Saturday, January 28, 2012

From Twitter the other day:

Me: "Can we opt the kid outta the iLEAP?" Dan: "Don't think so. Property values in  depend on how well he does." Me: 8-P

It's not that I don't think the little guy will do well. On a personal level, I am annoyed at the miscommunication over what page he's supposed to be doing in the iLEAP workbooks and when it's due, sure. I just wish it weren't taking away the good time he spends really learning and getting enthusiastic about it - even the teacher commented on how much he enjoyed a recent lesson on volcanoes, something he'd been jazzed about when I picked him up from school one afternoon.

A recent carpool incident:
"Mom, I've got some baaaad news."
"Oh, well, what's the bad news? (aka, what iLEAP homework sin did you commit today?)"
"Well, they're having another the skating rink."
My 92% healed ankle throbs a little more than the dull rug-burn-under-the-skin feeling I have these days.
"Oh...uh...huh. When is it?"
"Next Thursday night."
Whew, choir practice night!
"Oh, I don't think we can go anyway, honey."

He then proceeded to read me the skating rink's liability policy, which was just what I thought - go into a crowd of people wearing your own personal set of eight wheels and break your bones at your own risk, with a "tough toenails" for emphasis somewhere in the fine print. Hey, the kid only stumbled over a couple of words. Not bad for a third grader.

One other thing I really appreciate when driving to the new location of the school? The nice man on Paris Avenue near Vista Park who waves enthusiastically at every car while walking his dog in the mornings. "Who are you waving to, Mom?" "Just wave, okay???" Thanks for the welcome, sir, whoever you are.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fight the Bath Salts and the Suriname Toads...

...that is, SOPA and PIPA.

I'm doing this tomorrow in the hopes that the government won't be doing it to all of us permanently. Don't be surprised if you can't get to any content here. Instead, let your government representatives know what a bad idea regulating the internet to their extreme is.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Orleans Slate tells us a story about a man in need:
Kweku Nyaawie grew up in Central Texas based mostly out of Austin. A carpenter and cabinet maker, he came to New Orleans with his brother to help out with reconstruction of homes damaged by the Federal Flood in late 2005. He saw the destruction first hand and continued to work and save his money. At some point he decided to stay. He wanted to contribute to the community, buy a house, make it a home not a speculation project and found the shotgun at 616 Port Street. It needed work, but he knew he was the guy who could do it. He looked for period architectural pieces, was painstaking in his research, checked the history of the house, delighted in knowing that he'd be the one to restore this little bit of New Orleans history with the added bonus of living in it. 
He got involved with the Community Garden Project in Treme and put his money and time into fixing the house. Long after the Poor Clares, the house had been purchased by a Mr. Frisbe, who lived there with his partner from 1977 until he passed away. His partner continued to live there until the storm. Kweku, or Ku as we all call him, bought it already needing repair in 2008. He loved working on the house and loved that it was exactly 100 years older than he was. When we moved here we knew him to say hello but never saw him because he was always at the Garden or working on that house. 
Then came the summer of 2010. As Ku was riding his bicycle on Dumaine Street in the Sixth Ward, a black sedan hit him. Hard. Knocked completely off the bike, he watched as the car sped away without even checking to see if Ku was alright. He headed to his girlfriend's house battered, bruised and scratched badly. He didn't go to the ER as he thought he was just healing from some bad road rash and deep bruises. Knowing him now, my guess is that he also figured he'd just tough it out and he'd be fine. Weeks went by. His back still hurt. Months went by. His back still hurt. Then in December 2010 he realized that his legs wouldn't quite support his 6'3” frame. He headed off to the doctor but realized that he couldn't get the help he'd need here in New Orleans, he couldn't work so money was also an issue (given that the bastard who hit him took off, there was no insurance money coming in to help with medical bills), so he made the decision to move back to Austin and his family. Those of us who knew him were worried as we didn't hear from him. 
He was busy. He spent nearly 14 months in therapy and is still on crutches with his legs still unable to support him. Although he's the most positive attitude guy in the world, he's also a proud man and a man who loves his house. He is unfortunately learning the lesson many of us learned after the storm: sometimes you gotta ask for help. 
A few weeks ago he got a letter from the City. A hearing. Blight. Neighbors complaining. (We're neighbors, we couldn't figure out who would complain knowing how hard he'd worked and knowing what had happened to him.) At the hearing it was discovered that one complaint had come from a doctor (a DOCTOR? Wouldn't he know how devastatingly long spinal cord injuries can take to heal?) because some vines had overgrown the fence and were interfering with his backyard garden. (This doctor is also the owner of a lot of property on our block.) Evidently Ku's next door neighbor, an absentee homeowner and an attorney who lives in the house intermittently, wanted Ku's house demolished. Ku was given a list of things that had to be fixed or a $500 a day fine would be levied.(Although he wouldn't probably bring it up, he's one of only 2 black property owners on the four sides of this block, and some of us, though not Ku, can't help but wonder if that's a part of these complaints.) 
Ku sat in an office chair for a week sanding the front of the house in order to get it ready for painting. Stand across from it and you can see how far the outer limit of his reach is, which frankly from a desk chair is impressive. Today he's working on the bricks that front the house from the sidewalk to the base of the house. Siding needs to be replaced for sure. His brother had been able to help for a while, but we heard he recently got a job so he's on his own for the moment and his next hearing is a week from today. 
I am asking anyone out there who can help, who can climb a ladder, sand, paint, write a letter, anything that can toss a road block into the $500 buck a day fine that he can't afford, to get in touch.
Read more here. The go-to email for NOLA Slate is

Friday, January 13, 2012

Humid City Supplemental

I just realized I left an unqualified declaration in my latest post over at Humid City...that of being "fairly fortunate" thus far in navigating the current "system of schools" obstacle course that is public education in New Orleans.

To be sure, I've been called a hypocrite for my stance on charterization. My son is attending classes at a charter school. We are fortunate in that we got him into the school and, more importantly, that it is doing right by him socially and educationally. We were also benefactors of damned good timing - we managed to shoe-horn him into his current school back in the spring of 2006, when, even then, the most a parent could do was to fill out the requisite forms, attend the required classroom tour and parent meetings, "and then you pray," one mother responded when a teacher asked about the no-guarantees admissions process. It was probably the last time any parent had to deal with a waitlist for the school due to the city's population still reeling from the effects of 8/29/2005. At that time, we also benefited from the little guy's pre-K3 tuition being paid for by the state, which is no longer happening for parents with 3-year-olds in New Orleans public schools.

But our fortunate position is subject to change. Our financial status could fall away, the next teacher might be unable or unwilling to reach our son or work with us to help him realize his potential, and we might not be able to put the time and effort into all the forms, all the school visits, and all the research it would take to get our son elsewhere without further jeopardizing an already sketchy economic state. Where would we go then? What could be done for him?

This is what I fear the most every day. And unfortunately, my fear is a reality for far too many. It's a reality of fewer jobs out there that will pull you out of economic dire straits and give you at least a prayer of raising a family right. It's a reality that can turn families onto or away from each other and explode in violence or pass away in a whimper of abandonment. And then the rug gets pulled out by the realities of what is ironically called "school choice." It is only choice when you can devote large chunks of your time to making sure said choice does not turn sour -  placing your child in a school that isn't even working for the children who are there, forget the ones that are coming in, is one big way all of this goes wrong. Another is when your child's special education needs get shoved aside because the school's performance numbers don't need the stress of accommodating a child that needs that extra attention. Trying to call out the state on what is required in its own laws isn't just a full-time job, it can be an exhausting obsession.

How much time do you have to devote to all of this and still raise a family again?

My family is fortunate yet I am uncomfortable in it. If the only comfort I can give a struggling parent who has been waitlisted for charters all over the place is "wait and see and keep trying," that's extremely cold. The state, with its recent election of a man younger than I to its highest education position (I told my grandmother, a veteran of teaching in Long Island, NY schools about John White's RSD appointment and she was appalled. "He's much too young and inexperienced," she said. ) is going to give too many parents positions on similar waitlists all over Louisiana, all in the name of covering its own ass when things go wrong or a charter doesn't meet expectations. The doors on fair and nearly free-with-your-taxpaying public education will be closing even faster than they already have been.

And this ranting is only from my vantage point as a lowly, imperfect parent. To get some clarification on some much greater implications of Louisiana's move towards charterization, head to G-Bitch.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Parenting Purgatories

If there's anything this past weekend has taught me, it's this...

Nothing has driven me to drink like parenthood has. NOTHING, I tell you.

It's not like one can choose the sex of their baby (not yet), but when I first found out I was going to have one, I initially thought it might be a girl. At 20 weeks gestation, I found out it was otherwise (hey, 50/50 chance). At the time, hormones amplified some of my more histrionic fixations and pronouncements, and, on observing how eager children's clothiers were to have 14-month-olds dress like J-Lo and Britney (aka, twentysomething skankdom), I was relieved that a boy was coming our way in another 20 weeks or so. "Look at this!" I'd holler, yanking my friends into the Children's Place just to show them the macrame halter tops for toddlers and shout a little more. "We used to have to scour thrift stores in our teenage years to dress like this, and now it's mainstream!!! And it's all PINK! What the hell????"

This past Saturday, I found a major downside to boys is dealing with the effects of team sports when they are no longer just a fun game. Granted, my son is most likely not going to be the next David Wright, but he likes baseball - or at least the idea of it he loves that is presented in The Sandlot. You know, the camaraderie among teammates that can possibly lead to some life lessons and lifelong friendships.

Problem is, he said something that alienated him from his teammates, caused the coach not to trust him, and I was the one chewed out for it.

I was in shock - suddenly I was a bad parent because my son said one (admittedly) dumb, selfish thing. I was made to feel smaller than small by a guy who was supposed to be a role model for 9-10-year-olds.   I was induced to worry that, because of one mistaken thing said by my just-turned-9-year-old, the kid would possibly never again have a future with his peers because he messed with team camaraderie. It still hits me even now, the dressing down I got from someone who only cared about winning (in what was supposed to be a noncompetitive off-season set of games) and not about the reasons why a kid might say such a thing. Title IX may have ensured that coaches like this appear in girls' sports as well, but there seems to be a much longer tradition of them trying to teach boys that winning isn't everything, it's the only thing, and with way less panache than Vince Lombardi. Verbally whaling on a nine-year-old for such a transgression is pretty damned bad, but going after me? Yeah, that really works...Thank God I have a levelheaded spouse who put it into better perspective for me and the little guy, but being on the other end of such wrath isn't easy no matter what age you are.

And, speaking of wrath...hell hath no fury like a community deciding to go completely bonkers over school renovations. As though a lawsuit against the city over the possible traffic much-needed construction work on a neighborhood school building will bring to the streets isn't bad enough, the school's parent listserv is going up in flames over the temporary school site. As far as the temporary site goes, I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was, but then I saw it when it still looked like this:

Driving out to the new campus was also mostly traffic-free despite its Gentilly location being pretty far out from where we live on the gray brick road (although I'm told that will change once UNO is back in session). It was also still a sobering drive, as the site is surrounded by mostly empty lots, some too-new homes, some still-vacant gutted houses, a small shopping center struggling to get new tenants in, and a spanking new Holy Cross school campus relocated from its flooded-out former location in the Ninth Ward and built on the grounds of the now-demolished St Francis Cabrini church. So many ghosts of recent making are still being exorcised out there. I hope the kids' presence will help it all.

I also hope that the battles over this one school renovation being chronicled so well by a hyperlocal are not going to set a nasty precedent...but it's amazing what kinds of things can be seemingly justified by that phrase "For the children..." Trying to undo decades of damage done through neglect and outright theft from those same children should not be this fraught with insanity.

Friday, January 06, 2012

A Reassess

I sit here at my blog most times these days at something of a loss for some long-form wordiness - aka, a substantial post.

It's been like this for a while, and it'd certainly be convenient to blame the diversion of those energies to my more frequent usage of Twitter and Facebook - but then I wouldn't be on those if they didn't help serve some sort of substantial need - or, most likely, serve an addiction to feedback. What I've found through recent huge amounts of time spent on those two platforms is that human-like virtual interactions gradually grew to be something I craved through the conduit that this blog initially was. It took me about a year to get to it, but once I did, it was one hell of an interactive community that peaked at about 2008 - which was, coincidentally, when most of the New Orleans blogpocheh I'd become acquainted with on- and offline got Twitter accounts and Facebook started its many annoying revampings that only seemed to draw more people to open accounts on it. Even now, while writing this, I have windows open on my desktop to Twitter and Facebook, where I check them periodically and respond to new tweets that come up and new posts on the Facebook news feed.

The key word in that last sentence is "respond."

Most of what bloggers tend to do is respond on a much larger scale than 140 characters (Twitter) or however many characters Facebook feed posts limit account holders to. As long as our freedom to do so - in the form of free server space someplace - is still there and we've got the urge to (mostly) rant, we'll be a-posting. As this particular space comes close to it's sixth blogiversary (January 16th!), though, I wonder at the many things that can turn even the most devoted bloggers away from frequent postings...

1) Stuff happens. Paying jobs and caring for one's family take precedence of parking one's butt in front of a computer to kvetch about the news of the day. Health problems appear - never has my grandpa's adage of "If you don't have your health, what have you got?" resonated with me more personally than it has in the past year. Just leaving the house for a diversion, a respite from a need for others to communicate with us almost virtually violently at times, is more of a thing in these tough days than dwelling too hard on too many troubles that may be beyond one's control.

2) Feed readers. I don't know how many of you have put the stuff your read online regularly into feed readers, but it does render many blog stats kinda useless. As it is, I'm paying much less attention to what Sitemeter's telling me anyhow. I've never been much interested in how I can sell this corner of the interwebs, the ads in the sidebar here being more of a concession to my husband's idea that all this time I spend at the keyboard be measured in some sort of monetary way. In the four years since I threw the code into my sidebar, I think it's garnered fractions of cents. All mah internetz are not fillin mah bank account.

3) User-friendliness in commenting suffers in the face of Twitter and Facebook. I have comment monitoring up for a reason: I'm not interested in spammers. Signing in with an account to comment and typing in random characters to post said comment and prove you are not a bot and have genuine interest in a discussion of what I say pales in comparison to the immediacy of Twitter, I'll admit. Which gets me to my reassessment of this particular weblog...

I don't know what the future's gonna bring for this space. I don't know what the future's going to bring for blogging in general. It still serves a need to go long-form, but in my particular case, it feels like I've gone back to the days when this was a diary that happened to be online and happened to have a comment section for some strange reason...except now more people who are not heavily online savvy can use the internet to do a simple search and use that information for their own ends, be it in attempting to judge prospective hires or in otherwise using that stuff learned about you against you. The controversies over SOPA legislation are also hinting that future attempts to regulate and sanitize the internet for Homeland Security's pleasure are not going to abate anytime soon. A door on virtual freedoms may be closing, and who knows if, where, or when a window will open?

Then again, perhaps my pessimism is being colored by my having to currently be in the strange, sad business of pain management for my only 80% healed ankle, the insanity surrounding the renovations to my son's school, and some other strange changes in my personal life.

When all is said and done, change is the only true constant.


So we're officially in another Carnival season in these parts...which means it's okay to have your king cake and eat it too - not to mention washing it down with some king cake vodka just to make things super-sweet.

Thanks, DJ Soul Sister.