Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

A Tentative Retraction

A few weeks ago, I wrote a quick "review" of the movie Waiting for Superman, which I watched with free tickets from the company K-12, an online educator. I was moved by the movie and found it both compelling and depressing, and, overall, it left me feeling uneasy about much in the American public school system but grateful that my own children are safely learning in a very good charter school here in Los Angeles. This morning, I opened up my new The New York Review of Books to an article by Diane Ravitch called The Myth of Charter Schools. Ravitch proceeds to eviscerate Davis Guggenheim's movie in a careful argument, concluding that the movie is simplistic, sometimes patently untrue and, above all, an assault on public education as a right and cornerstone of American democracy.

At risk of seeming all over the place or impossibly fatuous and impressionable, I feel far less enthusiastic about the movie and my probable superficial interpretation of it. The weird thing is that the company who asked me to write the review, K-12, and then sent me an American Express giftcard to buy the tickets, is a company started by William Bennett, the very conservative blow hard who I happen to know through my brother-in-law. I won't tell the story, here, but a long time ago I had an actual verbal argument with him at a wedding (my sister's) -- suffice it to say that I still find him insufferable and if the company hadn't been sold a while ago would have refused to do the review. I found it curious that they were part of the promotion process but only after reading the Ravitch review do I really understand why. According to Ravitch, "Waiting for Superman is a powerful weapon on behalf of those championing the 'free market' and privatization. It raises important questions, but all of the answers it offers require a transfer of public funds to private sector."

When I first heard Guggenheim interviewed on NPR, before I actually saw his movie, I was driving around Los Angeles, and when he mentioned that the impetus for the movie was the occasion of passing three "dismal" public schools on the way to dropping off his own children at their private schools, here in Los Angeles, I felt irked. I thought to myself what the hell does he actually know about the public schools here in Los Angeles, other than the sensational stories he hears? I imagined that he probably lives in a neighborhood where the public schools are probably excellent, but due to his social status and the general allure of the private school system, he would shun it and make himself feel better by equating all public schools as "bad." I myself live in a district with the best elementary school in the city, and most of my friends, if they can afford it, choose to send their children to extremely expensive private schools (upwards of $20,000 for K-5 and nearing $30,000 for middle and high school). Why? I don't know. Do they know anything at all about public schools? Most don't and all appear to have been seduced by the notion that the public school system is horrendous here in Los Angeles. And while they might pay lip service to the "good" ones that their property taxes support, they wouldn't dream of sending their children to them. Guggenheim himself said in that interview that he felt guilty about not supporting his local public school.

Anyway, I went into the movie feeling conflicted and worried, a bit, about the inherent elitism of the movie. I am also aware of my own very conflicted feelings -- my children are in public school, a local charter that was started only six or so years ago by concerned parents who wanted an alternative curriculum for their children, but if I were to suddenly be able to afford a private school, would that change my decision? When I look at the private schools and the incredible facilities, the field trips, the teachers, the extras -- well, it's hard not to wonder what my own children are missing. However, what I also see is excess, lots of material excess and an education marked primarily by entitlement -- and I'm sort of relieved that I don't have to expose my sons to that any more than they already are. I also hate that these private schools have no responsibility toward those with disabilities -- that's a no-brainer for me -- and why would I want my sons to attend a school that wouldn't accept my daughter?

But enough rambling. The review has knocked me over a head with a sledgehammer and underlined the necessity of really studying an issue, backwards and forwards. Above all, the reviewer emphasizes that poverty, not bad teachers is the indicator of poor educational outcomes, and this was an important reminder for me, if not startling (given the work that I do in healthcare, I am already aware that poverty is a primary indicator for developmental disability and poor outcomes). Ravitch points out that while the movie extols Finland as a country whose educational system is to be admired, it fails to point out that Finland seldom tests its students and has a completely unionized teaching force. Finland also has a national curriculum and has strengthened its social programs for children and families -- only 5% of children live in poverty in Finland while 20% do so here in the United States. That's the BIG BAD SOCIALISTIC STATE, any trolls out there reading this.

I'm off, now, booting Superman with at least one foot and looking for more edification.

Quote of the Day

Because I barely had a chance to speak with him yesterday about his school flag football game, I asked Henry this morning how it went. He's twelve and in sixth grade.

We lost again, Mom, he replied. We got creamed, 45 to nothing.

Remember that you're a new middle school and an even newer team, Henry. You're probably the youngest team playing, I answered.

Mom, it's so unfair. Those guys had beards.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Friday Redemption (not detention) on Saturday

Hilton Head Island, 2010

Yesterday, I drove to Sophie's school with a heavy heart. I'd been on the phone all morning -- with The Neurologist who has scheduled an MRI for Sophie, with the MRI folks who needed an authorization from the insurance company, with my caseworker at IHSS (or her answering machine) and with the billing office of the home healthcare agency that provides the nurses who administer Sophie's IVIG every six weeks -- I'm not kidding. This is what I do most days, in between the shuttle service that I operate for the young boys of the city, and it never seems to end.

Anyway, I was driving to pick Sophie up from her high school, and I wasn't feeling good. Even though I've started this boot camp exercise regime and am pleased that I'm finally doing something about the physical side of myself, I still hate to exercise and hate, even more, the soreness I feel for days afterward. I feel incredibly out-of-shape and ungainly -- and if I didn't hate complaining about it more than being it, I'd spend this entire post whining.

But I'm not because this is about Redemption. Salvation. Grace.

I pulled into the giant high school parking lot and a handicapped space right next to the line of yellow school buses that wait for the kids to spill out and into. Sophie isn't yet on the bus line because this is the Los Angles Unified School District and things don't happen simply here. That's another story altogether. When I get to school, I call Sophie's aide on her cell phone and then wait for her to bring Sophie out. While I'm thankful for cell phones, this isn't the grace part of the story. Ms. P pushes her in her stroller/wheelchair while a boy from her class walks behind, pulling Sophie's backpack. Today, the "helper" was a young man named D who I happen to know from Sophie's elementary school years. He has some birth defects and moderate intellectual disability, is twenty-two years old and in his last year of this community-based instruction class.

Hi, D, I said as they walked toward me. Thanks for helping Sophie!

Who are you, D asked me bluntly and turned to Sophie's aide. Who is that lady?

That's Sophie's mother, Ms. P said.

You're Sophie's mother? D asked and then added, Sophie had a seizure today. She had a seizure today and I saw it with the teacher.

I'm so sorry, D., that you saw a seizure. They're hard to watch, but I'm glad that you were there to be with Sophie, I said. I lifted Sophie from her chair while Ms. P held the wheelchair and then I guided a very unsteady Sophie to the car, lifted her into the seat and started to put on the seat-belt.

I saw Sophie had a seizure today. And I didn't like it, D said a number of times, and when Sophie was safely buckled up I walked around toward the back of the car and said to D, I know; I don't like when she has seizures either. But I'm glad you were with her, D. I'm glad that you're her friend and can help her.

I love her, D. said, almost over my own words. Then he turned toward Sophie in the car and shouted,


My heart almost burst open right there, but I managed to thank D and tell him how much that meant to me and to Sophie.

Can I hug her, Ms. P? D asked, then. And he meant me.

Ms. P gave me an O.K. sign, and he leaned over toward me, lay his head on my shoulder and then quickly pulled it up, shouting how happy he was to hug me.

Thank you so much, D., I said. You are an amazing guy.

Then D high-fived me and high-fived Ms. P, all the while exclaiming that he had hugged Sophie's mother.

Thank you, D. 

Thank you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wonderful, informative, funny and scary

It's the Economy, Stupid (with update)

Remember that expression? I don't even remember who used it, but I'm leaning on it, today, Friday, the last day of the week before Election Day and the probable transfer of power from Democrats to Republicans in Congress. I read this interesting piece on Salon today and watched the video. Basically, it draws parallels between the Obama and Reagan presidencies, and the drubbing Reagan got in his first mid-term, due to a dismal economy.

 What's interesting to me, though, is how nothing ever really changes in politics, and if there's any proof of the concept of maya, or illusion, well, politics is it.

Given the obscene amount of money spent on these elections (with California's gubernatorial race among, if not the, worst of them), I have near-religiously avoided watching any commercials or entered any debates about what's coming. I've read some ridiculously strident conservative blogs and refrained from commenting, and when anything about the Tea Party comes up, I listen politely and then go mainline some heroin. I still have confidence in President Obama, and despite feeling some disappointment and anger at the concessions he's made, I believe fervently that he is one of the few true intellectuals that we've ever had leading our country, in the line of Jackson, Lincoln, Jefferson, Adams and Wilson. And maybe it's just me, but I do feel more comfortable with someone espousing the intellect leading this great and complicated country of ours.

 But given what's probably going to happen next week, I'm taking heart in history, in what is, perhaps, my philosophy of life --

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!  All is vanity!  

What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?  A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.  The wind blows to the south, and goes round to the north; and on its circuits the wind returns.  All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow there they flow again.  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, and ear filled with hearing.  What has been, is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.  ( Ecclesiastes 1:3-9 )


"It's the economy, stupid" was a phrase in American politics widely used during Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign against George H. W. Bush. For a time, Bush was considered unbeatable because of foreign policy developments such as the end of the Cold War and the Persian Gulf War. The phrase, made popular by Clinton campaign strategist James Carville, refers to the notion that Clinton was a better choice because Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which had recently undergone a recession.


In order to keep the campaign on message, Carville hung a sign in Bill Clinton's Little Rock campaign headquarters that said:
  1. Change vs. more of the same
  2. The economy, stupid
  3. Don't forget health care.[1]
Although the sign was intended for an internal audience of campaign workers, the phrase became something of a slogan for the Clinton election campaign. Clinton's campaign used therecession to successfully unseat George H.W. Bush. In March 1991, days after the ground invasion of Iraq, 90% of polled Americans approved of President Bush's job performance.[2]Later the next year, Americans' opinions had turned sharply; 64% of polled Americans disapproved of Bush's job performance in August 1992.[2]

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Maggie's World Touching Mine

Two Jewish women, facing each other in Tunisia

Though there are thousands of parents similarly situated, society really does not have a convenient slot for us. We are in between slots. Though the focus of our life is caregiving for our children, we do not really fall into the “stay at home mom” category. But we don't work outside the home so we are not professionals either. We are knowledgeable unlicensed medical providers and social workers.

We are often exhausted and stressed. This is the one category that people apply. Always. Any justifiable complaint or concern we raise is immediately attributed to the stress we are under. Yes, we are under stress, but sometimes - just sometimes – there might be something more. Having someone decide that the stress of my “situation” is the only driving factor in my life disrespects me as a person as well as the hard work I do every day. That disrespect is difficult (or impossible) to tolerate.

This is an except of an excellent, provocative post written by Sally, the mother of Maggie at Maggie's World. As I traipsed around the city today, doing the balancing act of normal and not, her words rang true, strengthening me. Go HERE to read more (and leave a shout-out for Miss Maggie who will be undergoing a procedure, one of countless hospitalizations that she's had to endure).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Being irked

Really, I'm overwhelmed by cliche of late, including the cliche that is myself, depressed and driving around and knowing that I'll feel better and that Sophie is having so many seizures and really, how many seizures can one have and we are so inured to them, in a sense, wouldn't dream of going to the hospital but watch them and watch them and talk on the phone while watching them and tonight, it's circling again, that helicopter, the LAPD helicopter that circles it seems our backyard looking for what, looking for whom, the sound a dull hum then roar as it nears the backyard, the circle of light the windows rattle then it goes by and there's only the wind with the whir in the back and then there it is again, the dull hum then roar the circle of light and then silence and then the wind the santa ana that makes some people mad with grief with worry with cliche, The Swiss Husband calls it the foehn, said to cause psychosis, madness and migraine.

Don't knock,

please just come on in and visit me at Smartly.

My awesome parents

Egypt, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stuff to think about --

European governments get into trouble by overloading on pensions and other expensive benefits; American governments get into trouble by practicing a kind of casino liberalism, in which credit flows too easily, everybody goes too deeply into debt, and if the growth ever stops, everything crashes. Now Nevadans are being presented with a great clash of social visions: help from Washington with Reid versus less of Washington with Angle. The stakes are real, not rhetorical. Reid's reëlection campaign is about the role of government in the United States. Obama's reëlection campaign will be about that, too.

-- Nicholas Lemann in the October 25th New Yorker article about Harry Reid

As luck would have it,

I collapsed on my bed this afternoon and picked up a literary journal lying next to it that I've been meaning to read. I opened it up randomly and began reading -- what else -- an essay, exceptionally well-written, by a man in his sixties with severe cerebral palsy. I got about halfway through the essay before realizing that I wasn't reading a journal specifically about disability but had, in fact, opened to the only essay in it about disability. And I realized that I'm tired of that. I'm tired, today, of that sort of luck.

The Twenty-first Century Housewife

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Scenes from Saturday on Sunday

Since I just happened to give birth to two jocks (and God knows how this happened as I don't have one iota of talent in sports nor interest and The Husband only skied to school but prefers Formula One), every Saturday I drive The Jocks from various sporting activities to another. In the fall, it's soccer for Oliver and flag football for Henry. I generally have a babysitter for Sophie so she doesn't have to be dragged around to muddy fields and sit for hours, but yesterday I didn't so she came along with us. I made a somewhat embarrassing entrance to the flag football game when I attempted to push her stroller through the muddy end zone and the game was stopped so I could make my way to the sidelines.

The rest of the photos give you an idea of the day -- and I'll admit that despite an inherent hatred of sports, watching my boys play is thrilling. Who are they? How did they get there? Why are they so damn beautiful?

this photo looks like some kind of weird adolescent boy ballet, doesn't it?

There was a pine straw littered chain link fence for diversion.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Boot camp

vintage exercise device

is damn hard, and not having exercised for, let's say, years, has rendered me not only overweight but painfully out of shape. The kind of out of shape where hopscotch on a laid-out-on-the-ground ladder makes me breathe hard.

It sort of bums me out that all the work I do taking care of Sophalofa doesn't go one iota toward increasing my fitness. In fact, I think it's fair to say that all the work I do taking care of Sophalofa is manifested in a near-constant stream of cortisol that, if you know a bit about biology, is a recipe for metabolic havoc. If you add on three children (giving birth, that is), fast approaching fifty years, inadequate aerobic activity and a propensity to love bread and sugar --

Sigh. And Good Lord. And all that boring stuff.

I find the necessity of exercise to be near tyrannical.

Boot camp is at the crack of dawn, and if I'm going to exercise I need to do it then. I have no problem waking early and getting going and when it's 6:30 am and the tyrant has been appeased for the day, I might not be able to walk very well, but I'M DONE.

So far, so good (how many cliches can I fit into one post?). I've gone four out of the five days, am about as sore as I've ever been, am having a recurrence of plantar fascitiis and hit a wall around 4:00 in the afternoon, but I feel pretty up. That's endorphins for you, I think. Or at least it's Stockholm syndrome.

Hopefully, I'll start shrinking soon -- perhaps for every pound I lose, Sophie might gain one? Is that too much to ask the tyrant?

Friday Poem

Autumn Clean-Up

There she is in her garden
bowing & dipping, reaching
stretched with her shears --
a Ceres commanding forces
no one else any more fears.

The garden's not enclosed.
It encloses her. It helps her
hold her joy. (She is
too shy for transports.)

It helps keep her whole
when grief for unchangeable reasons
waits to gnaw a tunnel in her
to run around wild in,
grinding its little teeth,
eager to begin.

from Marie Ponsot's The Bird Catcher

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's not always heaviness around here

The children's dental office in Beverly Hills has Christmas/holiday card bulletin boards in the examining rooms. Today, when I brought Sophie in for a check-up and cleaning, I noticed two families on the board that shouted  You live in Los Angeles and are in a dentist office in Beverly Hills!

The photo is blurry but do you see who visits this dental office for check-ups? A bit to the right of that card was a lovely greeting card with the entire Hilton family -- Paris looked exactly like she does when you see her getting arrested. I peered at that one, marveling that folks like them actually get together and pose for family portraits, but when I started to snap a photo, the hygienist walked in and I felt embarrassed so instead I pretended to be taking a photo of Sophie in the chair.

Speaking of the chair, I practically had to lie over Sophie while simultaneously holding down her hands and holding her head straight as the hygienist tried to clean her teeth -- given the last three days of boot camp and the fact that I haven't really exercised in months and months, well -- I feel as if I'm about one hundred years old and when I tried to straighten up, I almost screamed. Going to the dentist with Sophie probably ranks up there with calls to the insurance company over disputed claims.

Hopeful Parents

I'm over at Hopeful Parents. Come see me there!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I love this man

LA's very own John Stewart of the daily rag:

Steve Lopez

(and just in case you're wondering, no, I don't smoke the evil weed -- at least I haven't in the past, oh, twenty-five or so years -- I have contemplated taking it up, though, and blowing the smoke into Sophie's face -- we haven't yet tried medicinal marijuana)

the realization that there will be no winners

Scenes from a battle, recently fought, on a rainy day in a large urban city, the onslaught of aliens and the futility of the fight:

Paradigm Shifts

Here's another look at education -- a video that's been circulating on Facebook and blogs. I find it intensely interesting -- what do you think?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Waiting for Superman

I was contacted recently by someone at K-12, the online educator for grades kindergarten through twelfth grade, who offered to send me, gratis, to the new documentary, Waiting for Superman. In return for the free tickets, they asked me to write a review of the movie and post it, here, on my blog. You can read more information at the bottom of this post** and trust that my review is objective and that I was NOT paid to write something positive or negative!

I went on Saturday night to see the movie with great anticipation. I had taped and watched Oprah's show a few weeks ago when she had the director of the movie, Davis Guggenheim, some of the kids from the movie and their mothers, as well as other American luminaries, including Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee (the recent superintendent of Washington, D.C. schools) and Geoffrey Canada, from the Harlem Children's Zone . Despite the Oprahfication, the conversation was fascinating, so I really looked forward to seeing the movie.

I wasn't disappointed, because the documentary was educational, heartbreaking and, above all, sobering. The portrait it painted of the American educational system -- its history, attempts at reform, champions, success and failures -- was illuminating and emblematic, I think, of American culture in general. I was especially struck by statistics comparing where the American educational system rates in a list of other industrialized western countries (at the bottom) and Americans' actual perceptions of where they rate (number one). It's why I raise my eyebrows at the chants of "greatest country on earth" or "best healthcare system in the world" and why I object to having my patriotism questioned when I voice real dislikes and suspicions about this nation of ours.

The movie is relentless in its coverage of all the players in the system but comes down particularly hard on teachers' unions, illustrating the original good intentions of those unions but underscoring how arcane regulations and bureaucratic obduracy have become an almost untenable burden on the system. The movie uses very clever and engaging graphics to illustrate statistics, and one of my favorites was The Lemon Dance, the secret code principals use to deal with bad teachers. You really have to see it to believe it.

The individual stories depicted in the movie were typical documentary-fare -- disadvantaged, often minority children in large urban areas with hard-working parents who are trying with all their minimal resources to find a better place for their children. But, as I followed these children through their abysmal schools and watched as they and their parents tried to work within the system to find better choices, I felt my head glued to the back of the chair, pinned and horrified, stunned by the gross inequities and seemingly insurmountable odds. I thought of my own children and their relative position of privilege. I thought of our local charter school that we have had the good fortune to become a part of -- and the fact that it works so incredibly hard to give opportunity to many children of different socioeconomic backgrounds. The movie doesn't even go into the plight of special education in our country, a glaring omission in my mind, but woven into the individual stories are many examples of people working to make improvements, those people like Geoffrey Canada who have made significant change in their communities and are almost saint-like in their mission and vision --

There are too many points to convey in a blog post, but I encourage everyone to see the movie, whether you have children or not, to become aware and, hopefully, to commit to helping to change the way the children of this country are educated. It's imperative.

**Like the parents in the film, Waiting for Superman, K12 believes that access to a quality education is one of the most important things we can give our children.   K12 is the leader in online education for grades K – 12, with tuition-free, public school programs in more than half the States and D.C., as well as a private online school – the K12 International Academy – serving students across America and in more than 40 countries. Students in K12 schools get the best of both worlds: engaging, online curriculum along with award-winning books and hands-on materials, plus one-to-one attention from highly qualified teachers. All students receive an individualized learning plan, creating an educational program that is tailored to their learning style, pace, and needs.

Learn more by visiting or connecting with our community of parents and teacher on K12’s FacebookTwitter, and Blog. Discover more about K12’s California online public school option at CAVA.  

If you cannot receive html emails, these are the  links included in the boiler plate above:
K12/” -

Monday, October 18, 2010

And now for a musical interlude

Sprung from my loins, nine years and some odd months ago...

Enough is enough

The lovely lady above is Miss Lottie Grant, Fat Lady of the Circus.

I've been complaining out loud a bit and over-time, in my head, about getting old, about finally getting old, about how I just woke up old in the last few months.

I'm feeling old, people.

Here's the thing: I'm only 47. I hate to exercise and was effortlessly thin for more than half of my life. I'm not thin anymore, by a long shot, but still hate to exercise.

Enough is enough. It's a circus in these parts and I'll be damned if I become the Fat Lady of the Circus.

I signed up, today, for four weeks of an outdoor boot camp. My first day is tomorrow at 5:30 am.

Wish me luck -- hopefully, I'll live.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Epilepsy Freedom Walk

It was a rainy day in Pasadena, but that didn't stop anyone from coming out to support the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Los Angeles in our work to END EPILEPSY.

I'd never been this close to the Rose Bowl, and it was a fantastic sight -- just like you see on television -- without the blue sky and bright southern California sun.

I'm overwhelmed by the support shown today and think the only way I can express it is by saying THANK YOU to all those who showed up, who donated money and who continually express their love and support for Sophie and her struggles. And that goes for all children with epilepsy!


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