Thursday, September 13, 2012

10 Things I Love About You

1. You make up little songs all the time. For example: "Sweet Potata has little tiny ears!"

2. You are a natural tiny dancer who feels the music. Especially Michael Jackson's Shake Your Body.

3. When you retell a story you use very exaggerated hand gestures and say "like" a lot. Have you been watching the Disney channel again?

4. You could tell any CTA rider how to get where they are going. You know that the red line begins at Howard and ends at 95th.

5. You can do flawless impressions and even accents. But you won't do them on command. You are nobody's monkey.

6. You love to try new recipes. Remember that brief period last Spring when you wanted a hummus sandwich for lunch everyday?

7. Sometimes you say nothing for hours. Sometimes you just burst into song with a gem like this:
"Come on, we can ride it! We can ride the train!"

8. You've been marching for the Chicago Teachers Union for four straight days.

9.   When someone asks you what your want for your birthday you say, "a card."

10. You are still very snuggly.

Happy 6th Birthday to a true original! I love you, Lil Buddy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Strike Schedule: A brief , and rough rundown of Days 1 and 2

Day One:

Wake up at 4:45am and trip over shit in the dark because, well, it is dark.

Make a poster, a kind of lame one.

Shower, pack up things, put on red shirt.

Remind sleeping spouse where it is I am going.

Walk in the dark to bus stop and feel a little nervous.

6 a.m.: Get on bus. Look for red shirts. there aren't any. yet.

6:20:  Get off bus and walk to school. Meet colleagues wearing red shirts. help self to coffee because you picked the wrong month to give up coffee.

Walk in a circle with better sign (not the lame one I discarded) and learn some chants. Help self to a donut because you picked the wrong month to give up carbs.

You would never give up carbs, actually, but this is a terrible month for it.

7:30 begin texting exchange with spouse. Try and give clear directions to the school down the street where you are now. Sense spouse's tension. Feel tension and frustration because your smart phone kind of sucks and hangs up on people a lot.

8:30: Greet spouse and Lil buddy at school. Provide child with munchkins.

9:00: watch as Lil Buddy warms up to other small protesters and begins to play

10:30: take child home.

11:00 lunch at home with child. Sit ass on couch and consider folding laundry.

12:45 Fall asleep during Thomas with Lil Buddy nestled next to me.

1:55: Wake up during Angelina Ballerina. Holy crap it's time to go!

2:00: ask LB nicely if he will put on socks and shoes.

2:05: Brush teeth. Tell LB in a sweet voice to put on socks and shoes.

2:10: Gather things and remind LB about those socks and shoes.


2:30 drive to and park car at school.

2:35: meet the other teachers and walk to train station with LB

2:55: exit station and find Daddy. Kiss boys goodbye. Daddy takes LB for the rest of his work day.

3:10: meet up with 50,000 people or so in front of Board of Ed. HOld up signs. March through Loop for two  hours. Shut down Loop traffic.

5:10: say goodbye to teachers and head to Daley Plaza where Daddy is waiting and LB is sliding down the Picasso head first.

5:20: train with boys

5:45: exit and walk to car

6:01: Gather Sweet Potata at the last possible minute from daycare and apologize for lateness.

6:30: feed babies.

6:50: snuggle with babies and read

7:05: bathe babies

7:15 put jammies on babies and brush their teeth

7:30 Night nights

8:00: pick up tacos from corner

8:15: eat in front of news

8:35: begin texting and emailing tomorrow's babysitting possibilities

9:00: decide on dropping LB at teacher friends house down the street

10:00: throw red t shirt in laundry!!!

10:45: Night nights.

Day Two

5:00 a.m. : sleep in today.

5:45 a.m.: make somewhat better poster

6:00 a.m.: leave for school!

6:20 a.m: arrive at school to find one teacher friend also early. Decide to go to dunkin donuts drive through in her car for coffeee

6:45 a.m: coffee consumption out of control today!

7:00 a.m: join teacher friends out on busy Irving Park Road. Wave sign, chant, worry over negotiations.

8:15 a.m: Daddy drops Sweet Potata off at her daycare.

8:30 a.m: Daddy brings Lil Buddy. Parks car in neighborhood and takes the train down to his work.

10:30 a.m: Gather signs and things, get afternoon assignment and put Lil Buddy in car.

11:00 a.m: lunch at Potbelly. Lil Buddy is happy and sparkly and insists I sit next to him.

12:00 pm: quick trip to Trader Joes where LB and I do our best to shop for the week with no list. Lots of prepared and frozen food. Mommy and Daddy do not have time to cook.

1:00 pm: arrive home and unload groceries. Pack a bag for LB to take to friend's house.

1:26 pm: drive to house and practice conversations in the car.

1:30 pm: drop off at teacher friend's house. Get LB settled. Take teacher friend with me to train.

2:00 pm: park car near train and get on train. Send text to hubby about where he can find car when he leaves work.

2:30 walk through Loop with teachers for a few hours. End up at Buckingham Fountain and take photos.

4:30: Daddy leaves loop separately to pick up the babies.

5:30 train it home. Send Daddy a telepathic message to start dinner.

6ish: walk in door and love babies. Message to Daddy has been received!!!!! Dang.

6:30: feed babies.

6:55: snuggle babies

7:15: bathe babies

7:30: goodnights

8:00pm: dinner for grownups

8:30: and a very small glass of wine

9:00: confirm through email that this is not over and there will be more tomorrow

10:00: wash red shirt

11:00: Night nights for us.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Labor Unions, child care freakouts, my special 6 year old, and me

I needed to have a serious conversation with my son. In short, I had to prepare him for the beginning of the week, during which he would walk a picket line with me, a fed up member of the Chicago Teachers Union. This conversation would not be easy for a lot of reasons.

We had just finished the first week of school. And in my house, school is a "we" kind of thing for me and Lil Buddy. I am lucky to have a great job, teaching dance and drama at a neighborhood Chicago Public School. I am blessed to not only have a job, but to teach a subject that I care deeply about and love sharing. I am further blessed to go to work somewhat side by side with Lil Buddy, who attends the very same school. This means we get to walk into school together every morning, wave to each other when we pass by in the hall, and leave together at the end of the day. On top of all of this is the fact that  I really do get to know and interact with the teachers, therapists, special ed teachers and social worker who work with him. His teachers are my colleagues and I am grateful for them.

Both of us were nervous about our individual first days of school and both of us were nervous about Kindergarten. Lil Buddy made it through, though. His biggest complaint of the week being that "lunch is soooooo short in Kindergarten!"

I was relieved that things seemed to be going smoothly. I knew he wasn't talking to his new (or old) friends yet as he adjusted to the overwhelming stimuli of school, but I felt confident that some form of social interaction would come. Maybe hopeful is a better word. I feel hopeful that social interaction will come. It will take time.

Despite my satisfaction with my job, the fact remains that as a CPS teacher, I represent a group of people, 25,000 strong, who are in contract limbo. And yes, I agree with everything that my union is fighting for. My contract, our new contract, must be fair and respectful to teachers both in words and actions. Why should we be called greedy by the media for asking for our promised 4% raise? The one that was withheld by our Mayor? A guy that I helped elect to Congress several times...........

Why shouldn't  I accumulate sick days? I already quit CPS once just so I could stay home for ten weeks with my newborn. Lucky for me, they took me back.

Why should our effectiveness be  linked to standardized test scores?

And why, please tell me, should any one of us teachers, anywhere in the country, be expected to actually "teach" 35-40 students at one time? How in the world is that effective? That's the one! Man, that is the one, that I am trying to conquer that I just cannot wrap my brain around. how do I engage, excite, reach all 30 children at once? How do I do it 5 times in one day, 5 days a week?

And our union represents a group of people highly disenchanted with our Board's take on school "reform." How on earth does closing a school and wiping it clean of employees spell reform? And what about the new school in its place? Can it accept all the children in the neighborhood or just a select few? Where do the others go? How do they get there? Where do the special kids go? The ones with Autism Spectrum Disorder, among other things? Is there a place for them at this wonderful new school? And if not, then where do I send my son?

So I thought about all this as I dragged Lil Buddy to union meetings during my first 2 weeks of work.

"Why did everyone keep saying 'Oh My God,'?" he asked. "what do they mean?"

I didn't have an answer. I struggled to figure out how I would prepare him to walk the picket line with me. I wanted him there, of course. I also really had no other place for him to go. I already pay for Sweet Potata's daycare whether she's there or not. So at least that was a no brainer. well, a costly one. The 2 year old can go to daycare. But that would have to be it as I prepared to walk away from my income.

And then there was the matter of Lil Buddy himself. I knew that his friends (children of my colleagues) would be there. But could they entertain each other the ENTIRE TIME? Would he last? My Lil Buddy, with his own unique level of tolerance for talking to grown ups and enduring schedule free events. Would there be enough bubbles, drawing, video games, DVDs, chasing, jumping, sparkling, donuts to last the entire time? I didn't know.......

On Friday I stayed until 4:30 to finish up my lesson plans for the week. Lil Buddy begrudgingly entertained himself in my classroom as I hunched over a computer. I took my copy of click, clack, moo home with me with a genius plan to read the book and discuss labor struggles on a snuggly bed. I imagined it would go something like this:

"You see, mommy is the cow with the typewriter, well, a friend of that cow, but a cow. Farmer Brown is the Board of Education. Mommy just wants a warm blanket because she is cold. It's about fairness."

"Oh, I see."

But we never cracked open Click Clack Moo. Instead, during a quiet resting/snacking moment at the park, I decided to broach the subject. Lil Buddy was exhausted from trying to catch butterflies with his net ("where are they, mommy?"). 

"Hey, Lil B. I have to talk to you about something."

"What is it?"

"There might not be school on Monday."

"really? is it a another holiday like thanksgiving?"

"No, LB, it's not a holiday. The thing is, we have to be in a parade and carry signs."

"Me, too?"

"Yes, but it's going to be kind of a long parade. You see, Mommy's job, well, all of us, who are teachers, we are not being treated fairly by, well, by the people we work for."

"You mean our school?"

"No, not our school, the people who run our school from downtown. They don't want to , well, they are not being fair. " And here is where I thought about health care and wages and school reform and class size and services for children just like Lil Buddy.

But I didn't talk about any of that. Cause I knew he wouldn't get it.

"That's not nice!" he exclaimed.

"Well, it's not fair," I corrected, "and we are going to have a parade on Monday to ask for fairness."


"and I need you to come with me. your buddies will be there. And you can have a donut in the morning."

"Donuts? Really?"

"Yes, really. as a treat. Only on Monday."

"cause there's no school!"

"Maybe, maybe there's no school."

"And I'll be in the parade."

"Yes. And the  parade is called a strike."

And that's sort of how things went. Simple, and awkward. I thought afterwards about IEP language: restate the directions, give extra time for questions and answers, give the child preferential seating. No, it wasn't perfect in that regard, either, but maybe it came from that place.

Tomorrow, Lil Buddy will come with me to school, where we will parade together, for fairness. We'll just have to see how it all goes, I guess. We'll wear red shirts and eat donuts, and maybe, just maybe, his amazing encyclopedic mind will tuck this memory away forever.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Happy to You, Sweet Potata!

Sweet Potata, look at you! Here you are at only 4 months old, sitting in a bowl at Grandpa and NY Lala's house. Already you were a sweet morsel of delicious baby exuberance. Now you are two. Two years old! How is that possible? Just yesterday Aunt BF and I propped you into this bowl for a cute photo op and then I scooped you up and you melted like butter into my neck. You were a sweet little lump of baby goo goo ga ga.

And you are 2 years old. ( 2 years and 2 days because Mommy didn't get around to blogging on the 30th, which was your big day) You can do all kinds of amazing things like tell your big brother "Don't do dat!" and "hugs! hugs!"  You can scale the changing table with your tiny monkey legs and arms. You can dance freely in Lincoln Square while buskers test out their amps and their questionable material. You sing "twinkle twinkle little sky," at the top of your lungs and you really don't care that the actual lyric is "little star." You tell people "Happy to You," instead of "happy birthday to you." You walk up to giant dogs and introduce yourself fearlessly. When you pet them you say, "Nice, nice yoggie." You build towers out of blocks and knock them down like a happy, mini Godzilla. You shun whole grain bread in any form but you love a hardboiled egg. I've seen you carry on a whole conversation with a Hello Kitty mylar balloon.

And here you are, face down in a cupcake. I love you, Sweet Potata. Don't ever change.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Great Train Adventure: the Skokie Swift

When I mentioned to 'Lil Buddy that I thought we should take an adventure on the yellow line today, he sparkled so much that I thought he would burst into a cloud of pixie dust! Lil Buddy has been going on about ALL of the train lines ever since we got a CTA map shower curtain. He has been particularly interested in the yellow line, though, and it's shiny new Oakton stop and platform: totally visible from the street!

I thought, why not today? Sweet Potata would be at daycare so we could do some serious train time and walking!

We began our trip by parking at the Park n Ride Garage next to the Howard St. station. (note to potential travelers: you have to have exactly 5 $1 bills or one $5 bill to exit this garage. I'm not kidding. There are no alternatives. If you don't have it and you call the number on the garage, the man who sits in there will tell you to park your car again and walk down 3 flights of stairs to the shopping complex for change or an atm. Now you know)

We parked and waited for the yellow line/Skokie Swift at Howard. If you have a little train nut, this is a mind blowing station! A veritable Tidmouth shed of Red, Purple, and Yellow line trains running between this northern point of the city and Evanston and Skokie. Your tiny engineer will recognize the signs: "95th St.!," "Linden!", "No Smoking!"

Here's some of the fun stuff we captured at Howard:

We boarded the Skokie Swift and headed to Oakton. It's only one stop north. A short ride with lots for little train lovers to see. "Is it up? No, it's down. See, Mama. I told you it was down."

 Once you're there, you are in the midst of charming, downtown Skokie with it's shops, restaurants, and big fancy park!!! We headed for the park hoping that the Exploratorium would be open. The Exploratorium is a big, indoor play place with climby stuff, a water table, an art room--you get the idea! It's right there at Oakton and Skokie Blvd, only about $5 or so to get in, and totally not open on Wednesday mornings. (that's when we went) If you fail to read up on the hours before you go (as we did), then venture just outside to the super rad playground. Check this out:

 Post playground, we declared hunger and walked into charming downtown. I held out for some time for a coffee shop/deli type place. Lil Buddy threw a fit in front of Subway. Guess who won that tug of war? we had a great lunch anyway. LB announced that he really wanted to see Dempster, the final stop on the Swift, so we plotted our final destination. Disappointed with the over sweetened iced tea I got from the Subway fountain, I was excited about Dempster because I remembered it housed an adorable Starbucks. So we pressed on to Dempster, enjoying more railroad crossings and signs, and finally, a chocolate chip cookie split right down the middle.
It was a great day!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tiny Dancers wins Liebster Blog Award!

I took a long hiatus from blogging in the midst of a tough year. I needed a good reason to come back and what do you know? I won an award!

My friend Keesha, author of the hilarious Mom's New Stage, nominated me for the Liebster Blog Award. Keesha is a fellow mommy and fellow dance teacher who is really dedicated to blogging. I am grateful to her for encouraging me to keep it up. Here's more about the Liebster Award:

The Liebster Blog Award is given to upcoming bloggers who have 200 followers or less. That's me, alright. I have 3 followers: my mom, Lala, my aunt Susie Christmas, and my cousin Sonja. The word Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. 

Here are the Rules:
1. Each person must post 11 random facts about themselves.
2. Answer 11 questions the tagger has given you and give 11 questions for the people you tagged.
3. Choose 11 people and link them in your post.*     
4. Tell them you've tagged them.
5. Remember, no tag backs.

11 random facts about me:

1.   I am currently on day 17 of a 40 class yoga challenge.
2.    I grew up in Upstate NY. Utica is my hometown. You should visit Utica and get yourself some tomato pie
3.   I am the parent of a special needs child. My son has autism spectrum disorder, the discovery of which, was a major force in deciding to commit to blogging.
4.    I suffer from horrible, debilitating cluster headaches. I have been getting clusters since I was 17 and they do not suck any less. Basically a cluster is a series of migraines (mine come complete with vomiting, not sleeping and horrible pain above my left eye) that happen over a period of time. Mine happen every 1.5-2 years for about 6 weeks. I am on a journey through exercise and chiropractics to get to the bottom of them.
5.   I toured to Brazil with a modern dance company in 2000. It was amazing to travel to another part of the world to dance. Drinking out of a coconut and hearing live bossa nova was not bad either.
6.    My dad is a retired minister of the Lutheran variety. I like that I grew up as a “PK” and I wrote a lot of funny performance pieces about it. If you spent anytime at Links Hall in the late 90s, you might have seen one.
7.  I have a subscription to Bon Appettit and I read it cover to cover when it comes in the mail. I actually make recipes from it. Roasted Chicken with panko crust is my go to Monday night dinner.
8.   My husband is from Nashville, Tennessee and loves country music. He looks adorable in a cowboy shirt with pearl buttons. Our wedding song is “Take Me,” by George Jones and Tammy Wynette. I can’t believe you have never heard it.
9.   I got to meet one of my writer heroes, David Sedaris, in person at a bookstore reading in 2000. He signed my book, “To MK, a working prostitute in Chicago.” It’s not accurate, but I don’t care.
110.My favorite movie is the rockumentary This is Spinal Tap.
111.  can sing/rap along to Young MC’s “Bust a Move.” I know every single word cuz I bought the cassette single when it first appeared in the local record store. Yes. I said “cassette single” and “record store.”

1.  What's your favorite vacation you have taken? To the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate NY with my family. Gorgeous green mountains, cold sparkly lakes, stores filled with antiques and raccoon t-shirts and maple syrup.
2.  Name a historical figure you'd like to be able to interview. I would like to interview Martha Graham. I imagine she would be very entertaining and gossipy and show me her personal vault of stretchy suits.
3.  What is your favorite holiday? Mother’s Day
4.  Store where you'd bankrupt yourself if there were no consequences? Athleta—I wear yoga pants for my job and I would like them to come decorated with pockets and classy embroidery.
5.  Favorite room in your home? My bedroom because I have a big cozy bed that can accommodate snuggly, sleeping children.
6.  How do high heels make you feel? High heels make me feel more slender. After about an hour, they make me long for orthopedic Swedish sandals.
7.  Most overrated celebrity? Snooki
8.  Favorite 80s song?
Everybody’s Workin for the Weekend, by Loverboy
9.  Thing you would do monthly if time/money allowed? Buy super chic, orthopedic Swedish sandals. And go out to dinner with my husband, sans kids. Superdawg does not count.
10.  Your go-to drink? (If you're wondering about alcoholic or not, your call...) Iced tea, black, unsweetened, with lemon. Everyday. Sometimes twice.
11.  Your current favorite TV show? True Blood. A cashier at Whole Foods asked me if I liked Bill or Eric better and my answer is Terry the war vet. He’s my favorite.

Excellent blogs that you should visit right now:

2.  Weaver Girl Guz
3.  Pop Culture Casualty

*Um, yeah. I am supposed to tag eleven blogs and I didn't. I clearly need to become a more worldly, social blogger. Working on that. Luckily, I have friends like Keesha to show me how it's done.

My questions: 

1.      What is the last good book you read?
2.      If you could learn to cook one thing, what would it be?
3.      Please describe any exciting travel plans in your future.
4.      Where would you most like to travel to?
5.      What important items are you out of in your house right now?
6.      Name three songs on your exercise/clean the house playlist?
7.      What is your favorite form of internet procrastination?
8.      What other writing project would you like to tackle beyond (or within) your blog? A novel? Memoir?
9.      What is your idea of happiness?
10.  If you could have any job, what would it be?
11.  What would you do if you had the house to yourself tonight?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tiny Dancer gets big

Mommy sat in the car in the parking lot of the mall. It was cold and she was tired. She just needed a minute to gather her strength. She knew that there wasn't much time between now, this post work shopping trip, and the final pickup time at Sweet Potata's daycare, but she froze.

Sometimes Mommy did this. Her mental list of things to do for work, for home, for preschool, for her family got in the way. She started to think of everything there was to do and instead of moving forward and crossing things off, she just froze. She knew she should read that new book or call that friend or create that lesson plan or write in that blog but she didn't. She just sat there, in the car, at her desk afterschool, at the kitchen table, doing nothing. Time was always so precious and she knew that, but she got herself stuck, overthinking things.

"Mommy!" The tiny voice from the back seat jolted her.

"Sorry Lil Buddy."

"Are we going in? To the mall? Are we going to Old Navy?"

"Yes, honey. Yes. I just had to check this message." Mommy looked at her stupid smart phone. why did she get so sucked into that thing? She would frantically search for it to check her latest emails only to find page after page of groupons. And then, to make procrastination matters worse, she would comb through those groupons, hoping to find the ultimate restaurant deal in the neighborhood, or the cheapest possible pedicure, or the most enticing vacation spot. And then she would start looking up the website to the vacation spot, a treehouse in the middle of a ski if !


"Sorry, baby! Let's go! We have to be fast." Mommy pulled un belted Lil Buddy from the back seat. Gosh, he was huge! when in the hell did that happen? He looked older everyday.

"I need a snack," he whined. Yeah, she thought, he was still just a five year old. A really big five year old.

"honey, we have to go to Old Navy and get you some dance class clothes! THis is our only day to do it, and we have to hurry so we can get back to Sweet Potata."

"I'm hungry."

"Well, we're going straight home after getting Sweet potata. Then it will be dinner time before you know it." Yeah, she thought, he was going to need a snack. That time was 90 minutes away, at least. But what to eat at the mall? She went through the "should I? Shouldn't I?" McDonald's inner dialogue.

I should not. That was the decision. Hmmm. What now?

In Old Navy, Mommy worked shockingly fast. She headed straight back to the toddler boys section only to find that all the clothes in the toddler boys section had shrunk. Overnight. Hadn't she just been in here last week? Or month? During the holidays? Whatever!   The clothes were tiny! Tiny! She always shopped for Lil B in this section. She bought his awesome Cookie Monster t-shirt here, and his Super Grover shirt. They weren't this tiny were they?

Remembering Sweet Potata, and her hungry little man, she moved on quickly to the boys section. She thumbed through sale price graphic tees looking for Super Grover, Cookie, the Cat in the Hat; but all she found were skateboards and skulls and general tweenage radness. Where the heck was Cookie?

A tiny hand tugged on her coat. "Mommy...." said a weak, partially dehydrated voice, "snaaaaaaaccckkk."

"okay, okay," said Mommy, and she grabbed sweatpants and half zip fleeces and a plain long sleeve t shirt. She held up a simple, non descript hoodie: "blue or red?" she asked him. "Ummmmm, red!" he said, emphatically.

Mommy scooped up the clothes and tugged on Lil Buddy's free hand. "lets go"

They left quickly with their new purchases but not before Mommy took one last glance back at the toddler section. Surveying a row of miniature cowboy shirts, she wiped at a tear and had a moment of clarity: "how about a hot pretzel, Lil Buddy?"

"Yeah!" he said.

So they left the mall with new clothes, and a delicious pretzel, which seemed, in Mommy's mind, better than a Happy Meal. He could pick at a turkey meatball later in the evening, she figured.

they made it to Sweet Potata just in time!

Later in the week, Mommy picked up graphic tees at Target: a Superman short sleeve, a Muppets long sleeve, and a cozy clearance t-shirt with the aliens from Toy Story. All in the big boys section. Mommy was relieved. He could learn about Superman later.......

On Saturday morning, Lil Buddy put on his sweatpants, Superman tee, and red half zip fleece as he got ready for his class.

"Look at me, Mommy! I look like a dancer!" Indeed he did. Her big boy.