the grocery store, do the laundry, etc. I hope as her abilities grow, she'll start thinking that a mother's chores include going to work as well.)

Anyway, we went to the Green City Market. For some reason, I thought it was outside and found primo parking just off North Avenue. We ended up walking all the way up to the butterfly museum and back, passing tons of joggers and families of three pushing strollers. It was a long walk for me, let alone a not-quite 5-year-old with short legs. It was a beautiful day, but quite windy. We stopped at Starbucks for some iced tea on the long walk back. The side trip sparked a conversation about the origin of the name Starbuck. The Girl's theory is that it's called Starbucks because you can get drinks for a buck there. 

By the time we returned to the car, we were both pretty tired, but still had to go to Trader Joe's to do the bulk of our food shopping. A man about my father's age heard our conversation and was chuckling at the girl's reasoning for what went in my cart versus hers. I'm glad that we are so amusing, but it was actually quite refreshing to run errands with just one fairly helpful little person, in the city on a gorgeous spring day.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Letters Are Out

All over Chicago, mailboxes are aflutter, hearts atwitter: CPS elementary acceptance letters are out. In 2007, I applied to almost 30 schools for The Boy's entry into kindergarten. He was waitlisted at several, and got into none. He eventually got into Disney II. Oh, how different the world of CPS is just two years later. 

The most important change in CPS is not the addition of Disney II Magnet, not the departure of Arne Duncan for the federal Department of Education,  and not his replacement in the form of Ron Huberman.  It's the fact that the consent decree--and its related race-based selection system--has been turned on its head, leaving CPS to adopt a new admissions policy that relies on socioeconomic factors

So I applied to only Disney II for The Girl, who gained admittance as a sibling of a current student. I also submitted a GEAPs application for her and ranked four regional gifted center (RGC) schools and two classical schools. She scored high enough on the gifted test to get into Coonley, although her 121 score for the classical test was too low for Tier-4 admittance into any of the classical schools.

Although Coonley is ranked well, I am confident that The Girl will receive a superior education from Disney II.  And, if all of the ifs align (if there is a preschool-for-all next year, if  The Tot gets in, if he gets into the morning session, if the siblings policy holds), I'm confident that The Tot will have a great education at Disney II as well. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wedding, San Francisco, Mixed Emotions

I'm writing this from the United lounge at SFO, midway through the last leg of my trip here to witness and celebrate the marriage of one of my oldest friends, Emily. While the average age of brides is now something like 29, Emily is in her mid-30s, and I was 25 on my wedding day. It seems odd to me that Emily is now crazily, happily married, a wife, and everyone hopes, will one day sooner rather than later become a mother. Similarly, looking at my own life from the perspective of my college friends, most of whom are single, it seems crazy that I have been married nearly 11 years, with three kids. It is the life I want.
That's why I am surprised how much I enjoyed shedding my skin of wife, mother, writer, caretaker, laundress, and baker to resume a life that I'd be miserable in now: tooling around San Francisco with my single, college friends, drinking too much, telling and retelling stories of past nights of drinking, drama, relationships, work, and life, laughing racously. I've never lived the single life in San Francisco, but the City is irrevocably tied my childless former self. I've read M. Sasek's book This Is San Francisco to my children a million times and while part of me wants to take The Boy to see the sea lions on the rocks, the up the hills and down the hills, part of me also wants to keep San Francisco to myself: quiet corner cafes with outdoor seating and a glass of wine shared with friends, hauling butt up and down the hills, never really going to museums, and fresh flowers everywhere, all the time.

I re-explored the City yesterday, ending the day at the Buena Vista Cafe for Irish coffees at sunset. As the shadows fell against the Argonaut Hotel, drawing me closer to now, I was hit by melancholy. I spent my first ever night in San Francisco at the Buena Vista after moving to the Bay Area in 1998. I spent my last ever night as a SF resident at the Buena Vista before leaving in 2002. And plenty of nights in between, sitting at the bar watching delicate glass cups thick with creamy foam come out on trays, the plate glass windows facing the bay fogging up from the heat inside. It is so tied up with my memories of San Francisco that if you told me tomorrow that only tourists go there, I wouldn't care.

San Francisco: I'm glad I knew you when.

My plane is boarding now, so I'm going to say good-bye to SF, have a nap on the plane and wake up in Chicago, ready to see my babies, my husband, embrace the snow-rain-cold that is a Chicago spring. I'm ready to go home.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


It's Dr. Suess's birthday! You know, if I had thought about it when I came up with this blog, I could have used Dr. Suess characters as monikers for The Boy, The Girl, The Tot, and The Dad. The Dad is a huge fan of Dr. Suess, specifically The Lorax. We have two copies of The Lorax in the Chicago Mama household, including The Dad's original copy and one I bought at a garage sale for the kids. I'm constantly quoting Dr. Suess in my life, which translates well to most active parents, but causes your average 20-something to react with perplexity.

The Dad would be the Lorax and I'd probably be the Onceler (not that I want to be a Republican). The Boy would be a Brown Bar-ba-loot, The Girl would be a Swanee Swan, and The Tot would be a Humming-Fish.

While The Dad's favorite Dr. Suess story is The Lorax, I am not sure what is mine. When I was a kid, it was the story of Bartholomew Cubbins. As an adult, I enjoy reading many of the stories to my children, although my favorite is probably Red Fish, Blue Fish, One Fish, Two Fish. What about you? What is your favorite Dr. Suess story?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Must Write More

And so it has happened without any real warning, without an official moment to mark the passage: I have become boring. I started this blog as part creative outlet and part desire to record all the fun things I did with my children in the city of Chicago. But as my children have aged and my life has changed, I have less and less to say that fits in with my original objective.
Since I began blogging, the "scene" of kid-friendly Chicago has exploded. There's Windy City Tot to aggregate weekly tot-friendly activities. TimeOut Chicago Kids brings us a whole magazine full of kid-friendly activities and restaurant reviews each monthly (and weekly emails). And of course, there's the old standby of Chicago Parent. The Chicago momlogging world is pretty full as well, although I only really know of Momtrolfreak and Sassafrass, both of whom are prolific writers with more to say than I even think in a day. I cannot possibly keep up. I work full-time, volunteer, and have three kids and a husband.

And yet, this blog is such a great record of my children's early childhood experiences and of my own new-motherhood.  I cannot bear to give it up for those reasons alone. My posts may be sporadic, but I hope you'll keep reading.

Monday, February 15, 2010

To Mecca

Or so I'd refer to the experience that is the "new" Whole Foods in Lincoln Park. We needed groceries, dinner and to leave the house yesterday, hence the 5 p.m. trek to one of the busiest stores on a Sunday evening.

We managed to get a parking spot on the third floor next to a giant snowbank. The Boy's fear of heights is contagious, affecting The Girl on this trip. The Dad and The Boy took the escalators while The Girl, The Tot and I waited forever for the single elevator, while DINKs in black Northface jackets gave us the stink eye as they hurried past with their gourmet cheeses and bouquets of freshcut flowers (in a single brown paper bag).

We headed straight for the Riverview lunch counter for Whole Foods' take on the Woolworth counters of old: burgers, fries, dogs, shakes and rootbeer floats. The Dad, The Boy and I ordered cheeseburgers, which reminded me of In & Out - right down to the iceberg lettuce on the freshly baked buns. The Girl had a grilled cheese and The Tot nibbled fries and sucked down his dad's vanilla malt. Not bad for $30 -- far less than a similar meal at Johnny Rockets.

After dinner, we got our shopping done as quickly as was possible with 3 kids and the St. Valentine's Day gourmet foodie/yuppie crowd.

Monday, January 18, 2010

CPS Obsessed

Unlike this lady, I'm not really obsessed with CPS in general -- just with what's going in with my children's school, and how the wider CPS policy and culture, and indeed, wider Education news and policy, affect it. So it was with great interest that I read yesterday's Chicago Tribune front-page article on the early success (or not, as it turns out) of the Renaissance 2010 schools.

For those of you who don't know, Renaissance 2010 (and its main funding organization, the Renaissance Schools Fund) came out of the civic committee of the Chicago Commercial Club and Mayor Daley. It is a plan to turn around Chicago's failing educational system by replicating existing successful schools within CPS. Disney II is a modified replication of the Walt Disney Magnet School. Walt Disney Magnet School opened in 1972 (I believe), the first magnet school in the city of Chicago.

Parents of children at CPS (at least all the ones I know and talk to) are already in a tailspin after the Consent Decree was overturned in September and the new magnet/siblings-admission policy. Can any good come out of the Trib's indictment of the Ren10 schools? What do you think of the news?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

These Are Days

Recently, a high school friend wrote that the best songs are the ones that you continue to listen to in the car after arriving at your destination (instead of turning the engine off and getting out immediately when you arrive). I had one of those moments this afternoon on my way to Lowe's to pick up polycrylic gloss and a new toilet. 10,000 Maniacs' These Are Days was playing on XRT; I cranked up the volume, sang at the top of my lungs, and simply, enjoyed it. It was the song that played at my wedding. And it's the song that sums up my life now: content with my children, my husband, my friends, my job, my house, my neighborhood. Things are good for me right now and I don't recognize or verbalize it often enough.

This morning, Grandma and Grandpa Naperville took The Boy to Legoland in honor of his birthday next week.  And I took The Girl and The Tot on an outing to the Shedd Aquarium.  (The Dad slept in and watched football.) I hadn't been to the Aquarium since they updated the Oceanarium, although the kids have been a few times with Natty.

Note to self: do not go to the Shedd during a cold winter weekend. Our visit today was kind of a mixed-bag. I have been very spoiled by years of going to museums on weekdays, so the crowds there really threw me. At 9:45 a.m., I was able to park along Solidarity Drive at a LAZ meter, which broke after I dumped about $4 worth of quarters in it. But even at 9:45 a.m., the line was out-the-door to buy tickets at the accessible-stroller entrance, and we had to wait in line even to get our member wristbands.

We headed pretty much immediately to the Oceanarium to catch the 10:30 Fantasea show. Wow! That is really a show. No cute dolphin tricks to an Enya soundtrack. This show is a production. Imaginary characters, lights, an Oceanarium-wide roller screen - wow! I can't want to see it. They had technical difficulties about 1/3 of the way into the show, so they rolled back to a showcase of the animals talents with the trainers. Afterward, we went down to the new underwater play area, where The Tot happily moved rubber shells from one freezing-cold "tide pool" to another for about 20 minutes.

Although I had brought snacks with us, it was now after 11 a.m. and The Girl was cranky, so I gave it up and got lunch at the new-and-improved Bubblenet food court (smaller food area, larger and airier eating area): kids' mac & cheese plate for The Tot and kids' chicken fingers plate for The Girl, a hummus-and-veggie wrap (and coffee!) for me, and chocolate-milk for both kids. Total with our membership discount: $21.

After lunch, The Tot was not to be deterred: he wanted to see the sharks! So we headed back over to the aquarium to the Underwater Reef, the exhibit that features coral, stingray, and sharks. We spent a good bit of time sitting on the floor in front of the tank glass, watching the fish and again watching the sharks. We also oogled the garden eels for awhile. The Tot was scared of the faux tides in the entrance.

The Girl complained all the way back to the car that she was too hot (earlier, it had been too cold). Our trip back home was just short enough that she didn't fall asleep, but she really needed to do so.