Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Tale of Two Immigrants

I could not have started this blog with words any better than those - thank you Mr. Dickens.

As an immigrant the Boston bombings last year hit me hard in two ways - one is at the loss of human life and the acts of terrorism against my country and one as an immigrant watching another set of immigrants from a former Soviet bloc country do this to that same country.  It made me really angry !!!

Those of us who come here by choice - because invitations are rare and often only to people like David Beckham.  We come here to fulfill needs such as lack of opportunities in home countries, fears of persecution in homelands, and dreams of what America means as much as the US as an actual place.  America with it's faults and fault lines is still a beacon to the many, many people that have come through the ages and continue to come.  New immigrants along side with those who have been here for generations are the fabric that weaves what is this nation.  There is a lot that can be fixed in the US, so much that has drifted from this construct, but it is still there - the heart that beats beneath the land - the pulse that keeps this still a place that shows the world that it is not easy to live amongst those not like us but it is possible.

My parents, like many, came here with nothing except determination and dreams - they asked for nothing except opportunities to work, work that was not the highest paid, work that required many hours, many backaches and many times to make them understand that this may be the land of milk and honey but those things need to be paid for.

As I learned more about the terrorists I got angrier and angrier. They came from a place that is short on hope and long on suffering, they came with nothing, they came to family who willingly wanted to give 2 boys opportunities and freedom from fear.  They were given chances to go to school, money for higher education and the ability to make this a place where they could help themselves live better and even help people back in their homeland.  They chose to take and take and take until last year where they took the biggest chunk - they took life, they took calm, they took the hope of many around that area and they took from immigrants.  They took from immigrants that pride so many of us have for adding to this country.  They gave credibility to others here and around the world who never see immigration for the additions but just for the subtractions.  They took from us, if for a second, the ability to fight with those who forget their own immigrant roots and point foolishly to others with shameful words like "send them home".  This was their home and they treated it not like a palace but like an outhouse.

So as the Boston marathon happened this year, much like after 9/11 in NY,  people from the States, from the world and of course from the Boston area showed them that they were Boston Strong - not afraid, not cowered.  This race meant a lot for so many and then came Meb.

Meb Keflezighi  - another refugee from a war torn land, another man who was given opportunities, another immigrant.  He ran with a spring in his Skechers, with a smile on his face and with the names of the victims on his bib.  He ran for the country whose citizenship he chose.  Thank you Meb for giving more than taking, thank you for being the face of the US, thank you for being the American with the hard to pronounce name.  Meb you are what those 2 could never be  - you are a hero.  As an immigrant I cannot tell you how much Meb's win meant to me.  He won for all of us who came here through the ages.  He won through hard work and dedication.  Meb is the United States - people with funny names, that look different one from another, or speak different languages at home, or worship at various institutions, or choose not to worship, who love who they want.  Meb is more American than those who preach hate and who call themselves that.  Meb has reminded us what it is to strive, to smile and to feel proud.  Meb CHOSE to do that. So I choose Meb. 

I did not to mention those other 2 by name because they do not deserve to be given the respect of being called more than killer, terrorist.  They gave up all that was given to them with their actions.  I chose to only highlight the name of the man who deserves to have his name spoken with admiration. This blog is dedicated to the story of immigration  -  also known as choice. 

Thank you and congratulations Meb - we are all Boston Strong (even those Yankee fans writing this)  and we are all proud to be Americans by choice.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Are kids spoiled today?

I cannot stand the word spoiled - just can't and not sure I ever could - so ironically enough when I titled this blog I almost changed it but then I thought that is one of the things to address. 

Spoiled - I mean seriously that is something that goes rank in your fridge or cupboard.  I have a co-worker who is 8 1/2 months pregnant and right before taking leave she came with another series of questions.  I told her with all the other questions she had asked me through her pregnancy,  that basically for me parenting is a lot about understanding how to balance what the child needs with who they are and throw in a dash of how you react to it all.  This time her questions were about picking up the baby if it cries vs letting it cry.  Now I know for everyone who did what I did - picked up child after a few minutes, sometimes it was a test cry which when not addressed led to guess I will go back to sleep, if crying continued.  I did not see letting these little boys cry until they were spent because I wanted to teach them something - for me the teaching would have been more about not getting your needs met and trust than actual "discipline".  My oldest was a crap sleeper - he woke up a lot - and I remember also putting him to bed as he got older where I, grown woman and not bikini ready size (goodness wasn't even 30s swimsuit with skirt ready) sitting on floor next to his crib and trying to commando crawl out .. just as reached the door he inevitably would cry "Mama?" to which I would delve back.  This went on until he fell asleep, or I fell asleep, for several months.  I consulted and I read and I tried sleep training.  I let him cry and cry, not quite sure how this was going to help me as I was awake now more than ever and anxious beyond belief, until he threw up.  I went in and he was still crying .. so now I had to make bed, bathe child and soothe - which took considerably longer than my usual go in when crying, pat on back, say some soft words - presto back to sleep.  He sleep trained me .. or trained me in lack of sleep.  He sleeps just fine now.

I have rules for my kids and I am one to enforce them - I yell ocassionally (ok I admit it and good for you if you do not) after enough prodding from little ones and I have punished.  I believe in creating an environment of mutual respect and so far it seems to be working.  

To many these things make my boys spoiled .. but are they? I see them with confidence in their ability and open dialogue with me in ways that I just never trusted my own parents with.  I see them come to me even when they know I will not exactly be happy to hear what they have to tell me but still out themselves instead of hoping I do not find out.  So is it spoiled or is it just parenting done for kids who just respond better to positive reinforcement and clear rules?

Kids today have a lot of stuff, I know in many places including US there are many who have no food never mind stuff, but I am going to exclude those for this blog because they need so much more than what a few words from me will give them.  They have a lot of stuff that they do not need.  I know many of my peers seem to remember a childhood of one toy and that one made of an old shoe found in a corner .. eye roll... but I remember growing up in a blue collar - middle class neighborhood and we all had toys.  Not expensive ones but still had toys.  I always appreciated what I had and worked hard at asking for more -- understanding often when it was no to what I wanted.  Yet in retrospect I had a lot of toys in the States and yes even in Romania, sent to me from overseas from my parents or from my relatives who got them somehow.  

Do kids today understand that they have a lot? Sometimes- it is a hard thing to balance for most of us.  We want them to have and enjoy things but we also want them to understand that things do not make you happy, well shoes do -sorry I digress, and that things cost money which is earned through hard work.  We want them to not have so little that they have become our political outcry at decadence but not so much that nothing makes them happy.  We want them to appreciate and be grateful for the lives they have - not for the things but for having people in their lives who want to see them happy.  

Our kids are not spoiled because with few exceptions they are not rotten.  Giving to our kids needs to be paired with them giving too .. their underused (cause if you ask them nothing is "not used ") things to those less fortunate before getting more.  That it is not ok to keep adding to the video collection.  To use their own funds as they accumulate allowance with chores, this one is fun to watch as they definitely consider their purchase much more carefully when the money has to leave their piggy banks.  

Are kids today spoiled? They are not - they may be ill behaved, they may not appreciate what they have, they may covet too much - but they are not rotten because that would mean they are done with.  As a parent we are responsible for teaching them to work toward their goals, to enjoy the moments and to appreciate what they have without looking round them bend for more.  Are kids today spoiled? No but they need to be reminded that they are loved for who they are not what they own so that they too can become parents who teach their kids how precious love is .. love is the one thing you can never give or get too much of. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring Break

 Those of us suffering, I mean living in the Northeast this year  - ok at least I was suffering and moaning about it - with what has been an endless, cold, give me a break not again snowstorm and snow school closing winter-  it seems as though finally as we inch toward May warmth and sun are here. 

I actually like living in a place with seasons, as nice as San Fran was when I lived there the days seemed to literally be one long day because there was very little variation in the weather.  For some this is nirvana for me it was just what I wrote one long endless day.  I like the variety of the seasons, partially because of the fashion options and mostly because it really makes me feel like I am moving forward on the conveyor belt of life.  Spring makes me cheesily poetic as you can see. 

Spring comes also with the wonderful notion of spring break.  Now as a kid growing up in Queens this did not equate as it does for my kids to Caribbean/Floridian/Warm weather destination family trip.  It only meant we had some time off from school which I could use to procrastinate doing homework during, if I had any, and go outside and play with my friends.  The days getting longer meant that I had that much more time before the street lights went on and we all had to scatter before our own mothers called for us and then yelled at us for not coming home soon enough.  I assume maybe those with discretionary income probably went to these destinations even then during spring break but "dahlin' " we made do and tried not to lose jackets taken off during mad tag games dodging the never ending stream of traffic that came down our block.

Spring break started to take on some significance as I got closer to college.  Pop culture generation that we are am sure this was influenced by some set of movies, or maybe it was those The Afternoon Movie that ran at 4 pm on ABC, where either it was 50s Beach Blanket Bingo (boys, cars, music, freedom) or Elvis (swoon) in his endless hip swaying, break out into song movies usually set in warmth.  Those seemed like rites of passage - you finish high school and in college during spring break you fly some place warm and frolic (will leave at that and you can define frolic however you did it).  My first spring break came in high school - at the generosity of my friend Margaret's dad.  Our parents paid for our airfare and he allowed us to use their condo.  We had no car, not even sure how many if any of us had a license.  So we did what any senior hs girls would do without transportation - we baked by the pool, we flirted with the guys cutting the grass, we laughed too loud, we took cabs to eat and maybe sneaked a pina colada (or 2) and when he came down to join us he dubbed us Nimrods - and bought us visors that proclaimed this.  It still is a great fond memory in my mind. 

So here came college and funds were still not quite discretionary, actually they were hard earned, scraped together and supplemented by my mom so it was not going to be more than a modest hotel, ok motel, ok once again crashing in a posh Boca Raton senior community (my other friend's dad had moved there with his 2nd wife) and he rented us a convertible.  Needless to say cruising in Ft Lauderdale up and down and up and down and once again up and down the strip -- that was awesome. 

One year a group of us decided that driving to Virginia Beach, in one car, one small Nissan Sentra (I loved my first car - no power windows but boy that car took me on all of these trips, including to and from Cali and still holds a place in my heart) with multiple people sounded like a fun trip.  It was - cramped, smoky, exhausting but fun.  Virginia Beach with it's warmth beckoned to us. 

I have become much more high maintenance with age - have made peace with this so judge if you want I do not really plan on going grunge again - and hotels have to have at least 3 stars or more ok 4 stars at least.  We have yet to go - it appalls me to spend that many thousand of dollars to go to Florida, a state that with all the respect for my friends who have chosen it as home is one I have no fondness for.  The other places seem like they will be crowded and again wow - them prices is a shocking.

We choose to spend our vacation money more on summer vaca - planning ours as I write this and cannot wait - and take kids on mini breaks.  They and we like DC a lot and it seems we have not yet run out of things to do there.  I like it most in spring before the humidity descends and my hair ascends.  
I had great time on spring breaks - and after this winter a break from the cold seems reward enough even without our trip -  though they were never quite the girl meets boy and he breaks out into song of the movies.  

Happy whatever you celebrate - - Happy Spring Break ...and we're off...................

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

To test or not to test .. that was the question

Last week was the first in a series of multi hour tests that my 4th grader has to take that are state wide.  It is all part of the Common Core curricula and implementation that is hitting nation wide.  I am not sure I have ever been more proud of how involved and dedicated parents are with either their incessant support of the kids who took it as well with the opt out that so many chose.  Both parents who had their children take the tests, encouragement and instilling pride for doing their best, and parents who opted out because they felt the test was not how a year should be focused on teaching to this test or the biggest basis for the fantastic teachers they saw with their kids.

Common Core is one of those things, like so many healthcare act comes to mind immediately, where the government identifies a need and develops a solution.  The need is real - children in the States like everywhere deserve to have a school curricula that matches the areas that will be important for their future.  This is not mine or even older education time - comfortable as that is for too many - across the US the standards and curricula should be the same and finally there does need to be measures and accountability for both the schools, teachers and parents.  There the idea and solution is actually quite good.  I mean who could really argue with that ?!! Now go forward a little - a little more - stop because here we are and here is what is happening from my point of view. Here is where the government fails a lot .. somewhere the goal with solution devolves into some sort of bureaucratic screw up that makes everyone miserable and loses the focus on the good idea it actually is.

The curricula - it is convoluted, I could see the merit of learning multiple ways to understand problems and to be less rote and more deductive but you still need to have a good base.  You cannot be Sherlock Holmes without having learned to look through a magnifying glass first.  The teachers do not seem that well equipped yet and somehow no one thought of how much change management would be needed to help caregivers.  This is an area that can be corrected though, as teachers do this more often they will be better equipped to do this - parent workshops are needed.

The tests -- ahh contentious.  My son took the tests for a variety of reasons.  He took it because he is the kind of kid that would stress at not taking it, because he felt ready, we placed mild emphasis on it - take it do your best kind and I think it is a worthy lesson from my perspective.  In life there are many, many times when something will seem unfair to complete, difficult and tedious and I feel that kids today are a little lacking in learning to deal with anything that may upset them.  It is ok to not let everyone be a winner - you learn a lot from disappointment and how to move forward and do better.  A critical skill in life is learning to navigate the difficult.

The tests - a measure is needed on how well the kids are learning and how the teachers are doing but implementation, implementation, implementation ---- you get a fail from me on this one.  I remember taking state testing but believe, could be wrong so one of Google freaks find out, that we took 1-2 weeks of testing for about 3 -5 hours worth once a year.   These kids are taking 9 - that's right 9 hours of testing.  This test is poorly written, this is evident from the books they are bringing home too - sometimes the question is so poorly worded or even outright wrong that I shudder, ummm attention to detail not only to the dollars being made on this would be nice.  This test is a large, overweighted part of teacher evaluations.  Now here is the kicker in NY the teachers' union is very strong so it is hard to dismiss a teacher.  I do not believe you should judge them based on one test but even when you do what a waste and what anxiety for what? The union won't be getting rid of them based on this - and rightfully so.

The emphasis on one set of tests, which by the way are also not given back until after school is over, is just a poor way to manage this.  Sure test kids, test them more frequently for shorter periods, use their tests to identify areas they need help in, watch progress.  The teachers and administrators need to come together to identify a fair but stringent evaluation method for teachers.  They are incredibly important in how a child learns and perceives learning so let's make sure the ones who do a great job, most of them, are differentiated from the ones that do not, small minority.  I have the pleasure of knowing teachers as friends, the appreciation of seeing the ones who my kids have - these are really well equipped people to add to the development of what would be a more adequate way to evaluate performance - so how about they get involved. 

Let's be honest about the kids  - school performance is not a result of the school only, poverty and parents (or whoever is taking care of that child) are more influential in education than any one method of teaching or test.  Schools that are underperforming should be given funding and monitoring to see how they can reverse the cycle of poverty.  The people taking care of these kids need to be brought in and made to understand that they are responsible for being partners in this - you will not fix all of it but think of the impact if you even change 20%.

So yes I am not against Common Core per se what I ask it that is reviewed and revised with Common Sense.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dear Diary

I was a prolific journal keeper when I was younger.   My first "diary" was a faux leather white book with a little lock, that I had to break as I hid the key so well it will never be found unless there is a landfill dump some day.  It was not really well designed to write in but I believe the appeal was said lock.

It probably is where my love of writing started.  I could dream on those pages of places, careers and boys, ok mostly I dreamt and wrote of boys..honestly cannot remember not liking them, my first boy crush who I still remember for some reason with his blonde hair shorn in a crew cut was 5 to my 4 and we played so well in the little park behind the building I grew up in Bucharest - well until I went to hug him and he bit me.  I promptly bit him back and believe then we consciously uncoupled (still eye rolling at Gwyneth).  Back to the diary; as an only child you have a lot of solitary time to do things with your imagination.  There is the typical playing and talking to yourself, of course it is in the guise of having your toys talking to each other, but well they are not real are they ??? Then for me came the diaries. These were there when friends went home and often just recounted the stories friends and I had rehashed all day.  Stories of bored days and annoying if not outright vile teachers.  Injustices that my parents with their rules heaped upon me, ok as an adult I see that maybe at times they were strict but they were not unjust for the most part ... well there was that time but bygones.  Tales of things that parents were never to find out about .. that first (insert cigarette, drink, etc...) here, captured to re-read then and to smirk at now if you still have your journals.  Funny I hid those journals in places that usually required some sort of contortion to retrieve only to store them for all of these years ...evidence!!! So if I ever run for office, which I would not, here is my opening speech 1) Read from said diaries .. "yes I did smoke, inhale, enjoy it, liked it, had sex, cheated on at least one test (not off another person but off my cleverly written on white tights under school uniform) and most of all was one flawed person 2 - and of course there was Latin class and poor Mr Howarth, straight from Oxford into the clutches of 3 of my friends and I - guess he got the last laugh with the 4 separate from whole class and each other finals but boy did we torture him). I invite all who are to judge me to let me read any journals they may have had.

Journals have allowed me to remember with fondness many memories that had not placed front and center - and let's be honest the older you get the more those memories become companions.  Journals recorded the days that made differences in my life and the people that were part of those - both the good (that intake of breath, eye lock that I felt when I first met "the guy" - the one, oh you know the one - butterflies still when I write this though he is not mine) - the up and down we are friends, we are friends with benefits, we are dating, we are engaged, we are broken up, I am in love with someone new, I am breaking that off and then back to we are in same place in NYC at same moment, maybe we could be friends, friends with benefits, engaged, married relationship that is Gary and I.  Journals are the travelogues and many, many fun memories with friends of a life well lived, good reminder when I think oh I have so much more I wanted to do.  Those pages house me in different stages - and I know the girl at 8 brought some elements to the girl at 15 who morphed those in to the young woman at 25 and is still tweaking and evolving at 46.  It is where my pregnancy is recorded and ode to Kris and our recent conversation "do you know how expensive the parking is" and ordering food while I was in 40 hours of labor is recorded for as needed reference should I lose my mind or husband "forgets" his actions described here. 

I do not keep diaries as much as I would like now .. seriously not going to beat self up over that one... may try to resume.  In speaking with one of my closest friends, Michele,  we also agreed that FaceBook and social media is not your diary... you know it is not the place to air your most private feelings, issues, serious dysfunction... though many people do it and then are surprised when they get some judgement on it.  Those issues should be for friends, because like the journal while it may feel good to get it out you would benefit for heartfelt advice that only 1-3 of those 300+ friends can offer. FaceBook for me is the place for my diary entries that did not require a lock or the hiding .. you know the journal I had for teachers when it was a writing assignment...good times, good times with a few social issues thrown it topped by pictures and the occasional reviews of books, movies, music, food.  If it is on the internet .. umm yeah it ain't private SHOCKING!!! It is the balance between posting what is personal and not posting what is intimate.

If you kept journals it is always fun to re-read them .. so many things will make you wonder what could have been that important, yep back to boys, and how much time was spent exactly as it should have been worrying about the nothings instead of the reality of responsibilities that come later in life.  Maybe one of the things I think mirrors who I am is my handwriting - large and cute (remember those hearts over the i's?) to script to graffiti in corners (Zofo, Led Zed, block letters,  his initials -n- mine 4E, BFF 4E) to nicer script to today's not so consistent and nowhere nearly as good due to lack of practice. I have journals of short stories, the 2 novels I wrote and of course oodles of poems (yeah yeah did I mention the boys - but many of them are also about the events of the times AIDS, 9/11, New York who is the constant lover in my life).  

Dear Diary - thank you for always listening and we have so many more memories to revisit.