The Color Purple

No, not that The Color Purple.  Purple is the color of Minnesota.  Vikings, Prince, my foot. . .

A Griswold Family Minneapolis Travelogue in three vignettes.

Prologue

Our spring break Minneapolis in-and-out adventure begins with the delivery of our goofnut dog to my parents’ house, whose 40 acres would have been a dream come true for any canine with long legs like ours.  Unfortunately, Caleb doesn’t heed the command “Come,” so his adventures ended at the end of a 200′ rope.  Still, 200′ feet is more leeway than he gets here in the city, but may be just a little too close to nature for our urban-dwelling dog.  My dad characterized Caleb’s meeting with the deer by him melting lower and lower into the floor and out of their line of sight, but the raccoon encounter raised his hackles, all right.  Thanks, Mom and Dad, for dogsitting.  And though he is 100% disrespectful of personal space, he IS a nice dog, isn’t he?

Purple Pain & Purple Rain

I experience weird, next-level empathy for not only people, but also for objects, entities, and ideas.  Specifically, in this case, I felt sorry for the Minnesota Twins Baseball Club, who, on a Sunday afternoon, sold most game tickets at nosebleed seats cost, with a general admission mentality.  We purchased four seats, but were told that the section our seats were assigned was closed, and that we could sit wherever we liked, unless the season ticket holder who actually held these seats claimed them.  It was about 44 degrees outside, so four seats in the sun, please.

We enjoyed most of the game along the first base line, but as the world turned, our sunny seats fell into the shadows.  As always, the Griswold Weir family matriarch got cold, like my feet are numb kind of cold, so we sought seats further up in sun-soaked right field.  Several hundred other fans had the same idea, so sunny options were limited.  We did score four seats together, and as I made the trek down and over, I crashed and burned as I climbed over a row of seats.  Kids, it was spectacular!  All the drunks behind us were laughing before I even hit the ground (and yeah, I could hear the snickers while I fell, which isn’t embarrassing AT ALL. . .), but the laughs quickly turned to “OOOOOOOHH” and those facial “holy shit” grimaces one makes as one shrugs his shoulders to his chin.

You just did it, right?  The “ooooooohh.”  The grit of your teeth.  The shoulders.  But still you smirked and giggled a little imagining my foot sliding, crunched between the seat back and bottom, my knee twisting the opposite direction while the rest of me was catapulted onto the row of seats in front of me as the contents of my hands went flying.  It’s OK.  It looks funny when people fall, and I’m so good at it.  But now my left foot and ankle are not just prickly cold, they’re swelling over the margins of my pink Chuck Taylors.  Purple Pain.

Moments later, it’s the seventh inning stretch, and the singer along with camera crew were about 4 feet behind us on deck level.  My son was on the scoreboard the whole while she sang, and all I could think as tears pricked my eyes and ran down my face was, “Thank stars I fell before I went down on camera in front of the whole stadium.”  Even if it was general admission.


Our hotel overlooked First Avenue & 7th Street Entry, the bar/club featured heavily in Prince’s Purple Rain.  If you’re not a music nut, I imagine this sounds peculiar, but you can just feel Prince in Minneapolis.  And yeah, I went all touristy on ya, taking pictures of Prince’s star (it was gold! not silver like the other performers).  And it was fun to snap photos of my husband by his idol’s stars too.

Loving the purple filter

He loves Paul Westerberg and The Replacements like I love Barenaked Ladies

 

 

Unfortunately, my ankle/foot situation rendered me 100% useless Sunday night, so I watched the world below me from our hotel room while my husband and kids explored downtown via the Skyway, seeking a dinner establishment that aired the NBA Playoffs.  Our Milwaukee Bucks positively crushed the Detroit Pistons, and it was kind of fun for them to watch the game in a sports bar.  Sans alcohol for the underage set, obviously.

A Distinguished Gentleman

En route to the Twins game Sunday, we encountered an older gentleman, wearing a suit, fedora, and top coat. He approached us, saying he had just ridden the bus up from Kansas City, and needed $22 to get back, and could we help him?  He was pleasant and charming, but I don’t carry cash.  We did not help him financially, and kept walking.  Glancing back, we observed him approach another family, who straight-up ignored him.  Unfortunately poverty in cities being what it is, I encounter at least 4-5 individuals asking for money each day as I commute to work and between work locations.  I didn’t give this gentleman much more thought until the next day.

Monday morning, I hobbled to the Metro stop, where we all hopped the train to the Mall of America.  Given the Purple Pain, I couldn’t have wanted anything less than to stroll (limp!) through the largest mall in the world (I don’t know if “largest mall in the world” is an actual fact, so you might want to check Google for actual square footage.  All I knew was that in my mind, it WAS the largest, longest, slowest trek I ever wanted to make).  Anyway, we hop the train, and two stops later, the same gentleman from the ball game boarded our car, sitting next to my older son.

Again, he was chatty and cordial.  My husband commented that we had met him the day before, a fact he vehemently denied.  My husband was specific in location and with the story he’d told us, insistent we had met him, and after several minutes including a $100 bet from the man, our fellow passenger acquiesced, admitting that he almost never went out on Sundays, so the day prior had been an exception, and yes, by gosh, he was out and about near Target Field.

He was friendly, asked where we were from, where we were going, etc.  He again asked for money, and my husband denied him again.  At this point, the man said to my husband that white people from Milwaukee don’t like black people, and don’t want to help black people.  To his everlasting credit, my husband plainly asked the man why he perceived our not giving him money was because he was African-American.  They volleyed verbally for a short time, wherein my husband said sometimes he gave people who asked money, and sometimes he did not.  I’ve seen him hand $20 bills to families in parking lots, and other bills to random people who’ve asked.

It wasn’t a racial issue, just a no cash issue.  Shortly after their exchange, the gentleman bid us a good day, exited our train, and immediately hopped on a different car.  I don’t know one single thing about this man, but he stuck with me.  They say homeless people are invisible.  I don’t know if he was homeless.  I don’t know if he was a millionaire hitting people up for a few bucks here and there, testing the waters of human kindness.  I don’t know if he is just lonely, and I assume nothing.  My takeaway was that I hoped our kids saw that we were pleasant and kind to this man, a stranger to us, and that he was polite and cordial with us.  If he was “invisible,” I hope he enjoyed a conversation.  If he was seeking decency, I hope he found it even though decency didn’t pay this time.

I remained in bed Monday evening, foot elevated with ice.  The boys decided to catch another ball game, and from it, the kids texted me.  Yeah.  I wrecked the vacation, but I did something right.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

I had to do something uniquely Minneapolis, so I suggested we hit the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden prior to getting back on the road.  I’m not a super-artsy gal, but I am thrilled we went.  Art can move a person.  You don’t get to pick what moves you, but when you are moved, you can also become immobile.

I stood immobile as I encountered the work of Jenny Holzer, whose words were carved into granite benches in the garden.  I began snapping photos of these seat engravings, some wise, some challenging, some frightening, and some timely as hell–and since her work was done in the late 1980s, I’m left to wonder just how much progress we’ve actually made as a society.

Wise: It takes a while before you can step over inert bodies and go ahead with what you were trying to do.

Challenging: You can make yourself enter somewhere frightening if you believe you’ll profit from it.  The natural response is to flee but people don’t act that way anymore.

Frightening.  And timely.  And whoa. By your response to danger it is easy to tell how you have lived and what has been done to you. You show whether you want to stay alive, whether you think you deserve to, and whether you believe it’s any good to act.

Timely: The rich knifing victim can flip and feel like the aggressor if he thinks about privilege.  He also can find the cut symbolic or prophetic.

And this. Love.  It’s greater than gravity.

Epilogue

Six-plus hours in the car later, we’re back home.  It’s school spring break for the kids and me, but my husband is back to work.  It’s opening day for my son’s baseball team.  It’s his eighth opening day, and each opener leaves me marveling over how long baseball has been part of his life, 61.53% of it so far!  I don’t believe my sensitive, sweet little guy has the win-at-any-cost mentality necessary to rise to elite athlete status.  He’s a nice kid who loves playing the game.  I’m proud to watch him try hard and succeed.  And I’m proud to watch him try hard and lose, even as I ache with and for him when he’s on the “L” side of the equation.  Let’s get ’em tonight, kid!  I promise to sit in my own portable stadium seat, purple ankle and foot firmly planted on the ground.

Play ball!

 

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Early Bird

If you’re open to it, sometimes nature/the universe/some higher power/I have no idea what I’m talking about here gives you a sign or a gift.

My little one (I say he’s my little one, but in reality, he’s a six-foot-tall thirteen-year-old adolescent) departed for his class trip at the crack of dawn yesterday.  On social media, I shared a photo of him and his dad, with this caption:

And just like that, your baby is six feet tall, heading out for a week on his class trip.  Before you can blink, and whether you’re ready or not, your babies spread their wings and take flight (or a coach bus, in his case).

It’s Monday, where I arrive at my school about an hour before most of the rest of the staff.  Not that they’re slackers or anything like that, it’s a late start school.  Since I have to get my big kid to his bus stop at 6:44 AM, I’m off like a shot in the morning.  I appreciate the quiet, early morning vibe here.  It’s a calm start to my work week, providing me time to lay out my lessons and gather/organize the materials for my therapy sessions.

This morning, this early bird definitely got the worm.

No, not this literal early bird–ME!  This bird here?  He clung to the screen outside my window, casting its shadow through the window shade. I quickly grabbed my phone, and snapped several pictures of this tiny, winged creature from my side of the window.  I never got to see the bird itself, just its shadow, but that was enough.

And just as I sat down to type a quick thought here, I received a text message from my son’s teacher/group leader saying the class trip kids were great, the weather was in the 80s, and they were heading into Monticello.  Like this bird perched outside my classroom, my little one’s got wings.  And sunny skies under which he can shine himself.

I know it’s what you’re supposed to want for you kids–for them to find their way and fly–and I do want that for him.  But sometimes I just miss his pudgy, little toddler face or the way he used to climb in bed with me (though, OK, I don’t miss the way his formerly little self commandeered an entire king size bed, sleeping on the diagonal).  I miss his constant use  of “ninnercrommie” and “shimmy hommer boaker” and a litany of other made-up words that still make me giggle.  I miss my boy–not my baby/always my baby.

Low-Turnout Election

You may think the education of city kids doesn’t affect you, or that “they” don’t deserve a good education.  You may believe that because your children are no longer of school age or because you choose private schools, you “shouldn’t have to pay taxes for public schools.”  People I know have expressed these beliefs to me personally, so I know they’re being said.

Do you shop at a grocery store?  Put gas in your car?  See a doctor?  Dine at restaurants?  Order goods from Amazon?  Visit a park?  If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, then you want educated people to populate an educated workforce. Since most children attend public school, it should follow that public education matters for the greater good.

Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or the benefit of their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order. We have discovered as a species that it is useful to have an educated popula.png

Author John Green had it right.  The full body of the quote is this:

Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or the benefit of their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order.

We have discovered as a species that it is useful to have an educated population. You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of every day of your life, you benefit from public education.

So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in school: It’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.

Five seats on the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors are up for grabs in  Tuesday’s election.  Candidates who lean toward support for school privatization and an increase in charter schools are receiving campaign funds from outside the city, from groups favoring charter schools and school choice.  Why do you suppose funds are being made on their behalf?  Hmmm.  Do you think maybe there’s money to be made?

You might not know this, but taxpayer money in our city goes to fund students attending private schools, including religious schools, so that whole separation of church and state thing, ya know, whatever. . .  Public funds also get diverted to charter schools, which while public, don’t exactly play under the same rules that public schools do.  Public schools are responsible for teaching every single student that comes through its doors; as public schools, charters are also supposed to, but not all can or do.  Do you find it curious that the percentage of special education students in district schools is upward of 20% when the percentage of US citizens with disabilities as a whole is less than that?  Why do you suppose that is?

Walk into any charter or voucher school and you’ll find a shockingly low number of students with significant intellectual disabilities, autism, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, hearing impairments, or emotional-behavior disabilities.  Like none.  Maybe one.  Public schools don’t get to pick. Students with profound disabilities (envision what in the old days was known as “residential care” and now envision those students rolling off their buses into public schools every morning), heck, students with even mild-moderate disabilities, get sent back to the public schools.  Look at enrollment numbers between first day of school and shortly after the counts for state funding are done in mid-September for proof.  Once the money is secure, city schools see a spike in enrollment as kids return to the district from other types of schools.

Special educators and related services personnel like nurses who administer tube feedings, occupational therapists who assist with fine motor skills development or sensory integration, physical therapists, or orientation and mobility teachers AND the equipment/supplies needed for kids with disabilities don’t come cheap.

It is not a level playing field, no matter how the tales get spun.  And now that they finally are required to report outcomes, those outcomes in parochial, private, or charters are not consistently, appreciably better.  Some charters and vouchers are excellent and absolutely are “beating the odds” (as are some public schools), while others have maybe 3% of their students demonstrating proficiency in reading and math (as do some public schools).  Poor achievement anywhere benefits no one everywhere, and if you’re any good at math, you can see that doing more with less results in a negative integer.

I’m not terribly linear here today, and Google can help you can easily locate better sources of data than me on school choice and charters, but the main idea is this: Our students deserve to be represented by a school board 100% in their corner.

If you live in my city, please vote Tuesday. Please vote for candidates who’ve demonstrated their commitment and support of our students and educators.  Why would one even consider the office of Milwaukee Public Schools board director if you didn’t?  (Wait, I know the an$wer to this one, and I bet you do too.)  Spring elections in odd-numbered years tend to the least well-attended elections, so get to the polls!  Need a ride?

 

Top Fan

Why is everything a contest these days? Why do even the most non-competitive of life activities (enjoying music and live shows, for example) have social media rankings attached?

I received a Facebook notification yesterday.

Well, obviously. I mean, have you been paying attention here, people?

But it’s silly, right? There is no prize, no greater good for society in being so recognized by a social media platform, I assume for the number of times some algorithm has calculated I’ve included the text “Barenaked Ladies” in my comments or “liked” a status. I cracked wise about my “badge” on my FB page (because who wants a badge when a sash is still on my list of must-haves?) but really? This does not have to be a competitive sport. And if it must, I don’t think I want to play. I just want to keep enjoying my concentrated hobby in my car, all by myself, competing with no one and nothing but which song makes me feel happiest. Clearly, I’m not meant for the Major Leagues.

It’s Opening Day!! This IS major league!

I digress. But the Brewers are undefeated, you guys. It was a good day at the ballpark. It’s always a good day at the ballpark.

You know what would be a worthwhile recognition? Acknowledging people whose real life accomplishments made lives better.  To recognize acts of goodness and kindness and generosity and give those individuals gold stars or top fan badges.  So in the spirit of not-competitive do-gooding (good-doing?), I present not-awards, and since Facebook cornered the market on “badges,” from me, you get a sash.

And The Sash Goes To. . .

I’m a super top fan of these people, who, early in the process, lent their financial support to our MDA Muscle Walk team and/or volunteered to show up on walk day.  Much gratitude and love to Allison Schley, Jenna Stoll, Rhonda and Mark Weir, Laurie Stilin, Sue Doornek, and my incredible friend Sally Warkaske.  Wanna be on my Muscle Walk Top Fan list?  Join or donate to Team Greater Than Gravity by clicking here.

We Rate Dogs, a Twitter feed (@dog_rates) that rates dogs and their antics/gifts on a scale of 1-10 should get a sash for their sweet, sunshine showcase of mutts in their noble canine deeds.  Many dogs get rated 11/10 or 13/10, which I consider simply marvelous math.

Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) deserves a galaxy of gold stars for his Gmorning, Gnight Twitter pep talks and pretty much everything else he’s ever said, written, sung, or rapped.  I suck at Twitter. It would be best if I deactivated my whole Twitter account entirely, but We Rate Dogs and L-MM’s genius are enough to string me along.  I just need to shut my mouth there and stay the hell out of political threads.  The rabbit hole is deep and dangerous there, y’all.

My final sash du jour goes to a Milwaukee firefighter. Last weekend, my little guy and I were shopping, and I noticed a familiar face in the shoe section. I approached him, inquiring if was an MFD firefighter, and his response was, “Yes, and I was at your house a few weeks ago.” He was one of the crew dispatched to our home after the Curious Incident of the Ice at the Bus Stop. He asked after my son, and wished him well. I thanked him for providing calm reassurance during a distinctly not calm time. I didn’t want to bother him as he enjoyed his Saturday, so I tried to split pretty quickly, but he recognized having met me!! And that never happens–no one ever remembers me, so extra gold star.

Liking or appreciating something should not be a competitive event, but it’s not a bad idea to point out good deeds and good works.  Rewarding me for being a fan isn’t going to make me a more rabid enthusiastic singer-alonger.  But maybe someone being called out for just doing something nice might encourage more of that just something nice.  A girl can hope anyway.

I still wouldn’t mind having my own sash though.

I Was Gonna

As I crested the Hoan Bridge, the first leg of my freeway commute to work one morning this week, I was positively taken by the pastel cotton candy swirls of lavender, tangerine, carnation pink, and indigo the sun was painting as it rose over Lake Michigan.  I consciously thought, “I need to write about this, maybe snap a photo of these colors dancing off the mirrored exterior of the Northwestern Mutual Life office tower.  I need to find the words to capture this breathtaking, Monet palette sky.”  Grateful by Better Than Ezra was streaming through the Bluetooth, the perfect complement to this sky.  This SKY, you guys! I had a moment.

My song ended as I made the 90-degree turn west, and with it ended that moment of zen.  Heading west alters the view from “sunrise over Lake Michigan” to “the way to work,” so I needed reinforcement.  I remembered I’d downloaded an audiobook, Theft By Finding, David Sedaris’ most recent collection.  Siri sent it to my Bluetooth, stepping over the last notes of my powerful little pop song abruptly.  Within my first few minutes with Mr. Sedaris, he read of culling through decades of his diaries, what he noted as sufficiently remarkable about his days and nights.  That when he did not find something of import on a given day, he resorted to recording blandness like the weather or how the sky looked that day.

Buzz.  Kill.

So I was gonna share with you the majesty of the sunrise, but pulled back.  I’m no diarist of Sedaris’ caliber, but when someone of his caliber calls it out, maybe hacks like myself should take note.

Any random Thursday, there are a million things to do, but lately I find myself thinking or even saying aloud, “Shoot, I was gonna. . .”  Because I’m an anxious individual, my mind races.  I caution my children against this very behavior, but often, too often probably, I miss being in the moment.  My anxious brain, strategizing seventeen steps ahead, often misses these sublime sunrises because I’m calculating whether I have enough gasoline in the tank to drop #1 off at school, drive to my own school-then to my office-then to a different school-then back to my office-then to a third school, then stop at the Post Office along the way before picking up #1 from school and shuttling him to his bass lesson.  Don’t even ask me about picking up the few ingredients needed to complete my dinner recipe.  Let’s just have breakfast for dinner tonight, OK?

Here’s  a quick sampling of I was gonna tasks I’ve been forced to enlist Siri’s help to complete.  No.  These are tasks I’m resigned to have to enlist Siri’s help to remind me to complete. Or not.  Because even with the list, I was gonna reigns supreme over actual execution of many of the tasks I need/want to do.  And, keepin it real?  Some days I even forget to consult the list created to help me not forget. *sigh*

Get a battery for my car key (Nope)

Add money to kids’ college accounts (No.  I mean I would if we had extra money, but the notion of extra money is absurd).

Look for a new lanyard for T (Does “look for” mean actually “purchase?”  No?  Then no.)

Buy Andrea a Christmas present (Sorry Andrea, nope)

Check out Catastrophe (YES, and YES you should too.  I have laughed out loud and snorted several times per episode.  It’s wildly inappropriate, and I L.O.V.E. this show.  Sharon Horgan is my new hero.  Her delivery of pretty much every line she’s got is perfection.)

Cancel T’s Songsterr subscription (Dangit, another $5.99 down the drain)

Change the bank password (No, because in case I die unexpectedly, the existing password is probably the only one he’d think to use.)

Check my pension beneficiaries (I sent an email, and they sent an email back saying I had to call them to confirm.  No, I haven’t called.)

Send email to the department about Friday’s meeting (YES)

Text Pamster happy birthday (Sure did!)

Order checks (Yes.  With online bill paying services now, I write so few actual checks that I don’t pay much mind to how many I have or when I need them.  I need them.  My not-electronically inclined creditors don’t care about my personal banking strategy.)

Call the dentist (Yes, and I even WENT TO THE DENTIST!)

Buy ingredients for slime for K’s speech graduation party (Yes.  Can’t let my students down.)

Call doctors (Yes.  Can’t let my kid down.)

Look for family photo for Shelly (Seeking is not finding, and then there’s just giving up.  I looked once, does that count?)

Get my Kindle (Yes)

Get a card for Jenna (Yes)

Go to Walgreens (Yes)

Go to the library (Yes)

Get a card for P.J. (Yes)

Leave the door open for Ciaran (He stopped coming over before school months ago, you dope, you can delete the weekly reminder now).

Cancel Apple Music (Yes)

Reinstate Apple Music (Within hours, yes.  MAKE UP YOUR MIND, child!)

Go to yoga (No)

Go to yoga (No)

Go to yoga (No)

I wish this list was something I made up just for fun, but I was gonna is a too-frequent refrain.  I think, I’d like to think anyway, that the people who rely on me would report that my I was gonna has a higher hit rate than the percentage I’ve included here (67% success for those keeping track).  I’m more inclined to follow through for others than I am for myself, which is mostly good, right?  My kids get to their appointments, bills (sometimes mostly almost always on time) get paid, my family eats balanced meals, I show up for the people I promise I will show up for. . .  I wish I didn’t need the reminders though.

And I can’t help but think that this wouldn’t even be a post if David Sedaris hadn’t steered me way from prose drafted in favor of the sunrise. He was wrong though. I snapped this picture a block from my school, and though woefully inadequate in quality, this photo proves the sky merits its due attention.

 

Nextdoor

One never knows who lurks next door, does one?  But good lord, one needs only to belong to a neighborhood social media group to experience by proxy the very worst in human behavior lurking right out there in the open.

Earlier today I sat down to pay the bills (and I swear on all that is true in this world, eleven hours later, I’ve done a million things today except pay the bills!).  Because I’m easily distracted though mostly because I don’t enjoy paying the bills, I checked my email (but also, some of my bills arrive electronically, so checking my email wasn’t exactly a complete waste of time toward the bill paying endeavor).  Anyway. . .

Scrolling through my junk email, deleting quickly as I clicked through 50-60 junk messages, I’m stopped by an email from the Nextdoor app with this subject header: Kid at door at 8:30 Sat. Morning.  I mean, I knew it wasn’t my kid up and at ’em by 8:30 on a Saturday morning, but for some reason, I clicked.  For the uninitiated, Nextdoor is a social media app used by residents to report on neighborhood goings-on, including critical news blasts such as this:

img_3216

“I am not donating because they woke us up.” To quote my friend Maureen, “Way to take a stand.” Sorry about the picture of a screen.  Super low-res of me–bad blogger, bad blogger.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I lost my darn mind over this post.  The natural response to online garbage in 2019 is to fire back aggressively and IN ALL CAPS, which of course, I did not do myself on the app because that would expose me as this person’s equal.  Instead, I took my crabby pants show on the road to Facebook, like a responsible adult does.  Bah!!  I know, I know. . .

How do people behave in such incredibly dim-witted ways?  How does an adult post a photo of a child not of his/her own in a ranty, pissed-off, online what’s going on in the neighborhood app–the kid’s full face, you guys–and not give it even a moment’s pause?  I thought it was probably a screen grab from a video doorbell, which, unlike my tech skills here, was quite high-resolution, quite clear.

I circled back at the Nextdoor post after a couple Facebook friends responded to my post, confirming my WTH-ness.  I noted that the post had been edited.

img_3217

See I blocked out the picture of the child who is not mine from my public forum.

You can see the tone had been ratcheted down a notch.  I considered maybe replying with a somewhat, “Have you considered how much this child’s mother and father are going to flip their shit when they see this?” comment, but I chose not to, and do you know why I didn’t?  I don’t want a person who thinks this is OK to know where I live.  Fear.  This is my neighbor???  Yikes.

Shortly thereafter, a sweet and wonderful neighbor whom I actually do know (not of the misanthropic variety) informed me that the Nextdoor post had been deleted.

I marinated in my crabby juices all morning over just how gross people can be.  How insensitive, unkind, vengeful, and, and, and. . .  I felt no end to the abyss of negative adjectives I could attach to such a creeptastic post.  These are my neighbors, you guys, the “jury of my peers,” as it were, and it hurt a little bit to think that such rottenness lurks so close to home.  Literally.  After a while, I decided I had to be done with it. To assuage the icky aftertaste of meanness, I would do something good.  No, not enjoy a margarita, silly friends, it was still morning!  I’ve decided to do some trolling of my own, trolling for donations.

Rumor has it that by June 1, Wisconsinites can reasonably expect that snow will be melted and the daily average temperature be above zero.  Mother Nature’s current pattern of behavior notwithstanding, June 1 weather is expected to be lovely.  June 1 will mark our family’s fifth annual MDA Muscle Walk.  It’s the one “MDA family” family reunion I’ve attended since my son’s diagnosis, and since Team Greater Than Gravity’s inception, you’ve helped me raise nearly $10,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  You can click here to be directed to our team page.  Join us for the walk in person or by plastic–I’ll take support however you’re willing to share it.  For your preparation, I’m a total wreck the day of the walk, but I show up.  I do my best for my kid, WHO, by the way, is getting better by the day since his close encounter with black ice.  Navigating slowly, but better with appropriate medication, time, heating pads, and some kickass get well swag from Nikki, Dena, and Ann–how I love you all–has helped.  Physical therapy begins next week.  Fingers stay crossed!

And?  If some cute little Cub Scout or Boy Scout visited your door this morning, tying a plastic bag onto your door latch?  Fill it up, won’t you?  You have an entire week until those same youngsters will be roving your neighborhood to retrieve the bags, hopefully filled with non-perishables next Saturday.  Let’s show them we’re better than one bad apple.

And? No. I still haven’t paid the bills. *sigh*

A Block South of Petrified

Stopped just short of petrified is how I feel about the full day of school my son faces tomorrow.

Hello October.png

The world has again shown us its kindest, most compassionate side while my boy has convalesced this past week.  Tomorrow?  I am not sure he is ready, except he has to be; I am not sure I am ready, except, being the adult, I have to be too.

Whatever it is you do to send good vibes out to the universe?  Please do that for my son Monday, won’t you?  I don’t know another way to describe his gait and posture but that of a 70 degree angle from the waist up.  He’s like the right side of a capital “Y.”  OK, I guess do know another way!  He’s stepping gingerly, oh-so-slowly, but he is moving on his own with the help of his pediatrician, an orthopedic specialist, a badass/compassionate PA, the right meds, and well, inertia.  A body in motion tends to stay in motion and all that.

My husband has been an exemplary physical therapist/cheerleader/motivational speaker/pill dispensary/personal health aide for our son.  He’s made our kid get up and at ’em (relatively speaking, of course), forcing him to maneuver outside his comfort zone of flat-on-his-back-in-his-bed.  I believe my husband has missed his true calling.

This last week has been a challenge for us all.  Though not the one who sustained the serious injury, I am weary.  As I watch my son fight to complete such daunting tasks as, oh, let’s say stand up or sit down, requiring midday naps (yes, naps, plural) to recover from the exertion, my maternal anxiety meter is pinging in the red.  How is he going to spend a whole day at school?  Can he possibly spend a whole day at school?  At what time will I get the “Come pick me up?” call??  How will he make up the three tests, myriad assignments, and Solo & Ensemble competition he missed last week, and under what time frame?

I can solve none of these problems for him; he’s on his own at school.  I don’t need to be reminded that’s how it’s supposed to be; I know. *sigh*

 

 

Channeling My Inner Shirley MacLaine

Presenting a stupid-long blog post, a combination of two drafts and one new tale, all subtitled with Hamilton song titles, because if I’m focused on something, you all have to ride it out with me.  That’s how this little game is played here at Greater Than Gravity, friends.

Helpless

Our family is fortunate I carry “good” health insurance, so we don’t use the emergency medical department for an ear infection or tickle in my kids’ throats.

I know my son. When he cries out in pain, categorizing his pain as an “8,” you or I would find that equivalent measure at about 74 on a scale of 0-10.

I don’t screw around with calling 911. I’ve dialed twice before in my lifetime: once because my house was on fire–which was one hell of a rude awakening BTW; the second call was placed when I saw a man perched at the highest point of the wrong side of the Hoan Bridge as I drove home from work one afternoon.  When my son was screaming and crying in pain after having fallen on the ice, it was no joke.

Monday evening he called me from the bus stop, saying he couldn’t get on the second bus, the second of two mass transit buses he takes to and from school.  I didn’t really get it.  “Did you miss your bus?” I asked.  He replied that no, he could have caught it, but couldn’t get on.  Ohhhh-kay. . .  So my husband drove the 30 or so blocks to retrieve him, and when they arrived back home, it was clear what he meant about not being able to get on the bus.  He could not walk.

Nor could he sit or stand or do anything without howling or whimpering. His pain was unlike anything I’d seen him endure before, worse, he said, than when he broke his collarbone.  I quote: “This is the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life.”  When I say his pain thresholds are beyond the natural order of things, I say that without a hint of hyperbole.  The kid’s tolerance for pain is, well, it’s just not right.  After a few minutes of should-we-or-shouldn’t-we, we did.  I called 911. You never want to have to call 911.

The Fire Department EMTs arrived, assessed the boy, and called an ambulance for us.  Some degree of agony was alleviated by his being placed on his back, and I was glad he’d be transported in that position.  By this time, the pasta side dish had boiled over and baked onto the stovetop (good thing there were firefighters in the house!)–hey, I was a little distracted!  I collected myself, a phone charger and cord, and off we went, a crime scene of dinner components, half-cooked, half-sliced, half-assembled across the kitchen in my wake.

And there we sat.  Despite arriving via ambulance, there were no ER bays available, so they sent us back to triage, where we waited a full 1:45 to be seen.  I know he’s big, and I know he’s not a baby or toddler, but goddammit, when other parents whose kids have come and gone since we arrived are stopping to wish us well because they can see how badly he’s hurting and how upset he is???  When he’s leaning over my husband, hanging on for dear life openly crying?  My kid needs help.  Does no one see this?

He began to question the nurses as they bypassed him, calling out the names of other patients.  Why?  Why won’t you take me?  What is taking you so long?  Can you see how bad it hurts??  And parents, it would take a special degree of stoicism not to crumble to see your son’s pleas for help go ignored.

I tried not to lose my shit, because being belligerent rarely helps, but after 1:44 (and I know the time exactly, because we checked in at precisely 6:00 PM), I approached the desk again.  My child had been up and down, trying to find a comfortable position, relatively speaking of course, for nearly two hours.  When I finally channeled my inner Shirley MacLaine a la Terms of Endearment (GIVE MY DAUGHTER THE SHOT! GET MY SON A BED!), a bed magically appeared within two minutes.  *Thank you very much*  And no, I did not shout.  I was barely a whisper.

His coccyx is not broken, so say the x-rays taken while he trembled the whole time.  He was discharged at last shortly before 10:00 PM.  The ED doc (apparently it’s not ER anymore, it’s an emergency department, not an emergency room, fine) gave him one pain pill, which mercifully allowed us to get him into the car, home, and up to his bedroom, and a note to return to school Wednesday.  I’m real swear-y today, so forgive me, but are you fucking kidding me??  He cannot stand.  He cannot sit.  He cannot walk without 100% assistance.  This wasn’t a little owie to kiss and cover with a Scooby-Doo band-aid and chase with a couple ibuprofen.  All I’m saying publicly is that I’m so looking forward to my patient visit satisfaction survey.

Not only is he in tremendous pain still, but he’s also worried now about missing class and making up the work he’s missed.  Adolescence is hard enough for him, for any adolescent really, but to be laid up in the middle of things does not fit into his class schedule.  I reminded him I’d be able to email his teachers, saying as I always do, that we’ll figure it out.  We will.  His teachers have been terrific in response.  Lucky to be Huskies, as they say at RRHS.  My friend Nikki immediately sent a fruit bouquet for him, and your spirits can’t help but be lifted by a pineapple wedge emoji! 


I drafted a post last week I’m including below because I never got around to finishing it.  As you’ll read, I was sharing the immense pride I felt at my boy’s fortitude and brute strength in the face of this strength-stealing disease.  You don’t ever want your kid to have to consider this, but for mine?  It’s the lens through which he views the future.

(Maybe now is when you fetch a beverage, some type of refreshment?  I know.  It’s getting long here today, so you may need an intermission from today’s ramble.)

Dear Theodosia/My Shot

“Pride is not the word I’m looking for, there is so much more inside me now”

–Dear Theodosia, from the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast soundtrack

It’s a beautiful little serenade sung by two new fathers overwhelmed with the love they feel for their newborns.  I teared up the first time I’d heard it (as well as the second, fiftieth, six hundred twenty-third. . .).  The song perfectly captures the tenderness and awe first-time parents experience, knowing they’ll do whatever it takes to make the world safe and sound for them, if I may again steal from Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I was an athlete in high school.  I lettered in track and field all four years, and I was in cheer.  My next-door neighbor was one of my physical education teachers, yet still, I struggled in physical education classes.  Sports and leisure activities should have come more easily for me, but they did not, instead causing terrific frustration and angst.

Now it’s my big kid’s turn.  As part of his Section 504 plan, it was decided that we would meet with his physical education teacher prior to the start of the new semester, and that we did back in December.  My husband, ever the optimist to my dark cloud cover of an outlook, felt it went great, and he was confident our kid would do well.

Gym teacher:  Can he do a push-up?

Me: No

Husband: I think he could, he’ll try anyway.

Gym teacher:  Can he jog?

Me: No

Husband: He can run, not too far and not too fast, but he can try for sure.

Me: He will try anything you ask him to.  He will NEVER ask for help, and he will NEVER admit he wants a break, even when he really needs it.

Gym teacher: If it’s required, he can do some of his testing privately with me.  He is not the only student here who has a physical disability, and we do accommodate so that it won’t affect his grades.

You get the idea.  I appreciated the teacher’s time willingness to give my kid his shot. Even able-bodied kids struggle in PE, so I was sure it was gonna be harder for him than it might be for the average kid.

Last week, big kid comes home explaining how he is always tired in his English class, which immediately follows first block phy ed.  He reports that his running intervals have increased, and that tires him out.  I guess they run-walk-run-walk-run in some type of ladder system designed to increase endurance.  I did Couch-to-5K; I get the program.  I suggest to him that his 504 allows him to take a break when he needs it, that his teacher has been made aware of his physical status, and will allow him to time himself out, or rest for longer than the others if he asks.

In response he says to me that he’s just not going to let MD get the better of him, that he’s not going to let it keep him down.

I don’t even have time to turn around or look away before my eyes mist up again.  Pride is not the word I’m looking for (Thanks again, L-MM).

I feel immeasurably proud of his fortitude and attitude, but I simultaneously worry that the denial is strong in that one.  I don’t expect him to wear a medical diagnosis on his sleeve, or to lead with it in every single aspect of his life.  I do however wish for him a realistic view, not an entitled view, or a view that means he begs off and takes the easy road.  No.  I want him to understand challenge, and the value of the effort + heart + hard work = success equation.  I just don’t want him to take the path of most resistance simply because he wishes not to disclose his medical condition.  But I sure don’t get to pick.

My son now has to sign consent forms allowing ME access to his medical records.  Seriously, who thought this was a sound decision for teenagers who don’t consistently remember even to comb their hair?  My point is that I don’t walk that proverbial mile in his shoes, I don’t decide who gets to know what details about his life, and we don’t talk much about MD these days at our house.  I don’t know what he’s feeling all the time.  He won’t do what I would choose to do, or what I think I would choose to do anyway.

He is not letting muscular dystrophy define him.  To most parents, I bet that seems like a monster victory.  For many reasons, it is.  It’s a scary world our youth face.  Some days hope seems in short supply, but not for him, not last week.


Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

It took a couple centuries for someone to tell Alexander Hamilton’s story.  Thank you for being here with me as I record our story with a bit more immediacy than Hamilton’s.  Today our history isn’t pretty or funny or quirky.  It’s just an I can’t sleep, beat-up mom doing her best for her kid.  When he was freaking out in the ED, I held his hands and told him he’s braver and tougher than most kids he knew, braver than even he himself imagined.  That he could endure anything.  He has.  And he will.

As both his father and I coaxed him into his PJ pants last night, he said, “So now I have an idea what it’s going to be like when I get older, when I can’t move because of muscular dystrophy.” Jesus.

This is his point of reference, and every so often we’re reminded.

Be grateful every damn day.  If you get up and out of bed, you’ve won.  Don’t ever forget it.

 

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye

What’s your current verbal tic? You know, that word or phrase you’d adopted at first with intent, which then takes over to a point you don’t even recognize you’ve said it twelve times in two minutes?

My freshman drops whatnot into every third sentence or so. My husband is a yada-yada-yada guy. My baby points out “there thing” meaning, there is the dog, or questions “where thing?” to open most conversations these days. It matters not if the dog is actually present or even remotely relevant to our verbal exchange, it’s just what he says.  I can’t identify mine at the moment.  I’m sitting in a room all by myself, conversing with no one, and I’m totally tabula rasa about my current lexical frequent flyers.  In all honesty, and to my embarrassment just a touch, I’m overusing the word dick to refer to, well, to dicks and their shady behavior. I asked my husband, and he says my verbal tic is busting out into song. *Except it’s not technically a tic if I belt out a situationally-appropriate lyric every time, is it?*

I wish I could recall who, but I remember hearing a post-game locker room interview with a football player who said, “you know what I’m sayin'” so often, his message was devoid of content because, turns out, nouns and verbs carry meaning.  No, dude, I don’t know what you’re sayin’ because you’re not actually sayin’ anything, know what I’m sayin’?

When even I can identify what my tic is, I make a concerted, conscious attempt to diminish its use.

Lake Superior State University generates a list of words deemed in need of banishment at the end of each annum.  This is SO me.  LSSU doesn’t consult with me though, and I’m just salty enough to have developed my own list.

What say you?  For my liking, these nouns and verbs have run their course. Their time is done. Please go away. May I hold the door for you? Get out!

Curated:  If online clothing vendors are to be believed, they offer carefully curated wardrobe pieces for their customers.  Music streaming services curate a playlist just for you.  Stop it.  You know who curates?  Professionals who select and acquire items for display in museums or galleries.  Using it to sell services and goods feels like being sold a bill of goods.

Style:  It’s OK in every context except when your online clothing retailer emails you announcing “You’ve been styled.”  Nah.  You’re sending me some overpriced clothes you hope I’m too lazy to return and will like just enough to pay the invoice.

Unpack:  Popular in edu-speak these days, we unpack educational standards.  No. What we do is discuss them.  You know what gets unpacked at my house?  The groceries.  My suitcase after a weekend away.

Deep Dive:  If unpacking is overused in edu-speak these days, the ubiquity of deep dive cannot be overstated; let’s take a deep dive into our data.  How about we discuss our data thoroughly?  The only place I’m taking a deep dive is the ocean.

Optics:  Fancy, shmancy word spin doctors and talking heads use to describe how an event or happening appears.

Guesstimate:  THIS IS NOT A WORD

Listicle: Also not a word, but a portmanteau, combining list and article. Social media pushes clickbait listicles like Top 5 Reasons Your Man Is Looking at Your BFF!  Top 10 Things You Should NEVER Eat! 20 Things You Never Knew About Friends! Apparently listicles only work for me in multiples of five.

Conversate:  ALSO NOT A WORD.  You converse.  You say conversate to try to make yourself sound smart, when in reality, smart people laugh at your use of conversate.

Orientate: Related to conversate, and PS–my head just exploded. Orientation is the process of being introduced, getting an overview. I orient (a verb roughly meaning give direction) new SLPs all the time, but no one’s ever been orientated.

Onboarding: It means training, or perhaps an extended period of training for newly hired employees. Onboarding sounds fancier is all. I recently served on a university communication sciences advisory committee. One of the group members asked me what our district’s onboarding costs were per new hire.  I’m pretty sure she thinks I dawdle in the land of simpletons, flitting through life, so vacant was my face in response.

Tremendous: Tremendous coulda hung around forever had a certain high ranking government official not adopted its use in his insufferable, self-aggrandizing way.

Very: See tremendous above. Very works better verbally than in print, in my opinion, because when combined with facial expression and body language, you feel my “very” to the very bottom of your toes.

Leverage: Isn’t leverage a physics term? I probably should know that, except for my one and only physics class left me in a daily puddle of tears.  The nightmare of that course became my dream come true mid-senior year after my teacher asked my mother, “She already got into college, didn’t she?” suggesting it was time I drop the class. Leverage is in heavy rotation these days to describe the manner in which things get used. Business types leverage their relationships with clients to gain funding or favors. Leverage feels like a synonym for exploit.

Transparency: Means not to hide, to disclose fully.  Citizens demand transparency of this government agency or that political campaign.  Any CEO or candidate for office swears transparency in their business dealings.  Formerly known as honesty, see also integrity.

Stakeholder:  Parents, you are valuable stakeholders in your child’s education!  We are seeking input from all stakeholders as we move forward with the city budget!  Blah, blah, blah.

Polar Vortex:  I actually like this one, because science.  But I am sooooo over winter, y’all.  It snowed twenty hours straight yesterday, and we are making up six school cancellation days.  I’m just pouting.  Mother Nature, you and I need to sit down for a little girl talk.  Pull up your big girl panties, lady, and let’s move on from this tantrum you can’t seem to shake here.

 

RIP

Rest in peace, Bryan Rodriguez.

I never met the man, and I arrived near the scene after he had already been transported to the hospital, but I want to acknowledge his service to the community.  Seeing a man’s blood in the street with your own eyes changes things from “some poor guy, how terrible” to “the man whose blood painted a picture that will stick with me for some time.”

Bryan Rodriguez worked for the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works.  Friday morning he was doing that day’s job, repairing potholes, following behind a truck laden with asphalt pellets, presumably with shovel in hand. At 8:15 AM, a car slammed into him.

I got to one of my schools shortly before 10:00 Friday, in advance of an IEP meeting.  An IEP (individualized education plan) meeting is a special education event where students, parents, educators–regular and special ed, and administrators convene to discuss a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and develop a plan to address the student’s identified weaknesses.  I don’t have a figure, but I estimate that by now, I’ve been part of no fewer than 5,000 kids’ lives in such a way.

I noticed a cruiser along with police tape blocking the street just beyond the school’s, but didn’t think much more of it as my supervisor and I entered school and ascended the first set of stairs up toward our meeting.  Crime and the ensuing police presence are so familiar to me that I’m not proud to admit I didn’t give it much more thought.  I hadn’t yet met this student whose needs we were to discuss, so my mind was fixed on what I had read about the student and what I was going to say.

My supervisor and I stopped at the stair landing where another teacher began cataloging for us the events unfolding in the street below, unseen to us until we reached the bank of windows overlooking Seventeenth Street.  She relayed the circumstances of the accident as she knew them.  The driver and passenger bolted after Mr. Rodriguez was hit.  I could see the car partially wedged under the city truck, the man’s reflective vest on the ground.  The car had no plates.  Speed and/or inattentiveness was a factor.  The mayor had already been on-scene.  No more needed to be said.  It was understood that the DPW worker had been killed.  There had since been a steady stream of Public Works trucks passing by the scene of the crime.  I wondered if my husband had been behind the wheel of one of them.

Last Wednesday a Milwaukee Police Department officer was shot and killed by a man at whose house a search warrant was being executed.  Officer Matthew Rittner was killed in the line of duty, and the city mourned.  Twice in two days now, the city lost one of its employees.  Like Officer Rittner, whose body was escorted to the coroner’s office by a parade of law enforcement vehicles, Bryan Rodriguez’s now lifeless body was trailed by a procession of golden-yellow DPW trucks.  I found myself oddly comforted by that.

You bet this accident hit close to home.  Not only was I a late witness to this tragedy myself, but all I could think was it could just as easily have been my husband.  A reckless driver has already caused one of his buddy’s fingers to be severed.  Some idiot has shot at guys up in the bucket trucks.

I understand accidents happen, but I am willing to bet they happen less frequently when people actually give a damn about human life.  When I tell friends and family about events such as these, a typical response is, “Wow, don’t they care if they hurt someone?”  The desperate, terrifying, fundamental truth that needs to be understood before that question even gets asked is this: They don’t care enough about their own life to consider the lives of others.

No one goes into public service for its lavish salary, and the days of what used to be a promise of benefits some-day-in-the-future in lieu of premium wage-today have long since passed.  Internet trolls have had their field days with the loss of these two men this week, asserting “coulda-shoulda-wouldas” to somehow assign a sliver of blame to the victims.  Trolls, you’re despicable.  This guy set his alarm Friday morning, probably happy to have the weekend looming, maybe he’d grab a good old Milwaukee Friday night fish fry, have a couple of beers, I don’t know.  But I’m confident he thought he’d have that weekend.  His family couldn’t possibly have thought he’d never make it home.

I do not believe he will get a formal send-off similar to what the first responders do, but I feel at the very least he should receive a thank you for his service.  Thank you, Bryan Rodriguez, may you rest in peace.