Iowa


Minneapolis

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At some point, coming or going, where a trip to Iowa is concerned, Minneapolis looms large and essentially unavoidable. A metropolitan area that all but defines the term “urban sprawl”, we found ourselves once again attempting to circumnavigate it with as much expediency as possible on our return trip to Canada last week.

Coming up I-35 and entering the interstate labyrinth from the southern edge, it can easily take well over an hour to break free. Compounding this was Rob’s quest for another two bar stools for our new kitchen breakfast nook. The pricing on everything under the sun hovering just below insanely cheap in the States, we’d found two chairs at the Pier 1 in Dubuque and determined that another two could be secured in another store in Michelle Bachmann territory.

Dee is an extraordinarily intrepid traveler for her age. Broken to the backseat during her 5th year and first in Canada by the vast expanse that is Alberta specifically but Canada generally, she can ride six to seven hours with nary an “are we there yet?” But a week of intense spoiling by her grandmother softened her a bit and the endless city of Minneapolis quickly mushroomed into a Groundhog’s Day experience.

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Minneapolis,” Rob said.

30 minutes later her attention wandered back to the seemingly unchanged landscape.

“Where are we now?”

“Minneapolis,” I told her.

And 30 minutes after that?

“Are we still in Minneapolis?”

“Yes, we are,” Rob said.

“Well, I don’t know why they call it Minneapolis,” she announced a little while later. “There is nothing ‘mini’ about it.”

“Minne is a native word,” Rob said.

“It probably doesn’t mean small,” I added.

“Probably not,” Dee agreed.


The exterior of a typical SuperTarget in Salt ...

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You remember the guy. He ran hot and hell freezing over cold. Called you in the middle of the night, wanting to stop by after a night out at the titty bars with his equally douchey buddies. Hinted around that his commitment “issues” were the result of emotional abuse at the hands of a heartless hag, who couldn’t hold a candle to you because “if I could be with anyone seriously, Baby, it would be you.”

He was cute in the way of the decade. Hair and dress just so. Gainfully employed with prospects. Everyone but your best friend liked him.

Yeah, I dated that guy. On and more off for about four years. Wasted time I can never get back as hindsight helpfully reminds me from my vantage point in advancing middle age. I thought that if I just loved him enough, he would change. And by “change”, I mean stop treating me like rest stop between his relationships with women he treated better (I am assuming here) than he did me.

I won’t bore you with the sad details, but the “relationship” ended when the clue bolt struck me one evening – hours after he had promised to show up for a date. I called him and let him have it. The conversation ended with him asking if we could be friends.

“We were never friends, ” I told him. And interestingly, that out of the blue self-revelation had never occurred to me before that moment.

He was never my friend. He was dull to the point where I had to spoon feed conversation topics to him. He didn’t read. He didn’t write. He didn’t think.

“I never want to hear from you again.”

And that was the end.

Well, not quite. I moved to another apartment in the same building shortly after and one evening, I heard him stumbling about in the hallway, looking for me. It was summer and the windows were open, so I clearly overheard the conversation he had with whatever friend he’d dragged along with him.

“She’s not here, man,” the friend said.

“She was just here a couple of months ago,” he replied.

“Her car’s not here even,” was the reply (I’d traded it in for a Chevy not long before). “Face it. She’s moved.”

Car doors slammed and I could hear them drive away. I never saw him again though I wondered from time to time what became of him.

Fast forward past a marriage, baby and another marriage and I find myself shopping at the SuperTarget near the neighborhood where Dee and I lived in West Des Moines. We were on our way from the KOA in Adel, where we’d camped the night before with BFF and her family, to Sis’s farm just past the east side of Des Moines. Rob originally planned no shopping time into the Des Moines leg of our recent holiday down south, but he knows how much I love Target and we were finding things to be so stunningly cheap in the States that even he couldn’t resist a quick pit-stop.

Douche was a teacher when I knew him. He lost his job for reasons I can only speculate about but which I think were mostly related to the fact that he really couldn’t read or write well because he was severely dsylexic.* You just can’t be dumber than the kids you are teaching even if they are special ed.

He went on to hold numerous jobs and the last I heard, he was in sales.

At one point during the SuperTarget experience, I went to check out with Dee and Rob wandered off, telling us he would catch up. She and I waited by the check out lanes. And waited. And finally I spotted him a long way across the store in electronics.

“Go see what is keeping your Dad,” I told Dee and she ran off to query him … didn’t return either as they had both been sucked into the dvd vortex.

Boredom eventually sent me in pursuit and as I approached the dvd aisles, I spotted a kid in a red Target shirt and a much older security guard in animated conversation. The kid was barely out of his teens and the guard sported one of those obvious dye jobs which painfully accented the monkish bald spot and contrasted sharply with the wrinkled jowls. I mentally noted that retail security and service work seemed to be the new future for the too young to retire but too old to be working entry-level jobs set in America, when it struck me that I knew this guy.

A discreet double-take confirmed my suspicion and I conducted a quick memory scan to determine where he fit in my past.

Of course, it was Douche.

You always think about it, right? Running into the biggest asshole you ever dated and being more awesome than he could possibly have imagined you could ever be and then rubbing his nose in it like a puppy who’s diddled on the living room carpet. But I just smiled and continued to look for Rob.

Douche is a security guard at Target. He’s in his early fifties with a tummy that folds over his belt and wobbles when he walks. Later, I spied him gathering shopping carts in the parking lot, wearing one of those flourescent vests to keep the customers from running him over because who pays attention to the guy who gathers up the carts?

Sure, it would have been poetically just to catch his attention and have that awkward for him conversation while Rob and Dee looked on. I didn’t bother to check his ring finger, but something tells me that it was as naked as his current reality is obvious.

But what would have been the point? I knew everything I needed to know about him 28 years ago when I realized that we weren’t even friends. I could have easily predicted this outcome for both of us had I been just a bit more self-aware and honest with myself.

Women, more than men, incline themselves toward excusing the obvious. We buy into ridiculous Cosmo notions that our behavior is what drives relationships. That we can fix people by being more perfect and accommodating when the reality is that people who treat us badly should be kicked to the curb in favor of those who can recognize our value without our “help”.

Still, I would be less than honest if I said that a part of me wasn’t pleased to see he’d found his level and that sometimes karma is more instant than oatmeal.

 

*There were some conduct issues to. Off the job. But stuff that can get you terminated in a hurry. I didn’t know about them until long after I knew him. Had I known. He would have never been on my radar.


Three Legged Black Cat

Image by broadsurf via Flickr

Monday marked the end to a very long weekend. One that began with a phone call early Friday morning from my sister, DNOS, and ended with a Father’s Day celebration at Edie and Silver’s Sunday evening. The evening being punctuated but not marred by my mediating a years old argument between DNOS in Iowa and our brother CB out in San Francisco.

And why? Because Baby is in the corner again.

I thought perhaps things had settled but on my way back from dropping Dee at school, Mom called me on my cellphone. As I was on a county road, I answered and let her know to call me when I got home. Yes, yes, I shouldn’t have answered at all. But my phone is an ancient piece of shit sans voice mail and caller id.

Given that Baby was still in the hospital, I feared the worst, but Mom only wanted to know if I was okay – after the mediation session the evening before – and to vent a bit. It is not easy being 79 and still called upon to parent as though your children were small and helpless.

But before I got home and called Mom back, I pulled into the driveway and saw a black cat.

It was just sitting on the stairs in front of the back porch, eyeballing me with the smuggest look I have ever seen on a cat.

After staring me down, it hopped down and sauntered towards the truck and as it passed, it swung a backward glance that can only be described as taunting.

And I thought – well, this can’t be a good sign.


A teacher writing on a blackboard.

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Being the parent as opposed to the educator is a bit of a task for me. Balance eludes me even though Dee has been in public school for six years now when preschool is factored in, and I still find it hard to silence myself or pretend not to know what I know about the politics and practice of being on the educator side of the desk.

Last night was Parent/Student Conferences. This year conferences have been separated completely from report cards, which won’t be sent home for another month. The entire affair is student-led with the purpose being student demonstrating what they have learned.

I facilitated student led conferences in some form or other – on and off – since the late ’90’s. By and large, they are neither good nor bad practice where evaluation is concerned. Many parents despise them and with good reason. Most kids are woefully unprepared to present evidence of their own learning and progress.

There is a lot of work and preparation involved in getting kids ready to lead a conference or even perform the most minor dog and pony show for their parents. And most teachers don’t have the time to prepare kids properly with the end result being painful for child and parent alike.

Dee is  painfully shy under the spotlight. It stems from her slightly OCD tendencies and her fear of being wrong. What exactly she thinks will happen if she messes up, I don’t know. Rob and I try to reassure her that grade three is simply not – in the long-term – such a big deal that making mistakes here and there don’t matter, but it’s a fine line. After all, we don’t want her to develop an impression that elementary school isn’t an essential part of what she needs to do in order to move on from childhood to teen to adult. But honestly? It’s lower stakes than one is led to believe by raving politicians and media analysts.

But it’s not stake-less.

Basic skills like simple arithmetic, ability to write a complete sentence and eventually a paragraph or two and the ability to read gradually complex materials with understanding are huge.

It’s no secret that Dee struggles with her reading. She has since preschool – where yes, they were pushing reading already.

I have questioned – closely – every teacher Dee has ever had about my feeling that Dee perhaps had  problems that went beyond the need to work a little harder. And they all brushed me off.

In grade one, the brush off at the fall conference was followed by a later admission that maybe Dee did need a bit of intensive one on one. She was put into a program designed to catch up kids who were lagging but not special needs and she did indeed make strides. But reading was still not easy and it seemed to exhaust her.

Grade two, I had to go in and arrange a meeting with the teacher mid-year to insist on Dee receiving some additional assistance. This also seemed to help but didn’t solve the problem. Dee simply can’t sound out words. She can sight-read. Once she knows a word, which can take repeated exposure, she remembers it, but it can be an exhausting process.

This year, I voiced my concerns early and was again told that Dee’s issues fell within the realm of developmentally accepted parameters.

I accepted this – only after checking with my friend, Sis, who is a Title One teacher back in my former school district. I had her run Dee’s “symptoms” by her supervisor and a few other reading teachers we know and they agreed that it could be the case.

Not long ago, however, I’d had enough and insisted on Dee being tested. Frankly, I wanted her tested in grade one and was told no.

We’ll have the results soon. I am pretty certain I will be vindicated but not pleased with the fact that too much time has elapsed since I first voiced my concerns.

Dee was able to cut losses the last two years because her teachers had time to work with her one on one. Alberta sets class sizes for grade two and lower that are small by US standards. They also allow for more remedial and special education for the youngest children, but not the older ones. She is now, unfortunately, not likely to get much help because most special education funding is eaten up by physically and behaviorally disabled kids.

There is an autistic boy in the grade behind Dee who has an aide all to himself who – according to Dee – “plays with him in the hallway all day”.  I’ve observed this little guy up close on a few occasions and my guess is that in terms of being educable – he isn’t. Not that this should condemn him, but I question a system that spends a lot of money to babysit a kid in a school setting that he will not benefit from while kids like Dee, who could be helped greatly with just a tenth of the attention, are left begging.

The biggest issue this year is my own fault.

On the first day of school, I read the names of the other kids in her room and realized she was once again a buffer kid.

I know buffers. I rearranged class lists and seating charts with them.

A “buffer” is the quiet, obedient student you use to put space between the pains in the arses in your classroom.

Dee’s teacher refers to these kids as “characters”, which is the politically correct way of referring to the “time sucks” that every teacher has and sometimes in overabundance.

And yes, these charged up characters deserve their education and the time and attention they receive, but the truth is that they get it at the expense of kids who are quiet and sweet and sometimes in more academic need than they are.

Dee has spent the last three school years as a buffer kid. I should have gone straight to the office and planted myself there until she was moved to the other class. But Rob and I didn’t want her to get the idea that she could simply rearrange life when it wasn’t to her liking.*

So we told her to “suck it up, Buttercup”. And, being our daughter, she did.

But the cost has been heavier than just her social life.

Dee, for personality and learning need reasons, requires a calm learning environment. From the first, loud look-at-me kids have repelled her. Part of it is just who she is. Confrontation seekers or kids seeking to dominate her are not welcome in her sphere. She is not a leader herself but she is no mindless follower. If she follows, it’s out of genuine attraction to people. Anyone seeking to make her a pack member had better parse their invitation with care. Additionally, when she is engaged in activities that take quite a bit of effort – like reading – any distraction will derail her. Once off-track, she frets and worry leads to inertia in a hurry with her.

Her teacher assigns seats, changes them frequently and doesn’t allow the children to choose their work groups. None of this is out of line, but because the boys really outnumber the girls, Dee sits and works with rough, tumbly “characters” a lot more often than is good for her learning style**.

The only break we’ve caught all year is the fact that she doesn’t share a cubby, but otherwise, her poor little psyche is under assault for hours a day and as a result her progress has ground slowly to a halt from which I don’t see an easy jump-start. At this point there is no way we could hope to get her moved to the other class because of the numbers. Grade three is huge. But, next year we will not be gracious at all if Dee ends up with the Loud Boys again.

My final observation is one of irony. Back in my old Iowa school district, the province of Alberta is looked upon as a model of education practices. From what I have observed, the schools here face the same short-ball mentality that plagues the US, so the government continually bleeds the system with cuts that pretty much mean the Canadian version of special education is teacher assistants in the classroom and individual education plans that may or may not be implemented if the budget is short that year.

Dee was to be subjected to the Alberta version of standardized tests., PAT’s. If not for that, I wonder if her teacher would have broached her concerns about Dee’s reading at all. From the look on her face when Rob announced that Dee wouldn’t even be in school the week of the tests, I get the feeling that she or the school or both are evaluated based on the tests outcome.

My personal opinion of standardized testing is based on 20 years of having to give them and on my own experience writing them – they are slippy tools.

One can make a test sing and dance to just about any tune one likes and because of this, they are mostly valueless.

It would be easier, I think, to send my child to public school if I’d never taught in one, but having no alternative save home-schooling – which I am not ruling out – I work on my balance.

And my balance is being sorely tested.

*In addition to her classroom being “bad boy” heavy, none of her friends were in that class. She gets along with everyone, but she has no one in the class with whom she is close. She often talks about how no one shares notes with her or talks to her at lunch or asks her to join in games when weather forces them to remain indoors for recess. She is such a social creature and craves being included that I am amazed she doesn’t complain more than infrequently.

**Although I am guilty of using students as buffers, I avoided placing struggling learners with tumbly characters regardless of how mild-mannered they were. Ultimately, a child’s learning was more important than the control factor level of the room.


Happy New Year 1910!

Image by Puzzler4879 A Blessed New Year To All via Flickr

As the last days of 2010 speed by, some of us are plotting new courses for a new year, and this means – naturally – making those awful, and often fruitless, resolutions.

Most people concentrate on the concrete. Resolving to lose weight, which more often ends up with the health club having a fatter wallet and no significant body improvements for them save a skinnier bank account. Diet improvement or renouncing counter-productive habits are biggies, as is the ever popular “getting organized”.

Make-overs are big because of the broad applications. Nearly anything can be “made over” and “improved”.

A smaller portion of the population tackles the interior with goals intended to improve, cultivate or jettison relationships.

Typically, I don’t make resolutions anymore. I have goals but my success is not measured by how quickly they are achieved. Rather I look at how they incorporate into my life and I would say that my goals are in a constant state of refinement as I pursue them in a non-manic way.

One thing I have noticed about myself as I head into my fourth year living in Canada, is that I am more and more myself.

In my old life back in Iowa, there were obligations and responsibilities that obliged me to stifle who I am more often than was good for me (though it probably benefited a small group of others). I don’t employ many of the checks by which life was precariously balanced. Nor do I masque myself.

Oh, I can still be inscrutable, but more often, what you see is who I am.

This year, I resolve to continue being more and more myself.

Perhaps you might too. It would certainly be easier and more inexpensive than a lot of other superficial options.

In case I don’t see you again before the new year, have a joyous and peaceful one, dear reader.

You were not meant for crawling, so don’t.
You have wings.
Learn to use them, and fly.
-Rumi


reiki cat

Leslie, my old college chum, sent me a message via Facebook not long ago asking if I would be interested in helping her out. She’s studying Healing Touch and needed to practice her distance healing.

Iowa to Alberta is a purty fer distance so it qualifies.

I’ve mentioned Les before. She has always been the most interesting and open to all things of my friends. Her training includes Reiki and she is at master level, but she is exploring Healing Touch too. Similar and yet not, it involves tapping the cosmic energy or the universe or God – whatever resonates most for you in order to wrap your understanding about what amounts to super-sensitive/charged beings manipulating life force to promote well-being, health and healing if necessary.

Do I believe in this?

Totally.  I can see the air after all. Multi-colored specs ripple all around me. I was probably five or six when I realized that not everyone could see them, and as it is hard to explain exactly what I see without alarming people, I learned to keep it to myself. It’s a bit like my useless talent for knowing when/if people will have children or not, or my daughter’s ability to dream snippets of her life in advance.

She took my “history” and asked about problem areas in much the same way a massage or physical therapist would and we set up a time.

This morning I experienced “healing touch” and I must say it is in no way magicky or new age. It was very much like massage in that it can be felt in an immediate and tangible way.

I’d explained to Les that my forearms were sore from yoga. The muscles are tight and they are one of the last remaining holdouts in my quest to liberate myself physically as the low back and hamstrings have long since surrendered to the void and my shoulder unknotted ages ago.

Quickly into the session, they warmed and began to feel as though wrapped in soft warm flannel or cotton casts.

Since my allergies are acting up, I asked her to focus on the sinuses too and throughout the session they drained. The fullness and pressure vanished and an intense flushing occurred.

When we talked later, she told me that she’d also done a lymphatic flush and mind clearing. The latter was truly interesting because close to the end of the session I was suddenly aware of a thin red line swirling around my head at eye level. It reminded me of the scanners at store check-outs, but instead of being a steady line, it gave the impression that it was shooting around my head.

Right now I am feeling a little wrung out. The lymph flush no doubt. Therapeutic massage has the same effect though it tends to lag about 24 hrs whereas this hit within hours. Not likely something that would happen if I were not battling allergies and had a good night’s sleep under my belt. Last night was fitful because I am not tolerating the sawdust. My eyes swelled and itch intolerably. Gogi berry caps are good but not decisive in quelling the histamine reaction entirely.

The past couple of days has given me a chance to gab girl-style in a way I haven’t been able to for quite a while. I am reminded again of my isolation living here without family and old friends. Though it is a ways off still, the planned trip to Iowa is welcome. I plan to take advantage of proximity and indulge in old ties.

Reiki and Healing Touch are not so far removed from my yoga training as they might sound. It’s all energy based. We are essentially bits of charged matter that decided for reasons unknown to take solid shape. My yoga teachers and my massage therapist talk about transference of energy in physical adjustments, and I was a public school teacher long enough to know that there is more than a bit of energy corralling and exchange going on in the pupil-teacher relationship.

That the distance healing could work was something I did not question though the intensity was a surprise. I didn’t expect it to be as immediate and intense. Of course, why wouldn’t it be? Energy is not confined in its pure form by time and space  (pardon my ignorance of physics here because I know there are rules).

I will try this again. I don’t want to abuse or presume on our friendship though. Like yoga, healing sessions should be remunerated as we value what we must pay for in some way more than what is just given to us even when it comes from a generous intention.


Lesbian wedding.

Image via Wikipedia

Brian Brown is a name you may, or may not, know depending on the depth of your interest and/or passion about marriage as a civil right. Putting aside the fact that the State’s only interest in marriage is from a contract and licensing point of view, and that marriage as a social or religious issue is purely fabricated to push whatever agenda is deemed necessary, Brown is the brainy brawn behind the National Organization of Marriage (NOM), which believes that marriage is a man/woman thing.

Brown’s group has been instrumental in interfering in states where same-sex marriage is/was/or is liable to become legal. NOM’s most recent victory was the appallingly disingenuous campaign waged during Iowa’s midterm retention vote for three State Supreme justices who happened to be presiding over the court when it unanimously ruled that Iowa’s own constitution forbids discrimination against gays when it came to obtaining marriage licenses. Brown’s group, instead of pointing out that the justices ruled according to existing law, lied to Iowans, telling them that the justices imposed their own personal agendas in place of the law to create a right where one didn’t exist.

It’s fine to campaign against politicians who are responsible for the creation of policy and law, but to attack non-partisan judges who simply clarify existing law is out of bounds. The retention vote – though most people don’t appear to understand this – is about the judge’s qualifications to read and enforce existing statute. Brown knows this. He is a Harvard grad after all and I am sure that makes him intelligent enough to know what the vote was actually about. It unfortunately also makes him smarter than most of the Iowans he needed to trick into helping him push his personal agenda of making sure that same-sex marriage is never legal in the United States. Ever.

Personal agenda?

Brown would not agree. He is quoted in a recent Newsweek article, quite artfully really, giving his reasons for taking up arms against the formation of couples and families with the following statement:

“Marriage is a public good. If you change the definition of marriage, you don’t just change it for the gay married couple down the street, you change it for everyone,” he says. If gay marriage is allowed, “then the state is essentially saying that my views on marriage, and the majority of Americans’ views on marriage, are equivalent to discrimination…It profoundly affects me if my children are taught in the schools that my views on marriage are bigoted. It profoundly affects me if the church that I’m part of is treated in the law as bigoted. And, ultimately, same-sex marriage is not true.”

And he is not wrong. Equality in marriage regardless of orientation would make him look like a bigot. It would call into question his Catholic faith. It would brand tens of millions of Americans as prejudiced.

Why is that wrong? He is a bigot. The Catholic Church is so riddled with hypocrisy that one more glaring affront to the call of Christ’s “love thy neighbor” hardly breaks its bigoted straw back.  And the American people, generally speaking, have always needed to be legally compelled to promote marginalized and discriminated against groups (like blacks and women for example) to equal footing.

They are all bigots, and apparently, not okay with owning it.

So not okay, that they are willing to campaign and protest and promote the idea of laws that are discriminatory.

All because people like Brian Brown can’t personally come to grips with that real fact that he is wrong, his religion is wrong and that the American people prefer inequality to equality, a peculiar flaw in a people so devoted to the idea of personal liberty and so very much about fairness (as it applies to them specifically – they don’t do abstract well at all).

Having taught public school at the middle school level for a couple of decades, I can assure Mr. Brown that his children will one day come to their own conclusions about his bigotry, regardless of the outcome of his efforts to save face at the expense of other people’s liberties. I was raised strict Catholic myself, and I am under no illusions about the stance of some of my countrymen or my former faith.

Waging war against same-sex marriage because it forces you to look at the truth is not a good reason to take up arms.  Society has weathered all sorts of enlightenment and coming to grips with the injustices that gays and lesbians have endured will not permanently scar anyone’s psyche.

America gave up slavery and then Jim Crow. It has, superficially at least, given up sexism.  Lady Liberty didn’t drop her torch and the Declaration of Independence didn’t burst into flames.

Change is life. Life doesn’t stand still and that’s a good thing.

Having to own your bigotry and admit that you are wrong is called “growth”. It’s actually quite good for your children to see. It’s a “teachable moment” that will catapult you in their esteem just as surely as their discovery of your clinging to outdated social injustice will damn you to irrelevance.

Brian Brown is not the only person to wake up one day and realize that the world was evolving when he would rather not, but he is someone with power enough to force the rest of us to cling to our bigoted past – and that’s not right. It shouldn’t be up to him or churches that many of us don’t belong to or hate groups that revel in the adrenaline surge of pointless and anger-filled discrimination.

Brown’s justification for his actions could have easily been spouted in the early 1960’s by segregationists or in the early 20th century by those who felt women should be denied the vote or by slave owners before the Civil War. It’s the refuge of the spiritually lazy to deny the right of society to grow up because it asks too much of them personally.

Brian Brown is a bigot and he’s fighting to keep his children from finding out.