Saturday, May 9, 2015

Happy Mother's Day, Ladies

That lady in the thrift store who was buying all kids' clothes today because they're half-priced, whose husband was sighing and whining the whole time in line, whose kids were scrambling and climbing all over everything while she waited patiently for the overwhelmed cashier, who looked at the $2 vase she'd included in her cart - the only thing that could have been for her - and put it back, then carefully selected each dollar bill from her old-fashioned snap coin-purse to pay for her children's things, and smiled at her daughter and said 'Ahora tienes un vestido para manana!" (Now you have a dress for tomorrow!)

Happy Mother's Day to her.

That older lady in the grocery store, who stopped to smile at me and chat for a few moments, who does not have any children and told me sweetly she is a mother to two pets who've promised to be extra kind to her tomorrow, whose caregiver sends her (every year, she told me) Mother's Day cards signed by her pets.

Happy Mother's Day to her.

The woman whose got three children, a dog, a house, and a husband, who just took on a new job, one she didn't much want but one she knows will get her back in the game even if on the fringe, whose been wanting a job for a while, but now that it's real is probably spending a lot of time second-guessing the wisdom of turning her life upside down and worrying over how it will affect her kids, because every thought you have once you have children is accompanied with a thought about your kids.

Happy Mother's Day to her.

That woman who is adjusting to a life change that was unplanned, unwanted, and unfortunate, whose Mother's Day must naturally include moments of sadness in the years just after her mom has passed, but who senses her mother's hand in healing as certain turns, equally unplanned, are just what is needed, and who accepts that help with bittersweet.

Happy Mother's Day to her.

To those women who are graduating, and teaching, and driving, and carrying, and sweating, and barely holding on - and still find time to love someone - child or otherwise - and provide the nurture that's needed for the day.

Happy Mother's Day to them.

And that woman, harried and earnest, who's got too much on her plate because she just can't say 'no', who's making mistakes and dropping balls and forgetting to dot all kinds of i's, who is only home in fifteen minute increments lately, it seems, and then only to be mad about messes and to make lists of chores which, when done, she never fully appreciates, who infinitely - and more - loves her children with all her might, and yelled today and swore at them when, really, what she meant to say is "I couldn't live without you, wouldn't want to, wouldn't be anything if I didn't have you."

Happy Mother's Day to me.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

It's Not What You Think

I'm going to tell you a little something about racism and discrimination. It's not what you think.

Today, I received a message from a prospective client. I'd been providing her with market updates and options for rental/sale sporadically for over two years, as she worked through a difficult separation from her partner. When asked whether my husband and I might be good candidates for selling their joint home, this prospective client informed me via email that her partner said,


“English is their second language and they have yet to sell the property at _____.” She told me not to take it personally.

Three years ago I was taking my oldest daughter to prospective high schools, jumping through absurd hoops, and fussing over every letter in pages-deep applications. We arrived at one 'prestigious' program for a scheduled interview and were directed to a waiting room. There were two other families waiting, too. When the interviewer came into the room and called "Lucia? Lucia Rodriguez?" she looked directly at the two brown girls with black hair, seated next to their parents.

My daughter stood and walked to the door and the woman reacted with a scowl, "Did I call you?"

To which my fair, green-eyed daughter with blonde hair responded, "Yes. I am Lucia Rodriguez."

Nearly ten years ago we were selling a two-flat in a comfortable, middle-class neighborhood. We had rehabbed it top-to-bottom, and at the height of the market, the list price was over $600000.  My husband greeted the gentleman who arrived for a showing warmly, with a handshake, and thanked him for coming. We toured him through the property, chatting, and discussing potential rents. 

When he was leaving, the man slapped my husband on the back and said, "You did a good job here, Amigo. Where are you from?"

"Chicago," my husband told him, pointedly. "You?"

Don't think you know if you don't know. These are three examples of burns every member of my family has endured, leaving scars that build over a lifetime and that do not heal no matter how one tries to apply reason and faith and patience. 

I haven't been drawn into a street to throw rocks at anyone and I don't know that I ever would. I don't and won't condone that behavior. But I have a tiny bit of understanding. I am angry, and hurt, and damaged. And being told to wait for change doesn't make me feel better. 

It's true. English is my second language. So I can kick ass in two languages. Be careful what you say. It's not what you think.

Monday, April 27, 2015

How Good It Is

Seventeen. ((Sigh)) You are in these moments that, later, will comprise some of the greatest of your memories.  Make sure you enjoy as much as you can; don't rush. Even now, you know how good it is. Let the worry have another day. As we all do, by our own choosing, our missteps too, and our persistence toward our truer selves, we all become who we are intended to be. Know only that whoever you are and in whatever ways you will change the world (yes, you will) there will be some things that never change. And that is good. I love you, love you, and wish you happiest of birthdays.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ansel: It's Been a Hard Few Days

Sam wouldn't eat his burger. When I asked him why he said, 'I can't eat this and know he's hungry.'

A few blocks back we'd met Ansel.

On the last night of spring break we went for a walk downtown. Resting against a railing was a dark man with bright eyes and a smooth gravel in his voice. 'Could you help me?' he asked. 'It's been a hard few days.'

Tony stopped to talk to him, while the kids and I listened to his story. Jamaican, he is, soft-spoken. He lost his home as winter began. In the few months since he's learned when to hop the train so he can ride and sleep, he's learned where to rest, away from the blustering wind, where to get help with something to eat. Still, homeless in cold and hungry, he has the inclination to chat and shake hands. He does not hurl rocks at the smiling, glittery people who blush past him from inside Macy's on State. I wonder if I'd be so kind.

We got him a burger and walked back so Sam could stop to give it to him and tell him he wouldn't forget. 'Ansel's my name,' he reminded us.

It's been a hard few days for me these past two weeks. Some days I don't know where it's going to come from, what I need because I'm wearing down, honestly. Wearing. Down.

More than feeling a little lost and tired I've found myself increasingly unwilling to keep trying, to keep battling when what I'd rather do is sit in a chair and read a book.

I hear the good wishes for might and courage. They are good but tire repairs with rest and a cup of hot soup; there is none.

Then I am spoilt and silly and I know it.

And I am reminded of Ansel.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Where is your faith?

Where are you? Are you in the sinning, the suffering, the walk away from honor? Or are you in the dying, the surrender? (And do you die only to be redeemed? Or because you are in your time?)

Did you find the step toward the truth, into the everywhere, into all time? Or are you lifted into the ever after, ascended into the next?

Where is your faith?

I’m always asking myself this question.

That’s what I give. 

I don’t feel fit to rejoice; I’m not even sure this is the day for it. I keep thinking that celebrating the proof is less sure than feeling the thrill of the faith - before the test. 

I cast myself into the shade for my doubt and then remind myself I am made in His image, and so my self is a good and worthy self, even with my flaws, my questions.

There, I find I am most connected, receiving what I think is the message of mine and all faiths.

In all your turmoil, your fear, your hunger and cold, with all that is needed and left unpaid, for all the days you do not walk in hand with your brother, for all that hurts you still there is and always there is room for redemption. Go that way.

Peace to you.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Rahm or Chuy: A Crisis of Choice

I like to think I'm a gal who pays attention. So I've been circling the mayoral campaign in Chicago for most of the months of its duration, and I'm still not entirely decided.

I'd like to tell my teacher friends that Rahm is an ass and for that reason alone I can vote for the 'anyone-but' candidate. The truth is being an ass is not always the wrong thing for some jobs. We may not like the change Rahm has implemented, or the manner in which he has shoved it down our throats, but I do wonder at the faulty notion that gentlemanly demeanor would have somehow assuaged the pain of change. It would not.

If charters and selective enrollment and wall-to-wall IB and de-funding language and SPED programming will not be the answers (they will not) we will learn it on the backs of our children, yes. We will learn it just as we have learned that fiscal mismanagement, protection of bad teachers, and institutionalized poverty also screw our children. Those problems were here before he got here, not helped much by the hard-to-take-too CTU leader, Karen Lewis. Her moral outrage was wasted on me most of the time. Whether I think he's made good choices or not, I don't lay the entire CPS mess at Rahm's feet; it's not a one-issue election for me.

So then I ask: Polishing up downtown? Adding big business? George Lucas? Is that who we are? I look at the sloppy, inefficient management of city services, the quality of care I get as a resident of this city, and I ask 'Is this the best there is?' No. It's not the city I feel in my bones and blood, and I live on the north side. If I lived on the south side I might wonder if I lived here at all.

Chuy's a little more 'city', right? He is. But Chuy doesn't know jack about education, from what I can tell. He doesn't seem to be super-clear headed about anything, actually. He's awfully nice and seems at times less ready to be pushed over than what we might think, but most often he's more affable than alert. I suppose that works well at the county level.

I like that he sounds like us, still lives with us - I like that a lot, actually. But who among us thinks he's the guy to shove his foot down Rauner's throat? (Ironically, Rahm could and won't because they're aligned on too many platforms.) I've prayed many times for Madigan's atrophy to finally force his retirement, now I hope he can hang in there for a few more precious cycles or all is surely lost.

Chuy's ED experience with a civic organization seems to have held great promise until trouble struck and the finances fell apart. Having been involved in a similar circumstance myself, I can tell you that managing a community service-oriented endeavor during a global economic free-fall is noble work and not for the weak-minded, no matter the outcome. I don't fault him his troubles, as has been the story. It was a hard time for everyone.

The truth is, Chuy says all the right things - stop starving the neighborhoods, put cops on the streets, give people your time and attention - it's the least a mayor can do. Yes, yes! But if it were so easy, wouldn't everyone be doing it? Where is the money coming from? I don't feel satisfied.

He says he can have the hard conversations with all the stakeholders and his voice will be respected because he is not adversarial in his approach. Friend, if you try to screw thousands of people out of their retirement funds, the situation will be adversarial, just take my word for it.

So. Chuy or Rahm?

The truth is there's a cultural identity crisis at hand, and these two candidates could not be more perfect for its poster.

Are we a little angry, a little bitter about being shorter than our siblings, hungry for more money and more polish to neutralize the dark we carry? Or are we a little hapless, the kind uncle, soft in the middle with strong, working hands? Are we earnest but ill-prepared?

I waited for my answer at the last debate; I paraphrase the question: "Tell me why someone should stay in Chicago - with all these problems you intend to address as mayor - why should someone stay?"

And neither man could answer that question convincingly. So neither deserves my vote.

I stay because this is a city that works - that toils - and continues to do so no matter how many jewels you hang on our collar. I stay because what is rough about us is just as beautiful as what is shiny, we have it all and life is like that. I stay because for every crappy teacher I've encountered in CPS, there are twenty amazing, devoted, wonderful, sincere, and smart teachers entirely invested in children others don't even think about. Where would I be without them? I stay because my city vibrates with the variety of interest and amenity that is always bursting at its seams, stretching, teetering. My city gets dirty, she cries, sweats,  screeches along the rails and then arrives safely, strong, flush with victory. I love, love, love my city, her color, her language, her wicked politics.

The guy who gets that, gets my vote.

I'm writing in Daley.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why It Can't Be Cruz

Because none among us wishes to claim Christianity as paranoid, indifferent to the pain of others, focused on the punitive, and hypocritical. So it cannot be Cruz.

Women who seek power don't proclaim their places after ceding the spotlight to their husbands. That is no model for my daughter in her search for self. So, no matter her credentials, it cannot be Clinton.

Aristocracy dressed as democracy is abhorred in this country. We are founded on that disdain. No to Bush, too.

We are not pretend. We are the real thing. So it's time for our young country to grow up.

We cannot keep pinging and ponging between extremes screeching all the while about compromise and middle ground. We cannot keep pouting over our imagined injuries, forwarding bully candidates to do the work we are too weak or, in the best light, too right-headed to do ourselves. If we enjoy the candy our friend stole from the corner store, we are just as much delinquent.

We need to do what is right and what is hard, whether liberally or conservatively suggested. We need to get over those labels and teach our children, feed our families, produce products that matter and can be touched rather than clicked on a screen. We need to say 'no' to ourselves and to others when we cannot afford to do something. We need to care for our elderly, our disabled, our veterans, even if it means we only get one TV and one car. We need to suck it up a bit. We need to be what we say we are, instead of talking about what we are and being something entirely different.

Our elections need to be fair and ambitious and exciting, and they need to focus on reality and pragmatic solutions to solvable problems. Exit the bombastic, the entitled, the just-as-likely-to-run-for-president-as-take-a-round-of-golf.

This country can no longer brag on its reputation. The shine on that medal is getting old. It's been a long time since we stood up to the power of the overbearing, flush with integrity and promise. What have we become in the years since? Who speaks for us?

Cruz? Clinton? Bush?

No.